View Full Version : Public Speaking Tips

07-13-2008, 05:25 AM
These are some things I've (re)learned or been reminded of since I joined Toastmasters in March.

I'm only going to list a few so I (hopefully) don't sound like a know-it-all. Feel free to add any tips you have, too.

Don't apologize for leaving something out. Your audience will never know unless/until you point it out.
Don't apologize for being nervous.
Try to engage your audience through humor or personal anecdotes where appropriate.

Soccer Mom
07-13-2008, 06:30 AM
My tip of the day:

Practice: not just inside your head, but actually practice speaking the words aloud.

Don't just do it once. Repeated practice will not make you wooden. It will make you confident. Did you nail writing the first time you tried putting pen to paper? Of course not.

Speaking is a skill very much like writing. It takes practice. The more you do it, the more confident you will be.

Do it in front of someone. It doesn't have to be your spouse. In fact, it's often harder in front of a loved one. Try your pet. Your cat won't care and your dog thinks you're wonderful no matter what. But a human audience helps.

07-13-2008, 08:16 AM
As in writing, have a good opening hook to gain attention.

Know who your audience is and gear your choice of subject matter and language to them. Be clear.

Find ways to get your audience involved. Feedback, Q&A, etc.

07-14-2008, 06:37 AM
Know who your audience is and gear your choice of subject matter and language to them. Be clear.

In my eyes, this is NUMBER ONE RULE.

07-14-2008, 06:44 AM
I definitely agree. :)

I had thought of some other tips earlier today, but I did some catch-up work and didn't make note of them, so of course now I've forgotten what they were.

Oh well. They'll come back to me eventually.

07-14-2008, 06:47 AM
Though a PowerPoint presentation may add value to a presentation, use it only as a tool and not a crutch.

07-14-2008, 07:05 AM
Though a PowerPoint presentation may add value to a presentation, use it only as a tool and not a crutch.

Also a good one! I like the 5 x 5 rule. No more than five lines a slide, each line no more than five words.

L M Ashton
07-14-2008, 02:43 PM
I prepare my speech ahead of time - not just the broad brush strokes, but every single sentence. I prepare it the same way I would a paper - organized, subsections if necessary, and so on. When I print it for the event, I'll use a larger font so I can read it easier. One side only, paperclipped not stapled. And number all the pages. Definitely number all the pages. Dropping the thing five seconds before you're supposed to start... Eh, yeah, I definitely number the pages. :D

Because I have all the details written down, I'm less likely to forget what I intend to say next. I'm less likely to stumble. I'm more likely to sound natural, not stuttery, and more likely to get through it with much less nerves. :)

07-14-2008, 06:32 PM
Make eye contact. I know it's scary for some and there's this old advice saying "imagine them naked sitting on the toilet." That's just silly.

Make eye contact. Think of them as friends instead of people judging you. Ask questions (even if you don't expect an answer). Make it interactive even if it really isn't -- basically, having a dialogue with your audiences.

If you're using a Powerpoint or Keynote presentation, keep the slides clutter-free with 3 to 5 bullets on each slide and keep them short. You don't want them to try to read what's on the screen when she should be focusing on your speech. The presentation is just a tool.

Have a great opening -- practice! It's the worst if you appear nervous right from the start and you lose the point you're trying to make. It'll take a while for you to recover. It's better to have a great, well-practiced opening to calm and ease yourself into the speech.

Also allow at least 5-10 minutes for Q&A. And if no one asks any questions, have a few prepared anyway. Or recruit a couple facilitators (if they're there) to ask some questions.

Make it fun, informative and entertaining, and relevant -- it doesn't matter what topic it is.

Drink water. It's not good if you have a cracked voice.

To practice: videotape yourself. And yes, you will NOT like what you see and that's how you can fix all the problems: gestures, inflection, posture, eye contact, face expressions, etc. Also, you can time it and also listen to the speech to see if it's boring...

07-14-2008, 08:34 PM
Don't hide behind a podium.
Walk around the stage and learn to project your voice- this keeps the audience alert and attentive.
When making a point nod directly at one person and smile-
Let the audience be the deciding factor as to whether you take questions during or only at the end of your presentation. If it is a tough crowd- hold off or you can get stumped or intimidated during your presentation and that is deadly. If it is a light hearted topic and crowd, bring on the comments and questions during. _ Secret tool: if you are running short on material and long on time , the latter works for filler and people love to tell their own story wrapped in a question.
Engage your audience with questions that they don't get to answer out loud like "haven't you ever "...and "do you remember as a child " This tool encourages them to involve themselves in your presentation and participate more in the Q&A.

