11 Unusual Methods for Being a Great Public Speaker

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by James Altucher: 10
More Reasons You Need to Quit Your Job Right Now!

Prakash Panangaden
taught me everything about public speaking. The first thing he taught
me when we were in Kaiserslautern, Germany, for my “fascinating”
talk titled “A Mechanically Assisted Proof in Category Theory”
was ‘never go to the porn shops here. They will rip you off.’
I was 22 and Kaiserslautern was the worst city I had ever been to
in my entire life.

In a 24 hour
period, I was chased by a lunatic, accused of stealing at the hotel
I was staying at, kicked out of a bar for reasons I still can’t
understand, and warned by my professor/mentor not to go to any porn
stores or I would be ripped off. Being 22, I promptly ignored him.
Part of the reason I was later chased and perhaps also accused of
stealing but that’s another story.

I was very
very nervous about public speaking to these people (the name of
the conference is so boring I can’t even repeat it). For one
thing, its impossible to make esoteric math like “Category
Theory” funny.

(a slide from
my talk tomorrow)

So when the
conference was having their big banquet and awards ceremony, Prakash
(my mentor at the time and co-author on the article I was presenting)
took me to the speaking hall. He said, “you are hopeless. We
have to skip the party or you are going to be an embarrassment to

We were the
only ones in the speaking hall while everyone was in the banquet.

He said, let
me see your slides. I showed him. He said, “these are all
and he quickly rewrote all of them and explained
why he was rewriting each one. Then he sat in the back of the hall
and had me stand on the podium. He said, “give the talk.”

For every slide,
he went over and over it again. “You have to have a joke or
something that surprises on each slide.” He would have me walk
to different parts of the podium for different slides. Or move my
hands a certain way to make a point. He went over every nuance with
me. He taught me how to tell a joke and wait for the laugh. If nobody
laughs “Tell people, ‘you were supposed to laugh at that’
even if it’s not funny. And then they will.”

I horribly
disappointed him when I was thrown out of graduate school less than
a year later and he hasn’t spoken to me since.
(more on
why I got thrown out in “How
I Torture Women

The next day
I gave the talk and I was very happy – people laughed at my
jokes. A woman came up to me afterwards and said, “I had no
idea Category Theory could be so funny.” Prakash even said
to me, “you were a natural, they can’t teach that.”
And I know he was just being nice but it was the highest praise.

A colleague
of ours, sitting next to Prakash during my talk whispered to him
during the talk, “why didn’t James even ask for my help
on this.” Prakash turned to him and said, “because he
hates you.” From Prakash I learned a particular brand of honesty.

So I have to
give a talk Thursday and on June 13 so I’ve been thinking of
these items.

my 11 unusual tips on being a better public speaker:

1) Start
off with a joke.
This is a must. People need to laugh within
the first 30 seconds or else you’re going back to your cubicle
at the pencil factory and they will never remember you.

spend about at least one to two hours before the talk coming up
with the first joke because I know that’s what starts off the
good feelings for the rest of the talk. I usually make it relevant
to the locale and the topic or the news (Tomorrow’s joke starts
off: “True story: two days ago I was having dinner with the
prime minister of Pakistan and…”) And it actually will
be a true story.

2) Get on
their level.
This has two meanings. I once fell off of a podium
while pacing around giving a talk. I was very embarrassed. So now
I always get off the podium and explain that I’m afraid to
fall off so I’m just going to walk around if that’s ok
with everyone. People laugh a little bit and it physically and mentally
brings me onto their level.

3) Very
important: I very very slightly slur my words.
A very small
slur. I don’t drink at all. But by slightly slurring my words
it’s as if I’m telling my brain I’m a little drunk.
When you’re a little drunk you don’t really care what
people think of you and you take a few more chances than you would’ve
otherwise. It also makes me a bit more brutally honest. And everyone
likes a nice drunk!

4) I try
to use JUST one word plus one image per page.
No more! You think
people really want to come to a talk and read a novel? They want
to look at funny pictures. At heart, we are all two year olds trying
to just stay alive. I’m not saying this in a patronizing way.
Its just true.

one slide from my upcoming talk:

Colorful, topical.
It’s the world record bubble creator, so its interesting. And
has the flare of magic around it. Given recent events, if I can’t
fill up 30 seconds of brilliant insight with this slide then I shouldn’t
be doing any public speaking.

the rest of the article

2, 2011

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