Public Speaking: 6 Simple Tips for Success

A number of years ago, I was in a Board of Directors meeting when my boss unexpectedly called on me to report on the communications department. I had nothing prepared. Nevertheless, I stood and gave an update. After the meeting, my boss explained: “You always get nervous before presentations. I was confident you knew this information thoroughly, so I took a chance that you’d do better improvising. You wouldn’t have time to get nervous.” He was right.

I’m not recommending this approach for anyone, but it did teach me a good lesson, and I’m rarely nervous now before speeches or presentations. The lesson learned? Tip #1, below.

  1. Know your subject matter. Perhaps you’re already an expert, and that’s why you’re speaking. If you’re not, become an expert. This is a must for feeling and sounding confident.
  2. Know your audience, and prepare appropriately. If you’re speaking on IT, you will give a much different presentation to consumers who barely know how to use e-mail than you would to an audience of programmers.
  3. Write out your presentation. Even if it’s only a ten or fifteen minute speech, write out what you want to say beforehand. How many people have you heard speak where every sentence begins with “um” because they have to think about what to say while they’re up there in front of everyone.
  4. Practice, practice, practice. Some people memorize their speeches. Practice enough so that all you need do is glance down at your notes occasionally to stay on track. Memorize most of the speech, but leave enough room to improvise. This will make you look natural.
  5. Be confident. If you’ve followed all the steps above, you’ll come across knowledgeable, interesting, and relaxed.
  6. Enjoy yourself. Look at this as a positive, not a negative. The spotlight is on you, and this is your time to shine.

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6 Responses to Public Speaking: 6 Simple Tips for Success

  1. Larry Wall says:

    Public speaking has taken on a new approach with the advent of PowerPoint and other similar programs. This can be good and bad. If your PowerPoint presentation is good and you can give it without having to look at the screen, then you can do a great presentation. If the PowerPoint is dull and lifeless (I never use any of the built in templates, I try to keep a common theme and make each slide look different) then the speech will be dull. The best trick I learned using PowerPoint is that after you create it, make a second slide. Then insert a blank slide between each slide. On the blank slide type the notes us for the first slide. Then when you print, use to two slides to a page option. You will have a copy of the slide at the top, some notes at the bottom and will only have glance and the screen to make sure you are in sync with the presentation.

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    • Thanks for the additional tips, Larry. I have to admit I am NOT a Power Point fan – probably because I have only seen a handful of people use it effectively. So many people read their slides to the audience. You’ve got some good ideas here; I’m sure you’re an effective presenter.

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      • Larry Wall says:

        Thank you for your kind words. I do all right as a speaker. I have a speech impediment, which is less noticeable when I am on the stage. Plus using the PowerPoint can offer a distraction if I am facing a difficult sentence or paragraph.

        However, I have given speeches without using PowerPoint. In those cases the six tips mentioned above are absolutely on target.

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      • That’s interesting about the speech impediment – yet you do better onstage. I often say when I’m speaking that I go into sort of “professional mode” – where I’m so into what I’m saying that I forget to be self-conscious – you must do the same. Or maybe you had a good coach like in The King’s Speech. Have you seen that? It was a great movie.

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  2. Larry Wall says:

    I think your professional mode is right on target and I have never thought of it that way. That gives me a new insight. I appreciate it. It took me a while to get there. My first speech was horrible, I was bored by it. Did a little regrouping, studied and practiced a little more and the results were much better the next time.

    My speech issue is not a stuttering problem as in The King’s Speech, which I did see, and you are right, it is an excellent movie. I have an articulation issue. I tend to talk too fast and often drop the endings off of words. And while it has not been medically proven, I think I have some type of auditory issue, because i do not notice that I am dropping ending sounds, unless I concentrate very hard, which I have learned to do for the most part.

    I am never going to have a TV news career, but I get by. I did not have the coach like in the movie, but in college, I received speech therapy from the Speech Department. it was part of the students internship. A young lady ( we were in college, everyone was young) was a tremendous help to me. Unfortunately, she never became a speech therapist. She got married, moved to a city and a college that did not have a speech pathology program, so she became a teacher. I was in her home town years ago to give a speech and called her to thank her. for her help. Unfortunately, one of the hardest things for me to do is make cold calls–I feel like I am intruding and talk to fast. She was probably not impressed with the progress I had made. I always hope to get the voice mail and have people return calls to me. I do much better that way. We all have our little quirks and that is the one of many that I have.

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