Public speaking

This year I have to give 4 presentations in total (one for the weekly machine learning seminar we have here at NICTA and 3 for conferences).  I believe that we can only be good at some things if we have enough learning and practice. So these duties motivated me to pick up and finish the book ‘The Art of Public Speaking’ by Dale Carnegie which I started reading last year but then shifted focus to other more pressing tasks.

As other Dale Carnegie’ books, this book lays out important principles for effective public speaking. I have been trying to apply his suggestions to my talks and I find them very helpful.

A few important notes:

  • Know the background of the audience
  • Practice, practice, practice
  • Be genuinely interested in the audience: when preparing and giving a talk, I constantly remind myself to appreciate the audience who spend their time (and perhaps money) to listen to me. If the talk is 20 minutes and there are 30 of them, that’s already 10 hours so I am responsible for not wasting such precious time. I put myself in their shoes and ask if I were among the audience, what do I want to get from the talk? How can I improve their life and work from my presentation?
  • Converse to the audience: a talk given in a natural and conversational manner will enter the audience’s mind more easily. This includes using different tones and varying the pitch.
  • Do not memorise a talk: I tried memorising a talk before but it was dreadful — there were distracting thoughts in the brain calling me to use the words which I had tried to memorise, which interfered with the speaking process. One could however writes down what one wants to convey and then naturally expresses the points as one progresses through a speech.
  • Never read from a script: The audience will know when you read from a script and that alone gives bad impressions which discourage them from listening to you.
  • Be confident: the speaker of a work is usually most qualified to talk about that work (especially in research). I often tell myself that I know about the subject I’m going to talk about better than most of the audience, which turns out to be true from my experience. This makes me confident and I can give the speech as if I’m sharing my knowledge and experience with them.
  • Be passionate about the topic: if the speaker sounds skeptical of his own work, he will have a hard time convincing the audience about the value of the work
  • Tell them what you’re going to tell them, tell them, then tell them what you have told them (outline, body, summary)
  • Use visualization techniques and figurative words: don’t fill the slides with words or complex equations no one can understand
  • Focus on only a few key points: people have short attention span

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