12 Top Tips for Public Speaking

Public speaking is probably one of the most nerve-racking experiences that any of us have to deal with.

Paul Sykes shares his top tips for standing up and speaking in public.

1.  Ask yourself the $64,000 question

What is the purpose of the speech/presentation?  You should do all that you can to get a clear answer – this will then be the baseline for you to work to.

However, if, after all your efforts, you still can’t get the answer you need, you should decline to speak.  This will save your audience the pain of sitting through a pointless presentation and save you from damaging your reputation through failing to meet their expectations.

2.  Put yourself in the place of your audience

Imagine yourself sitting where they will be and think about what you would want to know, how you would want to hear it and what would impress you.  If you want to do really well, figure out what would really impress you.

3.  Determine how long you will be speaking for

Shorter is always better than longer.  It is wise to make sure that you stop talking before your audience stops listening.  It may be tempting to think about what you want to say first and let the time be whatever it ends up being.  This is not a good idea.

Set your time; again, imagine that you are to be in the audience: how long would you expect to have to listen?  With this answer, set yourself the target to take even less time (say 20-25% less).  There are always ways of summarising and editing your ideas to communicate them in less time.

You are now ready to start to prepare your content.

4.  Gather your ideas

Look for something new to say and if you can’t find anything new, then try to find a new point of view on something familiar.  With as many ideas collected as possible, check them against the purpose of your presentation.  Prioritise them using a four-level scale: must-have, should-have, could-have and would-like-to-have.

5.  Estimate your timings

Estimate the time it might take you to speak about each idea and check how much time your talk might take including all the must-haves, then the should-haves and finally the could-haves.  It is usual to have too much material at this stage and so the would-like-to-haves will be the first to be dropped, followed by could-haves and should-haves.  If you are still dropping ideas by the time you get to must-haves you will have to work hard to reclassify your must-haves and/or reassess the time you think each idea might need.

6.  Structure is very important

Get your ideas in an order that flows and makes sense.  This might be chronological, building to a conclusion, supporting a challenging or surprising claim, or some other logical arrangement.  However, whichever you choose, you need a strong opening and an equally strong close.

7.  Concentrate on the opening and the close

The opening is what gets people’s attention and sets them up to listen to you. The close is what you will leave in their minds.

8.  Keep your notes handy

Very few people are comfortable speaking without notes.  Indeed, there is a strong argument for having notes whether you need them or not, as it shows the audience that you are not just making it up and also that you are not missing out anything important.  It doesn’t matter that this is illogical – it works!

On smallish sheets of paper or index cards write bullet-point notes that are easy to read and that show key or trigger words reminding you of the point you need to make.  Write out any direct quotes in full and feel free to read them, otherwise you should only use your notes as prompts.  Make sure that you find a way of keeping your notes in the right order; dropping them and getting them in the wrong order can be very off-putting.

9.  If you decide to use visual aids to enhance the presentation, make sure that is what they do

Never read word for word from projected slides, don’t use full sentences on your slides except in very special circumstances, and don’t feel that everything you say needs a visual aid.  Introduce pictures and diagrams to emphasise key points – it will add interest and make your points more memorable, and don’t be afraid to ask your audience to imagine a visual aid – the theatre/cinema of the mind is very powerful.

10.  Practise your presentation

Practise, preferably in front of a video camera, a mirror, or someone you trust to give you helpful feedback.  If you can, get a professional presentation coach. Not only will they be able to help you with rehearsal but they will also provide expert advice and inspiration at every other stage of the process. By the time it comes to the real event, your performance will be polished and you will be able to relax more and enjoy it.

11.  Remain calm and composed

Take a couple of deep breaths before you start.  Use pauses for effect throughout the presentation and also to compose yourself.  Make a key point, and then pause for a few seconds for the message to sink it.  You can use this as an opportunity to check your notes.  This is also a sign of a more competent speaker and will make you feel more in control.

12.  Above all, be enthusiastic, be passionate

It’s a people thing – if you don’t care about what you have to say then why should your audience?  Put yourself into your presentation.  Explain why you are excited, thrilled, delighted to be able to speak to your audience, say what this means to you, and be prepared to tell personal stories or anecdotes to illustrate your points.  It is also important that you speak up and make frequent eye contact with members of your audience.  You connect with your audience in this way, building trust and creating strong rapport.

Simply thinking about these areas will make a huge difference not only to the quality of your public presentations but also to your enjoyment. Anyone has the potential to become a much better than average presenter, which can enhance your career, social life and overall confidence.

Paul Sykes

Paul Sykes is Principal Coach at The Speaker’s Friend, an organisation that provides coaching and mentoring services to businesses and individuals regarding public speaking. Tel: 0114 303 0231 or visit the website www.thespeakersfriend.com


Published On: 23rd Aug 2010

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  1. thx… it’s useful!


    lily 27 Aug at 5:09 pm
  2. detailed and very useful. Thanks for this post.

    Steve Robbins 28 Aug at 8:45 am
  3. This is great!!!! Thank you for this very useful tips.

    Myrna M. De Fiesta
    29 August 2010

    Myrna M. De Fiesta 29 Aug at 7:02 am
  4. Really very helpful tips………great job.thanks

    Mamta Mahiya 8 Sep at 4:53 pm
  5. Paul has listed some great advice, if I was to offer one other important element of public speaking: enjoy yourself.

    Sure you will be nervous at the start but there is a great sense of fulfillment that comes with load applause after your speech. Your adrenalin will be pumping and leave you with a truly memorable occasion.

    Dave Duncan 23 Sep at 4:25 pm
  6. It is great to see Paul has included tip no. 12 re enthusiasm. Enthusiastic public speakers engage better with their audience and thus get their message across better.

    Jim Price 29 Sep at 12:43 pm
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