Public speaking: A learned skill, not a magical innate

Conquer your public speaking fears

Erica Tanti
public speaking
© Shutterstock / Terdsak L

The Agile manifesto says that “the most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversation”. Here, JAX London speaker Erica Tanti explains how you can face your public speaking fears and communicate better for development success.

If you want to learn a new programming language, tool or technology, it’s useless to sit around all day reading articles. You have to roll up your sleeves and start coding. Similarly, I could direct you to several excellent books, articles and other resources about public speaking, or invite you to go watch past JAX London talks and analyze how the speakers behaved on stage. The fact of the matter is if you want to learn how to be a better speaker, you’re going to have to start speaking.

This is the point where I lose most people. “I can’t!”, they say with fear in their eyes. People think speaking is a magical innate ability – you either have it, or you don’t. Believe me when I say that this is something you can learn and get better at, with practice. Today, I’d like to invite you to start practicing. If you want to start speaking but don’t know how, here are some ideas from easy to advanced.

Tips and tricks

  • Before going to a meeting, it is useful to look at the meeting agenda and prepare a question or comment. If there are many people in the meeting and you’re afraid you won’t be able to get a word in, let the meeting organizer know in advance. They may be able to prompt you to speak during the meeting. Use pauses in the conversation to your advantage. For example, during a Q&A session, try and be the first to ask a question – people hate being the first person and will pause, waiting for someone else to start.
  • If your team uses scrum, scrum ceremonies are an excellent time to practice your speaking skills. After all, scrum ceremonies are all about getting people together to communicate. However I’ve attended many a Sprint Review where it’s always the same person speaking from a team of five people. It makes me really sad to see that the others are too uncomfortable to stand up and speak.

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  • Network! For example, speak to someone you don’t know at meetup. It can be really scary to randomly go up to someone you don’t know and start a conversation. However remember that if you’re both at the meetup you have an easy opening and something in common. Just ask them what they liked about the talk, about their job, etc. Bonus: if you exchange contact details or business cards!
  • Give a talk to your company or at a meetup in your area. For this point, people often say they don’t know what to talk about or that they’re not an expert on anything in particular. My advice there is just talk about something new you’ve learned which has helped you – no expertise required! People who are new to the topic can learn a lot from you, because you’re more likely to describe things in a simple way.
  • Submit a CFP at a conference like JAX! It might sound scary, but it’s just like speaking at a meetup, but with a lot more people.

In conclusion

I’ve found that, more often than not, people are better at speaking than they think – what prevents them from speaking is their fear. So face your fear head on, pick one of the above (or more!) and start practicing.

Erica Tanti will be delivering a talk at JAX London 2018 on Wednesday, October 10 as part of the Agile & Communication track. Her talk explores in depth how to become more comfortable with public speaking and why improving your public speaking skills is important.

public speaking


Erica Tanti

Erica Tanti is a software engineer at a Fintech company in Malta. Additionally, she is a committee member of the Malta Toastmasters Club which has opened doors to a number of other speaking engagements, the highlight last year being representing Malta at the JCI Public Speaking European Committee in Basel, Switzerland. Follow her on Twitter @EricaTheDev.

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3 years ago

Very interesting article. Very helpful and reliable. Thanks for sharing this and keep up the good wokr, very much appreciated.