3 Root Causes of Public Speaking Apprehension to Overcome

3 Root Causes of Public Speaking Apprehension to Overcome

To improve your skills in speaking publicly, you need to put in the reps to talk in front of large crowds more often.

It’s easier said than done though. We human beings are wired to be fearful of any risk of social isolation, commonly based on:
Situations–who are in the audience? What are the penalties if you fail?
Preparation–do you have enough info to make a good talk? Do you have enough time to rehearse?
Thoughts–are you the best person for this? What if the audience finds you boring?

The first two fears are real. They are grounded on externalities: it’s not a good idea to talk spontaneously about a hard subject if your boss’ boss is in the room. Doing that will create an attention debt that will retaliate later in the future.

But the third fear is only base on your thoughts and is not real, especially if others don’t share the same fear when you ask them. If you don’t usually talk in front of a large number of people, it’s tempting to follow those internal thoughts. It’s better to address only the first two instead.

 

This post was originally published on 18 Feb 2019, and was updated on 19 Feb 2019. 

Martha Winata

CEO & Co-founder of Get Sandwich

Martha coaches people presenting on startup pitches and science presentation grants. When she's not hard at work helping people present better, she can be found travelling around the globe and eating delicious delicacies.

How to Pick Table Topic Questions That Will Best Entertain Your Audience

How to Pick Table Topic Questions That Will Best Entertain Your Audience

Running an impromptu or a table topic session doesn’t have to be hard. If you pick good topics, people will most likely be willing to participate and learn a thing or two. If you don’t, the impromptu session will turn into a wasted opportunity for everybody. When I first run such session, I never thought much about what constitutes a good or a bad topic but over time, I realise I was wrong. wrong Sadly for everything that has been written on this topic, most people pick their topics following one common rule: randomly. Picking a topic randomly does not provide the opportunity for people to learn and see the breadth of answers. For example, it’s hard to see how you should answer a question on “What’s your favourite coffee blend?” from another person who may get a question like, “How can we reduce child mortality?”. The content will be vastly different, and most likely the structure of the answer will be significantly different. A better alternative is to ask another person, “What’s the first tea you’ve ever tasted?”. The coffee and the tea questions set the speakers more evenly, and hopefully, everyone in the audience will be able to compare and contrast the two answers. I think the best kind of impromptu topic is the one where the audience and the speaker, can learn from. The topic is relevant and interesting. It’s specifically designed to improve speaking skills, for example, in having a better structure or to practice handling the nerves. The best impromptu session is, thus, the one that packages all of that in one practice session. Learning any skill happens through three steps: instruction, imitation and then practice. An impromptu session is a perfect fit for a mini-learning session. I have found that explaining a technique such as the bridging technique can fit nicely as a short instruction. For the imitation part, get a more experienced speaker who is familiar with the chosen technique to start first, then invite the rest to practice their impromptu speaking. Image of learning To summarise, an impromptu session can be structured in the order below:

  1. Describe the session as an impromptu session and why it’s relevant to practice how to speak on your feet.
  2. Explain a technique that is recommended for answering the questions.
  3. Get a more experienced member of the audience to come up and give example.
  4. Open the floor for others to try.
  5. Point out and praise good usage of the technique.
  6. Encourage as many people as possible to come up on stage to speak.

If you’re wondering what other techniques there are, do read on because I’ve listed three techniques with sample questions to get you started.

PREP (Point, Reason, Example, Point)

First, try to practice following a structure such as PREP (Point, Reason, Example, Point). You can start with clearly stating a point of view that you support (or against) for the speech, then give a primary reason and examples to clarify the reason. If you have more time, you can then move on to a supporting reason, followed by examples to elaborate on the second reason. When you want to summarise the speech, you can restate the first point again. Hearing the main point for the second time will make your speech coherent. I’ve listed below five questions to get you started brainstorming on this technique. Make people agree with the statements:

  • The fastest way to get rich is to be lazy.
  • Big is always beautiful.
  • Books are the best mentors.
  • Green is the new black.
  • Getting married are just for losers.

 

Ending with a summary

Another useful technique to practice on is to put emphasis in ending well. Most newbies started strong but don’t have time to think of the ending. To help change this, you can the speakers to practice ending with summaries and stop. stop   Ask the speakers to end their speeches with the sentences below.

  • And that’s why I always have coffee in my bag
  • And that’s why I like working on Sundays
  • And that’s why my friends envy me.
  • And that’s why I don’t like cake.
  • And that’s why my parents ask me to pay for the movies.

It’s surprisingly easier to work backward once you know where the goal is. Speakers would find it easier to fill the middle once they started on a tangent rather than figuring out the endings while speaking at the same time.

