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Confessions of a Public Speaker

samzenpus posted more than 4 years ago | from the read-all-about-it dept.

Book Reviews 111

brothke writes "While there is a plethora of books such as Public Speaking for Dummies, and many similar titles, Confessions of a Public Speaker is unique in that it takes a holistic approach to the art and science of public speaking. The book doesn't just provide helpful hints, it attempts to make the speaker, and his associated presentation, compelling and necessary. Confessions is Scott Berkun's first-hand account of his many years of public speaking, teaching and television appearances. In the book, he shares his successes, failures, and many frustrating experiences, in the hope that the reader will be a better speaker for it." Keep reading for the rest of Ben's review.An issue with many books on public speaking is that they focus on the mechanics of public speaking. While there is nothing necessarily wrong with that approach, Confessions takes a much deeper and analytical look at public speaking. The book demonstrates that the best public speakers are not simply people with fancy PowerPoints; rather they are excellent communicators with a strong message.

While other books focus and stress the importance of creating good PowerPoints, Confessions shows how one can rise above the PowerPoint and be a presenter of ideas to the audience. Such an approach can take a dry presentation and turn it into a compelling one.

Berkun notes that while many people perceive public speaking to be a terrifying experience, the reality is that it does not have to be so petrifying. With fundamental preparations, even the most timid person can be a public speaker. While such a person will never be a speaker at the caliber of a Steve Jobs, there is no reason they can't present an enjoyable and educating presentation.

The book is loaded with chapter after chapter of practical advice. Berkun also shows what to do when things go terribly wrong; from how to work a tough room, when technology fails, microphones that go bad and more.

The book also provides effective techniques on how to deal with a participant, who in the course of asking a question, turns it into a monologue or diatribe. His suggestion is to throw the question back at the audience. Ask the audience "how many people are interested in this question?", If only a fraction of the audience raise their hands, tell the questioner to come up afterwards and that you will answer them. Berkun concludes that just because a question is raised, does not mean that the speaker is obligated to answer it.

Some of the advice in the book is obvious, but only after you read it, such as not turning your back on the audience, and more. One of the better suggestions is rather than ending a talk with "are there there any questions?", use "what questions did you think I would answer but didn't?"

As an effective communicator, one would have thought that Berkun could have gotten his message across with less profanity. While the book is not necessarily profanity laden; it is there in numerous places. That will preclude the book from being purchased in many organizations sensitive to that.

Chapter 6 — the Science of not boring people — is perhaps the best chapter in the book, where Berkun takes a look at a fundamental problem with many public presentations, they are simply boring. The chapter describes an experiment in which heart-rate monitors were strapped to listening students during lectures. Their heart rate peaked at the start of the lectures and then steadily declined. Berkun notes that with this depressing fact, it's easy to understand why most lectures are slow one-way trips into sedation. Our bodies, sitting around doing little, go into rest mode, and where our bodies go, our minds will follow."

Berkun also writes of perhaps what is the biggest bane of having to listen to a speaker, death by PowerPoint. Far too many speakers lack relevant content and try to make up for that with fancy PowerPoint presentations. Berkun notes that far too few people create their content first. Rather they put their ideas immediately into a PowerPoint, with the hope that good content will magically emerge. The message Berkun says repeatedly and which speakers should take to heart, is that content is what matters, and not the sacred PowerPoint.

The reason for so much death by PowerPoint is that many speakers are seduced by the style of the presentation and get caught up in the fonts, videos, graphics, and more, and lose all context of the points that they want to make. Berkun concludes that the problem with most bad presentations is not the slides, the visuals or any of the things that most people obsess about; rather it is the lack of thinking.

The book also stresses the importance of good feedback for the speaker to grow into a better speaker. The challenge is that most attendees are reticent to give effective rebuke to the speaker. Berkun says the best way to overcome this is for a speaker to videotape themselves, and be merciless with themselves, extracting what their mistakes are.

The last chapter is "You Can't Do Worse Than This" is made up of stories of disastrous experiences from various public speakers. The chapter is exceptionally insightful and entertaining. Perhaps the funniest story was when Larry Lessig was invited to be a guest at a conference in Georgia (as in Eastern Europe) and after the introduction, was unexpectedly told that he was to give a one-hour talk comparing the German, French and American constitutions, with special insights for Georgia.

Overall, Confessions of a Public Speaker is a very well-written, entertaining and engaging overview of the art of public speaking. For those that are contemplating public speaking, or want to improve their current aptitude, it is impossible that after reading the book, they won't be a better speaker. For those that simply want to know what goes into, and what makes a really good presentation, Confessions of a Public Speaker is also a worthwhile book to read.

Ben Rothke is the author of Computer Security: 20 Things Every Employee Should Know.

You can purchase Confessions of a Public Speaker from amazon.com. Slashdot welcomes readers' book reviews -- to see your own review here, read the book review guidelines, then visit the submission page.

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111 comments

Public speaking and girls (4, Interesting)

sopssa (1498795) | more than 4 years ago | (#30357032)

One thing everyone should also always remember is that you will usually suck at things when trying the first time. Public Speaking fear comes mostly from the lack of experience and that if you fail at something during it, lots of people will notice as they're all watching you.

Like with everything else, humor helps. If you fail, laugh or joke it off and continue. It's not really a big deal.

It's pretty much the same thing when people on their teenage years (and later if it's a really hot girl) fear talking to them. They think it's going to ruin their world. Once you've got used to messing up with girls, hot girls too, you will notice it's not really a big deal. Laugh at it, she probably will do. If you're scared of that, fail with a girl intentionally to see how she responds. It's quite an eye-opener and you will not really fear failing again. It's ok, and public speaking and talking with random girls is successful only if you can also fail successfully and continue.

Re:Public speaking and girls (5, Funny)

Itninja (937614) | more than 4 years ago | (#30357070)

Gee, thanks Dad.

