Things I’ve Learned About Public Speaking

Jen Xu
5 min readJan 24

Now these are things that work for me…so I can’t say they’ll work for everyone. It should go without saying, but these are all “within reason”, because at some point it would just be incompetence. And it also might be ill-advised to take public speaking advice from a comic for teaching classes or lecturing. And also, my actual public speaking experience has been limited to being a TA for one class and giving one hands-on/interactive lecture. Oh and, I’m really bad at shutting up & I love talking, & I always have, & I’ve always enjoyed attention. So, do take all of this with a grain of salt. My previous experiences weren’t as high-stakes as some public speaking engagements, so thank goodness I’ve been able to work on this in some lower-stakes arenas.

The hardest thing is that successful public speaking usually involves a pretty engaged audience, though, which is highly unpredictable, so good luck!

  1. Roll with the punches. You might have a disengaged audience, one difficult audience member, someone who interrupts you a lot or is terrible at whispering. You might run into technical issues. You might be close to losing your voice. I think all of these lessons point to this idea. I’m not an expert on this — I struggle heavily to “roll with the punches”, though I’m arguably much worse at this in my personal life because things seem to matter less there. Anyway.
  2. Learn how to “laugh at yourself”. In a dignified manner, of course — make sure to include a very confident, entertained, and sheepish smile, and maybe include a head tilt (don’t ask me why, it just works). I think demonstrating self-awareness is a huge key to building rapport with your listeners. It works in comedy…if you can admit that you recognize your joke bombed, people will laugh at that. Now, ideally, in more professional public speaking experiences, people will not laugh at you, but with you. And I don’t mean that you actually have to laugh out loud, but the idea is to just be authentic & genuine & okay with messing up, because it may happen.
  3. It’s okay to not know everything. Public speaking means people will ask you questions, and they will ask you tough ones you’ve never even thought of, and they will expect you to have an answer. But you’re better off admitting you don’t know & telling them you’ll try to find out than pulling something out of your butt. But there’s a balance, so thinking through something in front of them isn’t too bad either, as long as you can recognize when it’s…
Jen Xu

Athletic trainer, PhD student, coffee lover. I write about fitness, mental health, being Asian-American, and personal growth.