Bridging technique

Bridging technique can get a bad rap sometimes because many politicians abused it. The Art of Manliness states that the trick is to acknowledge the significance of the question, then look for “a logical pivot point towards what you think is the more important issue”. Five questions you can use in this exercise. These questions are designed to be difficult to answer truthfully, therefore the best way to answer these will be to bridge to another topic that is more familiar to the speaker. The words with potential pivot are bolded.

  • Tell me about how the healthcare system works in your country?
  • How can we stay immortal with freezing our body?
  • Please tell me how cancer can be cured?
  • What are the economics of producing food ecologically?
  • Can you please explain the science behind how a rocket works?

If it helps, show a video as an example. https://youtu.be/imxXOKN785E?t=30s   There you have it. Three simple techniques to enrich your impromptu sessions. If you think of other creative ways to run these impromptu table topic sessions, let us know!   Subscribe and share this post if you like it. Starting a new blog is hard and I need all the help that I can get!

How to bore others

How to bore others

I don’t have so much experience in being an interesting speaker, but I am a black-belt in making people bored.

In the same way that speaking well is a skill, making people bored is also a skill. Have you thought of how to get away from those pesky neighbours saying “hey”?

Or maybe those colleagues who want to chit-chat, taking away your most productive hours in the morning?

I tell you the worst location I’ve been in where this skill is tremendously useful.

When I’m on a plane.

Let say the flight is ten hours from Stockholm to Singapore, and within the first five minutes of starting the long journey, just after I finish putting my socks on, then my slippers, then tuck myself under a blanket, relaxed my shoulder with a quick massage, about to put on my eyepatch and pop the sleeping pills to settle into a good sleep. The woman sitting next to me touched my shoulder. She grins at me with a hint of restlessness, then she asks “So you’re going to Singapore?”

I said, “Aren’t we all?”

 Tell me if you’ve been in these tricky situations before.

To get you out, here are three prescriptions on how to bore others.

My first advice is to talk about yourself. A lot. After all, why hold back. Tell her your origin story. How you were born. Tell her how your mother had read you Wonder Woman and Batman stories when you were still in her tummy, and that your father played Mozart on a loop for the last 3 months of the pregnancy.

Tell her your priorities in life. How much you demand comfort and enjoyment above all else. Explain to her why your bed sheets need to be ironed / everyday otherwise you will have nightmares for weeks.

Tell her how your kids, your biggest pride and joy follow your teachings and double down / on the quest to be spoiled brats. Your daughter is the living embodiment of Kim Kardashian and your son is the next Donald Trump. The world has been so unfair to you, for the sake of justice, your family shouldn’t have to go through hard-life.

The thing is you are better than everyone else. Tell her how people complain all the time about their lives but it’s really nothing in comparison to how much abuse you’ve gone through in the airport. How the baggage checking never understands your plight for speed and that you’re allergic to having your iPad touched by dirty, coarse hands.

For the second advice, you should ensure that you have a smug face. Do everything necessary to appear disengaged. Look at NOT the woman’s face but the ceiling, or the person next to her instead. Talk without acknowledging she ever exists. She started this conversation after all. It wasn’t you who wanted this.

When she appears to want to butt in, don’t give her that pause. Keep talking. Pause is only for people who want to be understood.

You don’t want that.

If you’re telling a story, like when you met the queen, change to a posh accent. “Oh, my dear, the queen has invited the family to the royal high-tea. Indeed, it is so delightful. Now… off we go.”

My final advice is to ignore all feedback. Ignore that little voice in your head that says, “You’re being an ass”.

When the woman gives you a full-blown yawn, just pretend / that she hasn’t slept well last night. She got too excited for the chance / to meet someone like you.

After you’ve followed my advice for 10 minutes, there should be one sign of success. Get ready to get your phone out / and take a picture of what you’re about to achieve. I will give you a certificate as a public recognition. The woman should be, completely asleep.

If she’s still awake, switch to plan B.

Excuse yourself to get a cup of water, secretly pull out the sleeping pills you almost took before. Drop them into the cup. Go back to your seat.

Tell her, “Hey, I thought you must be exhausted after hearing all of that.”

Don’t forget to smile.

This post first appeared as a speech delivered in Toastmasters in October 2017.

Practicing Backwards

Practicing Backwards

They say there’s no glory in practising but without practice, there is no glory.

I’d like to introduce you to a process that I’ve used frequently to practice my speech: Practising Backwards. It’s a process that makes deliberate practice much more bearable, and much more fun to do.

Practising Piano Backwards

Last week I bought a piano, and I fell in love with the instrument all over again. I used to train to be a piano teacher but failed when I quit playing in my teenage years. Those days, practising pages and pages of music scores were really tough, everyday practice is like a chore. Eleven years of that made me hate the piano for a while.

2018-06-29 09.57.47.jpg
Caption: the piano I bought last week.

