The metsitaba newsletter for tech speakers, 16 Feb 2018

Have you made a conscious decision about your physical posture on stage when you give a talk? Most speakers, especially those at tech conferences, don’t think about the physical aspect of their performance at all. You often see people standing rigid like stone statue, or pacing backwards and forwards all the time, or even hoping from one foot to another.

Bad physical presence is unbearably distracting for the audience, and detracts from the strength of your message. Great physical presence, on the other, is magical, and enhances your ability to engage with the audience. Is physical presence a skill, or are you born with it?

I think that’s the wrong question. The first question to ask is, have you even thought about it, before you go on stage? As with many things in life, awareness is the key to doing something. You have to know that there is a problem to solve it. You have to know that physical presence is something you should think about.

Awareness gives you a strategy: instead of trying to adopt a physical posture or behaviour that is unnatural, decide in advance on one that works for you. The mere act of deciding in advance takes the whole problem off the table. It does not matter if you decide to simply stand still in one place like a statue. The fact that you have decided to do that in advance means that you do not have to worry about it when you are giving your talk. You are less distracted and thus more of your brain power will go into giving a great delivery.

I struggled with this for a long time. I did not know what to do with myself on stage. And the only time I ever thought about it was when I was on stage! So I never solved the problem until I recognised that it was one, and I had to devote a bit of time to it separately.

I decided that I was not able to walk up and down, taking different positions at various points in a talk. I am one of those speakers that stays in the same place. I do use my arms and hands to make points visually. I do this naturally, so I decided to go with that as my physical motif. I still leave myself the option of levelling up to the ability to walk around the stage gracefully—just because you’ve decided not to do something yet does not mean you can’t ever do it. But it’s on my todo list for skill building, and thus mentally boxed, rather than making me feel uncomfortable on stage.

Because public speaking happens in real time, you can’t really solve most of the challenges on stage. I think this is the underlying reason why most people have a fear of public speaking, and why many practised speakers still say they get nervous before a talk (so do I!). It’s perfectly rational. Real time is hard and unforgiving.

This approach gives us a good general strategy for the challenges of public speaking: solve as many real time things in advance! Just make decisions about what you will do. It’s fine to decide you’ll do something that is not at the highest level of performance—you’re just allocating your scarce mental resources elsewhere. It’s one less problem to worry about on stage.


Thursday, March 15th 2018

This newsletter (and our company) will be supporting and hosting a World Speech Day event in Ireland on March 15th. This is a global event taking place in over 80 countries worldwide on the same day and celebrates the art of public speaking by hosting and supporting the voices of new speakers and young people all over the world.

Volunteers Needed!
If you’d like to participate, we’re looking for volunteers to help make this community event happen. We need people to help with preparation, as well as participate on the night of the 15th. Everybody is welcome.


Can I ask you for a favor? If you enjoy this newsletter, and if you find it useful, please consider recommending it to a friend who is learning to give technical talks, or who aspires to do so. I meet so many cool programmers who have brilliant things to share with the world—that’s you!

Please help me to improve this newsletter – I’d love to hear your suggestions! You can email me directly: richard@metsitaba.com. You can tweet too: @metsitaba. Thank you so much for reading!

A special thanks and shout out to TammyCora, and David for helping to make this newsletter even better!

Richard
@rjrodger

Speaker Profile

Your body may shape who you are…[V]
Amy Cuddy

This is one the most popular talks on the TED site, and with good reason. Amy Cuddy tells you all about posture and how it affects your mind, and the mind of your audience. Despite some recent skepticism I have to say, in my experience, this stuff works. Yes, that is “anecdata”, but you have to use every edge you can get.

I did pull a cheap stunt on an audience once that worked out really well. I got them all to stand up and adopt the “victory power pose”, where you raise your arms in a V shape. It put them all in a great mood. Me too! It’s not something you should do as a rule, or you’ll become known for using gimmicks, but every once in a while it can be a little magical.

Learn from the best

“The Speech that made Obama.” [V]
Barack Obama

My parents shared not only an improbable love; they shared an abiding faith in the possibilities of this nation. They would give me an African name, Barack, or “blessed,” believing that in a tolerant America, your name is no barrier to success.

Commentary:

This speech was named as “the Speech that made Obama” according to the New York Times. We’ll take a closer look at why.

Barack Obama was a candidate that was completely unknown to the public.  He is a gifted speaker with great control over his voice and his gestures with an emotional intelligence that makes it easy for him to connect with people.

He needed to connect with the people and he did it through his story, his story that was just like anyone else’s story. He made each and every person think that his story was the same as theirs, he wasn’t really telling his own story he was telling their story, the story of the American dream, that all men are created equal and that life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness is their God given right.

Presentation Secrets
Alexei Kapterev

We appreciate the lessons learned approach to educating people and Alexei gives his own account of what it was like for him, the things he had to learn starting out and how he approached what he needed to learn. It’s a great book to learn how to deliver your story in a way that focuses on what your listeners need in order to remember your talk. It explains not only how but why a certain approach is needed and discusses the finer non verbal points that affect your presentation and audience engagement.

How Posture Affects Public Speaking Success. [blog]
Dr. Nick Morgan

“Most of the research on posture and public speaking has focused on two aspects of body language that seem to offer opportunities for improvement with relatively little work.”

Read full article.

Three Conferences

ElixirDaze

Head to the Mile High City for a two-day conference focused on building the Elixir community. Top talks from great speakers from around the community, helpful hacking, and great networking in a unique venue. Take your pick of nearby ski resorts for an post-conference ski adventure too!

Nowhere Developers

Ever been to Arkansas? Well now’s your chance to join engineers, hackers and makers in the heart of Northwest Arkansas in Bentonville. If the city sounds familiar to you, it’s most likely because it’s the world headquarters of Wal-Mart. The real appeal, of course, is to attend this high-level conference and event series for developers and engineers offering more in-depth and engaging technical discussions. The focus? Only the the latest developments in software engineering, machine learning, blockchain, distributed systems and frontend/backend development.

LaravelLive India

The first of its kind, the Indian Laravel conference is a full-day event hosting 300 attendees in New Delhi, India’s capital city. Bringing together bright minds offering talks on a wide range of PHP Laravel topics to foster learning, inspire, and provoke conversations that matter.

CFP Calendar

These are the CFP deadline dates and submission pages.

What’s in a name?

We are changing our name! I came up with the name metsitaba and started using it without really testing it on other people. Turns out it’s pretty hard to spell, and thus sucks as a name. In true startup fashion, we’re “pivoting” to a new name. The transition will take a few weeks, as we need to update our website and all that stuff. I wrote a newspaper article about the whole thing if you want more background.

The mission of this newsletter remains the same: for speakers, by speakers, growing a community to help each other become better at delivering technical conference talks, and supporting the growing acceptance of diversity in technology.

I also wanted to write a note about your personal data. To send you this newsletter we need your name (so we can be polite) and email address (so we can delivery it). You’ve trusted us with that information, and all you signed up for was a newsletter, so that’s the only thing we’ll do with that information. A lot of startups have “newsletters” that are just sales pitches. I hope you can tell from the content of this newsletter that we don’t think that is cool or useful for people. This is a newsletter about public speaking, and it’s the newsletter I wish I could have read when I was just starting out giving talks.