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The importance of public speaking in career...

How would you rank the importance of public speaking in your career and do you have any suggestions on how one might go about improving in this area?

Interested Party
Friday, March 21, 2003

Importance depends. Good public speaking is always a plus anyway.

Practice makes perfect. Watch more David Letterman and learn how he talks and thinks.

Friday, March 21, 2003

Join your local Toastmasters.

I remember we used to have these in High School, and in University. It really should not be too difficult to find one.

Friday, March 21, 2003

I second going to a Toastmasters club. I've joined up in a club in my town and it's helped me make much more consise presentations.

How much does public speaking help - well, it's relative, but as you go higher in the corporate ladder (or if you're in marketing) you'll need to sell something to people using presentation skills. Sometimes even to your own bosses or board. A bad presentation can botch things up.

Public speaking isn't just the art of speaking, it's body language, voice modulation, structured speech etc...and not using too many complicated words :) Some of the best speakers are surprisingly lucid!

Deepak Shenoy
Friday, March 21, 2003

And I will "third" the recommendation to attend Toastmaster's. I did, and it really helped me to become more self assured in speaking to groups.

Mainly, Toastmaster's is practice for real life presentations. You receive structured speaking exercizes with constructive feedback, and you practice preparing your own speeches. Also you have the opportunity to practice at impromptu speeches called "table topics". It sounds worse than it really is. Or maybe not. :-)

One caution - Toastmaster's promotes the 'cause' of public speaking as an endeavor in its own right, and many of the people involved in a club at a highly visible level take it all VERY seriously. You can just dabble in it, but there's tremendous pressure to attend speech contests and events outside the regular club meetings. It get really annoying if all you want to do is attend the weekly or biweekly meetings...

Bored Bystander
Friday, March 21, 2003

I agree with those who've said that public speaking skills are important if you plan to climb the corporate ladder.  But they're also essential to people who want to stay technical, and hang out at the lower rungs. 

Unless you work alone and plan to keep things that way, sooner or later you'll have to stand up in front of a group of people and explain what you've done, or what you'd like to do, or why your idea is best.  Instruction and practice help a lot.  While I haven't attended Toastmasters myself, I've seen it work for others.

And if you have a kid who's at all inclined to do so, encourage them to join the forensics club in high school.  Knowing how to talk in front of a group can open up job opportunities, particularly for techies who aren't known for such skills.

Hardware Guy
Friday, March 21, 2003

I've observed that practically everyone is called upon to speak publicly at some point in their carerer.

Your local library should have plenty of books on improving public speaking skills.  It's free.

Also, try videotaping yourself, then replay the tape a few days later.  You'll notice all sorts of behaviors to eliminate.

The most important things I've learned about public speaking (after teaching a few programming classes) were:

1. Everybody gets nervous about speaking in public.  Don't ignore it, but let it stop you either.

2. Be well-prepared.  It's better to have so many notes that you don't use them all than to not have enough.

3. Speak clearly.  As above, try recording yourself, then listen to the tape a few days later.

Brent P. Newhall
Friday, March 21, 2003

I try to give at least four formal talks a year, and I've done so for at least the last decade. (Some of those presentations are public, some private).

I don't know what to tell you about doing it "for your career"... In my experience there are some such benefits, but I wouldn't personally give a talk for the sole purpose of promoting myself.

I mention this because there are a number of venues for giving a talk, and I suggest choosing a talk and venue that have a deeper meaning for you.

Here are some of the non-monetary benefits I have received from giving presentations (YMMV):

- meet interesting people I respect
- meet interesting people I have to work hard to respect
- force me to clarify my own thoughts on a subject
- free BEvERages
- ego gratification
- meet people I might want to work with in the future
- excuse to play with PowerPoint
- evangelize ideas I feel are important

Changing the subject slightly, I put my presentations on line after the talk. One problem I have discovered is that they make absolutely no sense without the dialog. It's a weakness of mine: my slides support my talk, but they don't repeat my points.

Here's an example:

If you're thinking from a promotion POV, you'll want to make sure that you have (a) handouts at the talk, and (b) a web version of the talk that is readable and interesting for later downloads.


Reginald Braithwaite-Lee
Friday, March 21, 2003

Very Important, when developers need to talk to non-tech ppl it makes a huge difference.

When you can put things clearly, in a very articulate manner- is invaluable.

From my own experience (I am TA) over the past year and half I have seen my communication skills improve tremendously. I teach an intro course in computers to a host of students from majors like business to english,.. each student has a different perspective of things, so to speak in a clear confident manner is a great asset.

Prakash S
Friday, March 21, 2003


Nice slides, In which article did Joel Mention the bit about process?


Prakash S
Friday, March 21, 2003

Speaking well makes you good friends, who like to be entertained by thought.  Gives the confidence to be wrong in a way that doesn't lose peoples' respect, but rather allows them to see that you're willing to be inspired by mistakes.

