54. The Terror of Public Speaking

In today’s episode, we’re speaking about the terror of public speaking. Public speaking is scary for a lot of people, ourselves included. Almost everyone has had a universally bad experience with public speaking – maybe yours happened in college where you froze up in front of the entire lecture hall. Or perhaps yours happened at a big work presentation where you realized your fly was down and you forgot your words. Or perhaps simply expressing your views amongst your work colleagues at lunch is enough to make you nauseous.

Whatever your experiences have been with public speaking and your feelings about public speaking are, there is no doubt that it’s challenging. But there is also no doubt that it is a useful and essential part of our daily lives. Being a confident public speaker can set you a part, especially as a software engineer working often in an environment of introverts. Public speaking can help you get that promotion, gain authority, skyrocket your self-esteem and help you build effective relationships. The bottom line is that just like anything, public speaking takes practice and in this episode, we give you some useful tips and resources to help you loosen up and deliver your message like an absolute master.

Key Points From This Episode:

  • How public speaking is used in everyday situations.
  • Why you should be practicing more public speaking.
  • Why lunch and learns are a great way to practice speaking up.
  • Improv and other fun ways to improve your public speaking.
  • How can public speaking be effective for a software engineer?
  • How Sandy Metz was able to level up through effective communicating.
  • Video recording and other tips for helping your progress in public speaking.
  • Structured formats like PechaKucha for improving your public speaking.
  • Power poses and pump up songs: Tips for presentation prep.
  • Taking care of your bodily needs and mental wellbeing before a presentation.
  • How to truly get better at public speaking? The team shares the greatest tip of all.
  • And much more!

Transcript for Episode 54. The Terror of Public Speaking

[0:00:01.9] MN: Hello and welcome to The Rabbit Hole, the definitive developer’s podcast in fantabulous Chelsey Manhattan. I’m your host, Michael Nunez. Our co-host today:

[0:00:09.8] DA: Dave Anderson.

[0:00:10.8] MN: And our producer.

[0:00:12.0] WJ: William Jeffries.

[0:00:13.5] MN: Today, we’ll be talking about the terror of public speaking.

[0:00:17.6] DA: My god, are you going to make me publicly speak?

[0:00:24.4] MN: Surprise. I mean, speaking is terrifying.

[0:00:28.8] WJ: We’ve been recording this entire time, Dave.

[0:00:32.5] DA: Everyone’s hearing it, the internet, all of the internet.

[0:00:37.1] MN: Public speaking is scary for a lot of people, us included. I think we have the luxury of being edited, so lucky for you all you don’t have to hear the unedited version of this which is great but –

[0:00:50.0] WJ: That should make you feel better, Dave. We’ve just found out that we’ve been publishing this.

[0:00:55.7] MN: For like the past eight, 10 months now.

[0:00:58.7] WJ: 12.

[0:00:59.5] MN: Almost 12, yeah, I think we’re there, almost at 12, we’re getting close.

[0:01:02.4] WJ: Numbers are hard.

[0:01:03.2] MN: Yeah, numbers are very hard.

[0:01:05.8] DA: Yeah, I think everyone’s had like a universally bad experience with public speaking, like be it in college where you just freeze up in front of the entire lecture hall of people, or on a podcast where you expect there’s going to be a certain amount of editing done than there is less than that amount of editing done. Yeah, it’s challenging.

[0:01:28.0] MN: Yeah, we definitely have our fair share of public speaking disasters. I’m sure a lot of them happen when I had to stand in front of a crowd in college.

[0:01:37.6] WJ: You walk out stage and then you realize that your fly was down the entire time.

[0:01:40.9] MN: Man.

[0:01:41.8] WJ: That’s a fun one.

[0:01:42.2] MN: That’s horrible. I’m sure that’s happened and I didn’t realize and I’m glad I didn’t at the time.

[0:01:48.4] DA: Blissful to this day.

[0:01:50.7] MN: Yup, ignorance is bliss when it comes to that.