07-18-2008, 04:28 AM
I find it's best to structure a presentation around the rule of three:

1. Tell them what you're going to talk about.

Opening: This is where you introduce the topic you're going to discuss.

2. Tell them.

Body: This is where you provide the details of the subject.

3. Tell them what you just told them.

Closing: This is where you summarize the main points.

This simple method of repetition drives home the topic to your audience and facilitates retention.

07-22-2008, 05:12 AM
Before The Event

Engage in the regular practice of relaxation techniques (http://www.umm.edu/sleep/relax_tech.htm) to lower stress and promote the quality of nighttime sleep.
Use visualization techniques to mentally "see" yourself mastering the delivery of your speech/presentation/lecture ... This includes visualizing the audience in the manner you want them to respond.
Flood your subconscious mind with positive affirmations.
Build confidence by having a friend or family member role play being a difficult or disruptive participant.Day Of Event

Before arrival of the audience:

Familiarize yourself with the room or location in which the event is being held. Look around to take in as much of it as possible.
Battle fear and anxiety with creativity! Spark your creativity by pretending to be an audience member and visualize yourself giving the speech/presentation/lecture ...
Go to the stage area and familiarize yourself with it. Visualize the audience being present and rehearse.
Be silly and purposely make a fool of yourself on stage. -- Go on, no one is looking ... yet. :D Act like a chicken or some other farm animal. The point is to get you laughing at yourself. Just make sure there are no cameras rolling!! lolAs the audience begins to arrive:

If possible, meet and greet them. Begin to establish rapport in advance.
Go to some private area and engage in stretching and deep breathing exercises. Consciously search your body for areas of muscle tension and focus on relaxing them.
Recite empowering affirmations as mantras.
Engage in prayer.During Delivery

Remember to breathe.
If your hands are shaking, avoid holding anything that would evidence the trembling. Items such as paper, a hand held microphone, and glass of water are classic examples.
Until your nerves begin to calm, avoid making direct eye contact with the audience. Instead, try looking just above their heads.
For rapid speech, slow your cadence by pausing between words and sentences.After The Event

Take time to reflect on the event and give yourself an objective review.
When identifying any negative experiences, avoid labeling them as bad mistakes.
Use your objective self review to learn from and build on.
If you received participant reviews, use them also to learn from and build on.
Identify positive experiences and incorporate them into affirmative tools for building confidence and self esteem.Feel free to add your own tips and techniques to this thread.


Clair Dickson
07-22-2008, 07:18 AM
I just go with the assumption that I'm going to look like the biggest idiot to stand in front of a crowd. So anything I do to lessen just how stupid I look, is a bonus. =)

And if you can laugh at yourself, people will laugh with you.

07-22-2008, 06:24 PM
I agree with the laughing at yourself part.

I've never been all that concerned with looking like an idiot. I'm usually about 100% certain I do. lol. That kind of got proven yesterday when I was serving as Toastmaster at a Toastmasters meeting and got flustered. I started introducing the speaker before I'd even really started the preliminaries.

Where my fear came into play -- starting to be not as much of a factor finally -- was along the lines of "What if someone asks me something I can't even begin to answer? They'll think I'm a fraud and I'll never be able to come back!"

Heh. Yeah. Whatever. lol

07-22-2008, 08:09 PM
I have a secret to share about how I deal with my public speaking fear and anxiety. Keep in mind that my quirkiness gives rise to quirky behavior. By now, I have made that truth more than obvious on the forums. :e2woo:

Pointing out to the audience that you are nervous and fearful is a "no-no" in public speaking. Fortunately for me, I get to move beyond this ideology.

Because the majority of my topics relate to the psyche, I specifically point out how nervous and fearful I am. In doing so, I use myself as an example of what being nervous and fearful can look like.

I show the audience my shaking hands and then I have them observe me to identify other physical signs of my fear and anxiety. From there, I go on to describe the internal experiences I am having such as a rapid heart rate. I encourage them to reflect on and share how they experience and communicate their own fears and anxieties. After this, I explain that my fear and anxiety will begin to decrease as the session continues. I request, for the purpose of later discussion, that the audience continue to observe me for evidence of increasing psychological comfort.

By doing this, I assist the participants to begin meeting one of their obvious objectives. By obvious, I mean one of the objectives as identified on the syllabus. That particular objective deals with having the participants demonstrate their understanding of non-verbal communication. The non-obvious objective, being the objective which is not identified on the syllabus, (also part of my overall mission), is to increase awareness of and appreciation for the human psyche.

