Practice Your Talk on the Subway

People might think I’m crazy, but I practice

public speaking on the subway.

What?! Yes, that’s right!

I practice while I’m commuting, so I know it’s possible to practice on the train, in the car, or while you’re walking to work.

This is my favorite life hack for all those folks

who don’t think they have time to practice.

I can almost guarantee that using 10 or 15 minutes of your commute to practice your presentation will serve you better than scrolling through social media.

I sometimes put in my headphones and record myself practicing while I’m on the subway or waiting at an empty section on the platform. People ask if I’m worried about looking crazy. NOT at all.

I live in New York City and there are far weirder things! Believe me, no one is paying attention.

Want a few more practice ideas you may not have thought of?

  1. Take an Improv class. Magnet Theater, UCB and The PIT all offer classes.

  2. Go to a city council meeting and talk about an issue in your neighborhood.

  3. Host a dinner party and give a presentation for your friends.

  4. Check out Toastmasters. Find a club here and find me at Heights Toastmasters twice a month.

  5. Practice for your neighbors. It’s a great way to get to know people.

  6. Practice for your dog, or your cat or your lizard. It’s #3 in 7 Strategies to Ace Your Work Presentation.

Want more practice ideas?

Download 7 Strategies to Ace Your Work Presentation.

How Practice Makes TED Talks & Great Talks

One of the creative directors in my Speak with Impact Lab shared a story about seeing an early iteration of Simon Sinek’s Golden Circle. Over a few years, the talk that launched Simon Sinek to fame and became the third most viewed TED Talk of all time started out as a presentation for 8 people in someone’s living room.

The moral of the story?
Your talk doesn’t need to be perfect at the outset.

In fact, it’s almost certain that it won’t be.

Perfection should not be your aim, but practice and feedback are essential.

The more you practice the closer you’ll get to a presentation that delivers what you want it to. There may be countless iterations and living room talks before the big talk you want to give, and that’s perfectly okay and part of the process.

Need an audience?
Here are some ways you can get one.

  • Have a dinner party and give your presentation for friends

  • Practice for your housemates

  • Practice for your children

  • Practice outside as people walk by

Want some help putting your presentation together. Check out Polish & Pop

The Power of the Edit

Want to write a good talk?

The key is surprisingly simple: You need to EDIT.

According to Chris Anderson, the creator of TED,

“The biggest problem I see in first drafts of presentations is that they try to cover too much ground... If you try to cram in everything you know, you won’t have time to include key details, and your talk will disappear into abstract language that may make sense if your listeners are familiar with the subject matter but will be completely opaque if they’re new to it. You need specific examples to flesh out your ideas. So limit the scope of your talk to that which can be explained, and brought to life with examples, in the available time.”

If editing is the key then you may be wondering how to decide what to leave in and what to take out.

First, you need to get clear on your objective.

Your audience is never going to remember everything, so you want to be very clear about the main message you want them to walk away with. Once you know your objective, you can examine whether your content is helping you achieve it.

This is where editing comes in. You might want to tell your favorite story, but if that story isn’t the best example to illustrate your point, leave it out.

Grab the template to write your objective in 4 Steps to a Winning Work Presentation. This simple tool will help you get organized, get clear, and get confident.

Never Use 2 Words When 1 Will Do

“The most valuable of all talents is never using

two words when one will do.”

I found this message in a fortune cookie but it could have been written by my dad. He was a journalist for over 25 years and considered word count an art form.

My dad was also a ruthless editor. He taught my sister and I how to write short, clear sentences and ingrained in us the power of brevity.

Getting to the point is as important in your presentations as it is on the page.

When it comes to speaking, chances are you know more about your subject than your audience. You may be able to speak on your topic for 45 minutes, but that doesn’t mean your audience has an attention span of 45 minutes.

Less is More.

Share too much information, and you risk losing your audience.

The key to an effective presentation is editing.

After writing the first draft of your presentation, ask yourself, where are you using two words when one will do?

Wondering how to get started or which words to choose?

Download 4 Steps to a Winning Work Presentation to get organized, get clear, get confident. They’re free!

Show Your Audience You Love Them

I saw Grace Bonney speak at Creative Mornings last week. Grace is founder of the successful blog Design Sponge. She talked about the importance of in-person connection. Her message: 

"Real people matter, real life experiences matter, and what happens on the internet matters a whole lot less."

If you have the chance to speak in front of other people, focus on connection and the fact that your audience wants to hear from you. You may not relish being in the spotlight, you might be nervous, but if you have the opportunity to share your work in real life, seize it!

Focus on the fact that you’re talking to other people. And remember that your audience wants to hear from you.

Use these 3 strategies to build connection:

1. Look Them in the Eye

I know it can feel scary standing at the front of the room with all eyes on you. If you’re nervous or shy, eye contact might be the last thing you want to focus on. But consider this:

Your audience wants to know you’re talking to them.

So look them straight in the eye.