[0:01:53.3] DA: I mean, there’s a lot of reason you would want to do public speaking, right? It’s actually really helpful, you do it all the time in a meeting, you kind of have to be there and participate and speak up if you want to be a part of the conversation. That’s like a really basic role in public speaking that everyone wants to do.

[0:02:15.0] MN: Yeah, and making yourself known in the room is like important because you want to have a presence you don’t want to be the person who is constantly quiet in the meeting or like, doesn’t contribute at all because yeah, you just want to make sure that your opinions are heard. Even if it’s just one thing, just speak up.

William, do you have any suggestions as to why you should publicly speak?

[0:02:41.3] WJ: Well, if you're hiring, it’s a great way to get your company’s name out there, it’s a great way to meet people who might want to come and work for you and if you are looking for a job, similarly, it’s a great way to get in front of a lot of people who might be hiring.

[0:02:53.5] DA: Yeah, where would you do this kind of public speaking?

[0:02:57.6] WJ: Well, the conference circuit is probably the easiest place to start. Well, actually, the meetup circuit is probably the easiest place to start in the next – after that it would be conferences.

[0:03:06.8] MN: Yeah, I would argue that you can even do it like in your office. We’ve been trying to have more lunch and learns the past couple of clients that I’ve been on and I think that’s like a good way to exercise in a safe space. Some public speaking skills, absolutely.

[0:03:22.0] WJ: Absolutely, lunch and learns are a great way that is a little bit lower risk because you’re already hired.

[0:03:31.0] MN: I think for places that – I think for places that don’t offer like lunch and learns should definitely – should be brought up to their managers that that’s a really fun and interesting way to get their engineers accustomed to talking in front of people and I think it just raises the morale of the company itself when they have these open mics for individuals to share their knowledge in front of their coworkers or their team mates.

[0:03:55.6] WJ: Yeah, also, I guess, technically, all companies have lunch and learns if you just are a compelling speaker at lunch time.

[0:04:04.5] MN: That is true.

[0:04:05.5] DA: That’s true.

[0:04:06.8] WJ: You can just make that happen guys, and you should. You should make lunch and learns a thing in your company, it will make the company better. It will make the engineering culture better, it will make people more able to communicate clearly in front of teams or large groups and it will promote a culture of learning.

[0:04:24.5] DA: And a culture of lunching as well.

[0:04:27.0] MN: That’s important, you definitely should be lunching.

[0:04:30.9] WJ: Not while you're talking but –

[0:04:34.5] MN: Mouth full of food.

[0:04:35.5] WJ: Please don’t talk when your mouth is full, guys.

[0:04:36.9] MN: Hey guys, I learned about Java –

[0:04:42.9] WJ: God.

[0:04:45.5] DA: Yeah, so many people unsubscribed. Please do not unsubscribe, I was kidding, I’m not eating.

[0:04:50.4] MN: One of the other places that we’ve explored in public speaking is this very same medium right now in podcasting. Very helpful, it’s definitely helped me in figuring out how to annunciate certain words and be more clear and the ideas that I have and it’s been helpful. You, as the listener have been helping me so thank you.

[0:05:12.0] WJ: There’s also improv classes or sketch or regular theater, acting, anything that puts you in front of the stage, maybe in performance.

[0:05:21.2] DA: Yeah, like playing music or telling jokes. Yeah, I think – I took improv a couple of months ago and I found it to be pretty good too because from the aspect of publicly speaking like there’s the idea of like building a shared context in improv where everyone starts with no information. There’s like one word of improv or of information that you have, that’s just like a place or an idea and then you have to build up a shared context and that’s really what you’re trying to do when you’re making a point with anyone you’re trying to – start on a very basic thing like the title or you know, a theme that people have shared and then build it up and get everyone on the same page, which is going to be pretty challenging.

[0:06:04.0] WJ: Yeah, it’s sort of like a group storytelling almost. You’re collaborating.

