How to Get Over the Anxiety of Public Speaking?: Watch the Stanford Video, “Think Fast, Talk Smart,” Viewed Already 15 Million Times

How many of us fear pub­lic speak­ing more than death: four out of five, nine out of ten, 99 out of 100? We’ve all heard a vari­ety of sta­tis­tics, all of them sug­gest­ing the for­mi­da­bil­i­ty — per­ceived or real — of the task of get­ting up and talk­ing in front of oth­er peo­ple. But per­haps you’ll get an even clear­er sense of that from the num­ber 15,021,560: the total view count, as of this writ­ing, racked up by “Think Fast, Talk Smart,” an hour-long talk on pub­lic speak­ing tech­niques by com­mu­ni­ca­tion coach and Stan­ford Grad­u­ate School of Busi­ness lec­tur­er Matt Abra­hams.

The pedants among us, myself includ­ed, will have already tak­en note of that lin­guis­tic infe­lic­i­ty in the very title of the talk, but Abra­hams him­self wastes lit­tle time point­ing it out him­self. He also points out its val­ue: you’ve got to catch the atten­tion of your audi­ence, and a delib­er­ate­ly made mis­take (or even a non-delib­er­ate­ly made one) catch­es it as well as any­thing.

He goes on to elab­o­rate on var­i­ous oth­er tech­niques we can use not just to get oth­er peo­ple lis­ten­ing well, but to get our­selves talk­ing well, the first pri­or­i­ty being to get our­selves to stop trip­ping over our innate desire to talk per­fect­ly.

Abra­hams leads his audi­ence through sev­er­al short “games,” instruct­ing them to do things like explain­ing their week­ends to one anoth­er by spelling out loud and sell­ing one anoth­er Slinkys, with the under­ly­ing goal of break­ing the habits that have so often imped­ed our abil­i­ty to sim­ply get up and speak. He also pro­vides phys­i­cal tech­niques, like doing push-ups or tak­ing a walk around the block before giv­ing a talk in order to get your mind more “present,” and intel­lec­tu­al ones, like always adher­ing to a struc­ture, no mat­ter how sim­ple and no mat­ter how ordi­nary the sit­u­a­tion. (“I prac­tice these struc­tures on my kids,” he notes.)

Tak­ing the wider view, we should­n’t look at speak­ing as a chal­lenge, accord­ing to Abra­hams, but as a chance to explain and influ­ence. “A Q&A ses­sion is an oppor­tu­ni­ty for you,” he says, and prac­tic­ing what he preach­es, he opens one up at the end of the talk, under­scor­ing that we can improve our pub­lic speak­ing skills by doing as he says, but even more so by doing as he does. Some of those more than eleven mil­lion views sure­ly come from peo­ple who have watched more than once, study­ing Abra­hams’ own use of lan­guage, both ver­bal and body. He also demon­strates a good deal of humor, though brevi­ty, as Shake­speare wrote, being the soul of wit, you might con­sid­er chas­ing his talk with the four-minute Big Think video on the same sub­ject just above.

Abra­hams reg­u­lar­ly teach­es cours­es on Pub­lic Speak­ing at Stan­ford Con­tin­u­ing Stud­ies. If you live in the San Fran­cis­co Bay Area, give his class­es a look. Also see his books, Speak­ing Up with­out Freak­ing Out: 50 Tech­niques for Con­fi­dent and Com­pelling Pre­sent­ing.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Teacher Helps His Stu­dent Over­come Stut­ter­ing and Read Poet­ry, Using the Sound of Music

NPR Launch­es Data­base of Best Com­mence­ment Speech­es Ever

How to Sound Smart in a TED Talk: A Fun­ny Primer by Sat­ur­day Night Live‘s Will Stephen

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities and cul­ture. His projects include the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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  • Anond A. says:

    In fea­tur­ing Abra­ham’s talk, class­es, and book on Open Cul­ture, it would have been nice if the author had briefly men­tioned that Abra­hams not only teach­es class­es at Stan­ford Con­tin­u­ing Stud­ies, but that Open Cul­ture’s founder heads the Con­tin­u­ing Stud­ies Pro­gram in which he works. This would have made this pro­mo­tion appear a lit­tle less self-serv­ing, and more intel­lec­tu­al­ly hon­est, par­tic­u­lar­ly with­in this con­texts of “com­mu­ni­ca­tion” and high­er edu­ca­tion.

  • Peter Smale says:

    George Eliot: “Few things hold the per­cep­tion more thor­ough­ly cap­tive than anx­i­ety about what we have got to say”

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