Re:Public speaking and girls (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30357498)

Public speaking, rhetoric, PR, and marketing. What do they all have in common? They focus on techniques to sway an audience not so much with facts and reasoning, though those may (selectively) occur, but with clever presentation that caters to all their little biases and matters of taste that they can't put aside. For example, when addressing an audience that is either rich themselves or impressed by wealth, wear your finest three-piece suit. Conversely, when reaching a more blue-collar audience, try to portray yourself as the everyday man. That's just one example of many things that have nothing to do with the soundness of the position being taken. Politicians don't study argumentation; they study how dressing a certain way, the use of certain gestures and the emphasis of certain words and other superficial things can sway an audience. They don't care so much about what is demonstrably correct, but they do care about what the audience wants to hear. This is not for people engaged in honest inquiry. It's for people who need to have their information spoonfed to them like the mental babies that they are.

Nothing has turned me off to public speaking so much as repeatedly observing this. The public speakers who are regarded as really good thrive on events where the communication is strictly one-to-many. They don't generaly gravitate towards situations where the audience can question them at any time. Or when they do, it's in a very controlled fashion, sometimes to the point of only allowing pre-approved questions. It's got nothing to do with having a sound message and getting it out to people. It's more like a popularity contest. For example, Obama is a gifted speaker who puts on a very smooth presentation, but look how lost he is without his teleprompter. Ever wonder why that is? I mean, if he really knew what he was talking about and believed in what he was saying because he is familiar with the issue and has taken a position based on sound reasoning, you'd think he wouldn't need so much electronic assistance.

Re:Public speaking and girls (2, Informative)

Itninja (937614) | more than 4 years ago | (#30359262)

...lost he is without his teleprompter

I have seen a few gaffs, but 'lost'? Never saw that. Never saw him totally lock up on a question and start in with the ums and ahhs. Or saw him turn and attack the impromptu questioner because the answer was 'hard'.

Get a life (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30360734)

Yeah, screw those stupid suits. LOL.

How did this trash get moderated up to anything?

Nothing has turned me off to public speaking so much as repeatedly observing this

Holden Caulfield must be your favorite character because you can relate.

Good lord, you are a sad, pathetic creature.

I agree. (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30357082)

I've written an informative journal on this very subject, located here [zoy.org].

Re:Public speaking and girls (2, Funny)

navyjeff (900138) | more than 4 years ago | (#30357416)

One thing everyone should also always remember is that you will usually suck at things when trying the first time. Public Speaking fear comes mostly from the lack of experience and that if you fail at something during it, lots of people will notice as they're all watching you.

I'm stealing this line for the opening of my next presentation.

Re:Public speaking and girls (1)

mcwop (31034) | more than 4 years ago | (#30357800)

Great points, I would add that a nice way to get comfortable with the audience, is to greet them as they walk in the door. Also, strike up conversations with audience members before presenting.

': Look out! Here comes an 's'! (4, Insightful)

Red Flayer (890720) | more than 4 years ago | (#30357110)

The book demonstrates that the best public speakers are not simply people with fancy PowerPoint's rather they are excellent communicators with a strong message.

While other books focus and stress the importance of creating good PowerPoint's, Confessions shows...

An apostrophe is not used to signal "look out! here comes an 's'".

Sorry, but a book review is no place for grammatical errors. Furthermore, if you ever hope to get published in the wider world... making a generic term out of a trademarked name is a big no-no. They are not Powerpoints... they are Powerpoint presentations... I know you used the correct term in part of your review, why not in all of it?

I knw this isn't really a forum for critique of your writing style... but that blatant misuse of the apostrophe is glaring so brightly I had trouble reading the rest of your review.

Re:': Look out! Here comes an 's'! (5, Funny)

natehoy (1608657) | more than 4 years ago | (#30357286)

In most cases, the apostrophe is used to replace a space followed by a letter. For example, in the word "they're" the apostrophe replaces a space followed by the letter "a" in the original "they are". In the word "it's" the apostrophe replaces a space followed by "i" from the original "it is."

In the non-possessive form of "PowerPoint's", the apostrophe is obviously intended to replace a space followed by the word "presentation".

It's not a grammatical error, it's an error in conflicting substitution tables. :)

Re:': Look out! Here comes an 's'! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30361314)

Like who really cares about the grammar?

I always thought that for slashdot, when it came to grammar, good enough was more than enough.

Re:': Look out! Here comes an 's'! (4, Interesting)

antifoidulus (807088) | more than 4 years ago | (#30357880)

Ironically you sound just like my speech teacher....seriously. At my university we were required to take a speech class and in that speech class we had to hand over our notes. I repeatedly lost points because my notes weren't in the "right format"...but they are my fucking notes, why shouldn't they be in the format that I find most useful? Hopefully this book takes a much less mechanical approach.

I did let my speech teacher know my frustrations with her in a not so subtle fashion. For our midterm we were required to formulate an argument and list points supporting it. My argument was that she was a horrible speech teacher and should be fired, but since I made all my points in the required format, I got an A.

Re:': Look out! Here comes an 's'! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30359298)

For our midterm we were required to formulate an argument and list points supporting it. My argument was that she was a horrible speech teacher and should be fired, but since I made all my points in the required format, I got an A.

Liar.

Re:': Look out! Here comes an 's'! (1)

Red Flayer (890720) | more than 4 years ago | (#30359354)

I agree that for your speech class, that seems a little ridiculous... but there's a big difference between notes taken for personal/class use and a piece intended for publication.

The only thing I'd like to note about the required note format for speech class -- there may have been a reason for it other than "it makes it easy to read for the teacher". The teacher may have been using the format as a grading proxy for your understanding of the organization of the material, or for some other reason. When I tutored in high school and college, some of the students needed more than just subject matter tutoring... they needed to be shown how to take notes effectively. The format makes a big difference for a lot of students! You'd be surprised how much it can change their ability to understand the subject matter.

My experience with speech class in high school, however, was that the graded content was hard to quantify, but needed to be graded on some kind of defensible metric as per school policy (coupled with the fact that both instructors had prior issues with grading). Conforming to some ridiculous standard of note-taking would be one way of getting that into place...