[0:06:08.8] DA: Yeah, exactly. I guess it should be more collaboratory too and see when you’re publicly speaking because you don’t want to be talking at people, you want to be reacting to their engagement level and their understanding and try and work that into your presentation.

[0:06:25.0] WJ: Yeah, audience participation is huge, if your audience is getting bored, make them stand up and do something.

[0:06:30.9] DA: Yeah, that’s true. Stand up if you’ve used constant Java Script before.

[0:06:38.1] MN: Yeah.

[0:06:39.5] DA: Yeah, that’s awesome. I think these are all great ideas for where you might publicly speak but you know, like I said, we get to sum up like why this is effective for like a software engineer.

[0:06:52.3] WJ: I think it’s about career growth. I mean, if you are really only productive when you’re by yourself in the corner, writing code by yourself or even only when you have one other person working with you – you’re limiting yourself and that’s going to limit your ability to rise in whatever organization you’re working in .

If you are able to be compelling as a speaker in front of a group, in front of your coworkers, in front of your bosses and meetings, that is the way to get promoted, that’s the way to move up. It’s worth investing in your own skillset, it’s just the same way that you would invest in your ability to write better Java Script or your ability to write better tests or any other personal investment that you would make.

Like going to the gym or eating healthy. It’s a way to level yourself up.

[0:07:39.1] MN: I mean, I do feel like that’s a huge differentiator of like developers, there are people who are really good at code and then there are people who are good at explaining it or giving a presentation about it or about a particular framework or other different things that you may end up speaking in front of people.

If you’re really good at explaining something, then you definitely know the ends of the topic that you’re talking about. I do agree, there’s probably a ton of amazing developers but there are only a few who speak and those people are more recognized because they’re doing the public speaking front of that.

[0:08:23.1] WJ: Yeah, I mean, that’s how you get famous, right?

[0:08:24.4] DA: Although, I’m a big believer in a growth mindset. I feel like just as you can become a better developer, you can also become a better public speaker. But maybe it is a little bit more uncomfortable to flex those muscles but there are definitely ways that you can improve your public speaking and get more comfortable with it, even if you feel like horribly terrified by the idea of doing it.

[0:08:49.4] WJ: Yeah, think of all of the people who Sandi Metz was able to level up because she was able to communicate clearly?

[0:08:56.2] MN: Right. Yeah, that’s a great point.

[0:08:57.9] DA: I see her motivation, yeah.

[0:08:59.8] WJ: How does she do that? How do people like that do that?

[0:09:02.4] MN: I think just making – putting yourself in that position definitely helps. I think William, you mentioned before about like potentially doing a talk in a meetup is probably like very helpful, just to get those public speaking chops up, right? Which is having that experience with a community that’s safe. I think you just start, as you mentioned before with your company and the people you work with.

It’s a great place to start and then slowly grow that space.

[0:09:32.1] DA: Yeah, I think that’s a good strategy. I think it’s also good to just practice even by yourself like this should become really comfortable with the idea of talking and maybe just to one other person who you really trust to give you a good feedback. Or even no other people and just do a video recording of yourself and be your own critique.

[0:09:54.8] WJ: I’m a big fan of video taping yourself. I think that that works wonders because you can be much more effectively critical of yourself than someone else can. When you actually see the recording and you hear your own voice, that’s when you really learn.

[0:10:09.6] MN: Yeah, I find that pretty helpful in a lot of things that you can really zoom in. I’ve said that before with like practicing music. You can really focus on a very specific aspect of it and zoom in on that and see how you’re behaving or – especially if you’re doing a video recording, you can see if you're doing something weird with your hands or if you feel awkward like are you actually awkward? How are you awkward like you can try different things and do an exercise to focus on one particular aspect of your presentation.

[0:10:43.2] WJ: Yeah, I’m also a big fan of Toast Masters. Toast Masters is an organization for people who aren’t aware that exists to help with people become better at public speaking, it’s a nonprofit and they do classes and workshops and stuff. They have a whole curriculum that’s very helpful.

