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Poll: Public Speaking Tips?


Aftermath of a terrible speech

Gang of geniuses, a question of public speaking etiquette: When a tomato is thrown, are you expected to just take it or can you dodge? And another:  What kind of underwear are you supposed to imagine everyone is wearing?

Trenchant issues, guapos and guapettes. Trenchant.

A couple of days ago I talked about my action-packed preparation for a keynote address in Adventures in Preparing A Speech.

But wait!

Yesterday the opportunity to speak on August 1 in Washington DC came up rather unexpectedly. It’s nearly a done deal, but I’m awaiting word from the final vetting committee. If it works out, I’ll be putting together something else quickly and flying out to dazzle our nation’s capitol with footwork and verve.

I’m ready for both. But I’m always up for hearing what other people have success with. As far as public speaking tips, today’s question is for everyone who has ever had experience, a great success, or a great failure during a public speaking engagement on any size or type.

So, I’ve heard all about imagining everyone in their underwear. This will simply be too many pairs of underwear to imagine. Is there anything else? I also suppose it’s bad form to wet your pants on stage, so I’ll try not to do that either.

Todd, if you’re out there, you commented about speaking at a men’s conference, so I’m calling you out specifically.


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Comments on this entry are closed.

  • gemma July 13, 2011, 5:58 pm

    In acting auditions, when you have to deliver a monologue, you’re supposed to look off into the distance. Slightly above the judge/director’s head and at the back wall of the auditorium. Focus on that and it will look like you are making eye contact with everyone.

  • Big Will July 15, 2011, 5:33 am

    “. . . . when they get home at night, their fat psychopathic wives would thrash them within inches of their lives. . . ”

    Roger Waters

    Picture all the stiffs being disciplined by their domestic owners, that should put you in the ‘power seat’.

  • cinderkeys July 15, 2011, 11:39 pm

    Practice, practice, practice so that you’re familiar with everything you’re going to say by the time you say it. But you probably knew that already.

    Slow down enough that everybody can follow you. A professor of mine once told me, “If you feel like you’re talking at a normal speed, you’re going too fast.”

  • Judy Donovan July 16, 2011, 8:32 am

    I’ve done lots of acting, teaching and speeches. When someone actively recruits you to lecture, it’s because they and their group are *interested* in what you have to say. I always keep in mind when giving talks that most people in the crowd are interested in what I have to say. You wouldn’t have gotten the offer to speak if the sponsors didn’t believe in you and what you are bringing to speak about.

  • Demond Thompson July 18, 2011, 8:14 am

    The crowd is rooting for you to succeed. If not, they wouldn’t be there. Seriously, what kind of jerk would go to hear someone speak (politics not included) just to throw stones? Nearly none.

    You’ll be great! Be prepared and have fun!

  • Spencer July 19, 2011, 11:34 am

    I know I’m not telling you anything you don’t know here, but I think the “picture them in their underwear” admonition is not so much intended to be taken literally as it is short-hand for “nobody is perfect” (perhaps more colorfully you could also think of the plot from “Everyone Poops (My Body Science)” by Taro Gomi, or the advice one well-intentioned youth leader once gave me at a dance: “I want you to look around this room, and pick out the hottest girl in here. Yeah, she’s got boogers.” That has served me well over the years).

    Basically, no one is expecting perfection, nor would they be capable of delivering perfection if they were called upon to speak. And the fact that you were asked to speak and they weren’t is infallible proof that you are much, much more awesome than they are.

    The best advice I could give would be to take deep breaths when you need them, don’t start until you’re ready, and don’t be afraid to pause or take a brief mental break if you need one. Moments of silence or pause never seem as long from the audience as they do when you are the speaker, and sometimes they can actually have a great effect.


    If you get lost, fake it. I’m sure you are great off the cuff, and sometimes the pressure and adrenaline that comes in those moments can actually be liberating and provide some of your best material.

    I agree with the thoughts of Demond, that the audience wants you to succeed. Plus, you will be prepared. And, you are a great and brilliant person, and that will shine through no matter what you do or don’t do.

    Break a leg!

  • Todd August 8, 2011, 8:34 am

    Wow, talk about being late to the party. 🙂

    #1 Grab the tomato out of the air, and redirect it back to whence it came. #2 The whole underwear tactic is distracting–you’ll either be turned-on or repulsed. #3 If at all possible, avoid soiling yourself.

    My public speaking typically takes place with no more than 20-25 people. Avoid the “speech”. Conversations are much more engaging. If you know your topic well enough, just talk to the crowd as if they’re old friends (while maintaining professionalism).

    I was teaching a firearm safety class last year, having not done so in a couple of years. Feeling that I still knew the topic well enough, I began the class, and immediately drew a blank. Embarrassing! Preparation is the key to relaxation. And when you relax, you’ll have fun with the whole thing.

    Good luck, Josh!

    • Todd August 8, 2011, 8:36 am

      Oh, and if you want to practice speaking in public, find a local chapter of Toast Masters. I haven’t done so yet, but know people that have, and they all turned out to be wonderful public speakers.