This time though, I want to play the piano differently. I want to enjoy the journey of practising rather than just rushing to the end result, where I can play the songs after weeks of agony. Typically, practising old songs I can already play is easy, but practising new songs is really hard and require a lot of willpower. My fingers are so clumsy, the notes are so hard to read, especially when it’s not in the default scale of C Major.

I wondered, how do concert pianists practice their songs?

Turns out they practice the songs backwards1. Backwards? I can hear you ask. Like this?
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Caption: next level body bending challenge2

No, that’s not what Practising Backwards means. It means rather focusing your attention on the end rather than the beginning. In terms of practising a song, first, you divide the songs into several sections, then only train on the last section until you’re 80% good. No need to be perfect, good enough is perfect. Then continue to the section before that.

Sheets.png
Caption: I made two pencil marks to divide the music into two sections

Indeed, above is the current song I’m practising called Setsuko & Seita from Grave of the Fireflies (the saddest animation movie I’ve ever watched). The first few are the sections I haven’t practised much, so in this audio file (about 1.5 minute long) you can hear my hesitation at every single note I pressed in the first section. But when it gets to the next section, I’ve practised this well, and you can notice the difference in pace and confidence.

The result is much more joyful practice. For every new section that’s hard to do, you can get to the end of the song through the sections you’ve practised. It makes deliberate practice sessions much more bearable, even with one repetition, you’re guaranteed to reach the sections you’ve practised previously.

Apparently, this also corresponds with the peak-end rule whereby you would remember an experience based on the most intense points (the peaks) and how it ends.

This is cool! Where else can I apply this technique?

Practising Presentation Backwards

Memorising a presentation is another task I loathe. I love speaking fluently, but that’s only possible with some practice. In presentations, many research papers have also suggested that the end conclusion is usually what people will remember, so it makes sense to practise on that first rather than practising from the beginning.

For memorising a five-minute speech, I divide it into four sections, so a section is around 1-2 minutes. Record each section, add a sentence from the previous section and the next section for the sake of integration to other sections later.

Then the practising starts. At first, all I can do is to listen, but by the second time, I can start miming my mouth to start saying stuff together. When I think I’m ready to step it up, I play the recording a lot faster3, just like when I play the familiar section on the piano.

When I practice the next section, indirectly I’m practising the last section too, because the second last section leads to the last section. If I have a little bit more energy and willpower, I don’t continue onto the section I’ve already practised, I’ll repeat the new section again.

Somehow, the technique works so well that I’ve used it to memorise three songs in a weekend. One of my coaching clients also tried this technique while she was stuck in a 6-hour flight without being able to utter much. And by the time she landed, she has memorised 15 minutes speech word-by-word without saying a word out loud.

Practising is tiring, but it can be made enjoyable. Your brain enjoys practising on things you’re already good at, and that’s why practising backwards work. It ends the practice session on the most enjoyable note.

Someone wise once said: Don’t practice until you get it right. Practice until you can’t get it wrong.

 

 


  1. How to Memorize Music Quickly and Effectively – Josh Wright Piano TV https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hXgl8cGgO-Q 
  2. Backwards piano player (as seen on Ellen!) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dizRrbtxmHM 
  3. Playing slower will help build the myelin according to this video from TED: How to practice effectively…for just about anything – Annie Bosler and Don Greene https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f2O6mQkFiiw 
What’s New: Playlist, Uploading Audio, and more…

What’s New: Playlist, Uploading Audio, and more…

We’ve had wonderful responses from everyone since January. It has been amazing to get insightful feedback from passionate presenters. We are very thankful for the help and we hope to deliver on better and better features each time.

We want to go through several features we’ve added in recent weeks.

 

1. Playlist

 

Sometimes, showing examples is all you need to learn how to present. If you’re an admin in Get Sandwich, you can group similar talks for other members of the team so that it’ll be easier for them to know what to watch. When you play a talk from the playlist, it will auto-play the next talk in the list. Get some popcorn, you won’t need to lift a finger to watch great talks from your peers.

 

2. Uploading Audio file (OGG)

 

You can upload audio files in .ogg format and it will be processed just like a video. This will help those times when you are practising your presentation for the first few times. Listening to your own voice will aid your memory and help you detect improvement points before you ask others for feedback.

Other audio formats are in the works and will be incorporated soon.

 

 

3. Downloading Your Talk Locally

 

Your files will always be yours, so we make it easy for you to download it. Other’s can’t download your talk unless they are admins of the team.

 

4. Copying  Talk Type (Admin Only)

We’re making it easy for you to administer the type of talks within your team. Instead of creating a Talk Type from scratch, you can make a copy of an existing type. Afterwards, you can access the ratings in the new type and make changes as you please.

 

Check out how they work in the video below.

 

 

We have lots more features in the work to make it easier for you to practice your presentation in whatever environment you’re in. If you have requests for features or just want to chat with us, drop us an email at team AT getsandwi.ch. We’re all ears!