Speaking Skills

7 minutes, 2 links


Updated October 11, 2022

Speaking in front of a group of people can be very uncomfortable, especially for programmers. In fact, public speaking is one of the most common and stress-inducing fears there is, regardless of which profession you’re in. Almost all people experience anxiety before they have to speak to an audience, so you’re not alone if your nerves get the best of you.

While you may never need to speak in front of your entire company, you may find yourself in one-on-one conversations, team meetings, or larger all-hands meetings where you’re asked to speak on a certain topic. Improving your public speaking skills has many benefits and will help you be more effective at your job.

Let’s take a look at some things you can do to improve your speaking skills, whether you’re talking to one person, a small group of people, or a large audience.

Nerves Are Normal

Speaking publicly doesn’t come naturally to most people. No one wants to embarrass themselves in front of an audience, yet that’s the most common fear among people who have to get up and speak in front of others.

It takes a lot of practice and preparation to build confidence in your public speaking skills, but even the best public speakers still get hit with anxiety and need to manage their nerves. In fact, some even argue that nerves can be a good thing because the adrenaline rush makes you more alert and helps you focus on what you need to communicate. Regardless of how you deal with the anxiety of speaking in front of people, learning to manage your nerves is a valuable skill to build. You may never be able to get rid of your nerves, so learning to manage them will help you communicate more effectively.

Preparation Is Key

If you get up in front of others to give a talk without any kind of preparation, you’ve failed to set yourself up for success. Finding time to prepare for the talk will make a huge difference in your confidence, and you’ll have more time to figure out how to explain your topic clearly and concisely.

Research your topic. You want to make sure you have a thorough understanding of what you’ll be speaking about. To teach others about a topic or idea, it’s crucial to have a solid understanding of it yourself. If you don’t understand something well, you’ll have a hard time teaching others about it.

If you’re putting together a presentation with slides, add notes to each slide. These are usually talking points you want to touch on for that slide. Add bullet points and use short sentences or phrases so it’s easy to scan during your presentation.

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If possible, ask someone else to proofread your slides, especially if you will be speaking to people outside of your immediate team. Spelling mistakes, grammatical errors, and inconsistencies in your talking points can distract listeners from the message you’re trying to get across, so it’s good to catch these things early with a second pair of eyes, similar to how you have your coworkers proofread your pull requests when making code changes.

Practice running through your slides at least once before giving your talk. Find an empty conference room in the office or do it at home in front of a mirror. Talking out loud helps you find parts of your presentation that may sound awkward or don’t make sense. It’ll help you identify which points you’re having trouble explaining so you can refine your notes and improve your delivery.

Sometimes, you’ll only have a limited amount of time to give your talk. It could be five minutes or fifteen minutes, but you want to make sure you respect the time of others who may be speaking after you. If you practice beforehand, make sure to time yourself so you have an idea of your talk’s length. This will help you know if you need to shorten it and cut things out of your presentation, or if you’re under time and can dive deeper into one or two key slides.

Stay on Topic

Staying on topic sounds easy, but it can be difficult when you’re in the middle of a speech or presentation. It can be intimidating standing in front of a group of people who are staring back at you, and you’ll feel like you need to say something interesting to keep their attention. Try not to ramble on and talk about things that are not closely related to your topic. Try to get your point across as succinctly as possible, which is why practicing beforehand is crucial to refining your message.

More words do not necessarily mean more information, so don’t assume that the more you talk the more your audience will learn. In fact, rambling on will often dilute your message and make it harder for your audience to understand the points you’re trying to make. Most people will tune out after a certain point or once they reach a certain information threshold, so it’s usually better to keep it as short and sweet as possible.

Anticipate Questions

Always try to leave a minute or two at the end to answer any questions people may have. Depending on the complexity of the topic and how familiar people are with it, you may have quite a few questions from the audience. It’s usually a good idea to anticipate what questions people may have, but it’s impossible to think of every question you may be asked.

Also keep in mind that you may not have the answer to all the questions people will ask, and that’s okay! It’s not a bad thing to admit that you don’t know the answer, but let them know that you’ll follow up and try to get them an answer later on after the presentation. Then, make sure you actually do follow up and try to answer their question as best you can.

So, now that we’ve gone over specific things to keep in mind when communicating both in writing and verbally, let’s look at some more general things that will help you become a better communicator.

Listening Skills

Most people assume that communicating is all about how you write and speak to other people, but that’s only half the story. Communication also requires you to listen to other people’s thoughts, ideas, and concerns, and that’s equally as important for collaborating and working well with others.

Just as it can be frustrating when you feel like you’re not being heard, your teammates, coworkers, clients, and customers will also feel frustration if you don’t listen to what they have to say. Building rapport with others requires mutual respect between all parties, and everyone’s thoughts should be taken into consideration with equal weight. Other people’s opinions matter just as much as yours do, so make sure to listen to what they have to say.

So, what can you do to become a better listener?

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