[0:10:57.0] MN: Is it like a season, like you have to show up at the beginning of a particular class or is it like –

[0:11:03.2] WJ: No, you can show up for any meeting. They usually have them at some regular cadence like maybe once a week or once a month and the meetings are very structured, they’re exactly an hour long. People are very punctual and very nice, they applaud for everybody whenever anybody talks. It’s a very supportive – you can go in and begin by just participating by giving feedback to the people who are giving speeches and then when you feel more comfortable, you can do table topics where you get a topic and then have to speak impromptu about it for one to two minutes.

Then, once you’re comfortable with that, you can start giving the actual speeches and they have a manual with a curriculum.

[0:11:42.7] DA: That sounds very structured.

[0:11:44.4] WJ: Yeah, very structured.

[0:11:45.6] DA: Do they ever like do like a break out into small group or is it always in front of the larger body of Toast Masters?

[0:11:52.9] WJ: I think it’s pretty much always in front of the larger group but I mean, these meetings are not that big.

[0:11:58.3] DA: Interesting. Yeah, that’s cool. So, it sounds like although like Toast Master is the name, it sounds very formal and like you must have already a high level of skill. Like you are a master of toasting. It’s actually quite beginner friendly.

[0:12:15.0] WJ: Oh yeah, that’s an aspirational title.

[0:12:17.3] MN: Yeah, I mean I would never –

[0:12:18.3] WJ: I’d never call myself a toast master.

[0:12:20.4] MN: I thought it was just like –

[0:12:21.3] WJ: I’m the master of ceremonies.

[0:12:22.5] MN: Yeah just like a person like all of the people who were amazing giver of toasts at weddings always show up to this meet up. I thought it was just that at first, like you know a master of toasting is where you’d be.

[0:12:33.8] WJ: No, it’s mostly beginners.

[0:12:35.2] MN: Oh nice, that’s pretty dope. That is awesome.

[0:12:37.3] DA: That’s misleading.

[0:12:40.8] MN: I think for me the terrifying part of public speaking is the idea of literary doing anything in front of a group of people. I found that when I was younger I used to play a lot of trumpet and I find myself like, “All right, I am going to the park and I’m just going to play and people are going to walk by me and I’m going to be nervous and I have to do this.” I felt like throughout time when I did that often, I slowly lost the nerves of doing things in front of people.

Where I was able to use the fact that I had confidence in the thing that I was doing, which was playing trumpet, so if I had the confidence of talking about something that I’m comfortable in that I can use that same energy to speak in front of people.

[0:13:26.5] DA: Yeah, that’s great and it kind of flips around like any of the negative feelings and associations there might be with that because you do something really fun and maybe someone is going to throw money at you.

[0:13:37.6] MN: Yeah, I mean I tried. I wasn’t that great though but I definitely had a hat there. I was reaching like you just put the hat on the ground, see what happens and just play some tunes. You know at first, I was just playing like long tones and warm up stuff. So, it’s not like people could possibly critique on a long note, right? If I played a song, people would listen like, “Oh no, you did that note wrong.” I mean no one does that.

But I just eased in by doing warm ups and then I slowly started picking my favorite songs and stuff like that and that was very helpful because then I was able to use the energy and the mindset that I know something to be able to speak in front of people with that same energy and then be able to talk in front of people.

[0:14:25.7] DA: Cool, yeah I bet. I feel like your neighbors and your parents probably appreciated that too, where you are not practicing trumpet in the house.

[0:14:32.9] MN: Just jamming away at home, no “I will go to the park and get out of here.”

[0:14:37.8] DA: Yeah, so are there ways that you can practice public speaking in a more structured way? There is this one format that I think we talked about a little briefly earlier that’s called PechaKucha and this is like a format to follow for making a presentation, where you have a side deck and each slide will transition automatically after 20 seconds and there are 20 slides. So, it’s kind of an exercise in time management and understanding how much time it’s going to take you to make a point and how you can kind of stretch and breathe in that space.

