Speaking engagements are a good opportunity to build a personal brand or promote a company’s products or services. However, addressing a crowd can be a challenge no matter how prepared or seasoned you are. We curated public speaking tips from accomplished presenters to help you become confident and memorable to your audience.
Here are 25 essential tips for public speaking from the pros:
1. Remember It’s Not About You
Thom Singer, CSP, Keynote Speaker, NYP Speakers
Realize that when you are giving a speech, it is called “Giving a Speech,” which means your being up in front of the audience is a gift to the audience. If you make it about you, try to prove you are the smartest person in the room, hard sell the room, or otherwise make yourself the center of attention, you will come up short. Yes, you can be about you and give a good speech, but a great presentation is all about the audience and your gift to them.
2. Get to Know Your Audience
Kelley Kitley, LCSW, Owner, Serendipitous Psychotherapy, LLC
To engage your audience when public speaking, it’s important to connect with them. Be personable. Greet them at the door if possible. Find out names of the audience members to personalize. Move around, use humor, make eye contact, speak from your heart by being authentic, and use notes in the form of bullet points versus reading.
3. Tell a Story
Neil Thompson, Founder, Teach the Geek
Analyze your audience so you know who you’re talking to and how to focus your presentation. Tell a story that has a clear opening, middle, and end so the audience can follow along easily. Have five takeaways at most because if there are too many, people will start to forget them. If you’re using slides, use more images than text. You want the audience listening, not reading.
4. Create a Memorable Connection
Jacqueline Shaulis, CEO & Founder, Awesome Enterprises LLC
There are three simple and highly effective ways to connect with any audience with ease. Make an emotional connection with humor or empathy. Make an intellectual connection with a shortcut or a relevant resource. Or make a spiritual connection with a compliment or an acknowledgment. The more of these you layer and incorporate into your presentation, the deeper and longer-lasting the connection will be, and thus the greater the impact of your message.
5. Give Yourself Time
Lisa Braithwaite, Public Speaking Coach, Trainer, & Author, The LisaB Company
If you’ve been given an hour to speak, practice your presentation so it’s 50 minutes. If you’ve been given 30 minutes, practice it so it’s 20-ish minutes. This way, if you get a lot of questions, distractions, or if the person before you goes long, you will still end on time and your audience will thank you.
6. Replace “I’m Nervous” with “I’m Excited”
Joel Schwartzberg, Presentation Coach & Author, JoelSchwartzberg.net
As confirmed in the 2013 Journal of Experimental Psychology, it’s not only possible, but profitable, to “reappraise anxiety as excitement.” This is great advice for anxious public speakers. Simply substitute “I’m excited” for “I’m nervous” (especially out loud), and you will redirect that ball of nervous energy to boost your confidence and motivation to succeed. Conversely, thinking “I’m nervous” only multiplies your anxiety and increases the likelihood of being and seeming fearful and intimidated.
7. Be Familiar with the Venue
Doug Levy, Precision Wordsmith/Communications Advisor, Doug Levy Communications, LLC
If you can get into the room ahead of time (even just an hour or two if you can’t get there on another day,) you will be much more comfortable when you show up for the real thing. Knowing how the audience will be seated, checking out how the projection screens are set up, and scoping out the acoustics are all steps that help you walk in ready to command the room when it is your time to shine. If you can’t personally visit, ask a lot of questions about the room. How many seats are there? What kind of lighting is used? What else will be going on in the room during my talk? What kind of microphone will I use? Do I need to bring a laser pointer?
8. Don’t Forget to Pause
James Goodnow, President & Managing Partner, Fennemore Craig, P.C.
People need time to process data. It’s essential that you give the audience time to reflect on key points. The problem is that silence can feel uncomfortable for the speaker. Just remember that although the silence may feel awkward for you, it’s giving the audience time to digest and consider points you just made. Use pauses before, and after, key points to best communicate your message.
9. Speak with Passion
Talya Miron-Shatz, PhD, CEO, Buddy&Soul
Think of this as a performance. It’s as much about delivery as it is about the content. How you say it matters a lot. Most of all, believe every word you say. And if you don’t believe it, don’t say it. Because if you speak with passion and conviction, it will resonate with your speakers. They will know and feel it’s real.
10. Ask a Question
Spencer X Smith, Speaker & Entrepreneur, Spencer X Smith Consulting
Pose a question to get the audience to nod their head and acknowledge a problem. Ideally, this should be something relatable to what they experience. Example: How many of you know you could grow your law practice if you just knew how to use social media effectively?
11. Make Eye Contact
Miguel A. Suro, Florida Attorney & Personal Finance Blogger, The Rich Miser
Look at different faces in the room at different points. If you know someone in the audience has a particular interest in a part of your presentation, look at them as you deliver that part. For example, if you’re a lawyer and will have a segment on corporate law (and your audience includes a corporate lawyer), look at the corporate lawyer when your deliver that segment (or at least part of it). This will encourage engagement and possibly prompt them to ask questions later.
12. Practice with Facebook Live
Zack Miller, Author & Podcaster, Zack Miller Says
What I have found is that there is a free and easy hack to get more comfortable with public speaking—Facebook Live. I have found that going live on Facebook has improved my delivery immensely. Not only do I get comfortable in front of my following and the potential millions on Facebook, but I also get to practice word combos, answer questions live, and get a strong feel of my material to a real live audience.
13. Take Deep Breaths to Avoid Anxiety
David Erickson, Principal, e-Strategy Media
If your mind goes blank during your presentation, don’t panic. It will only make it worse because you will *feel* the lengthening silence and the eyes upon you as you struggle to remember what to say. Take a breath, steady yourself, look down to your notes to find your place, and your memory will likely be jogged. You might even make a joke at your own expense: I completely forgot what I was going to say. People can relate. It happens to them all the time.
