Public Speaking – How I Prepare Every Time

(Photo: Tim Wagner)

In the past several weeks, I’ve been asked quite a lot about public speaking.

While downing gin tonics over Brazilian BBQ at the SXSW Interactive tech conference, I was approached by the CMO (Chief Marketing Officer) of a start-up I advise.

She pulled me aside to ask primarily two questions:

1. Where can I learn about the right social media tools to use?

2. What books should I read to learn how to get good at public speaking?

Here were my answers….

1. Where can I learn about the right social media tools to use? (Note: she has an extensive marketing background outside of social media)

Answer: Don’t worry about it.

If you know how to 1) craft a clear and short benefit message to your ideal 1000 customers (read Kevin Kelly’s 1,000 True Fans, the only marketing article you’ll ever need to read), 2) secure and highlight testimonials and case studies, 3) offer a simple trial option to big enterprises (but charge them – no free rides or they won’t value it), and 4) offer awesome customer service to the customers who matter (not becoming consumed by squeaky wheels with more free time than budget) just use the skills you have and view social media, primarily Twitter and Facebook, as communication channels. Nothing new, and you don’t need to respond to every comment/criticism, just like in personal life.

2. What books should I read to learn how to get good at public speaking?

Answer: I don’t know, but I can show you in less than 5 minutes how I do it.

Here was my answer on one sheet of paper:

How I prepare for all public speaking – sketched out at SXSW for a start-up CMO.

Truth be told, I don’t think I’m that good at public speaking. Tons of speakers crush me in presentation, poise, and general lack of F-bombs. Granted, I was born and raised on Long Island, but the smooth delivery doesn’t seem to be a natural skill. Here are the ground rules I developed for myself to compensate, and I’ve been able to jam with some fun audiences as a result (paragraph 5 here), including the EG/TED, fancy schools, Fortune 100 big ‘uns, CIA/NSA, and tech gigs:

1) I won’t focus on being a “public speaker”. I’ll focus on being a teacher from the stage. What I might lack in delivery, I’ll make up for with actionable takeaways.

2) It’s fine (oftentimes good) if some people dislike you or disagree with you, but no one should misunderstand you. Everything you say should be clear.

3) It’s totally fine if you get nervous and stammer a bit, drop F-bombs where needed, or generally feel like a nervous wreck. If you give good actionable, clear advice, people will forgive it all.

4) Have fun and laugh at yourself whenever possible. Beating the audience to the punch makes it much less fun for them to slam you.

5) Have one 16-oz. Diet Coke 45 minutes prior to speaking and another about 20 minutes prior to speaking. Pee before getting on stage or you will look like a squirmy kid at a spelling bee. Yes, Diet Coke will give you hairy palms and insomnia, but this caffeine dosing has proven perfect for me for taking the stage. Could be as much placebo effect as anything else.

Those basics out of the way, here are my explanations of the paper summary above:

1) If the format is a 60-minute keynote, a typical format, then I automatically build in at least 20 minutes of audience Q&A, which I usually make 30 minutes. This reduces my presentation time to 30-35 minutes and allows me to tailor the presentation to the group (via answering their questions) instead of guessing what is most important to them and delivering as a pure monologue.

2) I assume my presentation will be in five parts: approximately 2-minute introduction, three 10-minute segments, and a 2-minute close. I use this “rule of thirds” for the three segments whether the presentation is 60 minutes or 10 minutes.

3) I then plan the content in this order:

10-minute segments – For each segment, what is the main takeaway or usable action for the audience? This means I have three main points in this talk, no more. To flesh out to 10 minutes in length, I then use a PEP (point-example-point) format or, my preference, EPE (example-point-example) format. PEP means you illustrate the concept, then give an example or case study, then reiterate the concept and actionable next step. EPE means you give an example or case study, then explain the concept, then finish with another case study or example. I sketch out 2-3 EPE or PEP for each 10-minute segment, and all of this is done on 1/4 to 1/2 a piece of paper.

Introduction – Now that I have a better idea of my content, I decide on the introduction, preferably starting with a story and then explaining that I’ll introduce three concepts that will help them do “X”, where “X” is whatever the overarching theme of the presentation is.

Unless you are a comedian or have already tested jokes with audiences who don’t know you, do NOT use rehearsed jokes. If a joke falls flat in your intro, it will ruin the experience for you and your audience.

4) Now the harder work and the fun of discovery – rehearsal:

The PEP/EPE is usually sketched out well in advance, and the rehearsal is done the night before the presentation.

I rehearse the intro, segment 1, segment 2, and segment 3, all separately. I’ll repeat the two-minute intro — winging it — until I nail it. I use a kitchen timer on countdown, and each time I finish, I write down any one-liners or wording that I like. Note that I NEVER memorize a speech verbatim, but I do ensure that I have memorized the starting and closing 2-3 sentences for each portion (intro, segments) at this point.

How many times will I repeat each segment? Until I’m happy. I am a perfectionist, so for certain presentations, this could be up to 10 times.

5) Once I have these parts in order, I then wing the close (not before), and repeat like the other portions until I’m happy. For me, it’s not productive to work on the closing statements or questions until I have the rest of the content polished and ready to rock.

6) Now link them all together and do the whole thing until you nail it at least once. Expect you’ll forget about 10% of your memorized lines or anecdotes, and that’s OK, but review your notes each time to ensure you’re hitting the most important points. Once you’ve blazed through it well once, go to bed.

One additional tip: I came to realize long ago that I can barely sleep the night before presentations; it doesn’t matter how many times I do them. So… expect that you won’t sleep and don’t let that add to the stress of the experience. Just get extra sleep the two nights before and plan on an all-nighter. If you get sleep, it’ll be a pleasant surprise instead of a source of panic.

Back to our story:

At this point, you should put your head on your pillow confident. REM sleep cycles will make your delivery smoother. This is why I always rehearse just before bed with no drinks, dinners, or conversations in between.

The next morning, I go for a 20-30 minute brisk walk after a light protein-rich breakfast (no bread). I also avoid caffeine until no more than 1.5 hours before game time, as I found it was too easy otherwise to burn yourself out drinking coffee or tea as a nervous distraction.