[0:15:18.0] MN: Are PechaKucha slides randomly given out to the person who’s going to try it out or do they come with their own slides?

[0:15:25.4] DA: You can choose a topic. I think normally you choose unless you’re like the Pecha master.

[0:15:31.4] MN: Oh okay, so you have to choose a particular topic but you don’t come in with the slide deck or do you know it before hand?

[0:15:36.3] DA: It can be either like to lower the bar of entry you might progress the slide deck in advance. I think we’ve had some PechaKucha here at Stride and we’ve done it both ways and I think they’re both fun but it is a lot of work to prepare that presentation because you have to really think about, “How many words can I say in 20 seconds, like how does that work?” But there are a couple of other fun formats like that.

Where maybe it’s like a party event and you have everyone come in and prepare a presentation. You have to give it for three minutes exactly and if you go over, you need to take a shot.

[0:16:10.7] MN: Oh man, that’s really intense.

[0:16:14.8] WJ: Yeah, the shot might help actually. I don’t know, I think that might loosen you up.

[0:16:18.6] DA: Well then you’ll definitely go over three minutes again.

[0:16:20.9] MN: Yeah so take the shot before because you know you’re going to go anyway and then just do it. No, don’t do that. Do not do that at all.

[0:16:29.7] WJ: Yeah, I don’t know I think some people do like to have a drink in order to loosen themselves up before they go on stage. I’ve heard mixed results about that. I will say though that you should do some kind of pre-presentation prep, like something. What I like to do is I’ll go to the bathroom because that is one place where you can pretty much always be alone. You’re not always going to get a green room, you’re not that fancy.

But I will bring my phone with me and I will play like a pump up song, I have a go-to song that I’ll listen to and I’ll dance in the bathroom. I will get pretty crazy and it’s like power poses. I don’t know if you guys are familiar with the Amy Cuddy’s research from Harvard on power poses.

[0:17:12.3] DA: What is that? I have seen the TED Talk.

[0:17:14.3] WJ: Yeah, she did a TED Talk about it. It was I don’t know whether it’s placebo or not but it definitely, even if it’s only placebo, it definitely helps and the idea is that you put yourself in postures that are associated with confidence. So, have you ever seen somebody just win a race and they put their arms up over their head and they’re celebrating. The notion is that it’s not only that feelings generate behaviors like that where you feel victorious and so you put your arms up.

But it can actually work in the reverse, so if you put your arms up you can start to feel victorious. So by putting yourself in these open expansive postures like the Wonder Woman fist on the hips with the elbows out, arms you can go as they say. Yeah, chest out, putting your body into those postures can affect your mood, can affect your mindset, can affect your little confidence in a way that’s going to make you a better more effective speaker.

[0:18:08.5] MN: Okay, well that’s pretty cool. I should just walk around with my arms in the air all the time. I mean I’m sure I’ll get tired after a while.

[0:18:17.0] DA: Yeah, I like the idea that those things are like a shared thing across humanity too. It’s like smiling, people just smile. It’s just built into people and if you do those things then you can have a feedback loop and adjust your internal monologue and your internal feelings.

[0:18:35.5] WJ: Life hacks.

[0:18:36.8] MN: Yeah, that is pretty amazing though.

[0:18:40.1] DA: So, what’s your power song?

[0:18:42.6] WJ: Capital Cities, Safe and Sound.

[0:18:46.2] DA: Okay, I don’t know if I’ve heard that one. We’ve got to put that one on our playlist.

[0:18:51.6] MN: So it’s a song that pumps you up. Is that the notion? Find a song that pumps you up?

