I have confidence in sunshine,
I have confidence in rain
I have confidence that spring will come again,
Besides, which you see
I have confidence in me…

Tash Willcocks
12 min readMar 25, 2022

Ok I may have given this post the longest title ever, but you should go away with some great advice and an ear worm to warm your thoughts… so its a win win.

Confidence in Public Speaking, just in case my title threw you!

Pre pandemic I spoke on a lot of stages, from Salford to San Fransisco, in front of 10 people to thousands, I have decided to perform (bad) magic mid TedX, have people throw tennis balls at me at Design Manchester, tried to talk Swedish (again badly) in Gothenburg and I even thought it was a great idea to sing (reallllly badly) at the end of one talk, which is one of my greatest fears, I will be writing about this in the next post on confidence in public speaking …

So… confidence in public speaking I am asked about this a lot… I will be sharing my experience and top tips, but first I wanted to open up the conversation to some trusted friends, many of whom are some of the best speakers I have seen, so I sent a simple question out into the speaker universe “Most of you in this space will be used to public speaking, so I would love to know, whats your advice, tips or tricks, to those new to this area, or who may lack confidence” And the universe answered, well some ace humans did after a little bit of chasing! (I have listed them all at the end if you want to check them all out a little further)

So let’s hear from these amazing speakers….

Be you! Be Human

Sarah Drummond, Vimla Appadoo Mark Shayler & Jorik Elferink all talked about the importance of staying authentic, simply being yourself, being human…

Vimla stated “Be authentic, don’t try and mimic someone’s else’s style or cadence but take the time to understand who you are and bring that with you. I tend to open with my biggest vulnerability and it settles my nerves instantly. I tell people I’m an introvert in the first 5 minutes of my talk and it means I don’t have to worry about my voice shaking anymore because everyone knows I’m out of my comfort zone. Bring your vulnerability with you”

Sarah shared “What you have to say, your perspective, your thoughts are always of interest to other people. Never doubt that.

Even if you think someone has already said this before me, your take will be unique”

And echoed Vimla with “Don’t try to be anyone but yourself.”

Mark Shayler is the author of “Do Present” A book about how to present and be heard, so he had many gems of wisdom, so he will keep popping up through out!. He began “As one of the compere’s at The Do Lectures I’ve sat close-up to some of the best talks ever. I also speak on stage a lot myself. And I teach people how to speak in public and have written a book about it. Here are the things I advise people. First up, no matter who you want to be like, you can’t. You are you and they are already taken. Second, this isn’t an act, but it is a performance. You can bring a little theatre with you.”

I love that Sarah also shared this little nugget, I think we forget even the most seasoned speakers still are human! “If it helps, I get nervous every time I give a talk but I know I’ve rehearsed countless times over and if I make a mistake it’s likely only I will remember or notice because I’m the only one who knows”

Jorik followed this with “Be human. If you make a mistake, forget something, fumble your words etc, acknowledge it and move on. Be willing to show this vulnerability. As long as your story is interesting, people don’t really care about mistakes. The audience knows it’s difficult to be on stage. Public speaking is one of the biggest fears (The number one fear for 75% of people surveyed according to the National Institutes of Mental Health) So I always see it as an accomplishment to be there. Honestly, I think small mistakes really add to the experience. If you’re able to acknowledge it and then move on with your story, it’s impressive and people know you’re also just a human. Have a little laugh or something with everyone there and you connect much more with each other.”

Vimlas advice on being yourself and authentic
Vimla’s advice on being authentic

Embrace mistakes! Have fun…

Following on from Joriks advice of connecting and sharing a smile, Cameron Norman added “One of the simplest and most effective things I do is go into every speaking engagement expecting that there will be slip-ups, goofs, awkwardness so that when it happens — and it usually does (but rarely as bad as I think it might — I just laugh it off as if it’s “right on cue”. It really helps. If a goof doesn’t happen, you have a great victory! It’s all win-win.

Mark Shayler agreed, saying “ Let yourself enjoy it. It is a privilege to present, not a burden.” what a beautiful way of framing.

The Importance of Story Telling

Tim Smith & Jared Spool talked about the importance of telling a story, Tim talked through how storytelling can help with imposter syndrome “I often struggle with imposter syndrome when speaking. I feel like I don’t deserve to be up there leading the conversation about whatever topic. What helps is shifting my perception from being a speaker to a partner.” He continued that he realised “that my story can make someone else’s professional life even just a little better, it takes a lot of the fear away, because I see myself as a peer who wants to continue the convo, rather than some kind of celebrity who drops the mic never to be seen again.”

Jared shared “One place I see folks get stuck is the difference between the story and the performance of the story. They are separate.

