Girl Geeks manga discussion – speaker tips

The London Girl Geeks ran an event as part of Sci-Fi-London on 29 April 2010. It was a discussion on manga with three women in the industry – Emma Vieceli, Kate Brown and Karen Rubins.

One thing I noticed was how relaxed and informal it was. Everyone was taking turns to say things, and it was just like a chat.

I spoke to Karen Rubins afterwards (check out Karen’s website for some amazing manga and graphic novels) — during the discussion, she came across as very relaxed and comfortable when she was speaking, and wanted to get her take on it.

Karen Rubins self-published a graphic novel The Dark, co-authored with her sister Anna, and her Manga Tales by Ghost Light was nominated as a runner up and exhibited in the Embassy of Japan’s Manga Jiman competition.

Karen said the comic industry is more informal and the three women know each other — so this could partly explain why the discussion was so comfortable.

Karen’s tips and experiences as follows:

* The first thing to do is make a joke and make sure it’s funny, gets the audience on your side. It lightens the mood. (Although this has been disputed by someone else the other day, who said never make a joke – so who knows about this one! Guess it depends on whether you feel comfortable enough and, as Karen says, it’s funny).
* Try not to read out the stuff that you write on a slide, as the audience would have already read that
* I was nervous when making presentations before but has done it loads now, and practice really helps
* There was a big presentation at the V&A in front of 100 people, was very nervous (she became the first comic book artist in residence at the V&A). But the thing is that when I am nervous, I seem really relaxed. Someone said in the lift, oh you look really relaxed
* Then the thought occurred: they’re just normal people like me. And they’re interested in what I have to say.
* At the manga event, I couldn’t see anyone in audience, it was totally dark so it was just like having a chat with the others on stage

Speaking Out – at City Hall

The Speaking Out event at City Hall was a great success.

Around 75 women from the Greater London Authority Women’s Network got together on Tuesday 20 April 2010 to watch presentations from from Rosie Boycott, Chair of London Food, and Speaking Out presenter Katie Streten.

Guests then took part in one of three workshops on public speaking: how to feel comfortable and confident (Katie), how to handle male-dominated environments (Emer Coleman, London Alliances Project Director) and how to engage with an audience effectively (Christian Heilmann).

I had a chat with one of the women after the workshops to find out about her dislike of public speaking and whether the workshop with Katie had helped:

See more about the event, including photos and videos

Friends: the one with the English accent

My friend is charming, good-looking and very composed (yes, all very annoying, and it has been from a young age when all our mums loved him).

I thought he’s be perfect to chair the first Speaking Out event back in February when I was still resolutely refusing to do it myself, as he’s very friendly and puts people at their ease.

So, I wrote him the following email:

“I need someone who is  friendly, good at speaking in public, able to take questions from an audience, good at operating laptops, and likes chairing events. So, obviously, I thought of you! (apart from the chairing event thing as I don’t know if you ever do that, but I imagine you’d be bloody good at it.)”

He responded to my request with this:

“To be honest public speaking still brings me out in a cold sweat – I’m slowly getting used to it but certainly not the person to be giving lessons. I wish! Sorry 😦 ”

I was very surprised. He is one of the most self-assured people that I know. I met up with him and another friend yesterday for a drink.

He’s told me that he’s doing a talk in America in the summer in front of 200 people which lasts a whole hour. “I’m really not looking forward to it,” he said. “It’s not so bad because it’s with students and it’s in LA so they’ll like my English accent.”

Now, I have no idea whether the audience will like him better because of his English accent, or if he’s just scrabbling around for reasons to make himself feel better, but it reminded me of the episode from Friends when Ross gets really nervous delivering his first lecture and speaks with a (bad) English accent.

My other friend suggested that he make the talk more interactive, and ask questions or perhaps do a quiz. I suggested perhaps less helpfully with regards to improving confidence with public speaking, that he play a long film clip to eat up some of the vast 60 minutes chasm.

But I must say that if someone who has won over all mothers with his confidence and charm, manages to get nervous when speaking in public, then there’s hope for us all.

It means that nerves around public speaking are very common and affect even the people who look totally assured. Don’t assume it’s just you.