Re:': Look out! Here comes an 's'! (1)

General Wesc (59919) | more than 4 years ago | (#30359728)

A test is a class assignment. A paper is a class assingment. Turing notes into a class assignment--and especially mandating a specific format for notes--is counter-productive: it prevents students from taking notes in a format conducive to their learning. Notes are not a paper or a test: they're things for the student's reference.Requiring that a student takes notes is rarely harmful--I've known a few people who do can't focus on the lecture and take notes at the same time, but most people would surely benefit--but mandating that they take notes in your format hinders students in taking notes in a way most beneficial to the entire point to taking notes.Your analogies completely miss the entire purpose of taking notes, and so did the professor. Complaining that the professor should be fired was definitely an immature way of dealing with it, but that doesn't take away from the fact that the requirement was very misguided.

I've had a couple classes where the professors wanted to see students' notes, just to make sure we were taking them and paying attention. I provided the notes, but with a warning to them that my notes are going to be filled with the occasional shorthand, foreign word, or unexplained reference. If the professor needed me to rewrite my notes in a readable format, that meant an extra writing assignment for each day of class, as I couldn't take notes that are both legible to others and useful to myself fast enough by hand (and at the time I had no laptop). Demanding that I write notes in their format in class would be tantamount to demanding that I don't pay attention to half the lecture. How is that sane?

Re:': Look out! Here comes an 's'! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30359464)

Ironically you sound fat ... seriously.

Re:': Look out! Here comes an 's'! (3, Insightful)

MoralHazard (447833) | more than 4 years ago | (#30359538)

It sounds like you're almost proud of this story, or at least feel justified in your conduct. If I misinterpreted that part, sorry in advance, but...

That's a terrible thing to do to a teacher, or anybody, really. I think you acted inappropriately, and displayed an incredible lack of maturity for someone old enough and sophisticated enough to be in college.

Also, you're flat-out wrong about whether having notes in the correct format is important. Would you get pissy with your Calculus teacher because she insisted that you show all the little nitty-gritty steps in your solutions, instead of just writing a final answer? If she docked your score because you didn't follow instructions, would you throw a temper tantrum and tell her she ought to be fired? Or how about a composition teacher who insists that you submit an outline and a rough draft, before your final draft?

BTW, are you one of those jerkoff, should-be-on-Ritalin babies who can't get his shit together, and acts out and gets mad at everybody else for the fact that God made him broken?

I think the fact that she gave you an "A", in the end, is purely a testament to her professionalism and self-control. The fact that you got the "A" doesn't really prove much about you--after all, everybody knows a speech class is an easy "A" if you just do what you're told. If anything, you should be ashamed of yourself.

I really hope you have grown up since then.

Re:': Look out! Here comes an 's'! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30360106)

That's a terrible thing to do to a teacher, or anybody, really.

I think it's an incredibly brave thing to do - and kudos to the teacher, too, for marking it objectively.

Also, you're flat-out wrong about whether having notes in the correct format is important. Would you get pissy with your Calculus teacher because she insisted that you show all the little nitty-gritty steps in your solutions, instead of just writing a final answer?

Invalid comparison. If I'm writing a solution to an assignment question, I write it in the standard format so that others (specifically, the marker) can read it. If I'm taking notes for my own benefit, they can be in any format I like - whatever's easiest for me to understand.

Re:': Look out! Here comes an 's'! (1, Flamebait)

MoralHazard (447833) | more than 4 years ago | (#30360612)

You missed the point, double, here. Imagine that--Slashdot is full of people with authority problems so bad that their reading skills have suffered! Who'd'a thunk it?

If I'm writing a solution to an assignment question, I write it in the standard format so that others (specifically, the marker) can read it.

Ever heard the phrase "Show your work"? In every math class I've taken since I was 9 years old (including college), the instructor specifically warned us that we needed to document the entire reasoning process that we used to arrive at the answer. Even if I could have gotten the correct answers without writing anything out, I would have failed if I didn't cooperate with the teacher and show my notes. If the teacher didn't like the process I was using, but I still somehow got the correct answer, I would have gotten docked points.

If I'm taking notes for my own benefit, they can be in any format I like - whatever's easiest for me to understand.

Here's your big fail: The format of the students' notes WAS part of the assignment. Do you think the teacher didn't explain this to the class ahead of time? (Notice that the poster doesn't try to claim that the teacher unfairly surprised him with this requirement--just that he thinks the requirement is stupid.)

The notes aren't just for his own benefit. His speech teacher was trying to impart a specific method of preparation to him. If that method involves making notes in a special way, do you think there might be a reason for it? Gee, do ya?

So, how's that an invalid comparison, again?

Re:': Look out! Here comes an 's'! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30360356)

It is not unlikely that she gave you an A to make sure that she would not have to speak to you again.

I wonder what the "right" format is. I think it depends very much on the circumstances. Sometimes you need a word by word script. Sometimes you need to have a speak that is improvised based on a few small notes and points, since it is very difficult for most people to read a script as if it is improvised.

Re:': Look out! Here comes an 's'! (1)

chris44larsen (1628843) | more than 4 years ago | (#30358376)

what is the correct use of the apostrophe in this case? and since this is Slashdot, does such religious devotion to grammar really matter?

Re:': Look out! Here comes an 's'! (2, Funny)

orgelspieler (865795) | more than 4 years ago | (#30359014)

Sorry, but a book review is no place for grammatical errors.

...

I knw this isn't really a forum for critique of your ...

A rant about grammatical errors is probably not the place for spelling errors, either.

Re:': Look out! Here comes an 's'! (1)

blahplusplus (757119) | more than 4 years ago | (#30359366)

The GP poster would do well to learn some neuroscience, the way the mind misretrieve's or misuses information is in a predictable manner.

They're and their and there, you can have someone meaning to say "there" and they type "their" and this is done *unconsciously and automatically* and beyond the persons awareness. These are common neurological errors in a persons brain due to the way they are wired. I constantly make the same mistakes over and over again and you just have to live with the fact that some peoples neural network are particularly noisy.

I've often left out, switched or mistyped similar words or had bad grammar in my posts and still got rated insightful because many of those mods understand this fact.

Many neurological errors are UNCONSCIOUS the user is not even aware he has mistyped because the user internally is sending the message to "type their" (what they actually mean) and their motor system is sent "there".

The way memory exists in human minds is via networks of association therefore anything near those activated networks when something is looked up may be drawn instead without the user knowing it.

