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Becoming a Better Speaker [and Diversity Speaker Outreach]

We are keeping track of how many WP groups run the workshops this year. If you're planning on running it, please either let us know here or message @jillbinder on Slack.  

Meetup Description

[If you are presenting this to a specific group, such as people who identify as women, optional sections to add are indicated in [square brackets].]

[This is a workshop for {specific group}.] Have you considered presenting at a WordCamp but thought you didn’t know enough or felt like an imposter? Do you not know what to do with your hands? Do you want tips for dealing with questions from the audience? This session is geared to new speakers and more experienced speakers who would like more tips and tricks.  

***You do NOT have to have any experience in public speaking. This workshop is for all levels of experience.

This workshop is for you if:

  • [You identify as {specific group}]
  • You are new to public speaking or you have done it before and would like more tips and tricks

This workshop is NOT for you if:

  • [You identify as {not specific group}]
  • [You don’t think it matters that there are very few {specific group} speakers at WordPress events]


  • Why speak at WordPress events? [Why do we need more {specific group} speaking at them?]
  • Dispelling some myths about speakers/speaking
  • Becoming a Better Speaker Dos and Don'ts
  • Common Speaker Mistakes
  • Nerves
  • How to practise
  • Handling the Q&A
  • Practice giving a short talk


  • This venue should have [elevators, ramps, etc.], [single stall washrooms for non-binary genders], [etc.].
  • Please do not  wear scents. Many people are allergic to them.

Prerequisite Skills

  • N/A


After completing this lesson, you will be able to:

  • Feel more confident in public speaking
  • Understand that feeling like an imposter is normal
  • Understand how to handle questions from the audience during the talk and the Q&A section after
  • Have techniques to practise speaking
  • Have techniques to handle nerves


  • Handouts (link to Google doc) (You may download and edit as needed.)
  • Slides (link to Google doc) (All of the Speaker Training lessons are included. You will start at the top and when you get to a “Which section are you running next?” slide, choose the next lesson you are doing this day. You will definitely want to download and make some edits as there are some instructions for you in the slides themselves.)
  • Sign up sheet, clipboard, pen

Screening Questions

  • [Do you identify as {specific group}?]

Teacher Notes

This section repeats from the Teacher Notes in Lesson 1. It's very important. Please read it.


  The first material repeats from Speaker lesson 1, “Finding Your Topic.” If you ran lesson 1, start here. If you did not, grab sections from “toilet” to “Talk Formats” from lesson 1, “Finding Your Topic.” 

Practising Speaking

The most important thing you can do to become a better speaker is to practise!  The more you speak - in front of a mirror, in front of friends, or in front of a room full of people - the more comfortable and the better you will become.  You can even give your talk to a friend over Skype.

You can also video record yourself. Take notes on behaviors you exhibit while speaking, then practice reducing them.

When you practice, time yourself.  You might be surprised by how long or short your talk is when you are speaking out loud, and it is important to know how long your talk is going to take.

If you're looking for opportunities to practice speaking, you might see if there is a Toastmasters in your area. They will provide you with many opportunities to speak in front of a supportive group of people, and give you tips and tools for improvement.

You can also practise at smaller meetups. WordPress meetups are good for practising for WordCamps. If you want to practise for WordPress meetups, you could find smaller related meetups who would be interested in hearing about your WordPress topic.  

Becoming a Better Speaker Do's and Don'ts

No matter how much public speaking experience you have, there is always room for improvement.  Here are some do's and don'ts to help you improve.


  • Speak slowly. Many speakers speak too fast, but audiences almost never complain that someone went too slowly. Take pauses in between sentences. It may feel strange to you, but will seem very natural to the audience.
  • Have water available and drink it. Most events will provide water for the speaker, but make sure you have water on hand just in case. When you find yourself going too fast, taking a drink of water is a great way to slow yourself down. It might feel like it takes forever to take a drink, but the audience doesn't mind.
  • Vary your voice. This gets easier with practice. You don't want to speak in a monotone, so make sure you have some inflection in your tone.
  • Look at your whole audience. Make eye contact with people if you can, but make sure you scan the whole room and don't just look at one part of the audience. One trick here is to locate some friendly faces in multiple sections of a big audience, then address them one at a time in a loop.
  • Make sure the audience can hear you. If you aren't sure whether the mic or your voice is loud enough, ask the audience if they can hear you. Ask the people in the back to raise their hands if you get too quiet.
  • Keep your hands above your waist. If you do this, you will find yourself gesturing naturally.
  • Remember to breathe.
  • Practice without notes. Even if you'd like to have your notes with you to make you less nervous, practicing your talk without notes helps you map your content to your thought process. You already know your subject matter, so avoid trying to memorize your notes and script verbatim. This will help your talk sound more natural and for you to feel better about deviating from your script.


