• Scott Stiefvater

To become good at public speaking, reduce the frustration in practicing.

Updated: Nov 25, 2020

Public speaking is a skill. While a few lucky souls may have a knack for it, no one is really good at it without having had some hands-on experience and/or practice. The problem is that to get that hands-on experience, we must first face the frustration that comes with being bad at the skill.

Practice versus Application

The secret to becoming a good public speaker is not simply volunteering to present when the opportunity raises itself, but rather to practice the skill in a way you can get some repetitions in and make mistakes with little consequence. Volunteer to give that talk and then, leading up to the talk:

  • Commit to a little practice every day even if it's just for 5 minutes.

  • Find a quiet space, maybe a home office or a bed room.

  • Set-up your space so you can use your phone to videotape yourself speaking.

Don't confuse practicing your speaking skills with rehearsing or securing your content. The kind of practice I'm referring to is about developing your speaking swing.

Reducing the Frustration

Even with its low stakes, practice can be frustrating. If the bad taste builds, it can cause you to cut practice short or avoid it altogether. To reduce the frustration of practice:

  • Make each attempt/repetition short. Think 2-10 sentences.

  • Videotape yourself at least every third attempt and review it. Get used to seeing yourself on film.

  • Focus on one micro-skill at a time, for instance, a downward vocal inflection at the end of each sentence. You'll see other issues, but don't lose your focus.

  • Do not practice avoiding bad habits. Avoiding saying 'um' just keeps you focused on saying 'um'. Instead, pursue it's inverse – speaking in a clean sentence first word to period.

  • Instead of mistakes, think in terms of performance gaps - the difference between what you want to do with a given micro-skill and what you actually do. Narrowing a gap is less daunting than correcting a mistake.

  • Use a flush-it-and-forget-it ritual. When you fail to narrow the performance gap on a given attempt, make a motion with your hand like you are flushing a toilet and mentally flush any memory of that attempt away. Move on.

Increasing the Gratification

You'll have big performance gaps at first. To help yourself get over the hump:

  • Celebrate the small wins. Anytime you narrow a gap, acknowledge it with a little celebration. Say 'Yes!'

  • End every practice session on a win.

  • Save the video of your most successful attempt for a given session to a look at before your start your next session and/or to share with a supportive colleague or loved-one.

  • Reward yourself after each practice session with a small treat. You deserve it.


© 2021 by Scott Stiefvater,

(anti) Presentation Coach


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