How to speak more confidently and persuasively | Matt Abrahams (professor, speaker, author)

How to speak more confidently and persuasively | Matt Abrahams (professor, speaker, author)

Matt’s background (00:00:00)

  • Visualization is a useful technique to desensitize people to public speaking.
  • Most public speaking is spontaneous, so it's important to prepare to be spontaneous.
  • Techniques like striving for connection over perfection and daring to be D (just answer the question, give feedback, be engaged in small talk) can help reduce anxiety.
  • Visualization: Imagine yourself giving a successful speech, from walking on stage to answering questions.
  • Strive for connection over perfection: Focus on connecting with your audience rather than being perfect.
  • Daring to be D: Just answer the question, give feedback, and engage in small talk to reduce self-evaluation.
  • Public speaking is a valuable skill for career success, from interviews to leading teams.
  • The skill becomes even more important as you grow in your career.
  • With practice and the right techniques, anyone can become a better communicator.

Techniques for managing anxiety in public speaking (00:04:50)

  • Visualization is a powerful technique to reduce anxiety by imagining yourself in a speaking environment and receiving a positive response from the audience.
  • This mental rehearsal, often used by athletes, desensitizes you to the actual speaking situation and helps create a sense of familiarity and agency.
  • Visualization techniques can be used to simulate different audience scenarios and prepare for various situations, leading to more confident and persuasive speaking.
  • To maximize the effectiveness of visualization, it's important to remain calm during exercises to prevent the body from connecting to stress and anxiety.

Dare to be dull (00:10:57)

  • Dare to be dull: focus on connecting with your audience rather than striving for perfection.
  • By reducing self-evaluation, you free up mental resources to improve your communication.
  • When you lower your expectations and just focus on getting the task done, you often end up doing a better job.
  • Anxiety can hinder effective communication, so reducing it can lead to more insightful and interesting contributions.
  • This approach can also be applied to preparing talks: start with something good enough and let the editing process lead to something great.

Reframing anxiety as excitement (00:13:40)

  • Anxiety and excitement trigger the same physical response in the body (increased heart rate, shallow breathing, shakiness).
  • How we label these symptoms determines whether we perceive them as negative (anxiety) or positive (excitement).
  • By reframing anxiety as excitement, we can reduce pressure and improve our communication skills.
  • Remind yourself of the exciting aspects of your communication opportunities and lean into those.
  • When you feel anxiety symptoms, tell yourself that you are excited about sharing your information.
  • Practice relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing and meditation, to manage anxiety.
  • Visualize yourself giving a successful presentation or speech.
  • Focus on your message and the value you are providing to your audience, rather than on your own fears.
  • Be prepared and well-rehearsed.
  • Use positive self-talk and affirmations to boost your confidence.

Using mantras to boost confidence (00:16:08)

  • Use mantras to change negative self-talk and boost confidence.
  • Examples of mantras: "I have value to add", "I'm prepared", "I know my stuff".
  • Write the mantra on a Post-It note or set a reminder on your phone to review it before a presentation or meeting.
  • Other mantras that people find helpful: "Last time this went well", "It's not about me, it's about my content".

Managing negative self-talk (00:18:45)

  • Name your inner critic and have conversations with it.
  • This can help rationalize negative thoughts and reduce their impact.
  • Many people experience anxiety and nervousness when communicating, it's not just you.
  • Seeing others communicate effortlessly often doesn't reflect the amount of work they put in.

Normalizing speaking anxiety (00:20:03)

  • Anxiety is a normal condition when communicating in front of others.
  • Just knowing that many people experience speaking anxiety can help reduce pressure.
  • Many people, even skilled speakers, experience nervousness when speaking.
  • Talking about and sharing experiences with speaking anxiety can help reduce its impact.
  • Speaking anxiety is not binary (either have it or don't), it's a process that can be managed over time.
  • Set up communication situations as conversations, even if it's just with yourself.
  • Reframe anxiety as excitement.
  • Practice having conversations with yourself, asking and answering questions.
  • Use techniques that make you feel more comfortable, such as having a conversation with yourself.

