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  • July 11, 2013

Stand on One Foot and Other Public Speaking Tips

This is my last week at Happy Cog. I’ve coded a lot of websites in my six-plus years here, but I’ve also written and spoken a lot about coding websites. At Happy Cog, you are encouraged to put yourself out there and share what you know, which can be totally awesome, terrifying, and sometimes confusing. When I first started speaking, I, like many others, was in the “terrified” camp. Decorative Illustration I told this to my then-HC-co-worker, Dan Mall, and he said something along the lines of: “If you get nervous, stand on one foot.” Of course, I thought this was some kind of sure joke, but then he continued, “You’ll have to focus all of your efforts on not falling over that you’ll forget to be nervous.” Some of the best advice I’ve ever received.

I still do the stand-on-one-foot trick almost every time I speak. One time, while speaking to a large group, I was on crutches. The organizers asked if I would like to speak seated in a chair. I declined. I was relying on the full 30 minutes of one-foot standing to make sure things went smoothly!

The More Speaking Tips the Better!

Starting next week, I will focus my efforts on Ladies in Tech, a site where I and other women in the tech industry share our advice and experiences in public speaking, in hopes of encouraging others to get out there. While the stories are from women, the advice is for all. The articles are long form, so I thought I’d share some of the unspoken tips and precautions I’ve learned along the way, like the one-foot balancing maneuver.

  • Do not rely on conference internet.
    • Pre-record website demos.
  • Tell your organizer beforehand if you have audio or video in your talk.
    • If you have to adjust volume for your sound, hold down shift on the Mac while hitting the volume up, and you won’t get that abrasive “click CLICK CLICK” sound.
  • If you have videos, practice what you will do/where you will stand while they are playing.
  • Don’t be afraid of animated gifs, but don’t rely on them either.
  • The “skip” function in Keynote does not skip any collapsed nested slides.
  • Practice your talk in play/presenter mode—not just in editing mode.
  • What’s the stage like? Is there a seated table? With a table skirt? Is there a podium? A large desk?
    • Tailor your footwear/outfits to the setting. You may want to avoid new shoes if you are standing or that kilt you love if you are sitting.
  • Find out what type of microphone you’ll be using. There are many different kinds, and each will create a different experience.
  • Avoid loud accessories.
  • Try to stand on the stage before your talk—the day before, if you can. Doing so will give you a chance to gauge your nerves-level early and get any nervousness out of your system (at least a bit).
  • Sit in the last row. Sit in a middle row. Sit in the front row. Sit all the way in the front-left corner with a partial view of the screen. Knowing what everyone else sees can help you identify with your audience. It can also help you know if your audience can see you take your shoes off behind that podium you thought was a tad wider.
  • Enlist a friend or organizer to tell you if you have food in your teeth or if your fly is down right before your talk. As great as your content is, we can all be easily distracted.
  • Bring a bottle of water. Try to avoid a glass of water. Those spill. Easily.
  • It’s never a bad idea to have a stain stick/remover in your bag.
  • Find 3-4 people in different areas of the room and try to make eye contact with them throughout the talk. It’s not as creepy as it sounds.
  • Attend other speakers’ talks so you are aware of what’s been said.
    • If you are speaking later in the day and learn you have duplicate content as an earlier speaker, it’s okay to update your slides sparingly or just to give a nod to the speaker to acknowledge you’re aware.
  • Do not go over your allotted time. It makes things awkward for the organizers and for the next speaker.
    • If you end up short on time, take questions.
  • Expect technical difficulties. Have a worst-case scenario plan.

What’s Right for You

The benefits of speaking are huge: gained confidence, topic knowledge, professional growth. I’ve learned this over the years, and so have my Happy Cog co-workers. Yesenia shared how speaking is another way to express enthusiasm for your job and has since continued to share more and more. At one of his talks, Brett found out how many people were interested in talking about Project Management, and he is now heading a whole conference on it. Sophie tackled her fear and learned all the benefits that came with it.

These stories won’t be the same for all, and these tips won’t apply to everyone. There’s never a one-size-fits-all solution. If you don’t wear large hoop earring, then you don’t have to worry about them banging against your Madonna headset while you talk. If you love living on the live-coding edge, do it! If the power goes out during your talk and your worst-case scenario plan is to play a trivia game with the audience (mine is to do the running man), that’s okay too! If you stand on one foot and do fall, it’s cool. The rest of your talk can only go up from there! However you like speaking, own it, share it, and keep spreading the radness.

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