The worst thing that could happen to me would be to lose my experience of fear and anxiety.

Now to keep the promise I made in my initial post and finish the tips for coping.


07-29-2008, 05:35 AM
Another tip:

Unless it's an emergency or extremely disruptive, keep going through any interruptions.

Today, as I was giving my speech at Toastmasters, two ladies came in to use the microwave at the back of the room. I basically ignored them as best I could, what with the microwave beeping and all, and just kept going.

08-03-2008, 07:46 PM
And number all the pages. Definitely number all the pages. Dropping the thing five seconds before you're supposed to start... Eh, yeah, I definitely number the pages. :D



Unless your topic is of an extremely serious nature, smile. It will warm your audience up better than any joke.

Enunciate your words clearly. If you need practice in learning how to speak clearly, read the Dr. Suess book, "Mr. Brown Can Moo. Can You?" aloud a few thousand times. :D Yes, it really does work. It seems a little less silly if you have a child to read aloud to.

Or join a church choir with a really good choir director, one who insists that you add the "d's" and the "t's" at the end of the words.

S-p-e-a-k s-l-o-w-l-y! It might seem like you're speaking at a glacial pace because you just want to get the darn speech over and done with, but your audience will thank you. Pause slightly between sentences.

You've been told to practice. I agree, but practice both reading your speech, and speaking off-the-cuff. That way, if you do drop your papers and mess up the order, or arrive at the podium with an entire page missing your speech will continue. As long as you don't apologize, and as long as it makes reasonable sense, no one will even notice. Believe me--been there, done that, got the t-shirt.

And while practicing out loud is good, mental rehearsal is just as important for me. I can imagine myself not only making the speech, but making it in the physical space where I'm going to be speaking, to the approximate size and make-up of crowd I'm going to be speaking to.

As far as interruptions go, how you deal with them depends on the type of interruption. You can ignore them, but realize that if something's bothering you, it's also bothering your audience and interfering with their reception of your message. You can politely ask that the interruption be dealt with and cease, if there's someone else who can take responsibility for dealing with it. This is especially important for long talks and on-going interruptions. You can, if you're confident enough and it fits in, make it part of your talk. I've done that a few times with preaching. If the interruption is the fire alarm, however, your talk is over. Get out of the building, eh? :tongue

08-05-2008, 06:16 AM
I absolutely agree with the "not standing behind the podium" thing. I find it more calming to walk around anyway - gets rid of some of the nervous energy.

Unlike some folks, I don't plan out every word - I keep a bullet list of topics I want to cover and make sure I know them well. Then I ask the audience to interrupt and ask questions during (as long as that's something the format will allow). That way they get out of it something that's useful and tangible for them.

Above all, I try to remember that I'm speaking because I know more than my audience, or because I can give them a different perspective or insight on the topic. They came to listen for a reason, so why be nervous?

08-18-2008, 11:49 PM
Remember to breathe. Sometimes I keep talking and forget to take in enough air. I actually got light-headed once. The glass of water helps me pause long enough to remember to breathe in.

(C.bronco has plenty of hot air).

08-20-2008, 06:53 AM
I have a story about speaking to the American Psychological Association on my blog today (link at bottom).

Suggestions . . . while some advocate writing a speech, I suggest learning to speak off the cuff with no notes. That way, you are more natural and more flexible.

Stand in the open, not behind something.

Be dynamic.

Dale Emery
10-12-2008, 06:33 AM
In six minutes you can make one good, solid point and support it. So make that point as concisely and pithily as you can, offer a few examples that your audience is likely to know (so you don't have to give a ton of context), and show how the examples exemplify your thesis. And either at the beginning or the end say why your thesis matters to the audience.

That's about all you can expect of yourself in six minutes. You probably can't say everything you want to say, and you certainly can't say everything that you know. So give them your most important point, well supported. And (if it's appropriate) tell them how and when they can talk to you further.

Presenters are often tempted to complain that they don't have time to say everything they wanted to say. DO NOT fall for the temptation. That will waste precious seconds of your six minutes telling them stuff that (1) they know and (2) they don't care about. Just give them the best six minutes you can.


Brenda Hill
02-06-2009, 11:51 AM
What great tips, and I'm making note of them. Thanks!

Hoping to learn to speak in public, I attended a local Toastmasters meeting. I guess I expected lessons, but instead, they went directly to introducing speakers who gave timed speeches and then to other members who critiqued them.

