Public Speaking Tips

I recently stumbled across an article by Darren Barefoot that made the old brain cells tingle slightly with excitement. Can giving a presentation really be compared to performing as a theatrical actor? Perhaps it can. I mean, there you are stood in front of your audience; you talk, while they listen and watch. On a basic scale, that’s exactly how theatre works. The whole success of your presentation, whether it’s for a school or university project or for that top-notch job, rests on the understanding, and the response, that comes from the audience. Yep, that’s theatre too.

And, there are other similarities, when you speak, your voice should be loud without shouting and it should be clear, and definitely try not to rush. It might seem like a great idea to get it over with as quickly as possible but no one will have a chance to absorb what you are saying, and that is the whole point, isn’t it? Remember to pause at the end of sentences, catch your breath. Good deep breaths will help to keep your tone of voice at a steady level (as well as keeping you alive).

Having visual aids is a good idea, but don’t overdo it, your “stage” presence is the important bit. Be dynamic, be controlled, be confident. Visual aids play the part of the scenery, it helps on stage and it will also help your presentation, but too much will distract the audience from the actual performance. The last thing you want is them looking at the pretty colours and not listening to you. If you choose to use PowerPoint slides, make them interesting; perhaps give them a theme, a Shakespearian tragedy perhaps? If you do choose to do this, though, don’t wander too far away from your subject, your audience will get confused.

As Darren mentioned, costume is important but not in the sense that he suggests. Your slides aren’t your costume; your slides are your scenery. What you wear when you stand in front of people presents your personal image, this is your costume. I really don’t suggest that you dress up in any kind of abnormal clothing unless you feel it benefits your presentation to be dressed as a mouse, for example. Keep it normal, nothing too loud or weird.

It is a well known fact that people form judgements within the first few seconds. Make that initial impression memorable for the right reasons. Use a joke or a funny story to get the audience’s attention, and definitely make sure you don’t ramble. There is nothing worse than starting a presentation with – “this presentation is about-” They probably know already. That’s why they are there. Use the first few minutes to make them want to carry on listening, it’s much harder to get your audience back on side once they have drifted off and started doodling, or even worse, writing their shopping lists.

On a final note, if you don’t manage to fit any of the above suggestions into your presentation, you should always make sure that you have time for that all-important dress rehearsal. You can never be too prepared. And let’s face it, no Oscar winner ever won without a little bit of practice.

Sharren L. Bessant


Published On: 2nd Sep 2012

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  1. I could not agree more!! Twenty years ago I contemplated becoming an actor and actually joined the Drama Department when at university but I soon dropped out because “I did not feel I fitted with the arty types who all appeared to me, who is a rationalist, to be from another planet, either physically or through chemical means”. I ended up in Industrial Psychology and became an OD consultant and trainer. After a year or so of presenting or working with groups I discovered that I had a “talent” for it and that people often looked at me in awe – vain as that may sound. (But my idols were Leo Buscaglia, tom Peters…and Al Pacino.) It is then that I discovered the similarities and realised that on the days when “I found my groove and the group or audience responded in a way that made me feel on top of the moon, that on those days I also felt like a performer. But the trick was not inb performing.. I could only find my groove if I passionality believed in what I was saying and doing. Thereby I became what I was propogating, I was real.” And I think that is the difference between actors and great actors.. The latter BECOME the character. They are no longer acting. They are living it.

    TJ Bezuidenhoudt 14 Jan at 12:29 pm
  2. I believe using your personal experiences can be a motivation for the audience, that is if its positive.

    Eutha McLaren 17 Jan at 7:13 pm
  3. Public speaking and presenting are fors of stage skills. IN my local area there is an actor who teaches public spekaing skills.

    I supoose there are a number of similaraties between the two.

    Public speaking courses 19 Jan at 10:33 pm
  4. Just picking up on what Darren just said, I certainly think there are similarities between speaking and acting.

    That said a lot of actors I know can’t bring themselves to do public speaking because it requires a different set of skills.

    Primarily public speaking requires you to be able to be yourself. To be able to stand in front of an audience no matter what the size and allow yourself to just be you and be slightly vulnerable.

    What I think’s interesting though is that i have a background as a professional actor and yet I can get up in front of audience and speak as myself quite comfortably.

    Perhaps it’s because I spent two years working as a stand-up comedian too…?

    The majority of actors have to “become” someone else. It’s what they do for a living and how they feel the most comfortable before a crowd.

    Jason Peck

    Jason Peck 24 Jan at 3:26 pm