Using conversation as a communication technique (00:23:12)

  • Distract the audience to reduce nervousness.
  • Ask questions, tell stories, show videos, or ask the audience to read something.
  • Techniques help divert attention away from the speaker momentarily.
  • Most people are most nervous just before and during the first minute of speaking.
  • Finding ways to get through the initial nervousness makes speaking easier.

Using the double-exhale breathing technique (00:24:52)

  • Slows down the heart rate.
  • Makes the voice sound more normal.
  • Reduces shakiness.
  • The exhale should be longer than the inhale (2:1 ratio).
  • Helps with relaxation and focus.
  • Double-exhale breathing: Inhale fully, then exhale twice as long.
  • Box breathing: Inhale for 4 seconds, hold for 4 seconds, exhale for 8 seconds.
  • Huberman's technique: Inhale fully, then inhale a little more to fill capillaries in the lungs.
  • 4-4-8 breathing: Inhale for 4 seconds, hold for 4 seconds, exhale for 8 seconds.

Getting present-oriented (00:28:29)

  • One technique to calm anxiety is to focus on the present moment.
  • Anxiety often stems from the fear of a negative future outcome.
  • Saying tongue twisters can help bring focus to the present moment.
  • Tongue twisters require concentration on the present moment to be said correctly.
  • Saying tongue twisters aloud also serves as a vocal warm-up.
  • Many nervous speakers neglect to warm up their voices before speaking.
  • Tongue twisters can help center and warm up the speaker.

Using tongue twisters (00:29:46)

  • Tongue twisters help improve focus and reduce anxiety.
  • Swearing can also reduce anxiety and has an analgesic effect.
  • Tongue twisters and swearing can be combined for better results.
  • Matt Abrahams uses Koda to plan and manage his podcast episodes.
  • Koda is an all-in-one platform that combines documents, spreadsheets, and apps.
  • Koda offers extensive planning capabilities, including setting and measuring OKRs, mapping dependencies, and identifying risk areas.
  • Koda provides hundreds of pre-tested templates for various planning purposes.
  • Startups can sign up for Koda and get $1,000 in credit by visiting

Broad advice for speaking on the spot (00:33:34)

  • Preparation and practice are essential for improving spontaneous speaking skills.
  • Mindset and approach play a crucial role in effective spontaneous speaking.
  • Crafting structured and focused messages enhances spontaneous speaking abilities.
  • Using a problem-solution-benefit structure organizes thoughts and reduces anxiety during impromptu speaking.
  • Our brains respond better to stories and logical connections than lists of information.
  • Apologies and feedback can be challenging, but specific structures offer guidance and a starting point.

The PREP structure (00:38:35)

  • Make your point.
  • Give a reason for making that point.
  • Give an example.
  • Restate your point.

The What? So What? Now What? structure (00:38:59)

  • What is your product, service, offering, update, or feedback?
  • Why is this important and relevant to your audience?
  • What comes next?
  • Give each structure a catchy name.
  • Use them regularly.
  • Dissect communication by identifying the structure used by others.
  • Practice using the structures.
  • Reflect on what worked and what didn't.
  • Get feedback from others.

Toastmasters and improv (00:42:10)

  • Toastmasters is a great organization for practicing public speaking and getting comfortable with speaking in front of others.
  • Improvisation classes can help people become more comfortable with being present and collaborating with others.
  • Stanford and other institutions offer continuing studies or extension classes that are open to the community, which can be a great way to learn more about public speaking without being an enrolled student.
  • Podcasts, books, blogs, and videos can be helpful resources for learning about public speaking, but it's important to practice what you learn in order to improve.
  • The author's book includes "try this" sections that encourage readers to practice what they've learned.
  • Toastmasters has a special focus on impromptu speaking through its "table topics" segment, where members are given a topic and have to speak about it for a short period of time.
  • Toastmasters and improv classes are great for easing people into public speaking, as they don't force anyone to do anything they're not comfortable with.
  • Many companies sponsor their own Toastmasters groups, making it easy for employees to participate.

