How to Bring ABA to the World Through Public Speaking

Picture by John-Mark Kuznietsov,

By Manny Rodriguez, M.S.

bSci21 Contributing Writer

The field of behavior analysis has come a long way from the early days, however more can be done.  I teach a course with this same title for the Continuing Education program at the Florida Institute of Technology.  The goal is to provide some specific “tips” on how practitioners in the field can support the dissemination of behavior analysis by engaging in a skill that has been proven to effectively disseminate knowledge, insight, and skills – namely, public speaking. Learning how to disseminate what you do and how you do it through public speaking can be a key lever towards the vitality of the any practice, as well as one’s professional career!  I will attempt to provide bSci21 readers with the main points of this course with the aim to encourage more practitioners in whatever field to engage in the behavior of public speaking.

Dr. B.F. Skinner’s vision was for behavior analysis to be a mainstream science (Friman, 2014), which can simply be defined as “a prevailing current or direction of activity or influence” (, B.F. Skinner would be over 100 years old, and to a large degree, I would say the field of behavior analysis and its sub-disciplines have come very far in becoming mainstream with one catch, it doesn’t exactly come across as behavior analysis.  Behavior analysis and, more specifically, applied behavior analysis, has grown to be somewhat of a household name in terms of its applications in support of individuals with Autism and other developmental disabilities.  This is a brilliant achievement and one that has demonstrated socially significant impact to so many.  In addition, several applications of the science have also seen it’s fair share of the social spot light, such as Behavior-Based Safety and Animal Behavior Analysis, although in both cases it may be called something else. 

The growth of the field doesn’t stop with practitioners.  One can see growth by looking at the growing number of universities providing undergraduate and graduate level course work and degrees in applied behavior analysis.  In addition, one can see how behavior analysis is growing in the public eye by simply looking on the world wide web.  Blog sites such as bSci21, LinkedIn groups such as OBM in Action, and of course the professional associations such as the Association for Behavior Analysis International and the Association of Professional Behavior Analysts have grown.

With all this growth, I would contend that we have come very far since the early days, however we can go even further by engaging in a skill that has taken other fields of study into the main stream – public speaking.  As Friman (2014) suggests, public speaking is a “powerful locus for influencing people” and mastering it can turn a “commoner into a king, a middling man into a mayor, a disorganized group into a powerful unified force for change” (p. 109).  I have had my fair share of public speaking opportunities, from national and international conferences, to providing private speaking engagements to organizations with crowds in the hundreds.   In no means am I bragging, as I have learned from past mentors, trial and error, and watching others who I believe are fantastic speakers.  Also, I see public speaking as as skill that continuously is developed, versus mastered.  What I have learned from public speaking can be boiled down to one word – behavior!

You don’t have to be a professional public speaker, a published author, or even a superhero.  First things first, you simply have to understand that public speaking is behavior and behavior can be learned.  To encourage public speaking and begin the learning process, I suggest readers take a review of Friman’s 15 steps to public speaking (Friman, 2014) and related tips from Jeff Haden (2014) – year of publication may or may not be coincidental.  I hope these steps and tips offer you a spark of motivation to present and disseminate.

Friman (2014) 15 Steps

  1. Prepare, Prepare, Prepare.
  2. Study People Who are Good in Front of the Room.
  3. Prepare the Room (and Yourself in the Process)
  4. Capture Their Attention
  5. Make the Journey to the Front
  6. Take Control of the Introduction
  7. Dress for the Occasion
  8. Stand up Straight and Smile
  9. Your Voice is a Sophisticated Instrument
  10. Show Up
  11. Have a Back up Plan
  12. Use Slides – Do not Let them Use you
  13. Tell Stories
  14. Say Something Important
  15. Do not go Over your time Limit

Jeff Haden (2014) 20 Public Speaking Tips of the Best Ted Talks

  1. Establish a Pre-Routine.
  2. Always Give the Audience Something to Take Home
  3. Don’t Defer Answering Questions
  4. Ask a Question You Can’t Answer
  5. Fuel Your Mental Engine
  6. Burn Off a Little Cortisol
  7. Create Two Contingency Plans
  8. Set a Backup Goal
  9. Share a Genuinely Emotional Story
  10. Pause for Ten Seconds
  11. Share One Thing No One Knows
  12. Benefit the Audience Instead of “Selling”
  13. Don’t Make Excuses
  14. Don’t Do Your Prep Onstage
  15. Don’t Overload Your Slides
  16. Don’t Ever Read Your Slides
  17. Focus On Earning Attention
  18. Always Repeat Audience Questions
  19. Always Repeat Yourself
  20. Always, Always Run Short

Do you have any public speaking tips you would like to add?  Be sure to share them in the comments below, and don’t forget to subscribe to bSci21 via email to receive the latest articles directly to your inbox!

References for your Reading Pleasure

Patrick C. Friman (2014). Behavior Analysts to the Front! A 15-Step Tutorial on Public Speaking. The Behavior Analyst, vol. 37, 109-118

Jeff Haden (2014). 20 Public Speaking Tips Of The Best TED Talks. Published June 26, 2014. Retrieved on July 8, 2015 from

Manny Rodriguez, M.S.

Manny Rodriguez, M.S. has over ten years of experience working within the Fortune 1000, is the President of the OBM Network, and Vice President of ABA Technologies, Inc.  Manny and ABA Technologies, Inc. provide products and services for behavior analysts and the general public. He provides online professional development in ABA, including coaching and mentoring, speaking engagements such as workshops, seminars, and webinars, and expert consulting in ABA, OBM, Instructional Design and Teaching Behavior Analysis. Manny can be reached at [email protected].

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3 Comments on "How to Bring ABA to the World Through Public Speaking"

  1. A most helpful and practical article.
    For me, number 9 is crucial “Share a Genuinely Emotional Story”
    Perhaps could establish a repository for particularly good ‘stories’.
    I suggest an editorial board and a ‘refereed’ repository.
    After the story a clear and succinct demonstration of ABA principals.
    Only the ‘best’ stories should be included.
    As I do my best to continue to tell this type of story, I realize it took me over 40 years to simply accumulate a few of the ‘best’ that work for my targeted audiences.
    Documenting and saving these stories may help newer practitioners tell better stories sooner.
    Thanks for your efforts.

  2. I should have proofread the preceding.

    Please substitute ‘principles’ for ‘principals’.

  3. Thanks Manny. Pierre Louis BCBA is in the process of further operationally defining speaker actions that evoke active responding. Great discussion.

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