If simply hearing the phrase "public speaking" makes you cringe, Zach Holman, a prominent developer at GitHub, the software-development network, feels your pain. That's why this week he launched speaking.io, the ultimate site for the legions of people who dread public speaking more than death.
Speaking.io offers actionable tips on how to overcome your fear, as well as advice on preparing a great speech and keeping people interested when you're delivering it.
Although Holman is more of a developer than a speaker, he quickly got sucked into the speaking culture at GitHub, where, he recently wrote on his blog, nearly half of the 240 employees gave a talk last year. "The first few talks were interesting and I went from there, and then I found myself doing full-time speaking," he tells Inc. "[Speaking] is just another skill."
I asked Holman how he mastered the art of public speaking and how business leaders can improve their own presentations. Here are his tips.
Remember You're Telling a Story
"The best speakers are the ones who realize that [speaking] is telling a story," says Holman. "It's not strictly academic. You have to be a little entertaining." When crafting your speech, remember to focus on the elements that you would be interested in hearing. Be brutally honest with yourself about whether the content is compelling or not. One tip: Try videotaping your speech to see if it holds your attention.
Keep it Simple
Every speech should be distilled to the simplest points so your audience will be able to retain the information. "When you see someone with 100 different bullet points on the slide," that's boring, says Holman. "Follow the rule of threes ... a simple grouping of things is much more powerful."
Learn From Others
Learning by doing is one thing. Learning from the masters is how you improve, says Holman, who admits he's an Apple fanboy. After watching a series of YouTube videos on Steve Jobs's presentations, he got a good feel for what audiences want. "He was slow and simple and deliberate," says Holman. He also knew how to deliver the wow-factor that makes a speech memorable. "In many ways, he was the perfect speaker."
Cramming every bit of information into a speech should never be the objective. So besides going over the main points, be sure to repeat yourself, constantly. "Repetition is one of the things that make humans good storytellers," says Holman. "My favorite comics will tell a joke at the start, then they'll go back to it and modify it as they go on. It's very powerful for the audience to follow what you're trying to say."