Public Speaking


Field Artillery
Verified Military
Apr 21, 2018
Land of hipsters, craft beer, and coffee
Hello, good evening (or morning/afternoon, depending on where you're at), everyone. Glad to see that this forum has been reactivated.

I'm currently an Officer in the Army National Guard and I have been looking at myself especially after getting back from my first deployment. Without trying to toot my own horn here, from what leaders and peers tell me, and from what I've discovered myself is that people tell me I am smart, easy to work with, and extremely patient. However, one of my greatest weakest links is public speaking. If I'm called upon during large meetings, I freeze up and I try to do my best to ignore the anxiety and just go with it, but my fear gets the best of me and I just come across as shaky and non confident. People saying "just be confident" is worthless to me. It's like telling a sick person "Just be healthy." When it comes to briefing my section, my NCOs while in a line company, or doing MDMP for FUOPS, it's business as usual; I work fine.

I reflect back when I was a butter bar (yes, it was only last year, but still), I got pulled aside by someone that didn't want to do their job for doing a brief to the BDE CDR at a Combined Arms Rehearsal, despite me just walking into room to see what was going on. I really didn't have room to say no, so I executed it horribly and looked bad in front of all BDE staff, because my team that I worked with thought the expectations were unreasonable (but I still rolled with it, I can't just not do something because I thought it was dumb), I was unprepared, and nervous.

Sorry for rambling, but I thought I'd give some background. Anyone have any advice, tips, or stories to share on this matter? Thanks. I'd figure I should work on this before I progress any further, because I feel no matter what you know, if you don't have the charisma, people still won't buy what you're selling.
When I was at high school I did a lot of public speaking one year. I was nervous the first time but it got much better. I found for the first time I would address the back wall and kind of sweep my eyes over people in the front and middle but not really look directly at them.

I also went into those totally winging it and while it worked out for me on those occasions it's not a good method so: know your stuff. Chuck a bad joke in at some stage early to break the ice a bit but make sure you know those slides inside and out because you'll probably need to field questions. Knowing your stuff builds confidence too.

That was for assembly halls full of students but the principals are the same.
Yeah, telling someone to "just---" is probably not going to help them. Ever. If they could "just do----" or "just be---" they probably wouldn't be asking for help in the first place.

Public speaking is a trainable skill. Like any skill some people have a higher natural starting point but just about anyone can get better at it.

I was pretty good at public speaking for a while, but I'm now noticing a decline, which I'm attributing to a combination of age, cognitive decline, and the fact that I don't do it as much as I used to.

For me, the best way to get better at something is to do more of it. Given the circumstances, it's probably best to practice on your own instead of saving it up for high risk / high impact situations.

A big part of coming across as confident is looking confident. How physically fit are you? How good do you look in a uniform? Do you have any distracting mannerisms? Filler words are a personal pet peeve of mind, for example if a person says "you know" often enough then mentally I want them to STFU because if "I know," why the hell are you wasting my time by continuing to talk to me?

You can learn about being a good writer by reading other good writing, and one of the ways you can become a better, more confident public speaker is by watching good public speakers.

I suggest you watch a bunch of Ted Talks, making a list of good and bad things you notice. Then practice. Record yourself, critique the results. AAR, adjust. Repeat the process. The more rank you earn, the more important it is for you to be a decent public speaker. Good luck!
I have spoken in front of 500 people, I have briefed flag officers, the president of a hospital and university, and special needs kids. Public speaking is just skills, and any skill is learnable. And like any other skill the more you do it the better you are.
Here’s the Army’s PUB training for communication:

What I’ve always done to help calm nerves before any public speaking is to practice, practice, practice. Ask your spouse, kids, peers, homeless guy down the street, whomever, to listen to you.

Also, ask if you can film your presentation. It’s amazing what we do when we talk and not even know it.
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Drill down on the basics. Think about the point you're trying to get across or the effect you are trying to have. Then think through what you're going to say, how you're going to say it, and how much time you have to say it. If you do those things, you'll eliminate filler words and annoying mannerisms, and will make your audience think you're not wasting your time. "Be brief, be brilliant, be gone." When you get what you want, or when your time is up, or when a decision has been reached, move out.
You could get a prescription for Propranolol. For most people the anxiety is the problem, not any kind of actual speech or practical effect. Propranolol is a beta blocker that basically blocks your sympathetic nervous system from activating the things that make you feel anxious.

Most family practice docs will prescribe a low dose specifically for public speaking.

I use it for tests. I used to be a warp speed test taker, now I go slow and methodical. I also have some shaking which the propranolol also completely knocks out,

ETA: this is just a tool to help, not a curative agent. If you’re a shit show you still will be one.
Propranolol to go down, OTC Primatine Mist to go up.

My only propranolol story: when I was an O2, I worked as a flag aide. I have to give a briefing to a roomful of generals and admirals, basically pitching a program, a pet project of my boss. I was sweating more than a pig at a barbecue. A doc gave me a couple and a shot of bourbon about 45 minutes before, I sailed right through.

Since then I have given a million speeches and large-group presentations and I rarely get nervous.