  • Drink too much coffee. You're already jittery from nerves, so you don't need a coffee buzz on top of it!
  • Turn away from the audience. If you need to point something out in your slides, make sure that you keep your face pointed toward the audience as you point.
  • Use filler words like "um." You might not even notice you are doing this so ask a friend to point it out in rehearsal or record yourself and take notes.
  • Read your slides or notes directly. Make sure you look up from your notes, and ad lib at least a little bit.

Handling Nerves

Everyone gets nervous about public speaking.  It is a part of being human.  In fact, it's hard-wired: for our cavemen ancestors, any time more than 5 pairs of eyes were looking at them at once, that meant that in all likelihood they were about to die.  We still react that way when we get up in front of a group of people and see them all watching us.

Keep in mind that your audience is on your side – they want to see you succeed, and all of them would be nervous if they were in your shoes.  In fact, it’s okay to admit that you are nervous – people will be sympathetic.

Here are some things you can do to help soothe your nerves:

  • Practice! It really does get easier with practice.  The more you practice the better you will know your material and the more confident you will be.
  • Sleep. If you are well-rested, you will do a better job.  Resist the urge to network or socialize too much the night before.
  • Exercise. The best way to get rid of nervous energy is to burn it off.  Physiologically, the reason you get nervous is so that you will have the energy and adrenaline to fight or flee from your predator.  Running or getting some other form of exercise is a great way to burn off that nervous energy and convince your body that the danger is over.
  • **Breathe. **When we get nervous, we tend to take shallow breaths into our chest.  This is a part of the body's preparation for fight or flight, and it actually deprives the brain of some of its important oxygen.  Take long slow breaths into your belly, and this will help calm you and clear your mind.
  • Dress comfortably. Being body-conscious never helps, so make sure you are comfortable in whatever you are wearing.
  • Take time for yourself before you speak. This helps you compose yourself and get mentally prepared.  You could go for a walk, listen to some favorite music, go over your notes, or just take some really deep breaths.
  • Know the stage. Try to find a time before you give your talk to see the room where you will be speaking.
  • Use your own devices. If you have your own laptop, clicker, or whatever you need, you will be more comfortable with your equipment. If you won't be using your own devices, come early to ensure you're able to get your notes onto the system and that you can use the system with ease.
  • Adopt a persona. This doesn't mean don't be yourself, it just means be the Speaker version of yourself.  For instance, if you tend to talk with your hands when you are nervous, embrace that and make it a part of your speaker persona.  You will behave differently when you are in front of a big group of people: go with that and don't fight it.

Handling Q&A


Many talks have an audience questions-and-answer session at the end. Ask the organizers in advance what the expectations are. Try timing your talk when you rehearse it and make sure you've left room for an adequate amount of Q&A time, if that's something you'll be expected to do.

How much time should you allow for Q&A? If the organizers haven't specified this for you, it usually depends on length of your whole session. In general, 10-20 minutes is adequate. For example, if your whole presentation takes up a 45-minute slot you might want to allow 35 minutes for the presentation and 10 minutes for questions.

Interspersing Q&A

Some people prefer to take questions throughout their talk rather than holding them until the end. Let your audience know up front what you prefer, bearing in mind that if your audience will be using a microphone due to the size of the room or the fact that your talk is being recorded, you'll need to give the room technician a heads-up about your Q&A plans so they're ready with the audience microphone as needed.

Don't Forget to Ask for Questions!

If you're saving Q&A until the end, don't forget to do it once you finish your talk! To remind yourself, you can add a slide at the end of your talk saying thanks and asking for questions.

Repeat the Question Back to the Audience

Unless the audience is mic'ed, repeat each question before answering. Your audience and anyone later watching the video (if your talk is being recorded) will thank you.

Tricky Questions

Often speakers who are brand new to public speaking, and even ones that aren't, are nervous about getting asked a question that they feel they don't know the answer to or that has a tricky answer.

There are a few ways to handle that situation:

  • Remember to repeat the question back to the audience.  This buys you a little bit of time to think about how to handle the question.
  • Don't be afraid to admit that you don't know.  The audience will have far more respect for you for admitting than you don't know than if you try to fudge it and fail.
  • You can say something like: "That's a good question. I'm not sure about the answer, but let me look into that for you – could you send me a tweet or email after the session and we'll stay in touch?"
  • You can throw it to the audience with something like: "Good question! I'm actually not sure, does anyone here have any ideas?"
  • Throw the question to a friend or colleague in the audience: "Good question! My colleague Jane actually knows a lot about that – hey Jane, do you have any ideas on this one?" You can also talk to your colleagues/friends beforehand and make sure they're OK with being put on the spot like this.

