The Best Public Speaking Advice I’ve Ever Gotten…


reflection+pic The Best Public Speaking Advice Ive Ever Gotten...…comes from T.J. Walker, a media trainer and speaking coach.

He says that you should always practice your talk on videotape before you give your speech. It’s not enough to memorize it out loud, not enough to recite it in front of a mirror. You should do an honest-to-god dress rehearsal, to see if your speech works.

The reason is, this will make you feel confident.  If you went to a job interview without fixing your tie or applying your lipstick in front of the mirror, you’d have a lot of needless anxiety.  You would hope that there’s no scarlet lip gloss smeared across your teeth, but how could you know for sure?

This is what public speaking without rehearsing on camera is like: you have NO IDEA how you’re coming across, other than what you can glean from the expressions on the faces of your audience. And the sour look on the face of the guy in the third row to your left may have nothing to do with your joke that just fell flat. Maybe he just dented his new BMW, or the woman of his dreams just broke up with him. Via Twitter.

Better to take the guesswork out of it.

Have I taken Walker’s advice myself? Um. Not yet. But yesterday I did a backwards version of it. I watched myself on tape after giving a talk, something I usually avoid doing. I taped a negotiation seminar that I gave at the Harvard Club a couple of weeks ago.

My videographer e-mailed me the footage a full week ago, and asked me to review it.  My reaction was to dawdle. I had trouble downloading the file and, without trying very hard, decided it couldn’t be done.  My videographer then sent me the tapes by snail mail. After being “too busy” to get to them for a day or two, I put them in my CD drive. The drive jammed. Instead of trying to fix it, I wrote a few blog-posts, made dinner for my kids, and went to bed.

Finally, when I could delay no longer, I tried the tapes on my husband’s new MacBook…and saw myself in action.

I learned three important things:

One, it wasn’t so bad. There were some parts I was downright proud of.

Two, like most people, I have plenty of room for improvement.

And three, I’m excited to use the videotape as a tool in my Year of Speaking Dangerously (the forthcoming year, in which I’ll be training, as if preparing for a marathon, to be the best and bravest speaker I can be).

Want to see the tape for yourself? As soon as it’s edited, I’ll post it, and if you like, you can give me your feedback. This is something I would never have done prior to my Year of Speaking Dangerously. Invite thousands of people to critique me: are you kidding?

But in the spirit of the YSD, I say: WHY THE HELL NOT.

How about you? What’s the best speaking advice you’ve ever gotten?

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  1. Lee on 16.02.2011 at 16:16 (Reply)

    Several years ago I took a series of sign language classes. I almost dropped out from sheer terror when I learned the teacher would be videotaping our presentations! It turned out to be one of the most valuable features of the program. My experience was similar to yours - it wasn’t (I wasn’t) as bad as I’d feared, and boy, did I learn a lot! All the verbal feedback in the world didn’t tell me nearly as much as actually seeing myself in action. Video is a great tool for practicing anything you have to do in front of an audience, even if that audience is only going to be one person.

    1. Alvictor Mack on 13.05.2013 at 10:33 (Reply)

      I like the way you found a way to publicly speak without being afraid anymore I think it is very cool.

  2. Nina on 16.02.2011 at 17:20 (Reply)

    It wasn’t advice so much as a coping mechanism I found. Before giving a really big and intimidating presentation, I found myself suddenly picturing one of my friends - a very confident public speaker who would never shy from speaking her mind. Somehow just thinking of her confidence helped me find mine. I can’t explain it, but to this day I use her confidence to fill in when mine is lacking.

  3. Meghan Seawell on 16.02.2011 at 20:25 (Reply)

    Best piece of public-speaking advice I’ve ever received: Remind yourself that you have something to give the audience.

    The nerves we experience before going in front of a crowd are actually a really important survival mechanism. We’re wired to be part of the pack, so any situation in which we’re singled out, being watched by many sets of potentially threatening eyeballs, correctly sets of our internal alarm systems.

    But you can calm those alarm systems and substantially reduce your fear with a quick mental shift. Tell yourself, “They’re not watching me because they want to hurt me. They’re looking at me expectantly. They want something from me (information, humor, a song, etc.), and I can give it to them. I am here to add value.”

    It’s amazing how effective that little trick can be. It got me through many open mic nights during a brief stint as a stand-up comic.

  4. Timaree (freebird) on 16.02.2011 at 21:42 (Reply)

    “Speak up, they can’t hear you”! I was a new, teenaged nurse’s aide at a nursing home having to be the one to call bingo numbers. No one could hear me but I didn’t know that. I was scared out of my wits. I’d never spoken in any public fashion before that. By the end of the session I was belting out the numbers and wondered what I’d been afraid of!

  5. TJ Walker on 17.02.2011 at 08:39 (Reply)

    Thanks Susan!

  6. Royan Lee on 20.02.2011 at 22:11 (Reply)

    We use video cameras in our class for learning and reflecting on public speaking. It’s an amazing tool.

  7. [...] Videotape yourself before your performance. As I’ve written here, you should do a dress rehearsal, ON CAMERA, to see if your presentation works. Some of your [...]

  8. [...] public speaking can be uncomfortable is that you have no idea how you’re coming across. As I wrote here, if you went to a job interview without fixing your tie or applying your lipstick in front of the [...]

  9. tjarlz on 04.03.2012 at 22:20 (Reply)

    Just remember that the camera and the microphone generally provide a ‘critical’ representation of your performance because they do not capture the world in the same way that we humans perceive it. Our real-time attentional processes incorporate, filter and assimilate information in a way that is lost on these electronic devices. A good performance to a camera/microphone will still be a good performance to a live audience, but many things that might seem like glaring errors ‘on tape’ will be accepted by a live audience as part of your shared humanity.

  10. Alvictor Mack on 13.05.2013 at 10:30 (Reply)

    I like the fact you finally found a way to publicly speak without being afraid any more.

  11. Jennifer Heathcote on 17.01.2014 at 01:32 (Reply)

    When it was announced that i would have to present my research at the University conference I nearly died of fear. It plagued me for weeks, I rehearsed and rehearsed. On the big day I was visibly shaking.
    During the presentation, I came to a point where the material was personally emotional for me (but was part of the research) and I suddenly realized that I could not speak. My mind raced and scrambled around, clocks ticked, people coughed, I was desperate. I finally found my voice and raced on. At the end a friend congratulated me and said’ I have you’.. ‘Pardon?’, I asked…I videoed it all. OMG!!….. I asked if she noticed the ‘massive pause’ when I couldn’t speak…. No not at all. Puzzled I went home and uploaded the video-watched myself present (cringe).. AND here is the lesson… The agonizing moment when I froze was literally one second. (I had to keep checking to believe it). The pause appeared nothing more than a pause for effect. I learned that my thinking speed was far faster than time and I have used this learning in every other presentation. People do not know that you are ‘desperate’. Time is my friend :)
    I now run parent courses and present 7 week programs to many … Yippeee
    P.s reading your book Susan you mentioned passion makes an introvert stand up and that was me. I never would have done it but for the passion i felt for the research findings… Many Thanks …

  12. 5 Super Fun (and Easy) Marketing Tips for Your Design Business | Graphic Design Blender | Freelance Design Blog on 07.03.2014 at 10:15

    […] You can do this too, just do it your own way. Have you heard of Susan Cain? She’s an introvert, and an amazing public speaker. Check out her book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking and she wrote a great article where she reveals some of the best public speaking advice she’s ever gotten. […]

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