Public Speaking Tips


I have three sources of income. There’s my real job, my career as a blogger, and my role as a professional speaker.

Speaking doesn’t come naturally. While I am very good at being bossy and having opinions, I work extremely hard at being articulate, being witty, and being present. I’m the kind of woman who closes her eyes when she talks. Standing in front of a group of people and sharing my ideas doesn’t come easy.

Unfortunately, you have to talk to people when you’re a writer. It’s bullshit but these are the new rules. I was told that I could be a writer and hole myself up in poorly lit bar. I was told there would be cigarettes, whiskey, and big thoughts. I wanted to wear a beret. But those dreams are deferred because I quickly learned that I need to take a shower, put on a pair of decent shoes, and talk to people if I want to make any money.

And I want to make money. My poonchy cat likes to eat. A lot.

So I haul my fat ass around the country — from Seattle to Atlanta to Las Vegas — and talk to people about the future of HR, professional career planning, and cats. Believe me, I’m not complaining. I appreciate my life. There are harder ways to earn a buck. Sam Harris wrote a really great post about his fear of public speaking. I was inspired by his post and I wanted to share some tips that I use in my own life.

  1. I work really hard to lower the tone of my voice. Remember when Peter Brady’s voice cracked? Poor kid. Tough break — but little did he know that he was on a path to appearing more credible, more authentic, and more powerful to his audience. Nobody wants to listen to a yippie dog talk about the future of work. We tune out adults who sound like children — and we are unimpressed with grown women who sound like little girls. So I try to lower my voie, and as a side benefit, I find that my breathing changes. I calm the hell down.
  2. I practice like crazy. Other speakers advise me not to over-prepare and I tell them, “Mind your own business.” Malcolm Gladwell tells us that we need 10,000 of practice before we become rockstars. Maybe you don’t have to practice because you’re awesome. That’s great. Good for you. But we don’t let our children get behind the wheel of a car without extensive practice. Why would I stand before a group of busy, smart, talented people without extensive preparation? My audience deserves a strongly executed performance. I want to deliver. You should, too.
  3. I keep anti-anxiety medication on hand. Xanax is the #8 prescribed medication in America because we are a nation of catastrophizers. In the ideal world, no one would need this addictive drug; however, there is something comforting about knowing that it’s there. In my purse. Within reach. Imma have some right now.

If you’re thinking about a career as a speaker, I hope this post is (sorta) helpful for you. I still have so much to learn as a writer. I have more to learn about speaking to large group. I’m on the right path (I think). And maybe one day I won’t sweat like a Dallas Cowboys offensive lineman. Dare I dream.

And here is the presentation I am delivering to Microsoft, today. Wish me luck!

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