Once you’re on deck, just remember: if you’ve done the above, you’ve prepared more than most speakers. If you’re getting chased by a lion, you don’t need to run faster than the lion, just the people running with you. Speaking with other people is similar: you don’t need to be perfect, you just need to be better than a few others, and you’ve already built in insurance with good actionable content. Other presenters too often focus on delivery and forget content; delivery is the first thing to suffer from nerves, but content won’t. It’s your bedrock.

As long as you can keep your time, you’ll f***ing rock it.

Walk up with a smile and knock ’em dead.


Related Videos:

Tim Ferriss: Smash fear, learn anything | Video on (16:30 in length – the comments are hysterical.)

April 21 – Speaking on panel in NYC at 140 Conference

April 27-29 – Speaking in Amsterdam at The Next Web. Bicycles, Queensday, and much mischief, I suspect…

The Tim Ferriss Show is one of the most popular podcasts in the world with more than 900 million downloads. It has been selected for "Best of Apple Podcasts" three times, it is often the #1 interview podcast across all of Apple Podcasts, and it's been ranked #1 out of 400,000+ podcasts on many occasions. To listen to any of the past episodes for free, check out this page.

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279 Replies to “Public Speaking – How I Prepare Every Time”

  1. Inspirational, and being good a public speaking is not a skill to be trivialized, most people would prefer death.

    1. Although there are people that really do fear public speaking more than death ( they are in the minority. Most people simply experience some anxiety just before or at the start of the presentation.

      I know that many people are familiar with the Seinfeld’s “rather be in the casket than give a eulogy” joke –but that statistic was taken from a survey that asked people, “What are you afraid of?” It just means that public speaking came to the mind of respondents more often than death–mostly I would suppose because we experience public speaking more than death!

      Oh…if you have an interest in learning more about public speaking or effective communication in general I write on those topics.

  2. Hey Tim,

    I cracked up when I read your comment about drinking a diet coke just before speaking, but remembering to pee first! Ha, nice 🙂

    Do you drink coffee in the normal course of your day? I was wondering if that would make a difference, and possibly detract from the reason to drink the coke in the first place.

    Thanks for the great blog Tim!

    1. What’s important is to understand that caffeine can elevate your heart rate. Different forms of caffeine affect different people in different ways. I suggest to my clients (they come to me to overcome their fear) to reduce their caffeine the day of, so, for instance, if they are coffee drinkers, to go with decaf that day. It still contains a tad of caffeine which is helpful so as not to get a caffeine-withdrawel headache.

  3. Thanks Tim for this useful post, very important topic to deliver ideas as sometimes between two persons with the same ideas, the presentation makes the difference.

    A thing I found very important for me is to memorize the starting of every part … maybe just a sentence or two, but you better learn it, because changing the part of the speech requires your brain to come back to memory, and you have to be fast enough in that moment.

  4. Tim,

    Great stuff, I’m giving a presentation on nutrition to my hometown high school next week, definitely will work through your process.

    BTW, random Tim Ferriss sighting of the week, watched a video of a Crossfit Endurance certification on the Crossfit Journal website yesterday. Halfway through I see your mug. If that wasn’t you, then you have a twin somewhere in Colorado.


  5. I’ve done a lot of public speaking… a lot… and I think your advice is great. Honestly, the more you speak in public the easier it becomes (although some people would disagree with me).

    Whenever I give a speech, I typically

    1. Break down the time frame and the general structure (as you showed)

    2. Make a brief outline to remind myself what I want to talk about

    3. If it’s really important, I will write out the speech word for word and read and re-read it over and over again so it’s fluid. I usually break it into smaller parts and connect the strings together… and if you first break your speech down and analyze it well, this makes it 10x easier.

    4. Bring my old chemistry goggles to the speech to protect myself from flying rotten tomatoes if things get too out of hand… but so far I haven’t needed them.

    Honestly Tim, great post. Thanks again.

    1. Haha, I love the image of you in your chemistry goggles. Do you actually ever wear them? I think that would be a hoot! The reason some people don’t become more confident with practice (I know because they come to me to overcome their fear of speaking) is that the fear of being seen is different than the fear of not being prepared or experienced. It’s a trigger from past experiences and messages that led people to conclude they weren’t safe. When these triggers are addressed and healed, they are free to have the same experience that you have.

  6. Oh, and I forgot to mention, sometimes I do better if I don’t pee before. In a weird sort of way having take a leak and forcing it back is a great way to get your mind off the crowd and keep your energy focused on your speech.

  7. Great post Tim!

    This past year I have gotten into the public speaking world and your ideas will definitely help out in the future. The major concept I’ve learned thus far is to have confidence in your presentation. If the audience thoroughly believes what you are telling them, all the other stuff falls into place. And they take away a great experience.

    Thanks again!

  8. Awesome post – first question especially relevant to freelancers… I like the idea of clients who have less budget than free time…

    Focus on the few clients who have more money than free time = recipe for success (learnt the hard way)

  9. I’ve always prided myself on being a great writer (at least other tell me so), but have always been a bit shy about speaking. This post was VERY encouraging. You make it seem extremely easy. I’ve spoken publicly in the past, but never had such a simple way of structuring it. I know I can write good, actionable content. That’s my job… haha! Thank you for laying out how to turn that into a great speaking presentation.

  10. Wow, I’m doing 4 talks in the next two weeks and I’m definitely going to try your method. I love public speaking but never really applied a process to it like you have.

  11. Great advice thanks. I think elements of this process would be good not just for public speaking but for structuring any written thoughts as a ‘mini-thesis’ or blog post in order to clarify thoughts or processes.

    Looking forward to the new book Tim 🙂

  12. I liked your article a lot. I also do a lot of presentations and as such I typically tend to also drink Coke before the start of the presentation. I do agree with you that if you are confident in your voice and poise whenever you deliver the message and you show that you really care about what you are speaking about, your audience would listen carefully as well.

  13. Hi Tim,

    I really like your break down for public speaking, I can’t wait to try it.

    I have a question for you. I have noticed in this post you state that you eat a light protein-rich breakfast (no bread), and in your other posts you have said you do this for cognitive performance. Why do you not eat carbohydrates in the morning? Or do I have to wait for your next book to find out?


  14. Some things to remember.

    1) A Keynote talk and a Presentation are 2 very different things. Most people confuse the two. A keynote is mostly an entertaining/inspiring/motivational talk. A presentation is meant to teach mostly. So your structure is more for a presentation than a keynote.