The Smarty-Pants

Handling the “smarty-pants” in the audience who thinks they know better than you and goes on and on and on is a big fear. It doesn't happen often, but if it does, one thing to keep in mind is that in these sorts of situations, other people in the audience are thinking about how much of an idiot the know-it-all  is, not about how you’re handling it. Don't be afraid to cut someone off if they're monopolizing the Q&A or derailing it. It's possible to do this politely but firmly: "I think we're going to have to move on now because time is running out and I really want to get a few more questions in."

Unrelated Questions

Sometimes people will ask questions that have little or nothing to do with your talk and answering the question will derail the conversation. One way of handling this is to say, "That's a good question, but it's outside of the scope of what we're talking about. I'd be happy to answer it for you privately after."


What if you finish your talk, throw open the floor to the audience and there are no questions? That's totally OK! There aren't always questions.

  • You can have one or two people you know in the audience ready to ask a question, or even chime in with a different angle. For example, if you’re a developer, have a designer ready with an observation on your topic from that point of view.
  • You can also ask and answer your own questions. For example: "Something I didn't go into in depth in the talk, but that you might be wondering about, is…" or "A question I've had come up before is..."
  • You can ask the audience a question. For example: "Something I didn't go into in depth in the talk, but that you might be wondering about, is...” or “A question I’ve had come up before is….”


Don't be afraid to correct errors after your talk. If someone points out an error – either during the Q&A or later – go ahead and update your presentation online and include the correction if you give the same talk again. Be sure to verify that the "correction" is actually accurate before doing this!

Contact & Slides

Once the Q&A is over, let people know how to connect with you once you're done and where to find your slides. Give out your Twitter handle and/or email, whatever avenues you're comfortable with. You can also include this information on your final slide so that it's up on the screen behind you while you take questions.

Getting post-talk feedback

We often forget this part of the process, but getting feedback after your talk is really important if you ever want to get better at public speaking.

You want to get feedback about both your content and your speaking style. You want feedback about whether your content was interesting, well organized, easy to follow, etc. This is true whether you plan to ever give this same talk again or not because a lot of the knowledge gained can be generalized.  You also want to know about your speaking technique: How was the pace, volume, approachability, etc.

Where can you get feedback?  Ask conference organizers if they send out a survey, and whether you can see your own feedback. Ask people you know who were there for feedback. The more specific your questions the better the feedback you will get. (Don’t ask “What did you think,” ask “Was there something you thought could have been better? Could you hear me? Did I speak too quickly or too slowly?" etc).

Keep in mind that asking people for feedback directly will be different from asking organizers for the feedback that was sent to them. People tend to be softer and kinder when speaking to you, as opposed to when they think that their feedback is only going to organizers.

Practice Giving A Short Talk

(If they are not already, students should be arranged theater-style, with the speaker standing at the front of the room and everyone's chairs facing the speaker.)

Since practice is the most important thing you can do to become a better speaker, we're going to take this opportunity to practice.

I am going to give you a list of questions.  Choose one of these questions, and write down a few things you can say to answer the question.  Then come to the front of the room and talk about it for 2 minutes. (If you have time, students can talk for longer.)

For this exercise, content doesn't matter.  We will not be critiquing anything you say.  You don't have to say anything interesting. This is just to give you a chance to practice.  You may request receiving feedback if you wish. The group will give you some positive feedback and constructive criticism.

List of questions:

  • What did you do last weekend?
  • What is your favorite app?  Why do you like it?
  • Tell the story of the first time you used WordPress.
  • Describe a walk through your favorite park or museum.

Before each one starts:

  • Ask them if they would like us to record them on their phones so they can watch it later.
  • Ask them if they wish for feedback.
  • They may watch their time on the large device (such as iPad).

(Each student will get up and talk.  Time them and make them stop when the time is up.  If they wanted feedback, turn to the room and ask:

  • "What are three things this person did well?"
  • When you have three things, ask "What are three things this person could have done better?"

Try to make sure that the feedback is offered as helpful constructive critique, not as harsh criticism - you can do this by offering the first critique.)

Sign Up

Do this conclusion once per workshop lessons meetup

Thank you for attending today. We will be passing a sign up sheet (or you will receive an email). If you are interested in speaking at an event,  please sign up to let us know. This is not a commitment, but we will get in touch with you to discuss the possibility of speaking at an upcoming meetup or WordCamp.


This is a workshop for people who are thinking about speaking at WordPress events, such as WordPress Meetups and WordCamps.







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