14. Keep Your Hands Empty (Other Than a Clicker)
Joseph Liu, Career & Personal Branding Consultant, Joseph Liu
Presenters sometimes hold objects that have nothing to do with their presentation in their hands. This can be very distracting, especially if some sort of repetitive motion is involved with holding that object. For example, with a bottle of water, people tend to twist the cap on and off. With a pen, people tend to fiddle with it or click it repetitively. With keys in pockets, people tend to jingle them. To address this, remember to empty your pockets before you begin to limit yourself to having only a slide clicker in your hand.
15. Interact with Your Audience
Alex Membrillo, CEO, Cardinal Digital Marketing
Ask the audience questions and polls throughout the presentation. As a presenter, this can be a great way to better understand who you’re speaking to. For example, I recently spoke at a Mental Health Marketing Conference. During the presentation, I polled the audience to find out which attendees worked for private practices, hospital systems, and marketing agencies. As a result, I better understood the breakdown of the attendees and what insights would best relate to them.
16. Use Large Gestures to Gain Attention
Sarah Kitlowski, President & Chief Operating Office, Omeza, LLC
Large gestures definitely get attention. If you jump, squat, or bend in half, all eyes will definitely be on you. If you find a reason to dance, even badly, no one will blink. There is something about someone dancing and jiving on stage that is captivating, no matter how badly they are doing it.
17. Practice Speaking in Public
John Crossman, CEO, Crossman & Company
Public speaking advice: Practice, practice, practice. Give your speech as often as you can. Ask friends to come listen to you give it. Do it so many times that you don’t need notes. Speak every chance you get. Volunteer at church or a civic group you are involved with. The more you get in front of audiences, the better. Join Toastmasters and watch TED talks. Learn to tell stories. Wherever you go, practice telling stories.
18. Speak Slowly
Sean Pour, Business Development Manager, SellMax
One way to captivate an audience is to speak slowly and be concise. Draw them in with your words. When you practice your speech, speak slower than what feels comfortable and take pauses in between sentences. It might feel like you’re speaking too slow or the pauses may feel like awkward silence, but it’s necessary when you’re communicating with a room full of people.
19. Know How to Improvise
Charles Snider, New York City Art Appraiser & Dealer, Charles Snider Antiques
Remember that the audience does not know in advance what you are going to say. If a slide is out of place or if something doesn’t happen as expected, you are not obliged to share your sudden minor disadvantage with the audience. Don’t say, “I wasn’t expecting that slide to come up now,” or “I was planning to speak after lunch, not before.” Just improvise and keep going. When a speaker shares that the line-up changed unexpectedly, or they are seeing a slide for the first time, you lose the attention of your audience by sounding amateur and sophomoric.
20. Do Warmups
Jen Oleniczak Brown, Founder, The Engaging Educator
Warm up before you talk. Tongue twisters are great to get things focused and connected with your brain and mouth. Try this one on for size: Irish Wristwatch. Say it slow and overenunciate. It’s like a stretch before the big run.
21. Feel Free to Use Notes
Stephanie L. Jones, Founder & Chief Giving Officer, Giving Gal, LLC
I had a speaking coach once tell me I should never use notes. I, therefore, equated being a good speaker with no notes. That wasn’t true. It isn’t the notes that make you a boring a speaker—it’s the lack of practice and boring content. Notes should be a guide. A friend to be there if you need a little encouragement. If you practice and make your talk personal, from the heart, the notes won’t matter.
22. Teach Your Audience Three Actionable Things
Laura Troyani, Founder & Principal, PlanBeyond
Make sure your audience walks away having learned three concrete, actionable things they can apply immediately. This offers your audience material value. By ensuring that they get concrete tips, it leaves them excited at the end of your presentation to put your advice into action, and makes them realize immediately that listening to you was a great use of their time.
23. Prepare as Much as You Can
Leah Lupo, Adjunct Professor, Nassau Community College
There will be times when you need to speak publicly and do not have time to prepare, but whenever possible, do as much as you can to *prepare* before a speech. This includes researching the topic, mastering the entire subject(s) matter, and thinking about possible questions that may arise. Have the responses planned in advance so you’re not caught off guard, and practice the speech and the responses so you are filled with confidence and can speak with pride.
24. Collect Interesting Stories
Brian Brandt, CEO, Core Insights
I encourage my clients to start a collection of their own personal stories and add to it when possible. Anytime something interesting, humorous, or out of the ordinary happens, take a few moments to capture a few details of the event. I place all of these in one specific file on my computer. Now, when I’m preparing a speech, I scroll through this document looking for personal stories that would fit well with this audience and topic as an analogy.
25. Join Toastmasters
Barbara L. Sellers, Club Officer of Membership & Author, Toastmasters
Aspiring speakers should join Toastmasters International, a nonprofit speaking and leadership organization with clubs available throughout the world. Most local clubs have between 20 and 30 members, and provide a forum for people who fear public speaking. It gives everyone, aged 18 and up, practice improving public speaking skills in a non-threatening and relaxed environment. Toastmasters also helps everyone learn how to develop well-organized and powerful speech presentations, and the new Pathways program, recently introduced, better helps each member meet their individual, personalized objectives.
Providing a great experience plays a critical role to getting more customers, and learning how to become an effective public speaker can help your business stand out. While there are no shortcuts, our list of tips for public speaking will give you the tools you need to captivate any audience.
Have more public speaking tips you would like to share? Let us know in the comments.