Gamification can help overcome public speaking nerves

I have written before about Rhetoric – The Public Speaking Game™, the board game and app that Florian Mueck and I co-created. You can read recent posts here and here.

Recently, I was interviewed about the game on Dukascopy Swiss Financial TV. My interview with Jack Everitt below.

While discussing the RHETORIC, I mentioned how the game can help people with their nerves when they have to speak in public.

By gamifying public speaking, we have combined elements of fun, competition, play and socialization to create an environment that is conducive to enjoyment and learning. But there is something else that I have noticed.

In the real world, many people (understandably) get nervous when they have a presentation to give. They prepare, the nerves build, the big day comes and they give their presentation. And usually, it goes fine. But then what happens?

For many people, they go back to their regular tasks and they do not have to speak again in public for weeks or months or possibly a whole year. And when that next speaking engagement comes around, the process of getting nervous begins all over again because so much time has elapsed between presentations.

With Rhetoric – The Public Speaking Game™, you must give a short (1- or 2-minute) speech every turn. You don’t have that much time between turns. For example, if you play with five other people, you will probably only have 10 to 15 minutes between your speeches. There isn’t a lot of time to get nervous before it is your turn again.

So here’s what happens.

A player—let’s call him Tim—is nervous about playing RHETORIC. For his first turn, he rolls the dice, finds out what his speaking assignment is, and then speaks for a minute or so. The other players applaud and the turn passes to the next player. Meanwhile, Tim sits back, somewhat relieved but also pleased with the fact that he has spoken and the world did not end.

Pretty soon, it is Tim’s turn again. Now he and all the other players have spoken once. Everyone is in the same boat. Tim is still a bit nervous, but less so. He rolls the dice, gets his next speaking assignment and once again speaks. The second speech might be better than the first one or it might be worse. It doesn’t matter. Once again, the other players applaud and encourage Tim, just as Tim has applauded and encouraged the other players. And the world has still not come to and end.

By his third turn, Tim starts to think that this is fun. It doesn’t matter whether he gives a good speech or a bad speech, the fun comes from just getting up there and speaking. Everyone is having a good time. And so what is often a vicious circle in the real world becomes a virtuous circle in the game.

Florian and I have seen real transformation in people throughout the course of a single game. Players who were nervous at the start are champing at the bit and eagerly jumping on stage by the end. And therein lies power of RHETORIC.

If you would like to learn more about the game, you can click on either of the links at the top of this post or visit our website.

Even if you don’t play, try to find ways to reduce the amount of time between your public speaking engagements. As is the case with learning any skill, the more you do it, the easier it becomes.

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Simplicity is the key to brilliance

Don’t take my word for it. Just ask …

Simplicity isn’t simple. It takes thought and it takes effort.

But it’s worth it.

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Quotes for Public Speakers (No. 279) – Dave Barry

Dave Barry – American Author and Columnist

“All of us are born with a set of instinctive fears—of falling, of the dark, of lobsters, of falling on lobsters in the dark, of speaking before a Rotary Club, and of the words ‘Some Assembly Required’.”

— Dave Barry

Photo courtesy of Amazur
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25 Principles of Adult Behavior

John Perry Barlow was an American poet, essayist, political activist and cattle rancher. He was also a lyricist for the Grateful Dead.

On 7 February 2018, Barlow passed away. As the tributes an obituaries poured in, Barlow’s 25 Principles of Adult Behavior was frequently referenced. I hadn’t looked at them in a long while but as I reread them, I was reminded of the power in these simple, fundamental principles.

I was also struck by how many of these principles could be—and should be—applied by public speakers.Rest in peace, John.

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Something more: A lesson from Chef’s Table

My wife, Julie and I recently happened upon the Netflix series, Chef’s Table. Each episode features one of the world’s most successful chefs, digging into the background story and finding out what drives the person.

We are late to the game. We watched the last episode of Season 2, but as of the date of this post, there are already three complete series on Netflix. If you are unfamiliar with Chef’s Table, get inspired by the trailer for Season 2:

Since that first episode, we have since watched three or four others and love the series even though our approach to cooking is completely different.

Julie is a terrific cook and is constantly coming up with new dishes that are as healthy as they are delicious. She writes a blog called Health Continuum that has dozens of great recipes. Julie is regular contributor to One Green Planet and has been featured in the print edition of Thrive magazine in the United Kingdom.