If they don't teach with classes, how do we learn?

Dale Emery
02-06-2009, 12:35 PM
Hoping to learn to speak in public, I attended a local Toastmasters meeting. I guess I expected lessons, but instead, they went directly to introducing speakers who gave timed speeches and then to other members who critiqued them.

If they don't teach with classes, how do we learn?

The Toastmasters training materials give a series of short lessons that you can read on your own, then apply them to make a short speech. Each lesson focuses on one specific aspect of speaking, and your audience will give you feedback on that aspect plus ones you've learned earlier. The feedback is a really helpful element of the Toastmasters program. And the benefit comes not just from receiving feedback, but also from giving it. Observing presenters with an eye toward critiquing will give you ideas about what works and what doesn't (similar to what happens in a good writers' group).

Read a little bit, apply it, and get feedback. Then on to the next brief lesson. It's a nice progression. Stay with it for a half dozen (short) speeches, and see whether you're learning from it.


02-13-2009, 06:58 AM
Fear/nervousness is your friend. It is your system recognizing the significance of what you are doing and gearing up to be keenly alert, as opposed to drowsily carefree. Use it as an energy source in your speaking--controlled, of course. That adrenaline is pumping for a reason. As a long-time paratrooper, I learned that fear kept me alive. God save me from people who profess to have no fear.

Never read your slides/charts/PowerPoints to your audience. If they can't read, they probably have no business being there to begin with. When you show them something in writing, it should be fairly brief, and you should then give them time to read it before proceeding.

02-13-2009, 12:39 PM
Keep it short! You'll loose your audience quick by yammering on.

02-24-2009, 07:35 PM
I have a story about speaking to the American Psychological Association on my blog today (link at bottom).

Suggestions . . . while some advocate writing a speech, I suggest learning to speak off the cuff with no notes. That way, you are more natural and more flexible.

Stand in the open, not behind something.

Be dynamic.

Easy for you to say, mate, you're a pro! I've seen some of your speeches on youtube. Great stuff.

I hate absolutely loathe speeches. Can't escape them, yes, yes I know, but I wish I could :(

03-05-2009, 07:50 AM
Insist is the most important. Never give up. Repeated practice.http://photo-collection.co.cc/img/3177/a08b1010ygij/grin.gif

03-05-2009, 09:32 AM
Yes, too long is not good.http://photo-collection.co.cc/img/3177/a08b1010ygij/grin.gif

03-06-2009, 02:22 AM
I think public speaking is a very important skill for anyone to have, so I teach it to all of my classes, regardless of grade level. For the most part, I get more argument from seniors than any other grade level about it.
Due to the fact that most of my students have never had to stand in front of a class and speak (not read) to his or her peers, I try to limit the things I throw at them. I've got it limited to 4 elements:
1) Fidgeting: Don't do it. It distracts your audience from your words, like doodles on the side of the essay.
2) Dead-space: This is the point in any speech when people say the inevitable "um" or "like." Worse, it's when the speaker repeats his or her words. Even worse, it's when the speaker doesn't say anything at all. The best weapon against "Dead Space" is preparation.
3) Chew words: actors call it chewing words because they shape every part of every word with their mouth, and when they do, it looks like they are chewing peanut butter and three sticks of gum at the same time. You don't need to go that far, but make sure you enunciate your words fully and slowly enough that everyone can understand what you're saying.
4) Project: Not "project" like a book report, but like an overhead projector. You want your voice to fill every corner of the room. This does not mean shouting; it means pushing the air out of your lungs with more pressure. It is the simple difference between talking to two of your friends, versus an entire class of your peers.

I have them practice projection with the famous line from H6 part 1, "Between two hawks, which flies the higher pitch / Between two dogs, which hath the deeper mouth." I make them stand in the hall outside the classroom, and I go all the way down to the other end of the hall to make sure I can hear them clearly. It works wonders.

I just thought I'd weigh in on public speaking tips. Of course, there are tons of other great tips, many of which have already been mentioned in this thread. I just wanted to cover the beginning basics. I like the K.I.S.S. method.

03-06-2009, 10:54 AM
Start or End a presentation with an inspring quote. Makes people remember your presentation.

08-11-2011, 04:06 AM
I'm a college professor of communication, and I'm just in love with this thread. So many of the most important lessons have stated.