Re:': Look out! Here comes an 's'! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30361474)

>>I knw this isn't really a forum for critique of your writing style... but that blatant misuse of the apostrophe is glaring so brightly I had trouble reading the rest of your review

People who can't spell know correctly should not be corrected others.

Re:': Look out! Here comes an 's'! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30361704)

>>>but that blatant misuse of the apostrophe is glaring so brightly I had trouble reading the rest of your review.

Then you indeed have deep problems.

Re:': Look out! Here comes an 's'! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30363916)

w'ow, th'at is li'ke so' real'y impert'tant

Learn the difference (1)

jgtg32a (1173373) | more than 4 years ago | (#30357118)

Learn the difference between a PowerPoint presentation and a presentation using PowerPoint.

I don't remember where I heard this but, it's very important

This is /. (5, Funny)

Monkeedude1212 (1560403) | more than 4 years ago | (#30357124)

We don't get out in public enough to worry about public speaking.

Re:This is /. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30357684)

We don't get out in public enough to worry about public speaking.

And one of our fellow /.ers above even compared public speaking to speaking with girls! No idea what he was trying to say ...

Re:This is /. (1)

noidentity (188756) | more than 4 years ago | (#30357718)

This is /. We don't get out in public enough to worry about public speaking.

Well, OK, then this book might help when speaking to a large group in an IRC channel.

Re:This is /. (3, Interesting)

devleopard (317515) | more than 4 years ago | (#30357824)

In my former life (before programming), I was in academic debate and competitive speech. I wasn't incredibly successful, but I won a fair amount. Those skills really do serve me well as a programmer. They allow me to communicate with stakeholders without a bunch of "ums", sweaty palms, and the inability to complete a sentence without using 3 acronyms.

That skill extends to interviewing - a form of speaking. It's all about knowing what your audience hears, and how they interpret the messages they hear. (Even the most intelligent MBA or lawyer thinks "giant piece of yarn" when a programmer says "big string" or "car-wash is busy" when they hear "buffer overflow".) I've been told my interviewing ability has gotten me jobs when my competition included programmers who were far more talented than I.

Even among programmers, you need to learn to speak. The programmers that sit in their cubicle, head in a terminal, are the ones who are boo-hooing when they lose their job. Want to build your career? Speak at public functions like user group meetings for your technology. (No, your Blogspot page isn't the same thing, and neither is your YouTube channel that has 4 subscribers.) You establish yourself as an expert, a go to guy (or girl). In this "recession", post-dot-com bust, and post-9/11, I never went without work, and over 50% of it came through networking from my user group participation. These days, I'm a full time consultant; I have a box of business cards on my desk, but they're just taking up room, as I don't need to hand them out. Ditto on my web site - I haven't updated it, because I have zero need for marketing. All due to being willing to step out and speak publicly.

You don't want to do that? "I'm a geek, and am happy to stay in my comfort zone.." Fine. While you're working on your WoW characters, I'm giving presentations. You can have your mod points; I'll take your job. Just remember to call me "Sir" when you're handing me my receipt at Best Buy.

Re:This is /. (1)

ihateslashdot2 (1693032) | more than 4 years ago | (#30357990)

Glad to see there are fella debators on /. I was too, and I was a very successful one (1st place state and ranked 5th in the country) - I've since diverged from the career path of my friends from those days (most of them end up in law or something similar) and I went on to a technical career. But I will say, looking back on it 20 years later - that that was the most useful skill I ever learned in life: to be able to walk in front of a crowd of any size and know through hard earned experience that I can engage them without fail.

Re:This is /. (1)

Monkeedude1212 (1560403) | more than 4 years ago | (#30358426)

I'll take this first moment to just clearly point out my jab was simply a humorous one aimed at the stereotypical "IT Nerd" culture and was not meant as anything more than that; a simple joke.

Onto my rebuttal.

Different tasks call for different tools though. And not everyone is the same. Seeing as it sounds like you willingly participated in academic debate and competitive speech, it sounds more like you were more of a natural public speaker. Mind you, everyone has their doubts when they first start out, but there are those who clearly grasp public speaking early on and enjoy it. You sound like someone who enjoys it.

This skill has its uses - and you've shown them above. In most companies this will shoot you towards IT Manager or something of a similar position. Not everyone wants to be there though.

There are many of us who would prefer to go straight home after work and spend their spare time configuring an amazing Beowulf cluster of Pentium 3's. We enjoy our jobs because we don't have to deal with the things Managers do. Since we're happy at work and happy at home, we're happy all around. Not everyone enjoys public speaking, I might even dare to say that most of us don't. It's not that we can't or won't, its just that we don't enjoy it. Hearts not in it.

Those of us with the skills we develop in our spare "shut-in" time have just as easy a time finding a job as anyone with public speaking skills. While you have the 1-up on confidence in public, we have the 1-up on a handful of other skills you may know nothing about. You give presentations while we soder motherboards back to functional. You persuade, influence, and direct people around you. We set up replicating servers and run cable across buildings and network it all.

PLEASE - don't lump shy in with lazy. Just because we like to spend our evenings with our computers doesn't make us any more prone to a job at Best Buy than you are. When you are hired by a company that can clearly see your talent by your efficiency and broad range of skills, they aren't so quick to fire you because they can't just find another guy who knows it all. They would much rather keep 1 guy at 1.3 times the regular pay rather then trying to find 2 guys that could do both sections of his job.

Re:This is /. (1)

devleopard (317515) | more than 4 years ago | (#30358878)

I agree that it's a personality thing - and don't get me wrong, I'm a natural introvert. However, shyness is a disposition, not a fate. There are plenty of professional athletes who didn't make the team their first time in high school - they developed the skills to get what they wanted. Speaking ability can be a natural gift, but if it isn't, you can develop it. My point is that if you don't choose to develop it, you're still making a choice - to place yourself at a disadvantage to those who can.

Re:This is /. (1)

stephanruby (542433) | more than 4 years ago | (#30358446)

I've been told my interviewing ability has gotten me jobs when my competition included programmers who were far more talented than I.