People often ask how to make contact with a big room of people. Here's a Tip: Look at one person at a time and tell them a whole thought. Then, move on to another person and tell them your next thought. With practice it will get easier. 

2. Smile

If you’re nervous and don’t feel like smiling, do it anyway. 

Smiling helps you relax.

It triggers different hormones in the body and when you smile, people in the audience are more likely to smile back at you. It will make the experience more fun, and if you're having fun so will your audience.


3. Be curious

Find out who your audience is and make sure your topic interests them. For instance, you might research them in advance and find out their profession, age range, and educational background. Once you know more about the audience, tailor your content to suit them.

Want more strategies to build your speaking confidence and an opportunity to practice live with other creatives?

Don’t miss the next Speak with Impact Workshop on March 5th! Details and tickets here.

Madeline Schwarz
3 Techniques to Stop Panicking & Start Speaking

This article was originally posted on the Ellevate’s Medium page.

Have you ever passed up an opportunity because it required presenting? It’s easy to think that public speaking is a skill that passed you by.

Would you believe me if I told you that that public speaking is something that can be learned?

It’s okay if you said no…I would have, too! It took me well into adulthood to realize that it is absolutely a skill that can be learned.

It would have saved me a lot of sleepless nights had I discovered sooner that this commonplace fear was a solvable problem, something you can pick up through practice, like knitting or softball.

I want to address several misconceptions about public speaking where I see people stumble, and give some hard, fast skills you can use to get past them.

Getting over my fears of public speaking was probably the most liberating experience of my adult life. Here’s what I have learned:

You don’t need to be an extrovert to speak with impact.

Introverts can be great speakers. In fact they’re often more powerful because they use their superior listening skills and observant nature to read the audience.

You might be shy, you might not like where your skills are today, you might even think you’re a terrible public speaker, but finding a safe place to practice can help you discover your strengths.

If you’ve watched a lot of TED talks, you might think you need to walk around and make giant gestures, do the things that you see speakers do on big stages.

While these aren’t bad ideas if you’re already comfortable on stage, these are not the things to focus on if you’re just getting started. It is possible to give a captivating talk standing in one place using just your voice and facial expressions.

Your talk doesn’t need to be perfect.

It’s okay to laugh, it’s okay to forget what you were going to say, it’s okay to be human.

People often get tripped up because they think public speaking needs to be really serious. They’re so focused on appearing professional that they’re stiff and robotic and forget to bring their personality to presentations.

At the end of the day, you’re talking to other people, and when you remember that you’re talking to other humans, it makes presentations more natural, more conversational, and more fun.

How can you apply these ideas to feel more confident in your own presentations?

1) Practice, practice, practice.

Practice is the number one thing that will help you feel more comfortable and confident in your presentations. But people don’t do it, because:

  • There’s not enough time.

  • They’re intimidated.

  • Practicing feels awkward.

  • They’re afraid of embarrassing themselves in front of their colleagues.

  • They’re not sure that practice is going to help.

  • They hate public speaking, so they avoid it before the presentation, have an out-of-body experience and then pretend it never happened.

Do any of these sound familiar?

Practicing in front of colleagues in nerve racking. Presenting for coworkers is often harder than presenting to clients. That’s why I have a host of practice techniques you can use at home in your living room.

The most important thing is to practice out loud.

Break down your practice into chunks. Block fifteen minutes a day for three days before your presentation and do a run through out loud.

It will make a world of difference if you’re not searching for the words for the first time in the big meeting.

2) Know your why.

It is so much easier to give a good presentation when you know why you’re talking in the first place.

Decide at the outset what you want to accomplish. What’s the main message you want the audience to walk away with?

When you know your objective, you can direct all your content to that goal, and it will help you stay on track, even when you’re nervous.

3) Remember to breathe.

When people are nervous, they often forget to breathe. They stand up and start speaking before they’ve taken a breath, and as a result, they swallow their opening words.

If your voices quivers when you’re nervous, if you talk fast, if you have trouble projecting, focus on breathing. Pausing and breathing allows you to collect your thoughts, gain your composure and start strong.

This might be hard to believe today, but being terrified of standing up and talking in front of other people is something that can change. It’s not going to happen overnight, but with consistent practice and the right tools, you can learn how to be clear and confident in your presentations.

Use these tips to stay present in the moment, and remember: No matter how you feel about your skills today, it does not need to be an indication of how you’ll feel tomorrow, next week, or next year.

Want more tips? Grab 4 Steps to a Winning Work Presentation.

Madeline Schwarz
3 Tips to Win as a Speaker

Think back to your childhood and what it was like trying to hit a baseball for the first time.

Now think back to a recent presentation or the first time you had to give a big presentation.

You may have stumbled, gotten stuck on a word, or failed to connect with your goal.

Learning to speak in public is like learning to play a sport.

  • It’s physical

  • Practice builds muscle memory

  • You get better with repetition

  • It’s more fun as you get better

  • You need to focus. My dad used to tell my sister and I “keep your eye on the ball” during batting practice. It’s great advice and it applies here. If you don’t have your eye on the ball, if you’re not clear on your message, it’s hard to have an impact.

