20 Tips on Public Speaking

public speaking tips

Everybody’s scared of something. It doesn’t matter how big or brave you may feel — there’s definitely a deeply-embedded, irrational anxiety in there. Statistically, one of those anxieties probably centers on public speaking.

According to researchers, a majority of people are actually more afraid of getting up in front of a room and delivering a short speech than they are of death. If you’re a business owner, that could turn into a bit of a problem. Staff, clients and customers will constantly be looking to you for insight and guidance, and so you’re inevitably going to find yourself addressing groups of people on a regular basis.

Fortunately, there are plenty of tricks you can try in order to calm your nerves and deliver an effective speech. To help you get started, here are 20 simple public speaking tips:

Public Speaking Tips

1. Exercise Beforehand

You may not always have a fair warning before you’re thrust into the limelight — but if you know you’re going to be speaking in public, you should always exercise beforehand. When you get stressed, you secrete high levels of a steroid called cortisol. This limits your ability to process information, which makes it difficult to think on your feet and respond to a crowd. In order to burn off your supply of cortisol, try working out or taking a brisk walk before your speech.

2. Develop a Routine

If you find yourself repeatedly getting up to speak in front of others, a pre-game routine can drastically calm your nerves. Come up with a set of rituals that will help you center yourself and clear your head before stepping up to a podium. Practice your speech, have a cup of tea, exercise your vocal chords — whatever you feel may be beneficial. Once you’ve found something that works, etch it in stone and do the exact same routine the next time.

3. Make Sure You’ve Eaten

It may sound obvious, but a hungry public speaker is almost always a poor public speaker. When your body is low on protein, it struggles to produce enough dopamine in order to maintain the mental alertness you’ll need to captivate a room full of people. As a result, you should always try and include some form of protein in the meal you eat before your speech — even if you need to force it down.

4. Prep First, Speak Later

You should never try and make last minute speech preparations after audience members are already finding their seats. That’s a rookie mistake, and it can turn a fantastic speech into a painfully awkward experience in the blink of an eye. If you need to check your microphone or make sure your projector is on, do it beforehand. Time is precious, and you’re going to lose the room quickly if it’s clear you haven’t bothered with the basics.

5. Start with a Bang

Whatever you do, do not start off your presentation by asking audience members to turn off their phones. They won’t do it, and it will make you look old and irrelevant. Instead, think about how you can kick start your speech in order to instantly earn people’s attention. If you want your audience to listen, give them a reason to lend you their ears.

6. Take Dramatic Pauses

It doesn’t matter how exciting your speech is — chances are, you’re going to lose a few listeners along the way. One way to pull them back into the room is to throw them off with a meaningful pause. If you pause for a few seconds, your audience will naturally assume you’re lost your place. Pause for ten seconds or more, and you’ll have necks craning out of curiosity. From there, you can confidently carry on knowing you’ve roped the stragglers back in.

7. Don’t Give All the Answers

When delivering a speech, it’s almost standard operating procedure to ask the audience a set of simple questions that you all know the answer to. Don’t give in. Instead, catch your audience off guard by asking them a question that neither of you can answer. Then, explain why you don’t know the answer — and go on to share what it is you do know. Not only will this help to humanize you, but it will captivate your audience.

8. Don’t Apologize

Far too many speakers like to begin presentations by apologizing for their poor public speaking skills or their lack of preparation. Don’t even bother. By doing so, you will only lower an audience’s expectations to the point where they don’t even want to listen to the oncoming speech. Just keep calm and speak confidently.

9. Answer Questions

Anxious public speakers tend to get frazzled when hands start to go up mid-speech. Do yourself a favor, and don’t postpone questions until the end of your presentation. Let your listener speak up, and address that question. After all, the most engaging speeches always feel more like conversations than monologues. An engaged audience is always a happy audience.

