Matt Abrahams is the author Speaking Up Without Freaking Out. He teaches both Strategic Communication and Effective Communication at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business. Matt is also Co-Founder and Principal at Bold Echo Communications Solutions, a presentation and communication skills company based in Silicon Valley that helps people improve their presentation skills.
Matt traces his interest in communication skills back to his first year in High School. Everyone in Matt’s freshman English class had to introduce themselves and give a speech about who they were. After Matt completed the assignment his teacher encouraged him to pursue speaking contest because he saw that Matt had a talent for speaking in front of people.
He entered a speaking contest two weeks later and began his presentation on Karate. During the presentation Matt split his pants. He ended up doing quite well in that tournament because that disaster took him out of his prepared remarks and forced him to focus on communicating with its audience. Matt believes that moment was a turning point in his life.
Because of his experience Matt became fascinated with how to harness confidence and anxiety to communicate better. He studied psychology as an undergraduate and went on to get a postgraduate degree in communication.
This is one of the most information packed podcasts I’ve ever done!
In this podcast we cover 6 major topics:
1. How to manage anxiety when speaking in public.
2. How to craft a good speech with a strong narrative.
3. How to practice your presentation for the best results.
4. How to engage your audience and make your speech something they are a part of, rather than something they are just observing.
5. Book marketing methods.
6. How to get started as a public speaker.
2 Techniques for Managing Anxiety
1. Deep Breathing— this is one of the most studied techniques for managing anxiety. Anxiety is often triggered by the fight or flight response that happens whenever your brain feels in danger. Deep breathing can help you calm down and slow down your autonomic nervous response.
2. Greet Your Anxiety— this technique comes from the study of mindfulness. A lot of times what happens when you get nervous is the anxiety takes over, and you get more anxious because you are nervous. Rather than engaging in the emotion, just take a moment and greet your anxiety. Notice that you’re getting anxious and comment on as if you’re observing it from the outside. You can think something like, “oh, I realize I’m getting anxious. That’s understandable. I’m a situation that has significant consequences and it is quite scary.”
Often, holding this type of internal dialogue with yourself these you the few seconds you need to interrupt the anxiety spiral. Also, it gives you options. You can actively think about how you’re going to react to your emotional state. Sometimes that’s all you need.
2 Narrative Structures for Crafting Speeches
1. What, So What, Now What in this structure, you explain something to your audience. (That’s the What.) Then you explain why it’s important. (That’s the So What.) Then you tell them what to do with it. (That’s the Now What .) Matt illustrates this structure in the podcast.
2. Past, Present, Future This is where you talk about how your product or company worked in the past. Then you talk about how it works in the present. Then you talk about how it will work in the future.
2 Techniques for Engaging Your Audience
If you want to make your speeches and presentations more compelling focus on engaging with your audience. Here are two quick ways you can accomplish that.
1. Ask questions — Ask questions they can respond to, or have short exercises based on your information that the audience can engage in. The questions you ask can be poll questions for the audience, so you can engage with the entire group instead of just one person.
2. Imagine This/what if — Rather than asking questions that require a response, you can ask your audience to imagine a situation and then paint them a picture with words. This requires your audience to actively use their imagination to work with you in creating the experience.
How to Practice Giving a Speech
1. First find one person or a group of people you can have an informal conversation with and just talk your speech through with them.
2. Next find a space that mimics the venue you will be giving your speech in. If you’re going to be in a speech on stage try to find a stage where you can practice. If it’s going to be a smaller room with fewer people try to find an environment like that. You may not be able to replicate the exact conditions of your presentation, but the closer you can come, the smoother your presentation will be on the day because you’re used to delivering your content in this type of venue.
3. If possible you may want to record yourself either in video or using some sort of audio capture so that you can observe your unconscious behaviors and be aware of them. If you record yourself on video the first time you watch your recording mute the sound so that you’re not distracted by the words you say.
Book Marketing Methods
1. Whenever you communicate about your book try to have some central themes that are important for your audience to understand, and try to find ways to engage your audience.
2. Find niche audiences for your books and be available to interact with them. Talk to them about your content. Find who can most benefit from what you’ve written and connect with them in whatever way makes sense.
3. Look for the right communication channels. There are places where people are looking to hear about the ideas that you have to share. Find those places and share your ideas with as many people as possible.
4. As a public speaker, one easy way to sell your book is just to tell people that it’s available before and/or after your speech. Another thing you can do is reference the book in your speech, or when answering a question. This is especially valuable because it shows people the value of the book. It also allows you to answer more questions more completely because you can just refer your audience to the book and move on to the next question.
5. When judging inventory keep your audience in mind. Why are they interested? How eager are they to buy your book? Once you’ve done a few speeches you will have a better idea of how many books you should have on hand.
How to Get Started As a Public Speaker
1. The most important thing you have to do you begin your career as a public speaker is to become recognized as a speaker in your field of thought. Do whatever you can to become known as a speaker in your field. Speaking for free is always a great way to practice your craft and gain exposure. You can also reach out to local newspapers and television news to let them know you are a thought leader in your field.
2. If you do enough free speaking gigs eventually someone in your audience will invite you to speak at their event.
3. It’s also good to have a social media presence that’s consistent with your professional persona and message.
The big thing is simply to build your network of contacts. Connect with people who are part of the audience you want to speak to, and talk to as many people as possible about your topic.
More Public Speaking Tips
- It is possible to use your anxious energy in a positive way.
- The best way to deal with anxiety is to understand the source of it and deal with the root of the problem. Everyone has their own very personal reasons to feel anxious. Figure out why you are anxious and diffuse the situation at the source.
- A lot of people start preparing for a speech asking What do I want to say? That’s the wrong approach because it limits your ability to communicate effectively with your audience.
- The best way to approach preparing a speech is to ask yourself What does my audience need to hear? Asking this question allows you to tailor your message more specifically to your audience so they’re better able to understand and internalize what you have to say.
- It’s important to always be in service of your audience. That’s where the best speeches with the greatest impact come from.
- After you identify what your audience needs, the next step is to identify a narrative structure that will help you fulfill the needs of your audience.
- Once you’ve identified the narrative structure that you’re going to use to serve the needs of your audience, that’s when you can begin to practice vocalizing your speech.
- A lot of people “practice” by going over notes and slides without practicing vocalizing their speech. When you go over your support material without practicing actually speaking, that’s review. It isn’t practice
- Having a narrative in your speech is important. When you have a narrative with a logical flow it’s easier for audiences to understand and retain what you’re saying.
- There are countless narrative structures, but the one thing that holds them together is they pull the audience through the story from beginning through the middle to the end. They have a logical flow.
- Narrative structure is a map of your speech. It helps remind you how you’re getting from the beginning to the end.
It’s important to adjust your speech based on the audience you’re speaking to.
- Slides can be valuable in a presentation. But you shouldn’t create a presentation simply by creating a set of slides.
Create your presentation first, and then decide if slides will help your audience. Often the answer will be yes.
- Sometimes the answer is no.
- When planning a speech it’s best to use some form of an outline.
- Avoid memorization whenever possible. Memorization can make your speech sound rehearsed and stilted and distract your audience from the content you’re trying to convey.
Links and Resources Mentioned in the Interview
Speaking Up without Freaking Out: 50 Techniques for Confident and Compelling Presenting – Matt’s book filled with scientifically researched techniques on public speaking.
www.nofreakingspeaking.com/index.html/ – Matt curates this website with information about how to speak with confidence.
www.boldecho.com – Matt’s consulting practice. He and his team help individuals and companies with their public speaking skills.
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