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HPR3773: My Public Speaking Rules

Hosted by Mike Ray on 2023-01-18 00:00:00
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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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