Learning to speak in public

I enjoy giving presentations - there's something about being up in front of a crowd
that is very powerful, especially when they're laughing.

But I wasn't always like that. In fact, throughout high school and college, I avoided
those sorts of situations as much as possible. When I got out of school and started
working (at Boeing Computer Services, doing engineering graphics), I decided that
being able to speak in public was a skill I wanted to have. Boeing sponsored a Toastmaster's chapter,
but that seemed like an artificial situation (I told myself). To be honest, it
was probably more that deciding to do something like that is a big move,
so I put it off.

One day, a fellow motorcyclist who I had taken a motorcycle safety course
from suggested that I become an instructor for MSF.
That seemed like a great idea - I could learn to speak, teach people to ride better,
and make a little spending money (very little, it turns out). So, I sent in an application
and was accepted to the 1990 instructor class.

Though the format has changed since then, at the time the course ran for 8 days straight.
You started with 6 days of covering the beginning
rider course
 in excruciating detail. For the classroom sections, you walk
through what you need to present and do short practice sections of presentation. For
the range (ie riding) sections, you learn how to present an exercise, how to demo
an exercise, where to stand, what appropriate coaching is, how to get the students
to do what you want, and how to keep track of time. You'll spend 8 hours a day on
this, plus 4 hours at night studying.

Then, on Friday night, an unsuspecting class of students shows up to be taught by
the instructor candidates, with your chief instructors there only to observe (and
to rescue you if you really screw up).

The result is not pretty.

The classroom sessions go pretty well - the curriculum is very good, and even if you
just read the talking points and show the videos, the students will do well. The range,
however, is another matter.

MSF courses teach skills in progressions - the students learn one skill, and then
the next exercise builds on that skill. A cornerstone of that approach is that students
need to actually *learn* a skill before they go to the next exercise. Unfortunately,
it requires skilled instructors to ensure that, and we were far from skilled. We chose
exercises to lead by lot, and I drew exercise 11, which is titled, "Shifting and turning
on different curves(3) and shifting and making sharp turns". It requires the students
to put together actions smoothly and in the right order on an intimidating course.
It's very, very useful in a well-taught class, but for me, it turned into the exercise
from hell. To get a passing grade as an instructor, the students need to achieve the
point of the exercise, and the combination of them not getting good instruction and
my inability to keep them in the right path of travel meant that it was pretty much
a foregone conclusion that I would not get a passing grade on that exercise. Luckily,
I had passed my first classroom section, and I only had one more range exercise to
teach, "stopping in the shortest distance", which is pretty much impossible to foul
up as an instructor. So, I passed the course, though it was incredibly intense. That's
to make the real courses seem easy.

After a while, I started teaching the classroom section by myself. The courses only
have 12 people in them, so the size isn't that intimidating, but you have to be "on"
the during the whole course. Over time, I got so that I really enjoyed teaching the
courses, though I had to give them up recently because of other time committments.

Onto C# Land. The original C# team was part of the VC++ team, and we had 4 devs, 5
testers, and one PM working on the compiler, plus Anders and a couple of other people
on the design team. After we announced C#, there was a ton of call for talks on the
subject, and limited resources, so I started doing talks (one of the nicethings about
MS is that I was able to do talks even though I was a QA lead, not a PM). In one quarter,
I did 23 talks on C#, and found that I was a bit of a ham when I got up in front of

If there's a point to this story, it's that if you want to get good at something,
you need to just do it. But try not to start in a the "Rock Star"-talk-to-3000-people-at-PDC

Comments (2)

  1. Anna says:

    this year is school i have to take a speech class and i hate talking in front of people i am so shy in front of people and this is my 2nd year at this new school so the people arent very familiar- how do i get over it?

    email me at


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