That was you!!!! You bastard!

having something to say helps (3, Insightful)

Trepidity (597) | more than 4 years ago | (#30357204)

The biggest problem I've found with public speaking is that often the speaker really does not want to be giving a talk, and so it's kind of forced. Sure, they may be interesting people with a lot to say, but for this 30-minute, or 60-minute, or whatever it is slot, they've been assigned to do it, or are doing it for money, or are doing it for some other reason besides, "really have something I want to say to this audience".

I see this a lot as an academic--- in computer science, conferences have in a lot of areas displaced journals as the primary publication venues, so people mainly submit to a conference to get their paper published in the proceedings. Then the conference rolls around, and they have a 20- or 30-minute slot to fill. Some people really have something to say in that slot, but others, whether through inclination or the subject matter, really don't, and give essentially a very long and drawn-out version of, "just read the damn paper".

Of course, some technical improvements to talks---use of figures, non-monotone voice, etc.---can make them more engaging, but it doesn't really solve the underlying problem. In the academic-conference case, it basically transforms a boring 20-minute ad for the paper into a somewhat amusing 20-minute ad for the paper--- but still not a good talk.

Re:having something to say helps (3, Insightful)

martyros (588782) | more than 4 years ago | (#30357406)

I think the best advice I ever saw on presentations was to start with asking, "What's my goal? What am I trying to accomplish here?" A lot of people's goal is to "talk about [foo]", and that's exactly what they do: they put a bunch of [foo] on slides, and talk about it. The thing is, they could have done that in their basement and been successful. Your goal in giving a talk with other people present should be to change the listener somehow: to inform them of something, to help them understand something, to persuade them of something, to entertain them, to make them think. Otherwise they didn't really need to be there.

The last two conference presentations I've done, after a "hook" intro, I put up a "goals" slide, and said, "At the end of this presentation, I want you to know that..." and I had three or four points. Then I put up my outline; "To do that, I'm going to talk about these subjects." Then, away we go. Cover the material, but only the material that is necessary to reach those goals presented at the beginning. Other material can be found in the paper. Then at the end, put up the outline slide to review, and end with the goals slide to remind them (and myself, as I'm preparing) what my point was.

Explicitly listing the goals isn't suitable for every talk, but having goals (stated or not) is a prerequisite for any effective talk.

Re:having something to say helps (1)

stevenmenke (1590623) | more than 4 years ago | (#30358684)

I accidentally hitted redundant instead of insightfull. Excuse me! Could someone please mod parent up? Thanks.

Re:having something to say helps (1)

iangoldby (552781) | more than 4 years ago | (#30364260)

Good point, but I think more important is to ask not what is my goal but "what is the audience's goal?"

You can give a first class presentation with a very clearly defined goal, but if that goal is not the one the audience came along with then you are wasting your time.

Most of the crappy presentations I have to attend are crappy mainly because they are telling me a load of stuff I have absolutely no interest in, and they don't answer the issues I really want to know about.

Join Toastmasters (2, Insightful)

NoYob (1630681) | more than 4 years ago | (#30357312)

They'll give you plenty of practice.

Re:Join Toastmasters (1)

chris44larsen (1628843) | more than 4 years ago | (#30357344)

what is that?

Re:Join Toastmasters (5, Insightful)

NoYob (1630681) | more than 4 years ago | (#30357434)

Toastmasters [toastmasters.org]is a club that is for public speaking. During a meeting, there is a time where you maybe called upon to talk about a topic that's pulled out of thin air to teach you how to think and speak on your feet, you have speaking assignments to get a certification, and you get to critique others speaking. Some clubs from what I understand, are so big that you hardly ever get to speak so "shop" around clubs. Also, it's pretty G- rated.

Re:Join Toastmasters (1)

chris44larsen (1628843) | more than 4 years ago | (#30357652)

right, now I know what u r talking about. Used to work for a place that sponsored people to graduate from their course.

Re:Join Toastmasters (0, Redundant)

Abstrackt (609015) | more than 4 years ago | (#30357456)

Toastmasters is an organization that helps people become better public speakers. (Linky [toastmasters.org])

I've never gone to a meeting, but I know a few people that have and they say it's really improved their speaking skills.

Re:Join Toastmasters (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30357486)

is this a drinking club

Re:Join Toastmasters (1)

c_sd_m (995261) | more than 4 years ago | (#30358244)

Sometimes my club feels like a drinking club with a public speaking problem, at least after we finish the regular meeting and head to the pub. We're also ultra-geeky: IP issues and ISO standards are regular topics.

Re:Join Toastmasters (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30358854)

Party on.

Re:Join Toastmasters (1)

Avatar8 (748465) | more than 4 years ago | (#30359122)

We're not a drinking club, but we're definitely a social club. Been to a District Conference lately? Good times.

We Toastmasters definitely know how to party.

Re:Join Toastmasters (1)

Phreakiture (547094) | more than 4 years ago | (#30364670)

I was actually the Facilities Chair and A/V geek for the District 53 conference in Saratoga Springs NY last month. Loads of fun. It was my first District Conference, and I got a lot more enjoyment out of it than I expected.

Re:Join Toastmasters (1)

Avatar8 (748465) | more than 4 years ago | (#30359076)

I agree and would like to expound upon this.

I've been in Toastmasters over 8 years. What was just described in the review of this book, a person could learn in presenting and receiving feedback in three to six speeches (six weeks to six months depending on your initiative). As a long term educational and development program, Toastmasters can go into much more depth as well. The main strength of Toastmasters is that it provides a safe place to practice, receive friendly support and receive accurate, helpful feedback. Clubs vary greatly, so shopping around is encouraged.

Visit http://www.toastmasters.org/ [toastmasters.org] and use the "Find a Club" link. If there is not a club conveniently close to you, consider making a trip to one and asking for help in starting a club. I guarantee they will get someone in touch with you and will offer assistance in forming a club closer to you.

I'm not a professional public speaker yet, but everything reviewed about this book above I've already learned and experienced.

Having never heard of the author, I Googled him and found his website. Watching the first 5 minutes of his video in the bottom right had me cringing - unprofessional dress (maybe appropriate for where he was), playing around with the "stage," too much hand waving, too many "filler" words to hear his message clearly, mispronunciation or diction unclear, speaking too fast and moving around too much.

I won't be buying the book from what I've read and seen.

