I’ve somehow got sucked into Quora. And in trying to explain it by pasting examples the format here is off #sigh.

Quora is a sort of Twittery space for asking and answering questions. You have followers and follow people. Your replies can be upvoted or downvoted and so you create a following, or not. People then pose questions directly aimed at you – you reply or not as you choose. Oddly addictive.

I am building a micro-reputation on public speaking and writing questions, while now and then dabbling in philosophy and jurisprudence and negotiation.

The trick is to have your own consistent ‘tone’. You can answer in a long-winded earnest way, or be a laconic smartass, or something in-between.


Why is public speaking so difficult?

It’s not. What’s difficult is having something interesting to say.

Get that right first. Own the content of your speech. Commit to it. Fewer Facts – more wisdom! DON’T BE BORING!

Then get a few tips on how to deliver it – mainly by SLOWING DOWN – and off you go. The aim? To be amazing.

People should be nervous and unhappy approaching a speech when they know in their dark hearts that what they have to say is uninteresting and simply wasting everyone’s time, including their own.

Or this:

I have to speak at a funeral. How do I control the tears I know will come so as to get my words out?

Emotion is OK. Tears are ok. But you need to keep going.

Get a strong simple speech ready. Just a few powerful ideas and supporting examples.

Go up to speak. Deep breath. Smile at everyone. Start. SPEAK SLOWLY

You’ll be fine.

Many questions are bizarre or obscure:

How do I use a mirror technique for improving my English communication skills?

Do you mean looking in a mirror to practise public speaking?

Don’t. It’s ridiculous.

There’s a verbal technique called reflecting where you use back to someone a word they’ve used:

A: Look, this whole situation is getting ridiculous!

B: Ridiculous? Why so?

That is a good communication trick as it helps you show the other person you’re listening carefully to their words and so is reassuring and subtly flattering.

My advice is always sound and practical:

How can I give a good presentation, even if I don’t have the time to memorize it?



Understand what you’re trying to convey. Think of a vivid simple way of conveying it. Then speak from brief notes.

I was giving a Public Speaking session in Thailand this week. It was striking how poorly designed PPT slides made the smart speakers come across as much less confident and coherent. The presentation made them smaller than they really were!

But the slides were bad because they did not have a simple bold focus on what they wanted the audience to understand, remember and feel.

So they stuffed in too much useless jargon and ‘information’.

Less is more.

How do I know if I am “speaking with my bellybutton”?

You open your mouth a lots of scraps of fluff emerge. That’s often the sign.

What is a signpost in public speaking? What are examples of it?

Imagine you’re giving a speech about Good News and Bad News in healthcare reform.

You can signal that at the start:

Ladies and Gentlemen.

Healthcare reform!

I have good news. And I have bad news.

You then address the Good News examples.

Then comes the signpost:

All that’s fine. What we want.

What we need.

Maybe even what we think we deserve


But …

But …

Here’s the Bad News. We can’t have it!

The signpost takes you from one part of the speech to the next. It helps the audience stay with you.

The signpost need not be a word. It can be extended silence. A sudden gesture – say walking out from behind a podium to give the key message ‘directly’ to the audience.

The key thing is that your signposts need to be CLEAR. Almost exaggerated.

Get this right and the speech starts to become amazing

The grammar and writing Qs can be interesting:

Is there any difference between ‘Allow me’ and ‘Let me do it’? I myself have never heard the former one.

Allow me is rather more polite and formal-sounding. Let me do it adds a note of possible impatience and might even sound rude.

May I..? is both gracious and elegant.

Is this question grammatically correct? “All women are created equal, but only the best are born as beagle lover?” If not, what is the correct way?

 There’s grammar. And there’s not sounding crazy!

Try these:

All women are created equal. Only the best are born to love beagles.

All women are created equal, but only the best are born to be beagle-lovers.

The point is that in fact no-one is born loving beagles, so you’re trying to convey a metaphorical idea. Your version is ungrammatical but also sounds strange in that sense.

“You didn’t used to be this way!” Is this sentence grammatically correct? Should it be “didn’t use to be” or else?

You didn’t used to be like this! is horribly incorrect and colloquial, but people say it, everyone knows what they mean, and there’s no simple familiar equivalent.

The point is that used to be is a sort of ‘imperfective’ form suggesting behaviour over an extended time that does not easily have a negative form.

You weren’t like this sounds very formal/stiff and oddly ‘abstract’/specific.

Maybe You weren’t always like this is better and more colloquial than eg the precise You used not to be like this.

How can I write a well-presented personal statement for scholarship, that will be the best?

The Crawford family is grappling with just this horrible issue.

Most of these statements must be dire on various levels. There is a real tension here between (a) sounding keen , and (b) sounding ‘passionate’/ridiculous (ie throwing in every footling ‘achievement’). And between (c) being intelligent/subtle and (d) an annoying smart-ass.

NB it’s not what you say – it’s what they hear!

So the person reading the statement has to pick it up with a sigh after reading many of them and then say quickly, almost at a glance: YES! AT LAST! THIS MAY BE THE ONE!

That means a good clear layout: shorter paragraphs, not slabs of hard-to-read text. Strong start, and strong conclusion.

There’s a famous apocryphal Oxbridge Finals exchange between student and professor:

Prof: Splendid answer!

Student: Splendid question!

That’s the spirit in which to approach these things (in my view).

Don’t give answers. Think instead about which questions are important, and what ‘deeper’ issues they raise (where eg the problem of working out what causes what over which timescale? is always a good place to start). Then show how in your reading and wider life how you’re ready to add something useful or at least work hard to do so.

Maybe just a touch of dry humour too, to make it stand out and want the reader to ask you for More?

 Endless insightful amusement guaranteed.