    (btw a keynote is actually derived from the entertainment world and the presentation has its roots in the teaching world.)

    2) Stories should be used liberally throughout any presentation. It allows each person to take something out of the talk, because they’ll interpret the stories meaning at a personal level.

    3) If the average person uses the structure you’ve outlined (it works well for you because you have a ‘celebrity’ type status) they’ll have good success – but it won’t necessarily be memorable. Story/anecdotes/case study is critical.

    Great outline for a successful structure though…

  15. Thanks for this Tim! Simple yet effective ways of doing things are definitely beneficial to me.

    I like the 10 min segments broken up. I’ve been pretty curious about this lately and have only been doing 15-20 min presentations throughout college however I’ve been asked to do speaking on Social Media and Internet Marketing for some local businesses in the Buffalo, NY area. This definitely will help me out

    Thanks dude!

  16. Agreed on the great post. Always used caffeine for workouts, never thought about it for public speaking, I’ve gotta give that a try!

    It’s great to see the different ways people prepare for a speech, so thanks for sharing that. do you do a Q&A like Gary V!

  17. For me, the most important thing was practice. Back when I was 22, my employer of the moment required that I go through a 14 week (1 night/week for 4 hours) Dale Carnegie public speaking course. It’s all about repetition. After all those weeks giving little 90 to 180 second talks to 20 other people even more terrified than me (btw, it’s the terror of all those eyes focused on you that makes it so awful), I could walk up to the podium, be given a slip of paper with one word on it, and on the spot make up an interesting (if formula driven) talk on that one word. It will make you feel powerful. I think the Toastmasters does something similar for free.

    As I’ve grown older, public speaking just gets easier and easier. Rules I have learned:

    1. Never write it down and especially never read your speech.

    2. Know your subject. You should have all necessary facts and concepts on the tip of your tongue. Dale Carnegie would say, “You have to have earned the right to talk about your subject.”

    3. PowerPoint presentations are usually AWFUL. When I use powerpoint, I make the background a pretty field of wildflowers and no more than 3 bullet points per slide. I then use each of the bullets to kick-off my next little 3 to 5 minute speech. If you have to use a graph or a table, and you want anyone but you to actually understand it, you need to leave it up for at least 5 minutes and you must slowly walk through what it’s supposed to represent. You should even describe the units being used on the X & the Y axis.

    4. Make yourself talk slowly. You’re going to be totally wired with tunnel vision. Remind yourself to take deep breaths, stop, smile and slow yourself down.

    5. You will lose track of time. That’s part of the tunnel vision. I now set my iphone on the podium with that giant timer running so I don’t spend too long talking about my first few points.

    6. All those eyes starring a hole in you is disconcerting to say the least. Pick 2 people, one front right, the other left rear and just alternate talking to them. The rest of the people just disappear.

    After about 50 times, the whole process is so easy you’ll be totally relaxed. Unfortunately, public speaking is another one of those things you’ve got to practice to get good at…damnit !


  18. Tim, great post. I really enjoy public speaking and try to emulate some aspects of your delivery which comes accross as calm, almost conversational and is really engaging. Ok, two things that help me prepare –

    1. Bourne Identity night before presentation to chill out (something about the music / pace of that film that makes it an ultimate stress-buster!!)

    2. In the car on the morning of the presentation I put some motivational music on…something like the Rocky soundtrack, and preferably sing it too. With Aviator shades on for added fun.

    Love the book Tim, looking forward to the next one. Cheers, Mike

  19. This is very close to my approach, which has been for more political or opinionated audiences. Actionables still have to be delivered, though. Entry, three main points EPE, exit, always works – and you should know how to skip stuff in case you go over time. Instead of the diet Coke I down a Schweppes Russchian – tastes like carbonated banana peel, but kills any nervousness instantly – which I started doing when playing concerts but it works as well for speaking. Probably placebo, too 🙂

    I was once taught a powerful voice technique for people who suddenly sound like Mickey Mouse once they’re on stage: The G-point. Basically, find the part of your throat where your G is (as in the G in “go” or “gun”), and imagine lowering your speech to that place. That alone increases presence, authority and makes you slow down a bit.

  20. The thing I like about public speaking the most is that it really forces you to learn your subject, especially if it is a topic you speak on regularly. You learn as you go and you go as you learn and pretty soon you know the subject matter like the back of your hand. This opens the door to some serious insight and creativity you might otherwise miss out on.

    The note cards keep me precise and on topic, otherwise on a subject I am excited about and know a lot about, I could literally go on for hours.

    Thanks for the post.

  21. Great post Tim. I do think in your case that the content is more powerful than the style. That is why I watch your videos.

    One question I’ve been wanting to ask you for years:

    1. How did you get that part on the Cop Show in Hong Kong and how did you become the host on the Martial Arts Show in Thailand?

    Will you ever reveal?

    1. Hey Huey,

      Pure chance in both cases. Hanging out with fighters and watching related email lists. Simple as that!


  22. Dude this is awesome. I will be adopting some of this into my next few talks.

    I wish I had this before I spoke @ WordCamp 2 weeks ago 🙂


  23. Great post.

    My personal approach to killing the anxiety by loosening up the audience right away: “Okay…I’m a little nervous. I’d like to thank you all for showing up naked and I promise I’ll do the same for each and every one of you some time”.

    It’s a twist on the old “imagine them all naked” public speaking thing that everyone has heard and even if they haven’t they’ll still laugh…


  24. Ciao ragazzi! Hello everyone!

    If you are planning to speak for an international audience and your attendees come from different cultures, the rules of the game can change significantly, and there are certain guiding principles you may want to keep in mind.

    Here are a few tips of intercultural intelligence I would like to share with you:

    1. Open with a local greeting. Learn a few words in the local idiom, simple greetings like “Good morning,” “Welcome,” and “Thank you” or “It’s a pleasure to be here with you today,” and rehearse them in advance. If you ask your local contacts they will be delighted by your interest and more than happy to help you with the pronunciation. It’s a good idea to have these greetings written on the first slide of your presentation to be “safe” and off to a good start. If you have a reasonable knowledge of your attendees’ language, be brave and address them in their mother tongue, even if it is just for the first minute of your presentation. They will love it!

