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Sloan's Inbox: Any advice for overcoming a fear of public speaking?

Howdy folks! Sloan, DEV Moderator and mascot, coming back at ya with another question submitted by a DEV community member. 馃Ε

For those unfamiliar with the series, this is another installment of Sloan's Inbox. You all send in your questions, I ask them on your behalf anonymously, and the community leaves comments to offer advice. Whether it's career development, office politics, industry trends, or improving technical skills, we cover all sorts of topics here. If you want to send in a question or talking point to be shared anonymously via Sloan, that'd be great; just scroll down to the bottom of the post for details on how.

Let's see what we have this week...

Today's question is:

As a goal for 2024, I'm hoping to speak at a conference. I've been honing my topic and beginning to look into CFPs, but admittedly, I'm terrified of speaking in public. One reason I've chosen this goal for myself is because I want to overcome that fear, but at this stage, it's hard for me to imagine getting past it. If you have any tips, I'd love to hear them!

Share your thoughts and let's help a fellow DEV member out! Remember to keep kind and stay classy. 馃挌


Want to submit a question for discussion or ask for advice?聽Visit Sloan's Inbox! You can choose to remain anonymous.

Top comments (9)

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montyharper profile image
Monty Harper

I've been a children's performer, college instructor, workshop leader - I've even done improv! I've done all kinds of things that require public speaking/performance. It used to terrify me, but like anything, you can learn how to do it. Here are my top tips:

  1. Learn to sit well with embarrassment. Early on if I made a mistake, I got flustered, made it worse, and felt so embarrassed I thought I would die (that's a real thing). However, I always survived, and not only that, I noticed that audiences are very forgiving. They want you to succeed. They appreciate what you give them, mistakes and all. So I grabbed embarrassment by the horns, so to speak, and learned to ride it. I still feel embarrassed when I make a mistake. Mistakes will always happen and embarrassment always follows. The difference is, with practice, I've learned how to feel embarrassed, but not distressed - the two do not need to go hand in hand.

  2. Speak to your audience as if there is only one person out there. In fact, find that friendly face - whether it's someone you brought with you for this reason, or someone you don't know (there's always one or two) - find a person who is smiling and nodding along, and look at them often. Don't worry about the rest of the room, but imagine you're just talking to that one friendly person.

  3. Practice. Start small. Speak to small audiences and/or for short amounts of time. Give a presentation out loud to yourself in the mirror. Practice on your significant other. Raise your hand to ask a question at a conference. Speak up in a Zoom meeting. Look for opportunities to speak in front of an audience for thirty seconds. It's a great chance to grapple with the embarrassment beast. You can survive thirty seconds! That will help you build up your courage to try bigger things.

  4. I probably could have started and ended with this: Join your local Toastmasters club. The whole reason for this organization is to help people learn how to speak in public. They provide mentoring and opportunities to speak in front of a friendly audience of others who share your same goal, and your same fears.

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syxaxis profile image
George Johnson • Edited

I published my first photography book in 2019 and since then I've been giving several talks a year on it to camera clubs, I show about 50 images and talk for abot 2-3 hours with a 20 min break. The first time I was invited to give a talk I was absolutely bloody terrified! There was about 50 people in the room and about 70 online!

The most important things I discovered the more I did it were.

  1. Make sure you're very comfortable with your material, make sure you're able to adlib a little around the material so if you get stuck you can work your way through. You can do this by running through it many times. I must have practiced about 20 times with a few variations before I did the actual talk.

  2. Imagine you're talking to the person at the back of the room. Don't talk to the screen else it will block your voice, if you must talk away from the crowd, raise your voice a little ( assuming it's not mic'd ) to ensure you're still heard. Make sure you're talking out into the room and don't constanlty look down at your notes or your voice won't carry.

  3. Talk very clearly and if you find you're getting nervous and stumbling, slow down as you talk and empahsise key works clearly, even pausing slighly to let those key words hit home. Pausing by slowly and clearly pronouncing some words will give you a second or two to collect your composure and move forward. Something like "It's a good place to go BUT...make sure you're ready to shoot quickly. The tide can move...VERY...VERY...quickly and you might get caught and that COULD be dangerous.", that's bought a few seconds to get your confidence back, find our place in the material and keep going, it also adds some emotion to push the point home.

  4. Smile! Don't stand there and look like a miserable sod! Smile and if you do stumble just laugh it off with a little joke. When I trip and nerves cause me to forget something, I say someting like, "Jeez, old age. Can't even remember the right word!".

  5. A few self efacing jokes will lighten the mood and show people your honest and open. I'm a 6ft guy, a little overweight and have very long blond hair, so I often open with "Hello everyone I am George Johnson, photographer and author. I'm not a MeatLoaf tribute act who's come on the wrong night by mistake!".

  6. Get people involved and engaged every so often. I'll ask questions, "Show of hands. Who has a wide angle lens?" or "Have anyone been to this location? Ah superb! I bet it rained when you got there and ruined the shot?! Yep!".

  7. If it's a long talk and you have a break, grab a water and get into the crowd and talk to people, you'll make a few quick friends and the audience won't seem so daunting during the second half as you start to wane. I sell my book during the break and always make a point to talk to people as I take their money.

  8. Use your hands if you can. I don't have any materials in front of me, I prefer people to see my whole body, it makes me more accessible as I don't stand behing a lectern. I have my "clicker/laser pointer" in my hand but I move my arms around and gesticulate to make my points , it adds emotion and it helps to bring people to focus on me every so often and not get bored just staring at the projection screen.

Enjoy it for the thrill ride it is! I get a little nervous about 2 hours before, then I'm shi**ing bricks during the intro with a minuet to go, my heart is poudning and I'm pacing a little but then that call comes "So I'll hand over to..." and it's show time!! The rush of adrenaline as you "hit the stage" is unreal, you grab people's attention and you're into it. Nothing like it and it's like a drug once you've done it a few times! Ha ha!

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cmcrawford2 profile image
Cris Crawford

Join toastmasters. It costs something and requires an investment of time, but it really works.

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harry_wood profile image
Harry Wood

I still sometimes find the fear of stepping up to the mic can be almost paralysing. I like to rehearse the exact wording of my opening sentences because that helps me get the ball rolling. Then after that I'm fine so, conversely, I like to be a lot more relaxed and free-form/off-the-cuff for the rest of the talk. If I start preparing every word I'm going to say to make the whole talk word-perfect, then that makes me more nervous about remembering everything.
...but maybe that's just me

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darthvader profile image
Darth Vader

Focus on the value! Focus on who you are and use it!

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michaeltharrington profile image
Michael Tharrington

Nice advice! And wow, was not expecting such positivity from Darth Vader, haha.

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enakshi_pal profile image
Enakshi Pal

Speak with yourself in front of the mirror. Once you master this art, you will eventually become good-to-go with your first stage appearance!

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ignoreintuition profile image
Brian Greig

Start by doing small crowds. Try local meetups. Go to a few first and get to know folks so that you feel more comfortable speaking in front of them. Stick to topics you know very well. Practice, practice, practice.

Good luck. You'll do great. :)

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marcgruber profile image
Marc Gruber L贸pez

you can record videos and publish on yt

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