How to Start Being a Better Public Speaker

You're asked to make a presentation to a meeting or seminar. No matter how brilliant the material you plan to present, it can all fall apart in the telling. Here are some simple but powerfully effective check points to help you make winning speaking presentations.

Research your audience as much as possible - male, female, ages, interests. Identify as much as you can why they are there to listen to you.

What is the core message you want to get across? Design everything you say to assert and support that message.

Speaking is one to one communication :

  • no matter how many people are in the audience
  • consider everything you do and say throughout your presentation as being the same as if there was only you and one other person. Everyone else is just listening in to the conversation.
  • make eye contact with a few friendly faces and talk to them.
  • when you have a particularly important point to make, select one friendly person near you and make the point to that person.

Your opening is critical :

  • Rehearse precisely the exact wording of an attention-grabbing first sentence
  • People make up their mind about you in the first few seconds
  • Aim to “hit the ground running” in your first few sentences.

While you are being introduced, do this breathing exercise - breathe in, counting two three four, hold (two three four), out (two three four five). Repeat until the intro is completed.

Dress in a way that shows respect for your audience - if in doubt, dress up rather than down

Stand off stage while you are being introduced. Stand to the right of the stage (as you face the audience). Coming from that side is more powerful.

You're ‘on before you're on'. Don't start with a cough. Warm your voice before you reach the venue. Spend time that day visualizing yourself doing the presentation.

“Umms or ahhs” to fill gaps between sentences dramatically weakens your impact. Silence between sentences is golden.

Speak slowly and make use of “the power of the pause”. People need a few seconds to absorb important statements.

Aim to be the same person on stage as you are when you are sitting in the audience.

Be passionate about your topic.

Provide a prepared introduction that enables the chairperson to bring you and your topic in precisely the way you want.

Use your hands to emphasize, not to distract. At other times keep your hands in one comfortable (for you) position (not in your pocket). Hands should not normally be raised higher than mid body level.

People love stories. True stories. Anything that happened in your own life can be interesting to others if it is making a point. Make stories brief and with a clear point to illustrate something relevant to your overall message.

Agree with your chairperson how long you have available to speak and stick to that time. Get the chairperson to give you, say, five minutes warning of your agreed finishing time. Don't worry if you have to leave some material out of your presentation. Only you will know that you did so.

Always try to have a PA system. It ensures a consistent voice volume and avoids the problem of your voice level dropping, particularly at the end of sentences. People lose interest quickly if they have to strain to hear. If you can't use a PA, have a friend near the back be prepared to put their hand to their ear when your voice drops - and make them one of the friendly people you look at during your presentation.

Make notes that are trigger statements to remind you what you want to say, not text to be slavishly read  ( occasional quotes are fine to strengthen your message ).

Humour is wonderful as long as it is your sense of humour - you don't have to tell jokes. Stories are a good way to convey humour too.

Never tell risqué jokes, use dubious language or be sexist in any way. One offended listener is one too many.

Keep your language simple. Talk to the lowest common denominator in your audience. Others will appreciate your simplicity.

Before you make a strong point, move a couple of paces to your left. Being slightly left of stage centre is the most powerful position on the platform. Remember to then move back to stage centre.

Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse!! If possible tape yourself in the privacy of your home and listen to how you sound because that is how others will hear you. Don't be too critical of yourself however…take pride that your style, words, views and message are unique to you.

Your uniqueness is your strength.