Below are just four of Julie’s recipes that I love. The photos were all shot by Julie and the links to each recipe are below. As someone who has eaten everything that is on her blog, I can vouch for how good the food is. Check it out!

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  1. The best olive dip ever
  2. A hearty bok choy soup
  3. A tasty black bean, quinoa and walnut loaf
  4. An unbelievable carrot walnut date cake

I, on the other hand, am not a cook. I don’t particularly enjoy cooking. When my daughters were younger and people would ask whether I cooked, they usually replied along the lines of “Dad can make toast and eggs. And sometimes spaghetti sauce. From a jar.” That pretty much sums it up. My strong suit in the kitchen is washing up.

But even though I do not enjoy cooking the way some people do, I have enormous respect for those who can cook well. It is both an art and a science, and I like seeing (and tasting) it done well. Hence my appreciation for Chef’s Table.

The first episode that we watched featured Gaggan Anand, the No. 1 chef in Asia. Gaggan, who is generally referred to by his first name, comes from a very humble and difficult beginning in Kolkata (Calcutta), India.

I won’t go into the details of Gaggan’s inspiring life story here, but in 2010, he opened his eponymous restaurant, Gaggan in Bangkok, Thailand. In 2015, 2016 and 2017, it was named both the best restaurant in Thailand, and Asia’s best restaurant on the list of Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants as reported by Restaurant magazine. In 2017, it was named the 7th best restaurant in the world.

Gaggan describes his cooking as progressive Indian cuisine. On his website, he sets out his philosophy on what it means to be progressive:

  1. Moving forward, advancing
  2. Happening or developing gradually or in stages; proceeding step by step
  3. Using or interested in new or modern ideas

It hasn’t been easy for him. Gaggan faced many challenges with his repeated attempts to disrupt traditional Indian cuisine. People told him that trying to change traditional Indian food was a mad idea. They wanted their curries and their chicken tikka masala.

Although Gaggan loves traditional Indian cuisine and used to include it on his menu, most of the food he prepared was new and innovative and audacious. Gaggan wanted to cook what he wanted to cook and his daring has paid off.

Going forward, he has promised to become even more aggressive and says that he will have an even bigger appetite for the “destruction” of traditional Indian cuisine. Indeed, near the end of the documentary, Gaggan has his staff assemble in the restaurant and announces that that week will be the last week for many dishes. “No more curries! No more chicken tikka masala! No more naan breads!” he says with conviction.

To change a menu that is working extremely well and try something new is a bold move indeed. It requires courage and conviction. But Gaggan has plenty of both. And he is not satisfied with sitting still. He wants to be better. He wants to improve. He wants to stretch the boundaries of his creativity. As Gaggan says,

For those traditionalists who don’t want to eat progressive cuisine, we had chicken tikka masala as a comfort pillow. And now, I won’t cook chicken tikka masala. It’s about having the confidence to do what you want to do [instead of] what a guest wants you to do.

Indeed, Gaggan is so focused on being innovative, that he is closing Gaggan in 2020. He believes that every restaurant “… has a 10-year life span nowadays, otherwise it becomes very predictable and I hate to be predictable.”

Gaggan Anand

This is a great philosophy that can be applied to so  many aspects of one’s life. If you are not living at the edge of your comfort zone, if you are not willing to try new things—things that might not work—you are not growing.

It should be the same way with your presentations. They should be relevant for your audiences, of course, but who says they have to be the same every single time? Who says they cannot be innovative? Who says it has to be business as usual?

When was the last time you changed your approach to presenting? When was the last time you were creative? When was the last time you:

  • changed your title slide
  • changed your final slide
  • presented without using any slides at all
  • told a story
  • told a different story
  • engaged the audience with an interactive exercise
  • used humour
  • talked about one of your failures and what you learned from it
  • took an unpopular stand on an issue
  • spoke to a new audience

When was the last time you tried something new?

Gaggan’s philosophy of being innovative is something that is shared by the other chefs whom we have seen featured on Chef’s Table. Indeed, at 1:25 of the video at the beginning of this post, you can hear the following comments from two of the chefs:

You can’t be creative without being risky. Will you destroy yourself in the pursuit of doing something new?

It’s not just about food. It’s not just about a restaurant. It’s about something more.

Don’t give us the same old tired presentation. Give us something more.

Photos courtesy of and
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