    2. Take them on a journey. Attendees across the globe are eager to find out more about the international speakers presenting at their event. You will have the advantage of the novelty and the charm of the exotic on your side. Don’t miss the opportunity to fulfill their expectations. Use some gorgeous visuals to show who you are and where you come from, your hometown, your company headquarters. The audience doesn’t just want to hear from you, they want to meet you.

    3. Learn the Do’s and Don’ts. Reach out to your local business contacts or host organization to ask about the most typical cultural mistakes foreigners make when visiting their country. Take good notes and do your best to avoid the same faux pas. Even more importantly, find out what foreigners should do or say to make a great first impression and set your course to it. Honestly, you will still make mistakes. Apologize and learn your lessons; mastering a foreign culture is a bumpy ride and a wonderful journey at the same time.

    4. Show host-culture knowledge. If you demonstrate to your audience genuine interest for their culture you will earn their respect and unconditional attention for the rest of your speech. Search for the fundamental elements of their history, arts, and traditions and choose the ones that intersect with your subject matter to use them in your presentation. Another way to reach the same goal is to mention recent news related to their country. Focus on positive news and show your respect and admiration: you will be reciprocated.

    5. Dive into the local culture. If you are traveling overseas, the best thing you can do to connect is to immerse yourself in your host reality. Before your departure try to watch a movie and read a book from the culture you are going to visit. It will jump-start you in the process of connecting and understanding the local culture.Do your best in tasting the local foods and drinks and remember in many countries refusing what you are offered is an offense to your host. Ask your hosts take you to places and to have experiences the locals love, OFF the touristic beaten track. Open your mind and heart to these experiences and they will make you a global citizen before you know it.

    6. Connect in an instant. The most powerful way to connect with your audience-before, during, and after the presentation-is through body language. Be a relentless observer of the non-verbal interactions among locals. You will access a gold mine of meaningful native gestures and postures. It takes only minutes to realize what the most common patterns are, and it’s very easy to replicate those non-verbal communication elements: the people you meet will connect with you immediately in a deeper level that cannot be achieved in any other way. Success guaranteed!

    7. Convert data. If your presentation carries critical data, make sure you convert your figures for your specific audience. For example, pounds become kilos if you are coming from the US to Continental Europe. And miles become kilometers; gallons become liters, etc.

    8. Slow down..slower, please. When delivering your presentation reduce your (normal speaking) pace by 50%. When you think you did so, cut down by another half. Too much? Not really. Here is the thing: you may think you have significantly reduced your pace, but a few minutes into the speech you will be speeding up again at your normal mother-tongue pace without even realizing it. You must learn to consistently speak slowly for an international audience. If you don’t, you may lose the attention of your attendees. Many times in a hidden booth there is an interpreter who will do a wonderful job of keeping up with you by “localizing” your concepts-a critical key to your success. When your session is over it wouldn’t be a bad idea to find this person to say thank you.

    9. Obliterate idiomatic expressions. Idioms are to be avoided because they tend to easily create misunderstandings. Sentences such as ” hit the ground running,” “bite the bullet” or ” throw a curveball” often have an obscure meaning for multinational listeners and can be dramatically misunderstood, sinking the effectiveness of your message. Feeling smart? Find out the local version (not the literary translation) of the proverb or idiom and learn to pronounce it in the local language. A secret: you don’t have to get it perfectly right: they will love you just for trying. Have it translated it and printed on your slides so you don’t forget.

    10. Go on a contraction diet. There is nothing that confuses non-native speakers more than language contractions. They are very common in every language of the world and we use them every day without even thinking about them. Do yourself a favor and keep a high level of engagement of your audience by eradicating them from your speech: “I’monna email’ya” becomes “I aaam goooing to email you.”

    11. Explode acronyms. In the North American culture there is a strong tendency to use acronyms, and many times they are responsible for puzzling listeners who find themselves lost and have to ask for elucidations. If even the native speakers sometimes don’t get it, what will happen to your multinational listeners? If you can avoid them, do so, and if you must use them, make sure to explain verbally and in print what they stand for.

    12. Repeating is not rephrasing. In case your session is meant to be interactive, you should consider that many audiences across the world are not used to that. They see the speaker as the ” lecturer,” and they don’t have the tendency to speak up. Have your engaging questions on the slides and have the audience work in small groups. In case someone asks you to repeat a concept, here is something to keep in mind: what they are asking you is not to repeat, it’s to rephrase. Use a completely different set of words to express the same idea and you may see a sparkle in your listeners’ eyes. It feels good. Try it.

    I hope you will have many chances to address a multinational audience in your life. I have had this privilege many times and in every occasion I felt I had become a better professional ad person. remember you don’t have to travel far to meet new cultures: your local international house, the local chamber of commerce, a sister city committee: there are plenty of opportunities without leaving the country. Once you get on the podium, be ready: you are about to learn more than you will be able to teach.

    Hope this will help you make the best out of it!

    1. Paolo… great suggestions!! … and a very long time since we last met!! … What are you up to? Hope we can get in contact again.

      Let’s google each other and see if cross paths … I have speaking engagements in many differrent countries as well.

      And… Tim…. I have been teaching public speaking for a few years… your tips are gold (as they are often). I will definetly apply them ASAP.

  25. Hey Tim,

    Not sure if you’ve done much meditation but it’s really helped me get a handle on sleep before big days/major events. It used to take me an average of 45 minutes to fall asleep on any given night and at least a few hours before big days. I only meditated regularly for ~4 months, three years ago, and since then I’ve retained the ability to fall completely asleep within 5 minutes of lying down–even the night before a major open-lung surgery I had 2 months ago.

    Ten minutes/day right before bed for a month of the following:

    Diaphragm breath in through your nose; after fully extending your diaphragm, expand your chest; exhale through your nose from your chest keeping your stomach extended; exhale fully from the diaphragm. Repeat. Focus on being aware of the airflow in the same way you’re conscious of the sensation of swallowing a liquid. The ten minute session should end with a cycle of 10 reps (a rep being a single inhalation or exhalation) during which your focus is unbroken. Stop after a successful 10th breath and go to bed.

    After about a month of this at least 5 days/week, it becomes increasingly easy to separate the empty-mindedness, for lack of a better term, from the breathing. I don’t know what’s going on in the brain when this happens–it would be awesome to see a scan of it. This process doesn’t eliminate anxiety, but temporarily bypasses it and pushes it to the periphery to allow for restful sleep under nearly any condition.

