Yavor Georgiev

Yavor is Co-founder and Head of Product at fusebit.io, a startup that makes in-product extensibility and integrations painless for SaaS developers. Previously at Auth0, Hulu, and Microsoft Azure.

5 practical speaking tips

03 December 2018

A few months back, I got volunteered to give a lightning talk at Product Tank Bellevue. I’m not that amazing of a public speaker, and the reason I know that is because I’ve been lucky enough to take some speaker training and be coached by some really excellent folks. So I took the opportunity to share some speaking tips I’ve picked up over the years. Attendees found it useful, so I’m reposting it here as well.

Own the space

If you are at all anxious or feel unprepared, it’s always a good idea to show up to the space early. Find a time when the room is free (for example the night before your talk, or between talks) and spend some just standing at the speaker podium or sitting in the audience.

Getting familiar and comfortable in the space prior to your talk can definitely help take the edge off

If you have more time, test out the projection set up and practice delivering the first minute of your talk. This will also help you avoid some common problems: not being able to see your speaker notes while presenting, being clumsy with advancing your slides, etc.

Find some friendly faces

Show up to your talk or meeting 15 minutes early if you can. Instead of frantically rehearsing your talk, take the time to introduce yourself to a few audience members and strike up conversation. On one hand, you’ll get to know their reasons for attending, which can help you tailor your delivery or allow you to set expectations upfront. Another nice benefit is that it will help you break the speaker/attendee barrier and humanize your audience. The folks you talked to? They will most likely remain engaged throughout your talk, since you took the time to establish a personal connection. And you? Now you have a few friendly faces in the audience that you can look to if you ever feel rattled or make a mistake.

Nail the opening

Stumbling in the opening minute of your talk can feel very embarrasing and throw you off for the rest of the talk.

Take the time to thoroughly rehearse and commit to memory the first minute of your talk.

Getting yourself on the right track right from the beginning will help create a great first impression with your audience, and leave you feeling confident to kill the rest of the talk.

Intentional gestures

Your body language can easily add value or significantly detract from your carefully-crafted content. For starters, try not to fidget unnecessarily or make unnecessary arm gestures as that will distract from what you are saying and any slides you may have prepared. This is tricky to master, but you can get it with practice: plant your feet confidently about shoulder width apart and either keep your arms by your sides, or loosely clasp them in front of your body. This is your default position for most of your talk. If you are feeling adventurous, consider throwing in the following:

  • To emphasize an important slide, firmly and deliberately sweep your arm out and point toward the screen
  • To signal a logical transition from one subject to another or a contrasting perspective, consider taking a few steps toward one side of the stage or the other. Do this deliberately, and spend some time in the new spot. Do not pace or walk backwards away from your audience, as it can appear that you are retreating away and lacking confidence.
  • At the start of your talk, consider walking over to the most central and visible spot in front of your audience. You are likely introducing yourself and your subject and you will most likely not need to transition your slides yet. This is especially helpful if you will spend the rest of your talk behind a podium, as it gives your audience an opportunity to meet you face to face.

Speak clearly

Nobody likes a speaker who’s mumbling, speaking too fast, or too quietly. Speaking up at a volume louder than what you’d normally be comfortable with ensures the room can hear you and that you project confidence.

But speaking up has another beneficial side-effect: it helps eliminate a lot of the parasitic phrases such as “um”, “so”, and “like”, which sneak into our every day speech.

These are phrases that you would almost never say when projecting, so your brain tends to eliminate them if you make an intentional effort to speak more loudly than usual.

Hope you find these useful, let me know how they work out in the comments.