If the story isn’t compelling or interesting, it takes more work to deliver a compelling or interesting performance. (It’s possible. One can make reading the dictionary interesting with enough practice. But why give yourself that challenge if you don’t have to?)

When I coach presenters, I’ll often start on the story, not the presentation.

  • What is the key message you want the audience to take away?
  • What makes the story most interesting for you?
  • When you tell someone the story, one-on-one in informal conversation, what do they find most interesting or valuable?
  • What can you get rid of that has nothing to do with the story? (Let’s start with that opening set of slides about “who I am.” Not relevant, or, if it is relevant, only talk about it after you’ve stated the thing that makes it relevant.)

It’s much easier to speak publicly when the story does all the heavy lifting.

Mark Shayler echoed this with “it’s all about the idea. Remember that the idea is the main thing. Your job is to bring it to life.”

Jared’s advice on letting the story do the heavy lifting

Be what you want to see — mirror the energy

Jenny shared some advice. “I am unsure where I heard it first” said Jenny “but I have used it ever since. “Be a mirror of the energy you want to see in the room.” Jenny followed this with “Nothing was more relevant when I was asked to facilitate an Ultimate Rock, Paper, Scissors energiser with 300 students. I was pumped and totally ready. Just before show time, the activity got changed to a Guided Meditation instead. I’ve never had to wind down and apply self-control that quickly before. I’ve never worked adrenaline like it (like taming a wild horse), as I did the whole thing ad hoc with a pulse I don’t know how high. Nobody noticed though, phew!!”

Show Don’t Tell

Building on being what you want to see in the room Mark Shayler said “don’t tell me you’re funny, make me laugh. Don’t tell people how great your business is, how innovative you are, how entrepreneurial you are: show them.” I love this, but he went on to add a warning “be aware of your limiting beliefs. They kept you safe for years, now they are keeping you small.”

Reframe your role, look at the audience through a different lens

Aparna Ashok, Leila Singleton & Yves Florack like to look at the audience through a different lens

Leila said “​​My best public speaking advice is to think of yourself not as a performer, but as a tour guide: you are taking your audience on a journey through ideas that are familiar to you, but new to them. Most people make the mistake of going into a speech or presentation with the detrimental mindset that the audience is judging them, as if it’s a timed exam — that would make even a pro anxious! In reality, though, most audiences are not at all interested in scrutinising; they are genuinely there to listen, and you are there to share, maybe even to teach. Focus on your role as your audience’s guide and you can’t go wrong!”

Aparna shared “Think about what you want to share with the world, being asked to speak somewhere limits your time to 30 minutes more or less and makes you think about what you would want to say if you were put on a pulpit. If you are really nervous at the start, think… nobody knows you! What have you got to lose. They will remember you if you are really good or forget if you are not… it’s a win win.. You can always have another go!”

Yves pointed out that he had “learned a lot from facilitating small workshops, and treating your audience as people that you are having a conversation with, with whom you can also interact.” he continued “Besides that, my confidence grew from just doing it a lot, and hosting many smaller events, helped with bigger events too.

I blame my organic way of public speaking on my care for people. I care that everyone in the room is treated fairly and equally, so I have a tendency to always think about whether everyone has had their fair share of value as well, and try to include everyone as much as possible. I also have a knack for making sure that things are understood clearly, which means that I try to formulate things in as simple layman language as I can based on the audience, and also make sure that things are understood by frequently checking in with the audience or audience members whether something was clear or not.

Take in your audience, and listen to them carefully, they are your peers at that moment.”

Practice Practice Practice

Ryan Rumsey & Melin Edomwonyi believe practice make… well if not perfect a pretty great talk!
I am going to throw in Salvador Dali here, who I obviously did not talk to directly! “Have no fear of perfection — you’ll never reach it.

Melin carried on the “be human” and embrace mistakes theme, but added depth with her tips “I’m not a trained speaker. I was sort of thrown into this whole thing to be honest. So for me, it’s been about embracing my imperfections, mistakes and knowing that no talk will be perfect, or super fluid.

Although I have a few tips in order to expect the best out of a speaking gig:

- Prepare well. Always have a good idea of what, why and how you want to deliver a talk. Knowing your audience for the specific talk, and sometimes even the venue should affect all your decisions on how to deliver your talk.

- Do not try to memorise everything that you wrote on your notes. I never memorise my notes. Instead I sit down and write down everything, have great slides to reflect what I want to talk about and just let it flow. That way everything flows naturally and genuinely. That’s more my style than being a perfect pitch speaker”

Ryan is all about practicing in different ways “Practice with your most awkward and scary audience… yourself. There’s nothing like speaking the words out loud in a room and recording yourself to rewatch as an observer. It helps you find your rhythm, your voice, and the beats by which you’ll present visual materials.

