On the Desk: Public Speaking 101

The Elder Scrolls: Master Series just concluded week three, and the competitive scene that veteran players have been yearning for is now in full swing. Between incredible players and the high stakes of a $50,000 prize pool at Quakecon, spirits are high among TESL players who have been waiting for a justification to invest time and effort into the game since 2016.

With the Master Series, we’ve gotten Christmas in July in the form of two of the community’s best content creators, Justin Larson and Charm3r, as casters for the top 8 bracket on Sundays. This has put the importance of good casting into the spotlight more than ever before in the TESL community, and it has opened many people up to the idea that there’s more than one way to be involved—you can be more than a player. You can be the face and voice of competition, the entry point for new viewers into the scene we’ve been so hopefully waiting for: maybe you could be a caster.

But what does it take to try your hand at this? What skills should you develop? What really makes a great caster? In this article, we’re going to go over some of the basics of public speaking. In future articles we’ll get into the specifics of casting, but it’s important to get the fundamentals sorted before anything else—to walk before we run.

I’m Alex, or Lazergician. In game, I hit legend regularly and have been casting the WarpMeta tournaments every Thursday for the last month (for more information, visit https://warpmeta.com/). Out of game, I’m a software engineering team lead. In both of these worlds, public speaking has been a skill set that is vital to success (in fact, a big part of why I was given the position at work was my ability to communicate clearly).

Hopefully, a few of the things I’ve picked up along the way can be of use to you, either if you hope to be a TESL caster or in your life outside of the game. Many things throughout all aspects of life involve communication, so these techniques can be applied in almost any situation.

Eliminate Filler Words

The telltale sign of someone new to speaking publicly is the use of meaningless words used only as a way to fill time in between coherent thoughts. Words like “um”, “uh”, “well”, and (in America, most commonly) “like” are called “filler words”—words that don’t contribute to communicating an idea or point to your audience and indicate pause or hesitation.

Filler words can drastically lower the quality of your speaking. Firstly, they disrupt the audience’s train of thought. While you’re speaking, the most valuable resource at your disposal is the audience’s attention. By throwing in an “uhh” every now and again, you will lose their attention for a brief moment. These moments add up, and they add up quickly.

Secondly, filler words make you sound unsure of your point of view. When a speaker is frequently taking a subconscious moment to collect their thoughts it can undermine their credibility. It signals that you aren’t a credible source and should be questioned, which is the last thing a speaker wants when they’re aiming to be convincing or entertaining.

So, what’s the fix?

To eliminate filler words, you’ll need to find out how often you use them and when in your speech patterns they most frequently show up. There are two good ways to do this – the first is to record yourself, second is to enlist the help of a friend. Both are equally helpful in different ways. Having a friend indicate to you each time you use a filler word (pointing, clapping, or a smack upside the head tend to work well) will very quickly show you how often you rely on a moment’s pause. Recording yourself will help with determining any patterns behind when you use them. One of the most common patterns is when transitioning between two thoughts, usually between sentences or when switching subjects within one sentence.

After you’ve taken a look at your speech patterns, become comfortable with silence. Try to predict when you’re about to fill air space and instead, say nothing. Let the air hang empty for a moment. Over time and with practice, the moment will shrink, and your habit will be eliminated.

Physicality Matters

“But Lazer”, you may think, “I thought this was an article about talking!” Well, almost. It’s about talking publicly. In most cases, your audience will be able to see you while you’re speaking, so it’s important to consider whether you look like you’re worth listening to, every bit as much as how you sound. It’s difficult to buy into a point when it’s being given to you by someone who looks like they haven’t fully committed to it themselves—slumped posture, distant eye gaze, or closed off shoulders are classic examples of a lackluster physical presence.

“I don’t want a physical crowd, I want to cast on Twitch!” A noble goal! But, body language is going to matter there too. Psychologically, a defeated posture will lead to unconvincing speech, or lazy posture to under enunciated diction. The audience can hear a lack of confidence just as well as they can see it, and it’s exceedingly difficult to be entertaining when you sound like you’re second guessing yourself constantly.

So, what’s the fix?

Make. Yourself. Big.

Seriously. Next time you’re stressed, sad, afraid, pay attention to your body language. There’s a good chance you’ll want to curl up, close yourself off, and look downward towards your chest. Instead, stretch your arms upward, plant your feet ever so slightly wider than your hips, and bring your face up to eye level. Your posture can inform your mood just as well as your mood can dictate your physical presence. For many people, this ends up an exercise in “fake it ‘til you make it”, but with enough practice your mood will answer to these poses.

Sitting down instead of standing up? My favorite thing to do for this situation is the “four foot corners” technique. Visualize four points on the sole of your foot, under your biggest and smallest toe bones and the outer edges of the ball of your foot. Next, fix these points flat against the floor. They act as grounding points, a stable base that the rest of your body can rest on top of. By having this sturdy core to work off of, the rest of your body is given permission to be sturdy too.

