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hpr3773 :: My Public Speaking Rules

Some tips on public speaking for technical talks or lectures.

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Hosted by Mike Ray on 2023-01-18 is flagged as Explicit and is released under a CC-BY-SA license.
public speaking,. 5.

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Duration: 00:17:35


Public Speaking

For many people, public speaking is a very traumatic thing.

It is not something that has ever held any great terror for me. That is especially true now I am totally blind.

My Public Speaking Rules

These are some rules I live by when public speaking. These apply to things like technical talks or lectures. Not necessarily to after dinner speaking, or the speech you might give as the best man at a wedding. Those things are different entirely:

  1. NEVER start a talk with an apology for being a bad public speaker. You will be implanting in the audience the subconscious suggestion that they are about to sit through a talk given by a bumbling idiot with limited knowledge of the published subject.

  2. Three part rule. A talk about a technical or serious subject should be divided into these three parts

    • tell them what you are going to be talking about
    • the meat of the talk
    • summarise what you just told them.

    This was given to me a very long time ago by a retired lecturer from the London School of Economics.

  3. The people in the audience wanted to be there. So there is little or no hostility in the room. And much empathy.

  4. Don't rush yourself. Pace the talk. Rushing can be a nasty feedback loop which makes your pace increase and your level of confidence plummet.

  5. Don't be afraid of pauses, or silence. These moments can give you breathing space to summarise in your own mind where you are at, whether the last thing you said needs amplification, and what is to come next.

  6. Don't be afraid of the 'ums and erms.' But keep it to a minimum. Silence is better than verbal ticks.

  7. Keep humour to a minimum. Depends on the kind of event. If you are the best man at a wedding, you are supposed to inject humour, probably at the expense of the groom.

  8. You don't need to pick out one audience member to talk to. You are just as effective if you are focused on the back wall. Talking to just one member of the audience, particularly if they are right at the front, is probably not a good look. Glancing round the room helps to make everybody feel included.


I probably broke some of my rules, in particular inserting verbal ticks early in the podcast. I think I improved focus as I went on.

I inserted some humour, including some comments about my family Christmas, but then it is, well, Christmas.

I am almost never happier than when I am learning new things.

I am fiercely proud of, and amazed at the amount of things I know about a lot of subjects. I am a knowledge sponge.

The one thing that does make me happier than learning, is sharing what I know. Which I often do in a tone which suggests I am just amazed at the fact I know this stuff at all.

Remember, the things you don't yet know are more important than the things you already know. That is true for everybody. So share your knowledge in good spirit, keeping arrogance out of the picture.


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Comment #1 posted on 2023-01-18 12:39:24 by mpardo

A "must listen" to all who aspire to speak to an audience

This is a great list of tips for public speaking. A couple of thoughts, prompted by this episode... I have given talks to hostile audiences, or at least audiences with some hostile attendees. I have given talks where there are attendees that are only there owing to having been told that they must be there (typically by their boss). Body language usually gives these people away. Once they are recognized as hostile, they can mostly be ignored, allowing the speaker to focus on the people who indeed have chosen to be there. However, the hostile attendee is very rare. I have found, when including humour, it is best to avoid a pause after the humour is delivered. There is a tendency to pause to allow the audience to respond with laughter, however, if the humour does not succeed, the pause will be very awkward. It is much better to go straight to the next statement after the humour. If the humour worked and there is laughter, a pause mid-sentence (post humour) is fine. Start the interrupted sentence over when the laughter diminishes and all is good. If the humour did not work, the lack of a pause allows the audience to continue listening and often not even notice that there was a unsuccessful attempt at humour and the speaker does not suffer the embarrassment of appearing to try to be funny. Pauses are good, but tricky when they follow humour. Just some thoughts from listening to this very good episode. Cheers!
Comment #2 posted on 2023-01-18 13:24:03 by Trey

Thanks for sharing.

Very well presented, Mike. I personally enjoy public speaking and teaching, but I was still able to gain some nuggets of wisdom from your podcast. Even after years of speaking, I still struggle with omitting "Ummm", "Uh", etc. These usually happen if I lose my place or am trying to work away from my original outline or answer a question. I like your idea of pausing at these times while I gather my thoughts. I will try to apply this soon!
Comment #3 posted on 2023-01-19 07:00:06 by one_of_spoons

Professional demeanour.

Thanks for preparing the context for me to shout from the audience : " ! hooray ! ! Moonbouncing ! " .
Comment #4 posted on 2023-01-20 22:36:45 by Mike Ray

Thanks very much to everybody. I listened back to this when it was published. I hope the Christmas b

A couple of verbal ticks, but not too many. Humour is best left out of tech talks, unless you can poke gentle fun at yourself. I was told several times by a writing coach to make my mind up whether I was writing something serious, or something funny. Because the injection of a joke can pull the audience out of deep thought about what you are saying or writing, which might be totally inappropriate. I particularly like the three part rule, thanks to the late and great Peter Hopwood, once of the LSE for that, some forty years ago.
Comment #5 posted on 2023-01-21 22:40:44 by Mike Ray

Messed up that last comment

I messed that up. It was meant to say I hope the Christmas beer didn't make me break my own rules.

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