Public Speaking Tips & Advice
You have been invited to speak, which is a great honour and an opportunity, especially post Pandemic. You may even have to do it via Zoom or a Hybrid model. Make the most of it, be the best you that you can be, at this point in time. It is always a good idea to tell people what you are going to tell them and have key sentences which take the listener on the journey through your message or story. Finish with a succinct definition of your message and any subsequent call to action. Such as talk to me after the event or vist my website.
Remember that the audience should be going home or switching off, having learned something of value. Ideally, something they can use for good in their job, business or life. They came to hear you, so make sure it was worth the trip – here are some guidelines.
Speak in your own voice and be yourself. Oh, and remember to breathe. Check out the Martin Luther King Jr “I have a dream“speech from 1963, if you want to see how a great speech is delivered. Video Link
Some Public Speaking Tips
1. Preparation – have a plan, deliver a message and get a set result. But remember it is not about ‘you’, it is about the audience, so always deliver some value. Open and close with a bang. By all means prepare notes, index cards or a mindmap. Even if you do not use them, they will act as a support, or reference point, for a back up, in case you do stall. Plus the act of writing or reading it just before the event helps soothes any stress or anxiety, by getting you in the zone. Run a test on your audio and video equipment before the start time. Ensure the sound is good in the room or online. Check out the lighting.
2. Practice in front of a camera or other people, ideally a teenager or two, tweak and continually improve your delivery. Keep body language controlled, no nervous twitches, gestures above the waist and no pointing with a finger – use the palm of your hand. Visualise how it will go, how you will feel and how the audience will react.
3. Familiarise yourself, in advance, with the room, the surroundings and equipment, before the audience arrives, so that you are relaxed and confident about the technology working. Talk to a few attendees before the talk, if you can get a chance. This helps you get the feel of your audience and then have a few ‘friendly’ faces in the audience, when you speak.
4. Open with a thought provoking statement or question to get attention early on – Why are we here? What is the point of the get together? What will be the takeaway? What value will the audience get from listening to you?
5. Dress to impress, look professional, but be comfortable, even if you are delivering online. Half the audience will focus on how you look and perform, 40% will judge you on what you say and just 10% will really hear exactly what you say. Say it clearly, on a scale of 1 to 10 speak at a volume of about 8 with energy and confidence, making sure that everyone can hear you clearly.
6. Connect visually with everyone in the room, maybe focus on one person per thought, but get around the room one by one. The audience will not notice if you are a bit nervous or leave out a line, a point or a fact. Relax, breathe, enjoy. That nervous feeling is just excitement, so expect it and and accept it as being normal, embrace it if you can.
7. Storytelling – a talk on any subject should always be wrapped in a story or series of stories, to explain the message or point. Use examples in your story to convey your points. People will remember stories, especially if they are well told or interesting.
8. Video – Use a visual presentation like Video or PowerPoint where possible as a backdrop and support. Each slide can prompt you on what to say or where you are in the presentation. Although do avoid using this as a crutch.
9. Slides – Maximum one slide a minute, with good imagery and sparse, but large font text. Keep talk shorter, rather than longer with no ‘filler’. Never depend on slides. Your talk should be able to be delivered even if the visual equipment does not work. And that can happen.
10. Reading – Never read lines from the display or a laptop like an automaton, most people can read for themselves. “To speak and to speak well are two things. A fool may talk, but a wise man speaks.” – Ben Jonson
11. Facts and quotes – you can use some stats and quotations to back up your presentation, but do not bore the audience or rely on other peoples sayings or findings, to deliver your talk.
12. Personality – if you have one, and you do, use it, move around and connect with your audience, keep them connected & interested. If not, or you feel you do not, just stand off to the left of the screen and stay there. It is vital that you are yourself, rather than trying to be someone you are not. The more YOU that is seen, the more personality, the higher the chance that you will be asked to speak again, so do ENTERTAIN, rather than just try to educate. Use a conversational sort of tone.
13. Props – if you have logical props use them, to make you comfortable and convey a message. A Chef could have a whole kitchen, a Medic might have a body/patient/stethoscope, a Painter some tins of paint and so on. By all means think of yourself as someone you admire and cast yourself as that person in your head. What would Richard Branson do? How would he deliver this talk?
