Ask Matt: Tips On Public Speaking

I get asked a lot about tips on public speaking because I do it so frequently. Positive response when I give a talk is generally proportional to how relaxed I was when giving the presentation and on good days I’ll get comments like people were able to relate to what I was saying or that watching me calmed them down. I don’t mention this in the video, but besides breathing and remembering the audience is there to see you do well, the best way to relax is to know your material down cold. I’ve lived and breathed WordPress for almost 7 years now, so I can talk about it for hours without thinking twice. I think practicing and knowing your material well comes across most in your body language which probably affects how people perceive your presentation more than what you say.

We recorded this before Scott Berkun’s new book Speaker Confessions was out, which I recommend now.

23 thoughts on “Ask Matt: Tips On Public Speaking

  1. What you’re saying matches exactly with my own experiences. Know your topic, add a good preparation, some additional background information (perhaps on slides you add after the official last slide of your presentation), and a clean set of comfortable clothes, and you’re good to go.

    In addition, it also helps if you are either familiar or in some way superior to your audience. Talking to your superiors will nearly automatically make you a little nervous.

  2. Good points. They all relate to one another. The better you know your material, the more relaxed you’ll be and people feel that. I also try to tailor what I’m doing to the environment. The shape of the room can really change what you need to do.

  3. I watched the video before reading your intro and was surprised you didn’t mention “knowing your material down cold”.

    That’s the first thing that comes to my mind when I’m speaking. By knowing my subject down cold, I know I’m prepared (yes, I was a Boy Scout). More importantly, I become conscious of the fact that I know more about the subject that most of the audience. They’re here to learn, not to test my knowledge or challenge me.

  4. Another one is to go up on stage or give the presentation right away. Do not think about it whether or not it is a good idea to do it or to raise your hand — just raise it, go up there and perform.

    On the other hand, if it’s ‘your’ presentation or you’re scheduled to speak then I would occupy myself with other tasks until just before the presentation or speech, then go up and perform what you’ve already prepared weeks or months ago.

    I learned that the most obstacles are being ‘formed’ by waiting and thinking about it too long…

    Also, a speaker tend to capture 10 times more ‘mistakes’ during and after his or her presentation than the audience.

  5. I haven’t actually gotten to watch the video yet as I’m at work, but knowing your material is definitely the way to go. However, even better than that is just being confident in yourself. Someone may ask you something you don’t know the answer to, or you may not actually know your material through and through (which happens to me all the time as a teacher who’s expected to incoporate literature, history, culture, and a plethora of other knowledge into my classes), and you have to be able to confidently admit that you hadn’t considered that, or hadn’t come across that in your studies, or whatever. It comes down to both confidence and sufficient knowledge to be able to show that, even if you don’t know everything, you do know more than the audience did when they first walked into the room.

  6. In this order: know your material, practice the talk (don’t memorize, let it flow naturally between bullet points), eat before (but not immediately before), calm yourself with breathing, get to know the audience beforehand. And slow… down.

    1. I’d agree except on bullet points, I think they’re toxic. I like it when points (or one-word slides) come after you’ve started talking about the subject to underscore it, but more often I see them used as basically an outline reminder for the speaker. For that, print it out and put it in front of you.

  7. Warren Buffett once was asked by a college student what he thought was the most important skill to learn and Buffett replied “public speaking”.
    Thank you for the video and the tips!

  8. Great post!

    I strongly agree with you, that knowing your subject well will make you relax. The logic behind it is that — it is easier to talk to something you really know about.

  9. What a nice short and sweet post! I spent some hard-earned dollars at one of the finest graduate business colleges in the country (Babson) to learn just what you summed up. Not that I enjoy it more, but yes, it’s possible to do and do well!

  10. If knowing the subject well was all it took to be a good public speaker, we’d all have been paying attention to EVERY class in college.

    I think the most important thing is to focus on the audience, not yourself. It’s NOT about the speaker.

  11. Nice tips on public speaking. Knowing your material is the key to self confidence.

    However, just in case you don’t get time to update, this trick may be handy:

    Assume that you are the most intelligent guy in the crowd, all rest know nothing.

    This will boost your confidence like anything.

  12. Hi Matt

    Exciting video. I personally believe that your leadership and nice public figure is part of the recipe that makes WordPress so special and great. And I think you’re a wonderful public speaker.

  13. Thanks for the tips :-). I taught English last year at a middle school in China and it really took some time to get used to so much public speaking. Thanks so much for all the great advice!