  26. This was great. If I ever have to give presentations I always try to keep my mind off of it as long as I can, then I don’t get nervous. I like being underprepared, it just helps me do my thing lol

  27. This is perfect. I’ve been looking for something that explains the layout of public speaking like that for a while.

  28. This is my type of public speaking advice. Granted, I have no aspirations to do public speaking, but I’ve still read books/articles on it, and the authors never seem to go beyond the notion of practicing heaps and trying to relax…sure, it’s great advice, but it’s always so vague, and un-opinionated. Loving this though.

  29. @Tan Yew Wei, how do you use caffeine for workouts? Do you not have issues with hydration, or how do you get around that?

  30. Great post Tim. I am a Toastmaster, and what you wrote here has a lot to do with what we learn and practice in that program. I normally use the PEP technique, in my next speech I will try the EPE.

  31. This is perfect! I’m hoping to do a lot more speeches at nutrition conferences this summer. Love how actionable your posts are, thanks Tim!

  32. Great summary as usual – Thanks Tim.

    Just wanted to reiterate the importance of story telling like you mentioned in your intro.

    Whenever someone doesn’t know what to talk about in a speech (or if you draw a blank) I advise them to just tell a story. It’s the most powerful form of communication, and easy to do as a novice since it’s off the cuff and not rehearsed.

    I remember reading one time that Rudy Giuliani used to be a bad speaker until he realized he didn’t have to memorize stuff, and he just started telling stories. All the sudden he was dynamic and it came naturally.

  33. Its extraordinarily simple. Find a Toastmasters club close to you, do 10 speeches and you will be at least 300% better than your first speech. Its fun, supportive, & will probably cost less than a $100, and you can practice impromptu speaking, evaluating others (which improves your own speaking), and if you wish you can practice leadership roles as well.

  34. Hi Tim – this is scary, last week I was dreaming for you to write a post about how you prep for talks. I love your style, as you admit your not hugely charismatic however, your talks are actionable, engaging and inspiring. I prefer your style to many other presenters.

    I am using this in precisely 32 hours and 1 minute to present on alternative education (as our education system in Britain is failing our youths and were out to change it – I know from the TED talks that something your interested in, if so give us a shout)

    Question – Do you not find rehearsed jokes just don’t come over with as much authenticity and prescene?


  35. I love this and totally agree. I have 2 speeches at WIU and ISU the next 2 days. I would add one more thing. Like yourself, tell people how you are doing it and not paint pictures about what you are not doing like most speakers.

    My theory: Don’t spend 6 months planning a speech, spend 6 months doing something worth talking about.

    You are in my speech Tim and I thank you for the methods you have shared. 2nd chapter in my book is Indexing changed my (and my families) life.

    Again, thank you.

    Shane Mac

  36. And this is why I keep coming back to this blog. I may never be a public speaker, but if I ever find myself going in that direction, I’ll remember this post. Thanks, Tim!

  37. Great advice, I do public speaking a lot in high school and it can be nerve racking sometimes. It will be even more important for me to know how to do this properly in College where everything I do really matters.

  38. I like the lack of using canned jokes.

    Also appreciate the distinction between being or seeing yourself as a teacher rather than a public speaker.

    Toshi O.

  39. As a trainer and English Teacher in Japan my advice to public speakers is to make sure you know your stuff, as you mentioned. If you know the topic well and the points you want to drive home, the rest is relatively easy.

    Also knowing where you are in your speech makes a big difference. I like the way you break it down into segments. I never really focused on that aspect when speaking, but will now.



    If you are ever in Fukuoka, Japan area look me up. 😉

  40. Download the free app Charisma (also think it is a book)… I thought it had great tips on tone of voice ;-)… and finding your own presentation charisma.

  41. What a relief to hear that even you have trouble sleeping before a presentation — from now on I won’t feel so alone in that agony. Great education and advice, Tim…as usual, one of the best blog posts in the Universe.

  42. one technique that I have used for smaller audiences (thirty and under) is to focus on the one or two people that seem to be the most interested. You can still maintain eye contact with the audience, but focusing on a few happy people gives you the right type of feedback and prevents your minding wandering in the negative zone.

    Before a presentation, it can make you relax if you clench one fist, and then the other, with your arms at your side no one will notice.

    Finally, defintley tell stories – while it is a bit of cliche to say that – when you tell stories it allows the audience to imagine for themselves, which is a lot better then alternatives (trying to understand WTF you are saying).

  43. I think that the Dale Carnegie class is a great way to learn how to and to get comfortable with public speaking.

  44. If you’re going to have a long Q&A at the end, remember to always keep the answers to the point. Most people, myself included, expects the speech to contain all the important parts – the Q&A is only for those who didn’t understand, or because the speaker was lazy. Personally, I stop listening and start thinking about how get away as soon as the Q&A starts.

    You may want to consider renaming it “discussion” as this would show that it is part of the speech.

  45. Great post on a subject that crushes people everyday. I’ll be passing this along to followers and friends who could really use it. Nice work.

  46. Solid advice, but i think a bit of humor doesn’t hurt. Depends on your skill level and how nervous you are. When too nervous, i would drop the joke.

    Practise is key as well. Toastmasters has helped me greatly, especially regarding delivery and loosing the nerves.

    I just read the comments on your TED talk. Interesting stuff, it seems that you and your speeches are quite polarizing. Does that bother you, or are you looking for that with your personal stories/claims?

  47. The ‘not being able to sleep much the night before’ is true for me too.

    I found making sure I get a really good night’s sleep two nights before, then getting up really early the day before, helps a lot. For example, I get up at 5 or 6AM the day before, do some exercise in the morning, then go about the day, including, as Tim says, a rehearsal in the evening. By the time I get to bed (say 11PM), I crash-out almost immediately as my head hits the pillows:)

  48. Excellent advice, Tim, as usual!

    I actually think you are wonderful at public speaking and one of the things I like best about you is that you come across as real and genuine. I loved one, I think the TED talk, where right away, you talked about how nervous you were.

    That was just being present with ” what is” and I bet just owning it helped you as well as the audience.

    I was an actress for many years, so come to public speaking from that perspective, so it’s always interesting to hear other unique takes on it.

