With several presentations due this quarter in the CommLead program, public speaking is top of my mind. The Seattle Interactive Conference gave me a lot of food for thought as I watched presentations, Shingerviews, and booth banter. I caught up with Rand Fishkin, CEO of MOZ, and Adam Tratt, Co-Founder and CEO of Haiku Deck to discuss how they honed their excellent public speaking skills and got a few tips for all of us facing a presentation soon.
I met with Rand after his talk, where he admitted that “I feel more at home on the stage than here at the booth. Being one-on-one is a little terrifying. Speaking to a group is much easier for me.” This frank self-admission is exactly the opposite to my preference–I’m much more comfortable at the booths than in front of a conference hall-sized crowd like the one he had just presented to. So I asked him how he got comfortable up there–so comfortable that he laughs and jokes freely and it is like we are all standing around a barbecue than at a conference with hundreds of people.
Rand’s secrets are:
Research. Prepare. Practice.
“I started speaking publicly in 2005 and for the first year or so, I was the typical nervous wreck. I tried to do a lot of preparation–make useful slide decks, watch other speakers, take short speaking slots on panels as opposed to solo talks, and so on.”
Choose Not to be Afraid
“In early 2006, I was invited to speak at a venture capital conference in Half Moon Bay. It was held at the fanciest hotel I’d ever been to (the Ritz Carlton), and the list of speakers was a “Who’s Who” of powerful, influential tech titans (people like Meg Whitman and Chris Anderson). My name looked ludcriously out of place on the list. But, when I got up to speak, I did a pretty good job. We landed some amazing startups as consulting clients (folks like Yelp and Zillow), and I had a realization that if I could get that talk right, I didn’t need to be afraid of public speaking ever again.”
“Now, my goal is simply to be the highest rated speaker wherever I present. I try to make slide decks that audiences find invaluable and reference again and again. I watch other speakers and try to pick up on what works for them and doesn’t, then apply that back to my own work. I still have a long way to go to be a truly remarkable public speaker, but it’s a long term goal of mine to have that as a core competency.”
Starting in high school debate and student leadership roles, Adam’s public speaking experience spans from hawking t-shirts for campaigns to teaching us about “Secrets of a Killer Pitch” at SIC2013.
Adam’s top tips for us are:
Connect With the Audience
“What trips me up is when I can’t feel the connection with my audience. I try to start every talk with something informal and ice-breaker-ish to help the listener understand my style and get people feeling loose and engaged.”
Practice. Practice. Practice.
“Improvement for me is all about practice. For a new pitch, I usually record myself giving the talk and listen to it on repeat for 24 hours before I deliver.”
BONUS: AN INTERVIEW! I SAID YES TO AN INTERVIEW! (SCARY)
Presentations and cameras terrify me, so when Jolene the Conference Reporter asked to interview me I first said NO. Then I paused, realized she was offering me a chance to practice and said YES. It is why I am in grad school after all–discovery and self growth. Thanks to Shingy, Rand, Adam and the other great speakers for giving me courage. And for all of you watching at home, if you have tips on how to get rid of the um’s I would love to hear it in the comments.