I came here to say that... (1)

Xenographic (557057) | more than 4 years ago | (#30359306)

That's what I came here to say. If you're afraid of public speaking, they can help. Only warning is that, if you have a small enough group (mine was ~20 people), you WILL end up talking. They're nice, though, and they'll help you start thinking on your feet, which is great for any time you're unexpectedly asked to address a crowd for ~5 minutes.

In terms of giving a longer speech, though, you really have to think about your goals. I used to teach basic internet use & word processor use to old people at the library in structured classes. I'd come up with a short list of goals for things I wanted them to know or be able to do and work from there.

For example, basic internet use might have a list of goals like this:
* Learn what a URL is & how to navigate to one.
* Learn to search the internet.
* Learn what email addresses look like & how to get one.
* Avoid common scams (419, etc.)
* Choose decent passwords (the "four food groups" for a balanced password are lowercase, uppercase, numbers and symbols)

And for the word processor class, I might have a list like this:
* Learn to make a new document
* Learn to save it somewhere you can find it again
* Learn to cut & paste
* Make text bold/itallic/underlined
* Double space & add page numbers
* Print

Those lists existed entirely in my head. I had no slides, no PowerPoint. Just a whiteboard and I only really used it to write out URLs and a few other things. I'd start out by introducing myself ("I may be half your age, but I've been using computers for over 20 years now"), but there was no set order in which to cover those goals. As I went along, I started to get into a routine for some things (e.g. the "four food groups" for a good password), but mostly I tailored things to the class. Sometimes, I covered more than I did in other classes. Each of them was a one-shot deal, so it all depended on the class.

What you have to do is focus on getting through the material. It's sort of like crossing a suspension bridge. If you're afraid and someone tells you "don't look down!" all you will think about is "looking down" which will make you more afraid. Instead, focus on the other side of the bridge, as it were. So I always worried about not having the class run late and about covering as much as I could and after a little practice, it wasn't so bad. You always get a little nervous (at least, I do), but you learn to worry about the class instead of how worried you are.

Re:I came here to say that... (1)

Avatar8 (748465) | more than 4 years ago | (#30364842)

You must not have stayed in Toastmasters long enough if you think it cannot help with long speeches. :-)

As part of the Advanced Communicator Gold achievement, you have to present a seminar which is 4-8 hours depending upon your subject. If you train at any Toastmasters Learning Institute, you're speaking for 45-60 minutes. If you use one of the advanced manuals such as Discussion Leader, each project is 20-40 minutes.

Aside from this are the advanced clubs that focus on professional speaking, the Accredited Speaker Program and then outside of Toastmasters but slightly associated, the National Speakers Association.

Great point you brought out, though, is preparedness.

From the start Toastmasters will teach you about writing a speech and organizing your thoughts. This applies to a 5-7 minute speech, a 1-2 minute table topic or a 4 hour presentation.

Style and Fun (3, Interesting)

carp3_noct3m (1185697) | more than 4 years ago | (#30357386)

What public speaking is all about is about gaining and maintaining the audiences genuine interest and attention. If you don't have at least some of these things, they will slowly fade into oblivion. I learned this quickly in the Corps, where I learned how to start off (first impressions are very important) with a loud booming voice introduction, followed up by some sort of attention grabber (Usually a random video). If the audience doesn't want to engage, engage them. Ask them questions. Randomly pick out a person to pick on (with the right amount of humor for the audience, for Marines a thorough degradation sufficed =). Do not become like the officers always do, which is addicted to fancy powerpoints. When he says stick to content that is the truth. Yes it can be boring to go over the correct way to clear a multi-story building with civilians in it. But something as simple as having a handful of guys standup and demonstrate an action etc makes the engagment contagious. If you make it fun, people will respond, if you don't, they will go comatose (and remember whose fault that is).

Re:Style and Fun (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30358072)

How hard can it be to entertain troops? They are not the brightest and will stare in wonder at anything shiny. Plus they are forced to watch you. They won't remember whatever actual content you had to convey no matter what; but you've got to work with the audience you get I guess.

If you hold a presentation in front of people who are to some degree knowledgeable in the field of your presentation, they'll silently ridicule you for your pitiful attempts at being funny or using presentation devices.

I fondly remember presenters that tell jokes you know they tell every single time they hold that presentation. You just know they'll grab a toy car or some other gizmo out of their bag next, to visualise something. Usually followed by nervous laughter of the "Ahahaha! (What the hell am I wasting my time here for?)" kind from the audience.

If people go comatose during an important presentation, it's their fault for being lazy and looking for an excuse not to pay attention. There's not much worse than a presenter who distracts those who want to pay attention with gimmicks.

Re:Style and Fun (1)

Ethanol-fueled (1125189) | more than 4 years ago | (#30359034)

Humor can be very effective (helping nervous speakers and captivating the audience) if it's integrated seamlessly into the speech, is not too heavy-handed, and is relevant to the topic. No pausing for knock-knock jokes or honking clown horns in the audience's faces.

For class I gave a speech on kayaking. I began the speech with, "This is my paddle. There are many others like it but this one is mine..."

Another speech was about Linux. Most of the audience (classmates) knew nothing about linux, so I mentioned the fact that Dave Chappelle gave a shoutout to Linux (well, behind Windows and Mac) in a skit ("Pop Copy") in the first episode of his show. That kind of pop-culture penetration is significant, even if it flew right over the heads of most of the audience. Here [livevideo.com] is a vid of the sketch, the Linux shoutout happens at 2:25 (and note that the timer counts backwards, not forwards).

Re:Style and Fun (1)

Avatar8 (748465) | more than 4 years ago | (#30359158)

A key thought to keep in mind: WIIFM.

"What's in it for me?" That is what will be going through your audience's mind throughout your speech/presentation. If you do not give them value and something to take away, you've wasted their time.

Plus people remember stories. They won't remember the bullet chart, the acronym or hardly any of the technical terms you say, but tell them a story that ties it together and they'll remember it for a long, long time.

Fear of death... (1)

vvaduva (859950) | more than 4 years ago | (#30357394)

I remember a statistic claiming that more people are afraid of public speaking than of death - I don't know if it was a real stat or a metaphor to demonstrate and make a point, but it's a valid one. Most people suck at it because they are afraid of it. In many ways the only way to deal with it effectively is to face the fear and conquer it.

