6 Public Speaking Hacks I Used for TEDx

It's more about channeling nervousness than it is about defeating it.

It was my 1st talk > 40 attendees. This one was in front of 2,500.

Before getting into the public speaking 'hacks,' I want to give a shout out to the amazing team at TEDxMileHigh of JeremyHelena, and Erin, founder of Evoso. To say we were prepped for this event is an understatement. We met many times for many weeks before the event. Besides the weekly meetings for all speakers, I was working one-on-one with Orvel Ray Wilson (my assigned coach). Orvel has been speaking publicly since 1980. So, yeah... he knows his shit.

Ok, enough, onto the...

Wait, what about Weeks 6 and 7?

Oh dang, sorry. No week 6 or 7. Week 6 was rough and this post is replacing 7. For those who have been following along in our Target + Techstars adventure, you can start at the beginning.

We good? Let's get to it.

6 Public Speaking Hacks That Saved My Life

  1. Rehearse a lot. From the shower to the park. This may seem like a dumb one, but for most people, it's actually not. See, rehearsing (especially in front of people) can be embarrassing. Early on I made a very conscientious decision that I was not going to use, "Because I was too embarrassed to practice in front of people" as an excuse for crashing and burning. Use your friends, your family, your roommates, and any stranger who is willing to watch. You don't even need their feedback, you just need to get used to being in front of people (though I recommend listening to a lot of feedback). You should have memorized it so well that you are able to bang it out in front of anyone at any time.
  2. Understand stage positioning. If you watch the talk, you'll notice some patterns. For instance, whenever I'm telling a story, I start from the left and move right (though it's opposite from my perspective). Whenever I'm delivering a punch line, I'm closer to the front of the stage and to the right (again, opposite for me). And, when I'm doing characters, I'm pivoting my body rather than saying, "She said." I recommend reading more about this once you have your talk memorized. A bonus to thinking about stage positioning is that it distracts your brain from focusing on what you're taking about next, which keeps you from stuttering or struggling with your speech. As you can imagine, a podium screws you up. The last talk I gave where there was a podium I just asked for a wireless microphone and didn't get near the it.
  3. Own the theater. If public speaking is tough, imagine public speaking in a place you've never been! Before my big talk, I spent the morning (and intermission) walking the whole stage. There wasn't one part of that stage that was foreign to me. Then, I walked the entire theater. I looked at what the stage looked like from every seat in the house (except the balcony, I didn't know how to get up there). I call this exercise, "Removing the Epic-ness." By the time I was done, the theater actually felt quaint.
  4. Know the audience. Look, regardless of what you might think, you speak way more casually around people you know. I got there early enough to have time to walk around while people were getting seated. This helped boost my confidence by providing many little wins. I'd work the entire theater and meet as many as I could. Double Hack Alert: I wore my "speaker" badge the whole time. People would always look at it. I can't tell if it made people nice or made me more confident, but I don't care, it worked, so I'm doing it again. 
  5. Set the pace. People have a tendency to talk faster when they're nervous. I knew that if I came out talking quickly, I was going to be that way the whole time. I needed a way to slow myself down. What you can't see in the video above is that I actually came out on stage with my coat buttoned. Then, once I got out on stage, I faced the audience and unbuttoned it with one hand. This took about 5 seconds of fumbling around while I smiled at the crowed. It was awkward at first, but by the time I was done, I was over my initial "hurry hurry and get finished" adrenaline push and awkward feelings.  
  6. Accept the gift. This one is easy: don't start talking while people are reacting. That means, when you come on stage, don't start until the auditorium falls silent (set the pace). If you crack a joke, let the audience laugh. Every reaction you get from the audience is a gift. Take the time to accept it. Sounds like hippy nonsense but seriously, fight the urge to start talking again too soon.

The Techstars Retail team has a Demo Day for us where we will expect a thousand or so attendees. You can bet I'll be out shaking as many hands as possible that night. Details on that coming soon (this shit is live you guys).

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