Getting better at small talk (00:45:31)

  • Small talk is important for self-discovery, understanding others, and building relationships.
  • Effective small talk involves being interested in others rather than trying to be interesting oneself.
  • Balanced self-disclosure is crucial, avoiding excessive sharing too soon.
  • Conversations should primarily consist of supporting responses, with occasional shifting responses to avoid disinterest.
  • Practice and attention can enhance small talk skills.
  • Using a person's name and smiling positively impacts conversations.
  • Authenticity is preferred over manipulation and inauthenticity in communication.
  • Some principles from the mentioned book can be beneficial when applied authentically and appropriately.
  • Excessive application of the book's techniques can lead to negative experiences, as illustrated by an anecdote.

The importance of sharing back (00:51:05)

  • When having a conversation, it's important to share back and not just ask questions.
  • Sharing about yourself makes the conversation more balanced and interesting.
  • Sharing personal experiences can make the conversation flow better.
  • Sharing personal experiences can encourage the other person to share more.

Giving feedback (00:52:33)

  • Feedback is an opportunity to problem solve and collaborate with others.
  • Kim Scott's approach to feedback involves using a structure to package information and make it easier to digest.
  • The "what, so what, now what" structure helps to quickly structure information and package it in a way that is easy to understand.
  • The "four eyes" structure (information, impact, invitation, implications) provides a more robust framework for giving feedback.
  • It is important to find one or two feedback structures that work for you and to default to them when put on the spot.

Improving toasts and tributes (00:56:31)

  • To give a memorable toast, use the acronym "WHA":
    • State the purpose of the event.
    • Share your connection to the event or person.
    • Tell a relevant and accessible story.
    • Express thanks or appreciation.
  • Keep toasts brief and avoid going on for too long.
  • Consider using multiple anecdotes or points in a toast, but test it out with others to ensure it's not too long.
  • Be genuine and authentic when expressing emotion in your toast.
  • Emotion is a powerful tool in communication, but it can also be overwhelming.
  • The best way to convey emotion in a speech or toast is through anecdotes and stories.
  • Matthew Dicks, a one-panel cartoonist, advises people to "don't tell, show" when expressing emotions.
  • Dicks helps people create their eulogies ahead of time, before emotions become overwhelming.

Mastering Q&A sessions (01:02:57)

  • Approach Q&A as an opportunity to extend, expand, connect, and learn.
  • Avoid saying "good question" to every question as it can be seen as a way to buy time.
  • Instead of saying "does that make sense?" at the end of your answer, ask "did I answer your question?" or "do you have a follow-up question?"
  • Use the ADD structure to answer questions:
    • Answer the question cleanly and concisely.
    • Give an example to reinforce the answer.
    • Explain the relevance or significance of the answer so people know why it matters.
  • Answer the question cleanly and concisely.
  • Give a detailed example to reinforce the answer.
  • Describe the relevance or significance of the answer so people know why it matters.

Apologizing effectively (01:07:25)

  • Take the time to apologize.
  • Apologize for the transgression, not for how you made people feel.
  • Acknowledge the issue or problem you caused.
  • Express appreciation for the difficulty you might have caused.
  • Make amends and be specific about what you will do to remedy the situation.

Closing thoughts (01:09:29)

  • Communication can be improved with initiative, grace, and self-compassion.
  • Improving communication helps you and others.
  • Find Matt Abrahams' resources at, his podcast "Think Fast, Talk Smart," and his book "Think Faster, Talk Smarter."
  • Connect with Matt on LinkedIn to share stories and collaborate.

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