    I’m really glad that my young daughter is getting experience doing public speaking ( like the power point presentations that we did for the disadvantaged school kids in Harlem etc that traveled with us virtually as well as online with our Youtube videos etc) because it’s an important life skill especially for 21st century citizens and when you begin early it just seems easy and fun. 😉

    You have given me more keys!


  49. Dam you to hell! Telling everyone my secret weapon for grad school success! I found that a cup of coffee before an exam made me finish first and do well.

    damn you!!


    iGongyo: the chant app for iPhone – now available in iTunes.

  50. Hello, great post.

    Anyone have suggestions for performance anxiety?.

    Caffeine can put you in a good mood but it can cause more anxiety.


  51. GREAT tips! I can see where your coming from with these as I feel like I have a few similar routines but you definitely gave some great pointers. Of course my speaking experiences are based with much smaller crowds, 30 at the most.

    Public speaking is a very valuable skill and can really open doors in your career.

  52. Great tips.

    1. Can you throw in a URL to a video of you speaking that you think is pretty good?

    2. What are your thoughts / actions on slides / visuals? Any? None? Simple?

    Take care,


  53. I wanted to know the reason you do drop F-bombs in you speaches. It doesn’t offend me, but it is interesting since you are a perfectionist wanting to connect with as many people as possible. It seems like it would throw people off or something. So why do you work so diligently on certain things but don’t care about something potentially offensive? Do you have a strategy behind this? Thanks, and loved the book and every blog you have posted.


    1. Hi Alex,

      In general, I also do that in my writing once in a blue moon to filter my audience. I’d rather have them get offended as something small and leave, as opposed to getting deeply involved in the community here and then overreacting to something else I do in a more aggressive or malicious way. An F-bomb or two, or perhaps a little off-color humor, helps to filter.

      Hope that helps,


  54. I knew diet coke was a key factor in public speaking success. Along with good prepartation in line with what you shared, I remember what my mentor taught me; people want to like you, they want to enjoy your speech, and they want to feel they came away with something useful for them. Remembering this, makes it easier and more fun for me to prepare and deliver my best material.

  55. How did Tim Ferriss get so cool? He came out of nowhere and now has a real following. Good work at marketing and providing interesting/valuable stuff to the world!

  56. I love your emphasis Tim, on content. Public speaking courses and trainers put 5% of their teachings into “how to teach the audience” side. I’m a communication skills trainer and it’s great to see your take on things I’m involved in.

    I’m surprised you drink diet coke so strategically before a speech. (You sure do have OCD!) This may change your prep or at least help you better understand yourself. I notice in your speech you produce some glottal fry (croakiness) mostly at the end of sentences. For a sample of what it sounds like, go to:

    Most glottal fry is produced from poor breathe support, but it’s also possible the caffeine is contributing to it as caffeine dries the vocal folds.

    Here are some of the biggest points I give to presenters that I see many speakers screwing up:

    – Kill the t-rex position (hands in front of the body bent at the elbows), Open up your body language by having your arms at your side. It’s okay to keep them their at times.

    – You’re responsible for the room’s energy. If you want them to smile at you, smile at them. If you want them to be interested, be interesting.

    – Practice good voice techniques like high energy, clarity, and smooth delivery in everyday conversation. Most public speaking skills can be developed off stage!

    – Once you’ve got a good understanding of presentation skills, record your talk on camera then disect your speech with what makes a good presentation. You’ll detect one or two habits to change then practice the correction, and repeat each time a presentation. Eventually you’ll mold yourself into a good speaker.

    – Most of these tips focus on delivery, not content, so the last point I want to make is to study humor and become an expert in your field. If you make the audience repeatedly laugh, your job becomes a breeze. If you believe you have great value to contribute to the lives of your audience, that’s your purpose to push through the envitable anxiety that surfaces before every speech.

    You’re welcome to contact me anytime Tim for free critics 🙂

  57. Tim, I found a TED talk you did in 2008 and in your closing statements you mention research your doing into the educational system, how to improve or replace it. What did you find? Are you still working on this? I know that you have been involved with setting up schools but setting up the administration of a school is different from researching the educational system and how effective it may or may not be. In your research have you focused on the educational public system only or have you looked into the lifestyle of homeschooling? I’m curious about what you found and what you see as a solution especially because I am a mother of four children and I homeschool. I would love to hear more about what you have found in the area of education and what your solutions would be.

  58. I recently joined a Toastmasters Club and found this article to be very beneficial. I will plan on using your tips for my next speech.

  59. I have seen a number of your talks Tim (and despite you starting some of them with “I am a little nervous to be speaking to this crowd”, or something like that, you crush it!). Love the under promise and over deliver. Given how big of a fan I am, this post was especially worth paying attention to.

    I love the idea of 20-30 min of Q/A. Takes some pressure off you and gives you a much better chance of genuinely connecting with the audience. I’ve heard that putting some Q/A up front can be an interesting spin on this. Really gives a chance to build early rapport and give the crowd something to run away with and be sure they get something they want out of it.

    For me, two things have been a huge public speaking help:

    1. Toastmasters: I first joined a group in the east bay and it was a blast (after getting over the initial nerves). Everyone is super supportive. Learned a ton. Very well structured organization. Everyone gets a chance to speak at every meeting in some capacity. I had no idea how well thought out it was before I joined.

    2. I started teaching. Warren Buffett was terrified of public speaking, so what did he do? He applied to be a teacher at the University of Nebraska. That way he knew he’d have to get over it. I did something similar (but on a lower level) when I began teaching speed reading to businessmen for Iris Reading in SF.

    Also, recently some guys from a personal growth/learning/development book club of mine in SF have been working on putting together a Motivational Public Speaking Group that would meet each week or so and each member would have the floor for about 10 minutes to sharpen their skills. I’m super excited to get this up and running.

    Thanks for the continued education Tim!



  60. Liked your way of organizing your talks in 10-minute bites. The book “Brain Rules” (excellent book) talks about re-engaging the audience every 10 minutes as that’s when studies show attention span wanes. The book also talks about why stories make talks memorable based on brain science. Good stuff and made me a good presenter.

  61. Tim, your statement, “What I might lack in delivery, I’ll make up for with actionable takeaways.” was perfect. We are up there to teach first – entertain second or possibly third. It is all about getting a message across. We have all been to talks where we wonder at the end what the speaker even said. Your SXSW talk was brilliant btw.


