Oh, the joys/horrors of public speaking!  Love it or hate it, it really should be part of your professional life. 

Even people who are/seem to be very accomplished at public presentations have had a mixed past with being in the public.  There is no shame in it.  Take, for example, the modern philosopher Eminem.  Eminem said:

“Yo! His palms are sweaty, knees weak, arms are heavy.  There’s vomit on his sweater already: Mom’s spaghetti.  He’s nervous, but on the surface, he looks calm and ready to drop bombs, but he keeps on forgetting what he wrote down, the whole crowd goes so loud he opens his mouth, but the words won’t come out he’s choking, how? Everybody’s joking now.  The clock’s run out, time’s up, over, blow!”

Yikes!  If Eminem was so nervous, how are we mere mortals supposed to cope?

I’ve read a few books about speaking in public (none were written by Eminem!), but I really can’t recommend any of those.  Sure, there are a few gems here as there are in any book, but that doesn’t really make them worth the time it takes to read them. 

One really interesting approach is to put your talk into the form of a story.  This is really difficult.  Of all the talks I’ve attended over the years, I have only ever seen this done three times.  It is really effective and leaves a very lasting memory.  If you can put your talk into the format of a story, you should do this.  If you can’t, don’t worry.  You’re in very good company.   

When I first started speaking in public, I was a mess.  More nervous than Eminem.  I joined Toastmasters, and that really helped.  At least the club I was in was this way.  It was a pretty small group, but everyone was very supportive, and gave me confidence through positive reinforcement.  Little by little, I began to get better, especially with their help and guidance.  I got to the point where if I didn’t vomit on my tie, I’d declare it a victory (okay, I haven’t ever vomited while speaking, but I hope you can see what I mean… and maybe, just maybe this is why I usually wear a bolo tie when speaking!)

I don’t know if practice makes perfect, but it certainly makes it less imperfect.  You should practice your talk several times.  Make sure you know the content, and make sure your talk meets the time slot you are provided.  If you can, try to add a little humor into your presentations.  It doesn’t have to be a joke.  Joke telling is a completely different skills set.  A little humor makes your appearance much more memorable.  Remember, most talks have very little humor, so you will automatically stand out. 

After giving one talk a few years ago, I was told that I’d missed my true calling as a standup comic.  That made me laugh.  I think I’m only good at giving a room full of engineers and scientists a little bit of a chuckle.  But see?  It made a difference.

Here’s an example of the humor I’ve used.  I had a quote from Prof. Stephen Wright.  On the next slide was a photo and a quote, which I introduced by saying that “this was different than the comedian Steven Wright, who once said that the world is a small place, but I wouldn’t want to have to paint it”.  That one worked really well. 

I know you all have done something that is worthy of being published in a paper and with an oral presentation.  There are so many industry conferences to choose from.  Some don’t require papers to be written.  If you don’t feel comfortable speaking in public, join a group like Toastmasters, or even start your equivalent of one.  I’ve done that too.  Write a paper.  Give a talk.  It’ll do your career well. 

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