Friday, March 21, 2003

If you have a problem, as I did, with being afraid of speaking in public, I recommend taking some training in improvisational acting.  I just finished a workshop, and it helped me greatly.  It was also a lot of fun.  I took my class at Comedy Sportz ( which has locations throughout the country.

Master Ninja
Friday, March 21, 2003

Most programmers are introverts. We are happier coding than meeting people. I have mostly avoided public speaking by  just saying no. I have done a few demonstrations of my programs but I found the bored and uninterested looks on the faces of my audience too disheartening. Since then I have made sure I worked with a  trainer or demonstrator who enjoyed this kind of thing.  I believe too much public speaking can lead to some unpleasant social habits. These people seem to lose their self-consciousness and they often become rude and loutish.

Friday, March 21, 2003

My theory is that everyone hates public speaking and 99% of people are pretty bad at it.  Therefore, you only have to not hate it and be adequate in doing it in order to rise above the masses and be seen as a star!  Certainly this skill can be used along with passion, technical depth and empathy to make you seen as a natural leader.

I used to be very nervous giving presentations.  Someone told me to remember that the audience knows less than you do (otherwise why are they listening).  So, rather than imagine the audience in their underwear or something equally silly, imagine that they want you (perhaps hired you) to tell them your story--to teach them.  You might also be worried that someone might know more than you.  If they do and catch you in a mistake, don't panic --  turn it around and tell them that their feedback is just what you were hoping to get when you offered to give your presentation.

As the presenter you control the groundrules of your presentation.  If the groundrules are that this is a time for you to share your expertise and get expert feedback in return, then how can you be nervous?  It's a mindset that works for me.  If it works for you, then make this groundrule explicit in the beginning of your presentation.

Another thing that is important in the world of PowerPoint is never to repeat word-for-word the same things outloud that are on the slide.  While you are talking next to the projection of a slide, the audience is reading the slide.  They will be done long before you are done reading it outloud.  If you are still reading it to them after they have read it, their frustration level will rise dramatically.  Instead, use the slides as a kind of prop for your talk.  Graphs, maps, pictures and a few words or simple bullets are great.  Some short (non-repeating) animations may help too.  Words on the slide should be there just to help you remember what you wanted to talk about and to cue the audience as to the current topics you are covering.

If you really must have viewgraphs with lots of words (for example sometimes my slides have to double as a course manual) then keep to the rule and don't read the text.  Highlight the most important points and let the audience take the rest in themselves while you talk.

For similar reasons, don't hand out notes before the presentation (OK, you can hand out prints of your slides if you must--but not with 'notes' attached).  After you are done with your presentation, then you can hand out a copy of your notes, speech text, etc.  Otherwise people will probably be reading your notes ahead of the pace of your speech and then will sit there frustrated and bored, assuming they don't need to listen.

Finally, take opportunities to practice.  Make a point to seek appropriate opportunities in team meetings to speak to your team.  Keep pushing yourself to do this often and at progressively larger gatherings.  Practice, practice, practice!

Friday, March 21, 2003

Burney, you're telling it like it is. Almost everyone is nervous with public speaking the first few times they do it. I think that people that don't ever want to try it see it as something that "someone" else is naturally good at and enjoys. That's a mistake and a red herring. Almost everyone hates the idea of public speaking - it's perfectly natural to feel that way.

But I also have come to believe that while some gifted people can become good speakers on their own, most of us need occasional coaching and encouragement. That's exactly why Toastmaster's is such a benefit. You can do speeches of varying types and different lengths and you can receive very fine grained commentary from others on your mastery of each of these skills.

I'm cautioning that unless you have the opportunity to give speeches in your daily worklife that don't have a big consequence either way to your career, it's pretty hard to practice enough to become "good".

The only "problem" with Toastmaster's is that it's presented as kind of a way of life, not a limited slice of one's life. Toastmaster's "Light" (if there was such a thing) would probably help the average techie become more confident in presentation skills.  The club I belonged to for awhile had a 2 month (est) program called "Speechcrafters" that  immersed participants in speech writing and presentation with an accelerated format.

Bored Bystander
Saturday, March 22, 2003

Bored Bystander,

I agree - sometimes this Toastmasters as a "way of life" gets to me too. Sometimes things just go overboard, especially when there's peer pressure among clubs and a district involved and so on. But one thing I can say is that there are ways to speak humorously on topics not related to sex, religion or politics.

My club adds to the standard format with a "special session" at every meeting where we do different things that involve stage presence and ad-libbing, but is a lot more entertaining. Lot on the lines of "whose line is it anyway" - and that is really what most people look forward to. In the end, what's important is to make people want to speak, and to pick up the tricks of the trade...but it's gotta be fun, or they won't come back.

Deepak Shenoy
Sunday, March 23, 2003

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