  62. The middle income man’s teleprompter (just slightly more sophisticated than Palin’s palm-based, poor man’s teleprompter):

    Whenever I prepare a speech I write it out exactly as I would want to give it – verbatim. Then as I practice it, I edit it to reflect the more natural language I use when I talk, as opposed to the more formal language I use when I write.

    Then I set the text to a large font (Times Roman 26). My objective is to be able to glance down while giving my speech and see the text without any strain whatsoever. I also number every line. That way, if I get diverted by a question or from having to duck a flying tomato, I will be able to get back to where I left off without missing a beat. I also highlight the most important word (or two) in every line. That way I can glance at my text, see the keyword, recall its context, and look back at the audience, all within a microsecond. I don’t staple the pages together. That way, as I progress through my speech, I can discretely slide the top page over to the side while I’m talking to, and looking at, the audience.

    I try to practice giving the speech at least 10 times and try to glance down less each time, but having my “teleprompter” with me is, at the least, an excellent security blanket. More importantly, when I only get to practice the speech a couple of times, I can still make it sound as if I’m giving it almost off-the-cuff, and my very brief glances at the text during the speech don’t betray my lack of practice.

  63. Absolutely, content is the most important, but delivered in such a way as to get the point across and action to take. My financial advisors can get too technical, in part to fulfill compliance demands.

    But good, actionable content that moves the listener forward, plus being yourself, allows the audience to connect and trust, and speaker to focus on the value (s)he’s delivering.

    Good stuff, Tim.

  64. Great post as usual Tim. I particularly like the part about expecting to get no sleep the night before.. I am a terrible sleeper when I hav something exciting happening the next day and I think I will use this tip for much more than just public speaking!

  65. Tim,

    Do you prefer presenting in front of a crowd or on camera?

    My wife and I discuss this a lot. She is a great public speaker, but hates being in front of a camera. I am the complete opposite.


  66. Been at this Speaking thing for over 15 yrs…Your comments and advice are very very good…The best speaker I saw this year broke every rule their was about speaking and she had us in the palm of her hand…No one will care if your hands are in your pockets if you took the time to share a good message…It’s about what you can inform them on and not about you…A lesson that has taken me sooooo long too learn. Thanks Tim for being real!

    Another hard lesson to learn on the platform..some do, some never will.

  67. Holy [something]! I just listened to this mockery of you(tim, presumably) and it made me laugh so hard. Dont get me wrong, I read the book and loved it and will apply it. But this guy does a great job. Check it out, , then go sue him 😛 .. Oh and this has nothing to do with this post.

  68. Great advice, Tim.

    I used to be painfully shy growing up, but I was forced to learn public speaking in college. As an architecture student I had to present my projects in front of a “jury” several times each semester.

    Overall, I’ve learned that you really don’t need to be nervous about giving a presentation. Most people aren’t paying that much attention to what you say, so you only really need to focus on the few that are.

    Also, people tend to take public speaking way too seriously. Have fun with it and tell a few jokes. Often times people will like you more if you come straight out and make a joke about how nervous you are. Public speaking is one of the most-feared things out there and simply stating the obvious makes people empathize with you much more.

  69. HAHA! That was an awesome summary Tim. I have spent many hours preparing many presentations and your account is closer to reality than any speaking coach, study course or plublic speaking booklet has every highlighted.

    Also, Thank you for being honest about the stress and nerves part because that is one element I have never seemed to conquer. While I am 100x more confident at presenting than I was when I first started, I still get jitters and pre-game anxiety. The fact that you admit it made me feel a lot better LOL.

    Great post and anyone who read it no longer needs to buy any speaking books or systems. He has summarized it all in a blogpost.

  70. I, like many, have been to many shows, conferences, seminars, etc. and have endured some really bad presentations. I’ve also been able to present to audiences of all shapes, sizes and ethnicities. A word to people who may not have too much experience presenting to big groups or have the jitters: your audience wants you to be great. Or I should say they definitely don’t want you to suck.

    In my view you have the first few minutes to grab their attention and tell them something they don’t know that you’re passionate about…otherwise they’re off to checking their phones or playing bejeweled.

    If you’re using slides lose the bullet points–all of them. Instead of six points on one slide, make six slides with one point each. It makes a world of difference and your pace will improve drastically. The audience won’t zone out either.

  71. Great post! Thanks for the link to “1,000 True Fans”. It really puts things in perspective.

    As it relates to public speaking – I highly recommend Toastmaster. It’s not so much about learning different techniques etc., but to me it’s more about practicing. The more you practice, the better and especially the more natural you become speaking in front of people.

  72. @Paolo: I really loved your post on speaking to an international audience. I find learning a bit of the local language is essential even for regular travel.

    @Tom: My doctor speaks to colleagues a lot, and he recommends Amantilla (valerian root) a half hour beforehand.

  73. Hey Tim,

    Great post as always. I came across an old promotional website and saw that you did a speaking event for University of Southern California – Delta Sigma Pi. It looked incredible – I’m involved in Delta Sigma Pi at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and was just wondering what it would take for you to come do a college presentation.



  74. Great Blog and article!!! I love the prep haha

    I have a question for anyone that can help! I wrote a book and and its completed however, I have no idea on how to proceed. Did Tim use an agent to get published? Should i try and get an agent now? I have a website set up at I also have a facebook page. I am not sure how to make a big “BOOM”. I am sellling it as an ebook on my website but not getting any takers because my marketing is not very prononced. Any tips on what to do? I know this book has potential, and it can really be the next big thing im just not sure how to get there!

  75. Thanks Tim,

    I teach a university public speaking class in SF, and had my class read this article today, then had a ‘compare and contrast’ discussion with the strategies we’ve been working with all semester. It was great to give them a different perspective (yours) and watch them start to synthesize and analyze public speaking on a higher level.

  76. I read the whole article, and didn’t see a single mention about drinking 6 beers before getting on stage. Always works for me when I do Standup Comedy buuuuut probably not the most sustainable strategy, especially for “responsible” professionals.

  77. It is always interesting to hear that some people remain anxious before every presentation while others seem to sink into a rhythm; like speaking becomes second nature. Drew Carey paced every night before his show when I worked with him doing standup. Dom Irrera and myself, on the other hand, can sit and eat a meal right before going on stage, something most comics and speakers would avoid.