Even better, practice in a room where others can see you. Smile at them as they walk by. Speaking in public is as much about having a 1:1 conversation. Engage with those you’re talking to, giving visual clues you’re a human, and with those things, your audience will be cheering for you.”

Sarah Drummond also had this to say “​​Practice in front of the mirror. Public speaking doesn’t come natural to anyone, even the best speakers you can think of. All of them have practised out loud, sighed, laughed at themselves, got frustrated when they messed up, but they did this by practising.”

Joriks advice on being human

You have 6 minutes GO!

Finally let’s wrap up with Kyle Soo, Kyle runs one of the many amazing Pecha Kucha events and had lots to share, it kind of fitted with all the comments and none! So I thought I would save it to wrap up on…

Kyle had this to say “I am a total perfectionist and procrastinator. One way I combat this is by remembering my time at the Hackney Pirates (now the Literacy Pirates), an after-school for young people to improve their reading and writing. The Pirates talked about two types of Captain you can be: Captain Splurge and Captain Perfect.

Captain Splurge is messy and put all their thoughts on paper quickly and in whatever way, using random thoughts, pictures and ideas. They are not beholden to punctuation and making it look ‘right’. Captain Perfect was the opposite and liked order, formality and perfectionism. We tend to be Captain Perfects, but we need to be Captain Splurge at the start and then become Captain Perfect later when we make improvements.

The lesson for me is the first draft will always be sh*t. So get it out there as quickly as possible so you have something to focus on, refine and then perfect as much as possible.

For me, PechaKucha is a really accessible way into public speaking. During COP 26, there were even primary school children using the format to record their views on the climate emergency!

With PechaKucha, you only 20 slides and 20 seconds per slide (aka 20x202), totalling 6 minutes and 40 seconds, so it’s short. Of course it’s easy to do, but difficult to master. Thankfully there is a lot of help out there: I offer training and there are of course PechaKuchas on PechaKuchas made by PechaKucha.” (Kyle recorded this advice and sent it to me)

I am going to end… at the end, with the final piece of advice from Mark Shayler “start at the end. How do you want the audience to feel afterwards? What do you want them to believe? What do you want them to do? Start with the end in mind.”

So as a wrap up… (Or a TL:DR!)
Be you! Be Human
Embrace mistakes! Have fun…
Story Telling is Important
Be what you want to see — mirror the energy
Show don’t tell
Reframe your role, look at the audience through a different lens

and last but never least…
Practice Practice Practice

Are you a Captain Perfect or a Captain Splurge? How can you get a balance of the 2, or find someone who can help with this juggling act? Do you even agree! Do you have any tips, tricks, thoughts or feeling? I would love to hear and keep sharing peoples advice, as I mentioned at the start I will be sharing my own journey, experience and advice. in my next post….

A huge thank you to the fantastic contributors

Aparna Ashok Digital Ethicist at Ikea
Cameron Norman- Principal and President Cense Ltd
Jared Spool is an American writer, researcher, speaker, educator, and an expert on the subjects of usability, software, design, and research.
Jenny Theolin — Independent Design & Education Consultant | Founder of Studio Theolin, WOW Academy, Toolbox Toolbox and Design Education.
Jorik Elferink — Co Founder of the Empathy Game
Kyle Soo — Partnerships and Product Manager @ B Corp UK | Lawyer & runs the fantastic Pecha Kucha Manchester events.
Leila Singleton - Freelance Art/Creative Director • Lead Instructor, Graphic + Digital Design Program, InFocus Film School Canada
Mark Shayler — Thinker. Doer. Creator. Speaker. Author (Do Present)
Melin Edomwonyi — Design Director Me Designs Ex host of Creative Mornings
Ryan Rumsey — Second Wave Dive
Sarah Drummond — Co Founder of Snook, currently filming a documentary on Section 28
Tim Smith — program lead and HCD coach for the Human-Centered Design practice team at USAA, a Fortune 100 financial services company.
Vimla Appadoo — Head of Experience Culture Shift
Yves Florack — Joint Frontiers Co-publisher, UXHel Co-chair, Siili UX Design Lead

Kyle also sent a few cheeky links for you as well.

1) how to do a Pecha by Pecha: https://youtu.be/JlcDz4kLck8

2) Daydream believers/COP26: https://www.pechakucha.com/presentations/daydream-believers and https://mobile.twitter.com/be_daydream/status/1495079704457535491



Tash Willcocks

Head of Learning Design at Snook, Honorary Fellow & Academic Board member Hyper Island, Letter Lover & Typostrator — Insta & Twitter @tashwillcocks