How I Learned to Enjoy Public Speaking

Even though I’m a pretty friendly person, I’ve never been a fan of presenting in front of groups, unless I’m able to read from something I’ve written beforehand. Once when I was in high school, I was too nervous to give my history presentation so my teacher let me not do it. I’m not sure that was the right move on her part, but I was relieved at the time.

I decided to take Jodi Wagner and Keir Bowden’s Diversity Speaker Academy course so I could try to enjoy public speaking more.

We covered a lot of topics in the course of the class, starting with our teachers presenting about speaking, and ending with our actual talks. Here’s what I learned:

  • Everyone feels some sort of imposter syndrome and it’s up to you to convince yourself that your own story is worth telling. As our teachers put it, “If you don’t speak, you’re robbing the world of your insights.”
  • People love a good failure story. I did my talk about a big mistake I made while creating a custom setting and people enjoyed hearing about my suffering.
  • Keep a list of talk ideas and then build multiple talks. You never know when you might be asked to speak.
  • If you are having a hard time writing an abstract, you maybe won’t be able to do an entire talk about that subject. Trust yourself.
  • Think of your slides as a story that you’re leading your audience through. Use your slides to support what you’re actually saying. Your audience can read, so give them something that isn’t on the slides. And if you’re boring yourself, you’re probably boring the audience. I found this with several slides I did of screenshots of Salesforce configuration.
  • Spend time finding good images for your slides. I learned that there’s a lot of horrible business stock photos, but strive to find better ones!
  • Practice your talk and plan out all of your hilarious asides. Time yourself to make sure you’re within your time limit, if one exists.
  • Make eye contact with the audience, not your slides.

I was surprised that I had fun in the course. Learning speaking skills in a supportive and low-pressure environment was just what I needed to gain confidence. I really like talking to people, so I think I learned that presenting is doing just that. Jodi and Keir were humble and funny. They also gave me great feedback each time I presented to the class. I hope that they go on to start a speaker academy empire.



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