  • A positive mindset helps. Are you more likely to hit a homerun standing on the mound with your eyes closed or if you practiced and have a specific goal in mind?

You probably didn’t knock the ball out of the park on the first try.

You may have lost your balance, spun around, fell over, struck out.

But you showed up and you practiced. So if you’re feeling discouraged about where your presentation skills are today, keep practicing. The good news is that presentation skills are something you learn.

So if you’re panicked about a presentation, start here:

Set an objective

Answer the question “What’s the main message I want my audience to walk away with?

Review your content

Ask yourself whether each piece of information is steering the audience toward your objective.


Set aside 10 minutes a day to practice your presentation out loud.

And remember, how you feel about your speaking skills today is not an indicator of how you’re going to feel next week, next month, or next year.

Madeline Schwarz
3 Ways to Make Your Mess Your Message

Last week I attended Finding Your Balance, an event about women’s mental health at work. I was moved by the honesty and bravery of the speakers who shared stories about eating disorders, depression, anxiety and the fragile mental state that often accompanies entrepreneurship.

As an introvert, I tend to keep my personal life private. But as a speaker I know that sharing my personal story is what allows me to connect with my audience.

I spent years in the shadows of loud talkers and hyper critical bosses, and it was draining. Being talked over was demoralizing and being overlooked was frustrating. It made me hold back in so many places.

Getting comfortable speaking up was probably the most liberating experience of my adult life.

That’s why I felt called to share 3 takeaways from Finding Your Balance that you can use to help you share your message.


Joyce Englander kicked off the morning with a short meditation. She led us through a simple grounding exercise to plant your feet, engage your legs, and feel the ground supporting you.

I do a similar exercise with my public speaking clients to help them calm their nerves and  remember that at the end of the day, they are talking to other people. Speaking in public doesn’t have to be an out of body experience. It is possible to be present in the moment, to be clear and concise, and to connect with your audience on a human level. Use these easy steps:

1. When you stand up to speak or get called on at a meeting, first take a breath

2. Stand up if you can (it helps you feel more powerful)

3. Take a deep breath (this builds anticipation)

4. Don’t start talking until you feel your feet on the floor (if you don’t feel your feet, keep breathing)

This gives you a moment to get settled, collect your thoughts, and be present with your audience.


While we can’t control situations, we can change how we think about them. Amber Rae challenged us to choose wonder over worry.

You can use this same idea to shift your perspective about public speaking:

  • When you feel nervous, think about how you can use the opportunity to grow outside your comfort zone.

  • When you feel afraid, focus on what you can learn from this experience and what you give your audience


The statistics on mental health in the workplace are staggering and all the speakers talked about the importance of speaking up and sharing your struggles.

Amber Rae shared this lovely sentiment that “Your mess is your message.

Sharing your message can feel scary, especially when so many thoughts are jumbled in your head, but it’s also liberating.

What would it be like to free some of those ideas in your head?

Do you need help taking that first step? I’d be happy to hop on the phone with you and help you get clear on your objective. Schedule here for a free, no obligation chat.

And if there’s something you’re passionate about, start talking about it.

7 Techniques to Stop Panicking and Start Speaking

I used to be terrified of public speaking. I avoided it like the plague.

I was a nervous wreck if I had to present in front of more than 4 people. My heart pounded, my voice quivered and I didn’t know how to make it stop.

Then I found my way to Toastmasters (a public speaking club for those who don’t know). I was welcomed by a supportive group of speakers who cheered me on, gave me pointers and provided a safe space to practice. And I practiced A LOT.

Getting over my fears of public speaking was one of the most liberating experiences of my adult life.

It was a long road, but I learned something incredibly valuable. The ability to talk out loud to other people, to organize your thoughts and get them out of your mouth in a fashion that other people understand, is a skill.

Presentation skills are just that – a skill that can be learned, like knitting or baseball. But you do have to PRACTICE.

If you find that even the thought of a presentation makes you shudder, grab 7 Practice Strategies to Ace your Work Presentation. They’re free!

Madeline Schwarz
The #1 thing to do before a presentation

When I worked at a design agency, one of my colleagues continually impressed me with her amazing presentation skills. She persuaded her audience without being pushy, she answered unexpected questions with grace, and she remained cool under pressure. She was a gifted presenter and she taught me an important lesson – She practiced.

She did a run through before client meetings. Every time.

The single most important thing you can do to improve your presentation skills is to PRACTICE.

This might seems obvious, yet it’s the thing we rarely leave time for. As creatives, we often spend all our time on the visuals, making the deck, etc., and we walk into meetings unprepared to talk about our work.

So how do you practice?

Try out new techniques and update your game with 7 Strategies to Ace Your Work Presentation. (Hint: Tip #3 practice in front of your dog)... And share this with your colleagues and friends who want to improve their speaking confidence.

Happy practicing and reach out if you need help getting started.

Madeline Schwarz