Practical tips for giving talks, and how to get started

Guest Post by Danielle Krage, professional speaker coach.

Public speaking is a skillset. Getting better at it is a process.

And no matter what your current level of experience, there is always a place to start, and a way to improve.

This video post is designed to meet you where you are as a speaker and share some practical ways to develop the following key elements: story; structure; delivery.

Before you dive in, some context…

I’m a professional speaker coach, and work with individuals and teams who want to build their speaking skills. I made this video as the first part of a speaker coaching project for Automattic.

Its focus on story, structure and delivery is in response to questions submitted by Automatticians; they are all fundamental elements to explore if you really want to engage and connect with your audience.

And, importantly, all the points that I cover are through the lens of what different speakers are actually doing, not just theory. The examples are taken from 16 different talks, selected by Automatticians as some of their favourite speakers. This includes talks by Jared Spool, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Tina Roth Eisenberg and Mike Monteiro.  

I’d encourage you to watch the video and see what resonates with your interests. Then you can go back and dig further into those talks. You can find links to all the talks mentioned here.

  • Intro
    How to watch and learn from other speakers, in a way that makes sense for you (and avoids comparison-itis.)
  • Story (starts at 02:37 mins )
    There is so much talk about ‘story’, and this word is used to mean different things in different media. It can get confusing. But using it effectively in public speaking can be a lot simpler than you might think! Here I highlight both why it matters in the first place, and how it is actually being used by speakers, including Brene Brown and Tim Urban.
  • Structure (starts at 08:00 mins)
    It’s no wonder that lots of speakers struggle with how to structure their talks. Without the back and forth of conversation, it isn’t evident how to shape the time onstage. To make the most of it requires finding ways to organise what we want to convey, in a way that hooks our audience in and continues to engage them. There is no one right way to do this; in this video I explore examples from 6 very different speakers.
  • Delivery (starts at 12:53 mins)
    As a speaker, you want to sound like yourself. The best version of yourself. But I totally get why this is easier said than done. Public speaking can often require you to use your voice and body in ways that can feel unfamiliar. The good news is that working on this can be both rewarding and useful. There’s always a place to start, whether you are focused on engaging confidently with your audience while nervous, or whether you’re drilling down into rhetorical devices, as used by Barack Obama.
  • Pick n’ Mix (starts at 16:54 mins)
    Short, bonus tips to shake up our thinking as speakers. Plus, how Automattic’s very own John Maeda gets us thinking about interactivity.

So what next?

With public speaking, there is so much to be learned in the doing, but as with any skillset you want to build, it helps to break it down. You then get to try out the techniques that are relevant to you, your interests, and your speaking context. What matters is that you take what is useful to you, then use it to build and share a talk of your own.

In the next post, I’ll be giving more pointers on how you can find answers to your own questions, by examining the work of other speakers with curiosity.

By The Remote Speaker Coach

I am a professional speaker coach who helps people develop their public speaking skills and apply them to presentations, keynotes and TEDx talks. (This includes for virtual conferences.)