[0:18:55.9] WJ: Yeah, you don’t have to listen to music. You can sit and meditate. If you find that that is more effective at putting you in the right headspace. If it’s more about calming nerves than about mustering the energy to go and deliver to the audience. I think to me it feels like there’s sort of an exchange with the audience and if you give them energy, they’ll give you energy back and you can start to create a virtuous cycle and the reverse can also happen if you get cold feet.

I do other exercises, sometimes if I feel like I have enough energy and I’m just more nervous. One exercise that I do is I imagine that there is a beam of light coming out from the center of the earth, coming up through my body and going all the way up to the sky and it makes you feel solid. It’s almost like the column is support your weight. Yoga also, any kind of move in base meditation like Tai Chi, can help get you into a different mindset that can be helpful for public speaking.

[0:19:56.6] DA: Yeah, I guess it is also important to look after your basic bottling needs like make sure that you have drink and enough water to last you through the talk or you have eaten something, even if you are not too hungry to make sure that you’re not in the middle of it and then just dragging as your energy level dips more and more.

[0:20:18.5] WJ: Yeah, brain foods. Eat apples or something that is going to provide a little bit of glycogen for your brain. Also, be sure not to drink so much water that you are doing the pee-pee dance on stage.

[0:20:31.8] DA: It could be like some good energy.

[0:20:36.0] MN: Oh man.

[0:20:37.1] DA: Maybe not the right energy though.

[0:20:39.1] MN: Yeah, I guess one final tip we can mention is that the way to get better and the tip that we can provide for public speaking is to do public speaking. The more tries you get, the better you become and sooner or later, you’ll be a rock star before you know it.

[0:21:00.5] DA: Yeah, I guess that is true in most things. But yeah, just do the thing.

[0:21:03.6] MN: Just keep doing it. What do they say? How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, practice, practice. It’s the joke that all musicians have to hear and all of you now. So yeah, obviously we just keep practicing and keep doing and keep public speaking, you’ll get better at it and be able to speak in front of millions of people and it’s great. It will definitely differentiate between you and the developers who do not choose to speak and spread knowledge and help other individuals get better.

[0:21:38.2] DA: Cool, yeah. Do we have any teach and learns?

[0:21:41.3] MN: Yeah, I mean I want to give a shout out to Ian. Ian recently hit me up a couple of days ago about –

[0:21:47.0] DA: A friend of the show.

[0:21:47.8] MN: A friend of the show, always a friend of the show. He hit me up about a book called Radical Candor by Kim Scott and it’s pretty much teaches people how to be a badass amazing manager. I think it has been very helpful and it’s been given me a lot of insight on like some of the strategies and positions that people often take when they are managing individuals and how Radical Candor is an approach that can definitely level up your peers and the people you manage.

[0:22:17.8] DA: Cool.

[0:22:18.7] MN: I think I am only on chapter three, chapter four, but it definitely has given me some insight on managing practices that I need to work on. So, I have been trying to implement those things as I continue to read the book. Yeah, Radical Candor, check it out, Kim Scott, amazing stuff.

[0:22:38.2] DA: So I guess that’s exactly what it sounds like, just being very truthful?

[0:22:42.6] MN: Yeah, being very truthful, honest and also personable and caring about the individual that you’re helping, I think is the combination of the two.

[0:22:51.4] DA: Cool, all right. Great.

[0:22:53.2] MN: So this is the end of the show, I’d like to thank our co-host, Dave Anderson thank you for coming on down.

[0:22:58.4] DA: Yeah, thanks man.

[0:22:59.4] MN: And William Jeffries, our producer, thank you so much.

[0:23:02.3] WJ: Happy to be here.

[0:23:03.4] MN: I’m Michael Nunez. Feel free to hit us up at twitter.com/radiofreerabbit and if you haven’t, please subscribe and give us a five-star rating on iTunes. This is The Rabbit Hole, we’ll see you next time.

Links and Resources:

The Rabbit Hole on Twitter

Toast Masters

Sandi Metz


Amy Cuddy on TedX

Radical Candor by Kim Scott

Get Pumped! Capital Cities: Safe and Sound