When your audience looks really bored…


You’re standing in front of 100 people. You’ve sorted out a presentation, summoned the courage to get on with it and have actually made a pretty good start. Then you catch a glimpse of tonsils as a man in the front row yawns, and all the nerves come flooding back. I’m not sure there is anything more off-putting then feeling you’re sending an audience to sleep.

I went to a Confident Communications workshop today at the British Library, put on by the wonderful Create KX. They put on lots of workshops for creative businesses or freelancers, which are either free or at a very reasonable cost, especially if you’re based in Camden. The workshop was facilitated by Kathleen Sullivan.

Practical workshops

One of the topics the workshop covered was public speaking. Although you may want to avoid public speaking at any cost, the practical bits of speaking workshops are always the most useful.

We had to stand opposite another person and talk about something that we were proud of or really interested in. I talked about getting my first children’s book published and felt slightly uncomfortable being so obviously the centre of attention. The other person had to listen intently and do all the right body language, listening, nodding, smilling, generally friendly and attentive. So a lovely woman called Harriet made it look like I was the most fascinating person on the planet. This made the job a lot easier.

When we swapped around, there was a mean trick. I had to convey all the body language associated with being incredibly bored.

How to cope when people look bored

It was interesting in terms of how Harriet was able to continue speaking despite my best efforts to look like a sullen teenager, rolling my eyes, yawning, crossing my arms, checking my (non-existent) watch, peering over her shoulder to suss out more interesting things happening in my room.  She said it was because the subject was travelling which was a big passion for her.

We both agreed, however, that it was easier because she knew I’d been told to look disinterested, and whether she’d be able to do the same in a real scenario would be another matter.

Something we’ve both experienced was the horror of freezing up in the middle of a presentation. Harriet did it in a room full of men as part of a work talk. I did it while talking about a new website and wiki to a roomful of local government representatives. Suddenly, I was aware of someone looking bored and I lost concentration entirely and the words stopped coming out of my mouth.

Tears in the toilet

Two of my colleagues jumped into the breach and started talking, at which point I managed to right myself and continue. However, it was followed by an torrent of tears in the toilets and a crushing feeling that I had humiliated myself and let down my team.

But I’m learning that it’s really not that important. I think I was building up my talk as a performance and all the pressure that comes with it. I am beginning to realise that it should just be a conversation, one of many conversations that you have as part of your day.

Don’t assume you’re boring

Another useful tip that somebody else told me (can’t remember who annoyingly), was that although people may be looking bored, it doesn’t mean they are bored. If someone yawns, then assume it is because they had a late night last night. I liked that advice as it counters that automatic assumption that you are boring and only capable of inspiring narcolepsy in an audience.

Great blog coverage of Public Speaking Made Easy

Some of the people who attended have written some great blog posts about the event.

Christian Heilmann, who spoke about how to inspire as a speaker and has summed up the event really well.

Suw Charman-Anderson, who attended and has done an amazing write up of the event — if you weren’t there, this gives the definitive version, with all the questions as well.

Ian Pouncey, who also attended and rounds up the key points from the speakers

I don’t like public speaking

I don’t like public speaking.

I hate public speaking

I think I first started hating public speaking when I was about 13. I used to do some acting when I was little, ranging from being a rat in a pantomime to a frog in the school play.

But I was in a school play and I suddenly became acutely aware of everyone looking at me (which is to be expected when you’re on stage), and I suddenly hated it. There was also another couple of incidents around the same sort of age that I think were turning points. I think it was a lot to do with losing confidence and becoming more self-conscious.

I went from someone who waved at my mum and dad in the audience, oblivious to any risk of embarrassment, to a gibbering wreck at the thought of even standing in front of anyone, let alone opening my mouth.

So, that’s enough back history for now. But suffice to say, I really don’t like it.

Before the launch event of Speaking Out, Katie, our first speaker, told me I should introduce the event as I’d be a good example to other people who were nervous. Arggh. So I put together a presentation on the Sunday before and went round to see Katie for some personal tuition on the Monday. She was amazing, and I ran through the presentation about 5 times and each time she gave me some brilliant tips on how to make me more comfortable and natural.

I survived. Yes, I’m not going to win any awards for an incredible presentation. But I’d like to highlight the survival part of it.

It was weird looking at my presentation on video. The thing I notice the most is that my energy and enthusiasm seems to drop off, and I just seem a bit bored. Really, I wasn’t! I was just nervous!