10. Repeat Questions

When you’re lucky enough to get a few questions, don’t forget to repeat what you’ve been asked for the rest of the room. If audience members can’t hear the question you’ve been asked, chances are they’ll tune out the answer. Likewise, repeating the question aloud will also arm you with a few more crucial seconds with which to formulate a succinct answer.

11. Get Personal

Another way to vastly improve your public speaking is to share a personal story. Don’t just come out with an insincere, self-depreciating joke. Spare a minute, talk about your feelings and showcase your true emotions. This will result in a genuine connection with your audience members and generate a far higher level of engagement.

12. Keep Slideshows Brief

Plenty of speeches revolve on a slideshow, and that’s okay. But you can’t allow those slides to detract from your stage presence. In order to avoid PowerPoint stealing the show, make sure you’re keeping your slides concise. Don’t overload them with loads of text, and never include visuals that will prove overly distracting.

13. Don’t Rely on Slides

Visuals are hugely important in delivering a great speech — but that doesn’t mean you can hide behind them. Far too many speakers lull their listeners into a dumb stupor by simply reading from a slideshow in verbatim. Text on your slides should only be used to accentuate your core points. Do yourself a favor, and turn away from the projector. Show your audience there’s a lot more to your speech than what they’re looking at on the screen behind you.

14. Tell Your Audience Something New

Nobody wants to hear a speech filled to the brim with ideas they’ve already been learned all about. In order to really engage listeners, you’ve got to tell them something they’ve never heard before. It could be a personal anecdote, relevant bit of trivia or an opinion they’ve never been exposed to. Either way, you owe it to your audience to teach them something.

15. Don’t Try and Sell Something

A lot of great public speakers like to close their presentations with a shameless, four-minute sales pitch for their latest book. Nothing clears the room faster. Worse yet, you’re only going to erode all of the trust you’ve just built over the course of your speech by insinuating the connections you’ve forged were only being made for your own, selfish gain.

16. Have a Back-up Plan

Sometimes, even the most well-planned presentations flat line. You’ve got to be able to read the room and think on your feet in order to salvage your speech — so when in doubt, plan accordingly. Don’t be afraid to skip ahead a few slides and cut out parts of a speech you don’t think will be well-received. Likewise, always have a couple of extra personal anecdotes ready to toss in your presentation just in case.

17. Always Repeat Yourself

If you’ve got an important point to make, repeat it. Even the most earnest of listeners will tune out for a minute or two; therefore, it’s up to you to adequately repeat your points in order to ensure they leave the room with all of the information they need. It always helps to list out the key points of your speech in your introduction, and then briefly summarize them once more in the conclusion.

18. Hand Out Homework

Quite a few of your audience members won’t remember your speech unless you give them a reason to. Use the key takeaways from your presentation in order to challenge listeners. Ask them to apply the lessons or knowledge you’ve covered in their daily lives the following day. There’s no better way to ensure the lesson sticks.

19. Know When to Zip It

When in doubt, you should always run short. Not only will this force you to sharpen your presentation and cut out all of the unimportant information, but it shows your audience that you value their time. Finishing your speech a few minutes early will also leave more time for questions and discussion.

20. Try and Have Fun

Okay, so you don’t enjoy public speaking — we get it, and that’s fine. But if your audience can clearly tell you don’t want to be standing up there in front of them, why on earth would they even bother listening to you? At the end of the day, you’ve got to do your best to try and relax in order to prove to your audience that you belong on that stage.

Finally, this list is by no means exhaustive. Different tricks work for different people — and so if you’re still in need of a few extra public speaking tips, you might find what you’re looking for here:

Microphone Photo via Shutterstock

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Nash Riggins Nash Riggins is a Staff Writer for Small Business Trends and an American journalist based in central Scotland. Nash covers industry studies, emerging trends and general business developments. His writing background includes The Huffington Post, World Finance and GuruFocus. His website is NashRiggins.com.

One Reaction
  1. Nash: Do you have some favorite public / professional speakers?