14. Q&A – If you want to do Questions and Answers at all, tell the audience how at the beginning, maybe ask people to note down questions for asking later at the end, maybe even One to One off stage after the talk. This is where you LISTEN, so you can find out what people want to know, where you can be of service – they will tell you, so do not rattle on trying to sell or make a point – LISTEN & LEARN. Be prepared for an awkward question or audience member.
15. Anxiety and Stress – be prepared for this, as it is natural to have butterflies in your stomach. Accept a level of nervousness and work through it, as it will dissipate as you get stuck in to your talk. It is excitement, so think of it as a positive. Slow down and breathe deep. If you arrived early and familiarised yourself with the venue, met a few attendees and checked the equipment, you should feel calm, in control, like this is your place and you are the host.
Note: It is not really about you. So stop thinking about you and how you feel, start thinking about the audience, be aware of them, not you. Everyone attending is an individual, experiencing the event as one person. Only in your head is it a ‘crowd’, so focus on the fact, where you are speaking to individuals. The majority of these people fear public speaking and yet they can talk forever, if you let them in to a conversation. Flip your thinking and stop worrying. Just be yourself and say something that delivers relevant value to your audience. Oh and if you can deliver your message in 18 minutes, like a Ted talk, go for it. And enjoy!
Interested? Want a wee bit more – keep reading.
Cicero’s advice is still pertinent, if you want qualified advice from a great public speaker.
Marcus Tullius Cicero (106-43) BC, the Roman statesman and orator, is still considered the father of persuasion and public speaking.
He studied it and broke it down, to try to help others be better at delivering speeches in public. Here are his top tips for structure and delivery.
Inventio or Invention
Define your key message and then the main points, backed up by proof or support.
Dispositio or Arrangement
Make your points in a logical order, the opening statement or introduction, then the main body, followed by an ending or conclusion, making it clear when you move from one to another.
Elocutio or Style
This could be a verbal speech or one with a presentation such as Powerpoint. You might tell a story or quote statistics. But make it sound interesting
Memoria or Memorise
Learn your talk verbatim or very close. You are the expert, so be prepared to be grilled. Use a MindMap or Powerpoint slides if you need a reminder device.
Actio or Delivery
The more you deliver a talk the more comfortable you will get with it. But, initially, do plan and practice your delivery, ideally in the very room where you will deliver.
Before Cicero, Aristotle, a student of Plato, 2000 years ago, when asked about selling would have discussed the 3 appeals or the 3 modes of Rhetoric. These are the 3 tools of persuasion Ethos, Pathos and Logos, which he had observed. “For it is not enough to know what we ought to say, we must also say it as we ought”
1. Ethos – the identity or person or speaker, their character or persona, how people see or think of the speaker or seller, credibility, qualifications – the content and delivery
2. Pathos – passion, or heart, the feeling or impact or emotion you, the speaker, generate with your audience or buyer which is an 80% deciding factor in buying, use imagination, tell stories – persuade by appealing to their emotions
3. Logos – logic or thinking, the hearing or reasoning of the brain for the 15 to 20% of the audience that is fact centric, looking for proof, testimonials, comparisons, studies, do I need this and why do I need this, which is all persuasion by the use of reasoning.
“Through language you can change the mind of others or motivate them to take action” What a super power!
Tip: A good way to feel confident when speaking in public, apart from knowing your subject well, is to watch other speakers. Attend other events to see how people do it, maybe visit or join Toastmasters. Watch Ted Talks videos, mostly 18 minutes long and maybe you will get tips or develop a personal style for yourself. Do whatever you need to do to be able to deliver a confident, assured, passionate, well paced, energetic, brief and interesting talk – one that makes a point well and adds some sort of value. Many people say that they cannot make their topic ‘interesting’, but that is a poor excuse, so do not use it. And the audience must get more from the presentation than the presenter gets.
You have been invited to speak, it is an honour, so do what you need to do, to make it worth listening to you.
Be yourself. Be Confident. Be Entertaining. Be informative. Be Interesting – Enjoy !