I am really glad to see books like this on /. - keep up with the good content guys!

Re:Fear of death... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30357742)

It makes perfect sense, too. After all, not many people will still be around to face the repercussions and embarrassment of a bad death...

Re:Fear of death... (1)

Cryacin (657549) | more than 4 years ago | (#30358930)

I don't know if it was a real stat or a metaphor to demonstrate and make a point, but it's a valid one.

I wouldn't trust a statistic I didn't make up either.

Re:Fear of death... (1)

LtGordon (1421725) | more than 4 years ago | (#30365622)

“According to most studies, people's number one fear is public speaking. Number two is death. Death is number two. Does that sound right? This means to the average person, if you go to a funeral, you're better off in the casket than doing the eulogy.” --Jerry Seinfeld

Advice to the Shy (2, Interesting)

handy_vandal (606174) | more than 4 years ago | (#30357402)

If you are shy and afraid of public speaking, don't despair. Anyone can learn public speaking -- even the shy.

I speak from experience. I was profoundly, painfully shy as a child, as a teenager, into my adult years. At the age of nineteen, I looked at my shyness and said to myself, "I want something more." So I set challenges for myself: "Go to parties and meet people." "Get up on stage and sing." And so on. This was not easy, but I made myself do it. Over the years (I'm now approaching 49) these skills gradually became second nature to me.

Shyness continues to inform my character: I'm still something like what I was before. But I'm also something more than what I was before: I'm a man who can stand up in front of strangers (or friends, for that matter), and hold forth on this or that subject, without the fear and agony that accompanied my childhood shyness.

Indeed, public speaking can be a rush. Turn that fear into an adrenaline buzz! You can do it.

know your audience! (4, Funny)

OglinTatas (710589) | more than 4 years ago | (#30357510)

...before imagining them naked.
For instance, if you are speaking at the adult video entertainment awards, very little imagination is needed.
If you are conducting a bariatric surgery seminar for octogenarians, you may experience extensive psychological damage.
And if you are speaking at a kindergarten read-along, well that just might result in jail time

Re:know your audience! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30358950)

...before imagining them naked. ... And if you are speaking at a kindergarten read-along, well that just might result in jail time

Especially in Canada!

what? no jobs mention?! (1)

twailgum (1179013) | more than 4 years ago | (#30357518)

refreshing to read something about making a presentation and not having it be all about steve jobs' rule of three and his black turtleneck.

Uh...just don't..uh..make this...uh...mistake (3, Funny)

elrous0 (869638) | more than 4 years ago | (#30357558)

Uh...just don't...uh...keep unconsciously...uh...saying...uh...annoying words...uh....throughout...uh...your...uh...speech.

Re:Uh...just don't..uh..make this...uh...mistake (4, Insightful)

Reason58 (775044) | more than 4 years ago | (#30358174)

Uh...just don't...uh...keep unconsciously...uh...saying...uh...annoying words...uh....throughout...uh...your...uh...speech.

So this. Simply pause and collect your thoughts rather than use filler words like "uh" and "um". Think of it as buffering a video clip. Everyone would prefer a slight pause and then smooth playback over constant skips.

Having Heard Berkun Speak... (2, Interesting)

SwashbucklingCowboy (727629) | more than 4 years ago | (#30357566)

I don't think he's qualified to write this book. He's not a very good public speaker.

Re:Having Heard Berkun Speak... (2, Interesting)

chris44larsen (1628843) | more than 4 years ago | (#30357602)

i saw some of the presentations of his on his youtube channel, I thought he was good why do you say that?

Re:Having Heard Berkun Speak... (2, Interesting)

Avatar8 (748465) | more than 4 years ago | (#30359198)

I haven't heard him speak live, but after watching several minutes of the video on his website, I completely agree.

While his experiences may have some tips for future or present speakers, I certainly hope no one is relying on this book as their only source for public speaking.

Re:Having Heard Berkun Speak... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30361602)

>>>He's not a very good public speaker.

What makes you say that?

My own take (2, Funny)

Wireless Joe (604314) | more than 4 years ago | (#30357580)

Lacks one phrase crucial to effective public speaking: "...in a van down by the river [youtube.com]!"

Re:My own take (1)

dkleinsc (563838) | more than 4 years ago | (#30357918)

Matt Foley is a very successful speaker.
  * He made a lasting impression on his audience. Everyone remembers him.
  * He actually conveyed the point he was trying to make.
  * He successfully handled unexpected mishaps, like breaking a coffee table.

Dale Carnegie's book (3, Informative)

turing_m (1030530) | more than 4 years ago | (#30357598)

I first read "The quick and easy way to effective speaking" by Dale Carnegie over 10 years ago (probably through reading amazon reviews). It was excellent then. It is excellent now. It will still be great in a hundred years time. If you have to read one book, read that one.

As long as public speech is judged by an audience of humans, the principles of engaging and holding human interest will remain unchanged even with advances in technology. A riveting public speaker is riveting without the aid of graphs, powerpoint, and especially - powerpoint animations, and they have been for thousands of years. No magical powerpoint animations are going to help the public speaker who doesn't look the audience in the eye, who doesn't know his subject matter, who is not interested in his topic, who has not thought about how to find something in his topic that relates to the audience, who has not considered how to plan his speech so that the structure leads his audience to understanding, and who does not gauge audience understanding as he goes along to prevent "losing them".

Things that helped me (5, Informative)

macshome (818789) | more than 4 years ago | (#30357852)

My job is about 80% public speaking of some kind or the other. Sometimes it's a room of 20, sometimes it's 1500, and sometimes it's in a studio recording a webcast. I've been doing this for a while now and I've found a few things that helped me get started.

First you need to know your material. It's not so much a presentation as it's a one sided discussion. The more conversational you are the more you draw that audience in.

Second don't put a ton of stuff on your slides. I can't even count how many Keynote decks I've seen that the presenter just reads to the audience. A good concept to have about slides is that they are an outline with points of emphasis for the discussion. The screen isn't giving the presentation, you are!