    It helps you to relax when you realize that the audience is there to see you and when you have mic, you wield an amazing amount of power. The confidence you get from realizing this makes you relax a lot. I would add that it is also a good idea to have a bottle of water on hand. You can use this not only to quench thirst or dry mouth but if you need a moment to remember something, you can take a sip to buy some time. A nifty little trick I’ve used many times and no one is the wiser!

  78. One of the best quotes I’ve ever heard about speaking was “Being nervous is being selfish, because you’re making the situation all about yourself when really it’s about the audience.” I know it can’t always be as simple as that, but when you really think about it from the audience’s point of view — that they came to see you and think that your thoughts are worth THEIR time — things tend to go a bit smoother, at least for me.

  79. Hey guys! I love the blog and love the tips!! But i have a HUGE question I could really use some help with! I have just recently wrote a book, its officially edited and ready to be published. Its called Interpreting the Truth and deals with forming intellectual understanding with rational and critical thought. The marketability of the book (in my eyes) is astonishing. There is no limit to what i could do with it…. but thats the problem, i dont know what to do!

    I have a website and a blog (dont know how to get traffic to it), and am selling the eBook on my website (also not getting much traffic there). I am not sure if i should get it published (hard copy) then market it like crazy, or start marketing the ebook now and then get it published when i can. Also did Tim use an agent to get it published? Should that be the first step??

    Thanks so much for any help!!

    Devin Ford

  80. Hi Tim,

    Thank you for the TED link (Cameron Herold) and I’m very impressed with your Chinese/Japanese writing skill (Random dinner doodles). Your handwriting is better than mine (I’m also losing my Kanji…).

    I have two Quick questions and one book recommendation.

    Q1: Do you visualize your muscle movement when you do the training, like Schwarzenegger did?

    Q2: Does your new book provide us sleep/rest info? If not, could you tell us your secret of getting proper sleep?

    R1: “Wine Drinking for Inspired Thinking: Uncork Your Creative Juices” by Michael J Gelb. I thought you might enjoy it more than I did 🙂

    Thank you in advance for your time in answering these questions.


  81. Good starting point! Good emphasis on rehearsal, rehearsal, rehearsal.

    Although your structure is very rigid to fit all kinds of talks, implementing a very simple structure helps to “control” your presentations. From visiting a lot of scientific conferences (lots of inexperienced student speakers), I know the problems of sticking to the pre-set time frame. Questions during the talk, technical problems and (most of all) your own excitement almost always get in your way. I for example tend to finish up to 20% earlier compared to rehearsal time.

    In my opinion, the most important aspect about rehearsal is allowing you to reproduce the content without thinking. This gives you enough consciousness for secondary presentation skills during the talk. Rehearsing enables you to better control your voice, body-language, watching your audience and adjust to its reactions. You know what I mean, if you have given the same speech a couple of times to different audiences.

  82. Hi Tim,

    I’m a big fan of 4HWW and regularly buy it for friends, so I thought your plug for “Rework” was egregious! (Seth Godin’s and Chris Anderson’s plugs were also disappointing, but not as much.)

    As a book, “Rework” is the anti-4HWW. It has no thread running through it, which makes it, pedagogically, an extremely inefficient read – it doesn’t let you extrapolate to new situations and it’s so disconnected that the few interesting bits are difficult to retain. Now it’s fine for a book not to have a thread, just give it some tools. (If it doesn’t teach, it might as well help!) But it also lacks tools.

    It’s a cute book, but so light and carefree you feel each post is about to contradict the previous. It’s the classic GTD/lifestyle design trap: let’s-jot-down-something-counterintuitive-and-call-it-a-new-paradigm.

    Tim, you’re a knowledge-led guy. Here I got the feeling you were patting your industry on the back, or just helping out your friends. Was I wrong? Help me out.


  83. LOVED the comment about the squeaky wheel (though Dad always told me the squeakiest wheel got the oil – happy to concede my dad isn’t always right!)

    -Grace 🙂

    ps. Just started reading 4HWW after my husband’s insistence (took time off ‘self development’ literature to pursue some non-fiction reading – just to give my brain a break). In fact he, hubby, emailed me this blog post. Between you and me – I think he’s obsessed, albeit a healthy obsession 😉

  84. This is in response to Quinn,, above.

    I think one point that Tim didn’t mention (or might not have thought about but he does) is calling yourself out.

    I do it everytime and when I listen to Tim he does as well. He always lets everyone know that he is not that great (In his opinion) at public speaking. I always say I am not here to speak but I really have things that I want to share with you. I am not a speaker, I just talk.

    It usually creates a common ground with the audience. People respect honesty, authenticity, and just being real.

    For me, it helps calm the nerves by letting people know up front that you are nervous, scared, not in your comfort zone… People relate and that helps me a lot.

    Tim, would you agree? I think what you do for speaking is right on though Tim. You don’t spend time being a speaker, you spend time being you which gives you something to Speak about. Your speeches have value, facts, data, a point. It is not how you present, it is what you present and that is why I watch all of your speeches. btw, the wordcamp speech from 08 is helping me a lot with the blog redesign. Thank you.

    -Shane Mac

  85. I gotta know… what the hell is with the diet coke? I’ve heard you say that before, that it gives you a killer caffeine cick. What’s the deal with that?

  86. Excellent advice her Tim. I particularly like the Example/Point/Expample layout, I really can see the value in this. Thanks for sharing!

  87. Tim,

    Thanks for sharing. The PEP or EPE seems nice!

    For any additional advice on retorics, contrasts and winning the audience (there are several techniques to use)

    There is a wonderful study done by Max Atkinson on public speeches and politicians.

    The book is called: Lend Me Your Ears:All You Need to Know about Making Speeches

    and Presentations

  88. Thank you for the ideas Tim. I agree that sleeping on it would help cement it; I found that during exams when I’d fight the urge to cram and get some decent sleep, then get back at it even just briefly in the morning.

    I’m not sure about your F-bomb theory though; I read to the end and was put off by your “… rock it”. It’s probably my older generation reaction; not better, but different.

  89. Not trying to memorize is a good point, if you know the content, then memorizing is counterproductive. Who talks how they write anyways…