Eleven Public Speaking Tips

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There’s no way around it. At some point in your career, you will have to stand before a group and speak. Maybe you’ll have to present a marketing plan to management. Maybe you’ll be asked to explain your department’s work to the rest of the company. Maybe a networking group will request that you share your expertise.

I happen to love public speaking. It’s an extremely potent way to educate, persuade and motivate. Some people enjoy it less, placing public speaking somewhere between “root canal surgery” and “shark attack” on their personal scale of enjoyment.

But it needn’t be so daunting. If you struggle with the idea of speaking, or are just looking to improve, I hope the following 11 public speaking tips are of value:

1) Trust your audience.

They want you to succeed. Really. With very few exceptions. So take confidence from the fact that they’re pulling for you from the start.

2) Serve your audience.

Your presentation is not about what you want to say. It’s about what the audience needs to hear. To the extent that you deliver information, ideas or perspective they can use, you will almost always succeed.

3) Don’t serve yourself.

This is the corollary of the above, but it bears repeating. Some speakers try to demonstrate how smart, experienced and awesome they are. Others barely conceal their sales pitches in what was billed as an “informative” presentation. They’re rarely received well or invited back.

4) Begin with the end in mind.

What’s the objective of your presentation? What do you want your audience to do, think or feel? Everything flows from that. And anything that doesn’t serve that objective is a candidate for deletion.

5) Create an outline.

When you’re building your presentation, don’t just start slapping slides together. Instead, create a detailed outline that supports the objective. It takes a little more time up-front, but it will save a ton of time when you develop your presentation – and will result in a more effective presentation to boot.

6) Practice, practice, practice.

There’s really no alternative. I recommend rehearsing your entire presentation at least three times, even if you know the material well. This way, you’ll know where you’re comfortable, where the trouble spots are and how long your program runs.

7) Open strong, close strong.

When practicing, pay particular attention to the opening and closing sections. These define the tone and theme of the presentation. (There’s the importance of the objective again.) Get 100% comfortable with your open and close, and the rest of the presentation is likely to feel like smooth sailing.

8) Use humor – appropriately.

You may have heard that it’s a good idea to get the audience laughing. That’s not true in all cases, and certainly not for all kinds of presentations. It can also lead to the awkward introduction of eye-rolling one-liners. Employ humor only where it feels comfortable and appropriate.

9) Believe.

What’s better than insincere humor? Sincere delivery. Passion and conviction are often the difference between a good speaker and a great one. If you believe in your message, the audience will be able to tell. And if you don’t, they’ll pick up on that too.

10) Get feedback.

Find a way to get feedback from the audience and the person who requested that you speak. You’ll learn whether you met your objective, and you’ll make your next presentation better. Feedback can also include reviewing a videotape of your performance, which I guarantee will be a revealing exercise.

11) Watch and learn.

You have many opportunities to see other speakers in action. Watch them closely. What aspects of their style seemed to work? How did they structure their information? What can you emulate? What should you avoid? Incorporate the best of what you see into your own unique style.

Any tips you’d add to this list?  Let us know in the “Comments” section.

Need an expert branding speaker for your company function or business group? Find out more about Matthew Fenton’s branding presentations at this link.

About Matthew Fenton: Matthew helps challenger brands to focus, grow and win.  Since founding his consultancy, Three Deuce Branding, in 1997, he’s helped hundreds of brands to achieve “brand clarity.”  His consulting services and speaking engagements help brands to focus on what matters through positioning, strategy and ideation.  Contact Matthew here.  He calls Chicago home.

Copyright 2009 – Matthew Fenton.  All Rights Reserved.  You may reprint this article with the original, unedited text intact, including the About Matthew Fenton section.

A version of this post appeared in the AmericanCity Business Journals column “That Branding Thing” on June 26, 2009.

2 Replies to “Eleven Public Speaking Tips”

  1. Nice “Spinal Tap-esque” list (Why not make 10 the highest? Well, this list goes to 11…it’s one better!) You mentioned the need to develop an outline before “slapping slides together.” Totally agree. In addition, I would suggest thinking carefully about the specific work or idea you are presenting – and look for ways to create an exciting atmosphere in which to showcase it. Don’t automatically default to PowerPoint. In fact, you should try to minimize – or even eliminate – this medium as much as possible. Do something that is more dynamic, interesting, and unexpected.

  2. Great addition to the list, Todd. While your suggestion may feel “scary” to some – what, no PowerPoint??? – the potential payoff in effectiveness is huge.In presenting, much like Olympic diving, bonus points may be awarded for degree of difficulty and creativity.

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