Let’s do the math.
If you give a speech to 200 people for 30 minutes you are consuming 100 hours of human life.
Giving an hour-long talk to a thousand people? That’s six weeks of human life devoted to your talk.
Let’s assume 6 weeks of human life is at stake. It is not a loan and you cannot give it back. One hour after you finish speaking, you’ve used up 6 weeks of human life.
If you’re bad enough for long enough you kill a whole person.
Mathematically, if 1000 people witness your speech and 0 of them change any aspect of their life then you should not have given the talk. You used up 6 weeks of human life and achieved nothing.
Let’s all pledge together:
- I am valuable
- I will continue to share my ideas and my work in public
- I will continue to improve the craft of sharing publicly (for example, speech craft and blogging)
- I will respect the time of other people as a gift
- I will change lives
This pledge needs a name; anyone?
You are an incredible individual. You have done things, seen things, diagnosed things, solved things that no one else has done. No one else has the accumulated knowledge and reasoning that you have. You were the one who conclusively deduced that all solutions to World Peace involved chocolate biscuits.
You are also unique in your methods of communication. You have different stories, different mental models, and different approaches to communication. You do that thing with your voice and your posture. As a child you were beaten up for being different. As an adult it makes you extremely valuable.
There are human beings who need to have their lives changed by you. Your value is when other people behave differently because of you.
What to do next?
There is no check box, pass or fail, “crossing the finish line” in public speaking. I’d rather watch you play Guitar Hero. Aim higher. Take responsibility for your communication. Look at the human beings in front of you and rock their world.
Like the craft of software development, there is the craft of communication.
Practise the craft of communication. Limit the minutes/hours/days/weeks that you use of other people’s lives. Write your speeches and then practise them to increasingly larger audiences.
“I’m not very good at speeches”
Write small speeches for small audiences. As you improve, increase the size of the audience. If it’s necessary to achieve your goal, increase the duration of your talk. Though how often can you communicate 80% of your message in just 5 to 15 minutes?
If you are given 45 minutes at a conference to speak, you are permitted by me to speak for 15 minutes only. If you know you only have 15 minutes, perhaps invite one or two other people to share during the remaining time. Or give back the remaining time to the audience. Ask them to use it to think about or explore the idea you’ve shared with them.
“Where can I find small audiences?” If you’re practising a large audience speech, then pull a handful of people into a room and they can alpha test your talk. As a small group they’ll probably do something annoying like give feedback. You’re probably self-conscious enough that your brain is full of negative self-feedback, so you may or may not want their feedback. But let them give it to you. “Thanks, that’s a good idea” is the reward you give them back.
Next, find another small audience. The jokes won’t be as funny in small audiences. Large audiences laugh louder and stronger. Do the talk again.
Follow up with the first group – did they do anything different in their lives after your talk? Did they talk about your ideas or thoughts during the week? If your speech is good then some small nugget will carry with them, regardless that they are a friend/peer/family member.
Don’t worry too much if you don’t rock their world: friends and peers tend to not learn as much from you. “You can’t be a guru in your home town.” That’s not the job of a friend. Friends are there to laugh at you and put you in embarrassing situations for their own amusement. Nonetheless, it’s interesting to see if your small friendly audiences thought about your talk in the days afterwards.
Even in a small room with friends, unload on them with energy and passion. Practise your communication as much as you practise your content.
“Where can I learn speech craft?”
You learnt to drive with your parents and a driving instructor. You learnt software development by writing small demo apps and pair programming. And yet some people have the audacity to stand on stage in front of 100s of people and be terrible. Those people are not you. You will not suck. You are going to learn the craft of speaking because you want to use people’s time well and you want to change their life.
Toastmasters is a club format. There is no “school” concept. Rather a group of 20 people meet twice a month and each time they all suck less. They stop stuttering. They tell interesting stories. Everyone learns something fascinating from other members who have different backgrounds and professions.
The practise format is interesting and successful. You give three types of speeches: 5-7 minute prepared talks, 1-3 minute impromptu talks, and 2-3 minute improptu evaluation talks about the previous speakers. That’s right, you get immediate evaluation from another club member!
Every club is different so visit a few of them to find a club that you like. Some a filled with old farts who value meeting protocol over having a good time. Some clubs like doing competitions. Some clubs meet weekly. Some clubs meet for breakfast or lunch or in the evening.
It’s relatively cheap.
You will learn the craft of speaking and leadership. And conversely, though not explicitly promised in any Toastmasters literature, you’ll stop killing people.
Is it really that important?
Personally, I think its a bit unfair of a presenter to be bad in front of a large audience for a long duration and say “I’m sorry if I was bad. I’m trying to get better.”
But! It is far far worse is the competent presenter who does no preparation, does a terrible job, and merely hopes it goes better next time. There are human lives at stake. One of them might be mine.
As a public speaker you have a gift – human lives. You have their time and their open minds. Aim high. Change lives. You are special. I hope to experience you speaking awesomely at a conference near me soon!
Thanks to Zach Holman for our chat on the plane back from Ruby MidWest and for proof reading and fixing the post. He is a great speaker and will definitely
rock your world. Just look at these slides! convince you of whatever snake oil he’s selling