Third on the list is to make it fun. Take an easy dig at yourself as it always loosens them up. A really easy potshot is to make fun of end users. If you are presenting to sysadmins this is an instant win. Also strive to make things interactive. Ask questions of the audience that get them to raise a show of hands. It keeps people engaged.

Next get a presentation remote and walk around the stage/screen. You can be much more physically emotive if you aren't nailed to a lectern the whole time. If it's a big enough room you will need to do this so that you don't loose the people that are far away from you.

Finally, just be confident. You are presenting because someone thinks that what you have to say is important. Take that vote of confidence and run with it.

One last tip is to watch effective speakers give presentations. They are easy to find on the web from YouTube or TED. In my group we actually will often record our own presentations and then watch them later in order to pick up places to improve. This is a game that you can always keep improving.

Powerpoint (1)

water-and-sewer (612923) | more than 4 years ago | (#30357864)

Wow man, this is a fascinating subject! Do you think you could tell us a little more about your theory, maybe using a couple of Powerpoint slides with animation? For bonus points, just stand up there and read the text on the slides to us.

Rated 8/10. Shocker. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30357878)

Another meaningless review awards the only rating ever given a Slashdot book review. Why are reviewers such cowards here?

It must be better than this book (1)

tsa (15680) | more than 4 years ago | (#30358210)

At the research group I worked for almost 6 years we were more or less required to read these books by Ad Lagendijk [amazon.co.uk]. His style is quite authoritive: you must do this, you must never do that, etc. I didn't read the book because of that. All of the things that are in the book I learned during the years I worked there. It's a pity that the tone of the book is a bit over the top because his tips are very good.

Plethora (1)

DrPascal (185005) | more than 4 years ago | (#30358908)

I saw the first sentence starting with "While there is a plethora of..." and rolled my eyes, and then died laughing when I saw it as a story tag. Thanks to whomever caused that laugh, it was appreciated.

Re:Plethora (1)

chris44larsen (1628843) | more than 4 years ago | (#30359330)

ok, help us out... whats so funny?

Re:Plethora (1)

HiggsBison (678319) | more than 4 years ago | (#30360882)

ok, help us out... whats so funny?

My reaction was to start chanting "Bulbous buffont, macadamia, gazebo".

From the Bulbous Buffant sketch by the Vestibules. Played occasionally on Dr. Demento.

Galoshes. Mukluks. Blubber. Beluga. Plethora. Bamboozle. Igloo. Spatula. Shindig. Hullaballo. Foible. BUS!

A few tricks and war stories (2, Interesting)

Microship (241842) | more than 4 years ago | (#30358922)

I found an easy solution to the resounding silence that sometimes happens, especially with uptight audiences, when you leave a nice big block of time for questions, close the monologue, then wait with rising anxiety for the hands to go up... umm... anyone? I now deliberately leave out a few fundamentals that everybody wants to know. By the time the floor is open for questions, hands shoot up for the FAQ, and snappy well-oiled answers get the room warmed up for the good stuff. Works even with the stuffiest crowd.

One piece of advice I'll add is to know as much as possible about the audience and the client's expectations. I once stumbled into an awkward situation with a keynote at a Fortune 500 international annual sales meeting (nice gig via my speakers bureau). Just as I was about to go on, the client walked over, introduced himself, and said, "oh, by the way, please avoid regionalisms and wordplay. OK, looks like you're on!" The audience was divided into blocs by country, with many wearing headphones getting live translations from workers in other rooms. Yikes. My usual engineering-humor patter, sprinkled with anecdotes, led to some awkward moments as different groups would laugh, frown, frantically take notes, or just stare blankly back at me. Took a while to adapt to that room!

Third, if at all possible, know more about the subject than anyone in the audience. Before my "claim to fame" that led to lots of gigs, I would occasionally accept conference-session invitations. More than once I would look out in the audience and see the people who created the technology I was talking about... which can be a bit intimidating. Not until I was actually speaking about my own thing did I fully relax. In situations where there is some overlap between the two extremes, I'm happy to engage domain experts in the audience.

Oh, and Berkun's advice to videotape yourself is golden - I did that early on and was horrified to see, when fast-forwarding, a cyclic physical behavior pattern that appeared with almost robotic regularity. Along with uncovering a couple of speech habits I didn't know I had, that tape was immensely helpful in debugging my presentation style.

My handy hints (4, Informative)

ralphbecket (225429) | more than 4 years ago | (#30358968)

Here are my handy hints from having given a number of talks and lecture courses:

  • Read Simon Peyton-Jones' "How to give a good research talk" [microsoft.com] notes. SPJ is one of the most lucid and entertaining speakers to whom I've had the pleasure of listening.
  • A talk is essentially a one-sided conversation with the audience. If you read from the slides or from prepared notes then your talk will be awful: the audience can read things for themselves.
  • Relax; be somewhat casual. The audience is on your side. (Except for undergraduates: these guys will just stare at you for weeks, like an inert zombie horde, until you finally connect with them.)
  • If you are interrupted with many questions then this is a sign of success: you are engaging the audience.
  • Avoid slides full of bullet points. It's much better to put up some example code or a diagram and talk around that.
  • I loathe slides that incrementally reveal points. Don't patronise the audience.
  • Be careful when attempting humour: if you're not sure it's funny, don't say it.
  • In a half-hour talk, you can get one key point across. Let the full paper provide all the other details.

Re:My handy hints (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30362838)

too many bullet points;dr

MA=RE (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30361240)

Problems with The faiLure of

Here's some practical advise (1)

Whuffo (1043790) | more than 4 years ago | (#30362876)

From someone who's done it. The only hard thing about public speaking is overcoming your own fear. Don't worry about it, just do it. The better you know your material the better you'll do - and if you find yourself "lost" then focus on one person in the audience and talk to them.

Much BS has been written about public speaking but if you just do it you'll find it's no big deal. And once you get going and find your rhythm, you can look at all of the people who are hanging on every of your words and realize you're something special - for the moment. Really - it's no big deal. Just do it and it'll be OK.

Why didn't anyone write comments about the book? (1)

chris44larsen (1628843) | more than 4 years ago | (#30365184)

Is it me, or is it that most of the comments below are about secondary issues, and not directly related to the book and review. Is digression part of the Slashdot mantra?
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