3 tricks to better public speaking

Hello, my name is Neil Joglekar and I am the co-founder of ReelSurfer (YC S12). Last week, Christian and I were invited to give a guest lecture at the Entertainment Technology Center at Carnegie Mellon. We talked about 3 things we have done right as a startup and 3 things we did wrong as a startup.   

Having given a few lectures now, I want to share 3 tricks that can make anyone a more effective speaker. In my eyes, the ultimate goal of a lecture is to make sure that your audience leaves with ideas that they can actually use:

1.     Don’t give a presentation – have a conversation 

I don’t like the word ‘presentation’. It reminds me of waking up at 7am, riding my bike across campus, and being crammed into a small desk in an auditorium. Then comes the worst part – watching the clock, wiggling around in my chair, and trying to pay attention. For me, it’s really hard to sit and listen to something for an hour and a half without losing focus.

This puts the burden on the speaker to be engaging so that he or she doesn’t lose the audience and keeps the cell phones away. The solution is to not give a presentation, but to make it a conversation. So, how can you do it?

·      Open by explaining that everyone should feel free to interrupt you (respectfully, of course) at any time. Don’t the most interesting anecdotes always come from answers to questions? Speakers can’t prepare for all possible questions so answers are more likely to be off the cuff and real.

·      Repeatedly ask if anyone has questions. Even if you offer the opportunity to be interrupted, few people will take it. It’s a bit intimidating as an audience member to raise your hand and ask a question that interrupts the speaker’s flow. As Jerry Maguire said, help them help you by asking for questions.

2.     Speak in your voice and style 

This one is pretty simple – play to your personality. Back in college, I played a lot of poker and to help improve my game I read almost every poker book ever written. The best advice I got, besides learning the odds, was to “play like your personality.” When I first started playing, I was extremely conservative and would only play with the strongest hands. It made me nervous and honestly made playing pretty boring; I would sit for hours and not say a word.

I like to talk, so a more aggressive, playful style fit me better. This was backed by results as this strategy led to more winning sessions and ultimately more enjoyment from the game.

I think the same goes for speaking. You don’t need to be stiff to look professional and prepared. This is easy for both Christian and me because we generally have a pretty casual style. Speaking in your natural style makes you more comfortable, which makes you more confident and trust me, your audience can tell.  Find what fits you and own it.

3.     Tell personal stories 

The best way to make a connection with your audience is to be genuine. I’m 26 years old and don’t really have the experience to spout clichés like “stay the course” and “fight the good fight.” Someday I hope to, but I’m not quite there yet. All I have to back up my credibility is personal experience.

But wait, why would you want to tell your embarrassing stories to a group of complete strangers? Aren’t you supposed to be some sort of expert who makes no mistakes? For me the answer is simple I’m not an expert yet. The reason I am speaking to anyone is to help others learn from my mistakes.

Luckily for me, I do not get embarrassed easily. Countless sales rejections have given me a tough skin. If you are speaking to entrepreneurs then chances are they have a tough skin too. People in Silicon Valley fail all the time. I’ve learned the mistake you make is not nearly as important as your reaction to it. The key is to make sure it never happens again. In fact as a personal goal, I try to make a mistake every single day.

Some of my favorite stories to tell are about how we built (and painfully removed) features, and how we (almost) reached an agreement with a key customer. Personal stories elicit an emotional response from the audience, your real goal as a presenter. To avoid awkwardness you can remove specific names and some of the more sensitive details (that is what a journal is for).

Emotional reactions lead to discussions both during your lecture and after. I have learned that it is the discussion after the lecture that is sometimes the most illuminating. I hope that some of my experiences with public speaking will be helpful to you next time you get up on stage.

So, good luck with your next conversation – and let me know how it goes!

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2 Replies to “3 tricks to better public speaking”

  1. “I’ve learned the mistake you make is not nearly as important as your reaction to it.” Well said man, I really like that.

  2. I really liked the 3 tricks mentioned by you. As an audience i used to feel very dull during the presentation. Your empirical advice is worthful.

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