Know Your Subject

Let’s go back in time. It’s middle school, and you have a presentation on a book report. But one kid, let’s call him… Lazer, didn’t read his book, and is up next to present. He’s a cute kid, no doubt, but the teacher is just dowdy enough that that can’t carry him through this presentation on its own. He stands in the front of the class and starts talking. He sounds confident, to be sure, but the teacher and his classmates all know that what he’s saying doesn’t make any sense—Moby Dick never had an inspiring love story in it! He fails the presentation and half the class rolls their eyes as he returns to his seat.

When you don’t know your subject matter, you do yourself a disservice. Your audience is giving you their attention while you’re standing tall and confident, but once it becomes clear that you haven’t done your proverbial (or not) homework, you send your credibility into a free fall. Listeners want to trust and believe you once you’re in front of them, so it’s vital that you live up to that expectation! Credibility is outstandingly valuable, and you want to garner it as much as you can, which is difficult once you’ve established that you aren’t the voice of authority that the audience was hoping for.

So, what’s the fix?

Do your homework! If you’re interested in casting TESL, then odds are good that you already have a good understanding of the game. If you’re worried about it, a good exercise is to watch a streamer, pause the stream, and look at a card on the board. Can you remember its name? Its summon, last gasp, and persistent effects, if any? How much time do you need to remember? If it’s more than a moment or two, then doing a review of the relevant meta decks and their cards could be of use.

In my opinion, one of the most critical things to realize about domain knowledge is that while you undoubtedly need to have a solid background in the subject, you don’t need to be the be all end all expert. Remember, you absolutely must know at least as much about a subject as the people you’re presenting to. But, casting is equal parts expertise and entertainment. While you should be as knowledgeable as possible, if you’re a wet blanket or a bundle of nerves your cast will suffer just as much as if you had never touched the game before. Speaking of which…

Eliminate Nervous Energy

Let’s go back to middle school again. Lazer just sat down, the teacher “tsk tsk”-ing in his general direction. Next, Lazerina stands up. She’s a bookworm, easily the smartest kid in class. This is right up her alley! But as she walks to the front of the class, her feet won’t stay still, she’s swinging her shoulders as she looks at her queue cards in her hands, and is clearly a bundle of nerves. As she details how Tom Sawyer swindled his friend into painting a fence, her nervous fidgeting has taken up so much of your attention that you haven’t heard a word she said.

Nerves can get to anyone. Everyone knows what it’s like, so you’ll likely be cut some slack on this one—you’ll be more comfortable next time! But fidgeting and filler words, the hallmarks of nervousness, can lead your audience to sympathize with you instead of listening to you. It can distract from the wonderful points and story lines you’re weaving in front of them, letting them float over deaf ears. A presentation, cast, or demonstration is nothing without a receptive audience, and nervous energy is one of attention’s biggest detractors. Incidentally, the use of filler words tends to skyrocket alongside nervousness, leading to greater opportunities for your dear listeners to tune out.

So, what’s the fix?

Let’s burn off some of that nervous energy, so all that’s left as you step in front of the audience is the all important confident energy. Energy is a great thing to have when you’re the center of attention! Nobody likes a wet blanket. So let’s look at three small activities you can do before your next foray into the spotlight to bring the energy levels to where they need to be.

First, turn yourself into the wacky-waving-inflatable-arm-tube-man outside your local car dealership. Find a clear space with plenty of room around you, enough to take a step or two in any given direction if possible. Raise your arms above your head, and let them go completely slack. Feel them whack against your sides. Repeat this kind of motion with your legs, raising them a bit (maybe while you sit), and letting them flop down unrestricted. Keep doing this with the rest of your body, a bit faster over time. Your goal is to send the energy out of your body and into the room around you.

Next, buzz your lips. Press them gently together and blow air into them, like you’re making a “b” sound over and over and over. This primes your mouth to be ready to speak for an extended period, and can easily clear out any frogs in your throat.

Then, once you’re in the swing of the cast, find some small, unnoticeable action that you can repeat when you get fidgety. I like to call this a “centering motion”. I personally have a necklace that I play with while I’m not on camera, and rock a pencil or pen between my fingers when I can’t reach for my necklace. These little activities can be outlets for any excess energy sitting with you. Whenever you feel yourself wanting to bounce your foot or otherwise call attention to yourself, fall back to your centering motion and put your energy there.

And there we have it! Four small things that can invariably improve the quality of your public speaking. These are all techniques I’ve either picked up or been taught over the last few years, and they’ve helped me immensely. These should get you past the initial hurdle of presenting and get you a bit of experience under your belt to where you can start identifying other opportunities for improvement unique to your own speaking style.

Hopefully at least one or two of these tips were new and helpful. My suggestion would be to use this as a reference sheet. Pick one new concept to practice, and as you become more comfortable with it, come back to this article and find another way to elevate your speaking, presenting, casting, whatever it may be.

See you on the casting deck.

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