At the end of the day, one of the things I try to instill is that audiences forgive almost anything provided the speaker is competent and passionate. You don't have to be the best speaker with the most amazing delivery. You can say um, ah, or you know. You can have a technology glitch. You can freeze for a second. None of it may matter if you deliver a good message with conviction.

Happy Speaking!

Ultimate Cheapskate
08-12-2011, 12:06 AM
Always remember the 5 B's: Be Brief, Brother. Be Brief.

08-16-2011, 12:20 AM
Always remember the 5 B's: Be Brief, Brother. Be Brief.

Or cut them to 2 B's. Be Brief. ;)

09-06-2011, 11:46 PM
Picture everyone in their underwear!

Um, unless you're a boy.


09-16-2011, 12:51 AM
These are awesome, guys! I have my first official author presentation/reading and I am much more nervous than I should be :)

09-28-2011, 01:29 AM
I used to deliver BIG presentations to Senior government officials and military officers at the Colonel and General level. I was often told I was a great speaker because I did the following....

Regardless of the audience, I always took a GROUND UP approach to my presentation.

My presentations took place on 3 levels, each occurring simultaneously.

Level 1: Layman, no real understanding of the subject matter
Level 2: Competent, understands subject matter
Level 3: Expert, top of the field in subject matter.

At first glance this may seem impossible. how can you simultaneously reach all audiences? Well, think of the animation house Pixar, they do it in pretty much every single film.

Laymen: kids, they love the cartoon and don't even notice the stuff that goes over their heads
Teens: They get most of everything and enjoy the cartoon
Adults: Marvel at how well everything comes together and truly appreciates all aspects of the cartoon.

My presentations follow a very similar format.

I start off with a very clear and concise theme/thesis, identify the problem and the solution

As I progress, each problem and solution is communicated at both the layman and expert level

At the end I sum everything up at both the layman and expert level

I find that having a clear thesis, problem/solution enables me to hit all levels simultaneous. However, I notice that if I don't have a clear thesis, problem/solution then I have problems communicating effectively.

Anyways, that is my technique and has worked wonders for me.

lastly, can't say enough about eliminating flimflammery and pretentiousness (is that a word? :) ) from your speech. Some people think that adds to their legitimacy but it really detracts from it and the thesis/argument you are making.


10-17-2011, 01:20 AM
Another rule of three: be brief, be seen, be gone.

10-17-2011, 11:01 AM
Great post!

pretentiousness (is that a word? :) )

'Pretense' or 'pretention' would be better. Flim-flam, humbug...

11-14-2011, 10:32 PM
Public speaking/writing a speech is NOT the same as writing an essay or article. You're absolutely not supposed to sit there are read the entire thing word for word - it will just come across like you're reading it. You write speaker's notes. Head each one with the talking point you want to talk about, then write little notes like specific statistics or facts that are relevant, and include quotes that are particularly powerful as well as for your walking-away points (the things you want your audience to remember despite forgetting 90% of everything else within a week). Don't read your speech, per se, but read your notes so you don't leave anything out and be sure to sound conversational and knowledgeable.

05-07-2014, 05:16 AM
I've been writing personal speeches for my weekly Toastmasters meetings, I've found that mind-mapping before even putting down words is very helpful.

For a basic five to seven minute speech there is an introduction where you tell the story of how you decided on the topic or why the topic is important to listen to (what the listener's will gain if they listen) then you describe at least three supporting topic/concept/facts that assist your point, then wrap it up reiterating why your topic is a good thing for the listener.

Mapping puts everything out there, allows me to move concepts from one tree to another and see what doesn't fit in that structure and doesn't need to be in the presentation.

The software is free through web or phone apps. Mind Meister and Simple Mind are two examples.

05-07-2014, 05:18 AM
One more thought/bit of advice.

Visualize yourself giving the speech successfully while you practice. It works better than the old underwear trick. Even when you stumble in practice, think of how smoothly your are going to make a quick laugh at your expense, make yourself seem more human to your audience and quickly recover your train of thought and move on.

05-16-2014, 03:48 PM
As Soccer Mom said, practice. I've seen friends do presentations who barely knew what they were talking about which their own company they started up. Just a bit awkward.

Also know your slides. You should know what your slides look like and what each one is about just by glancing at it. Reading from a slide is never a good idea.

Finally, speak slowly. It's painful as the speaker, but being nervous, I always speak at a million miles per hour. Not great for an audience which knows nothing about your subject of discussion.

05-28-2014, 10:25 AM
Something I learned while in speech and debate was- and this will work best with a full room- breaking down the audience into left, middle and right, and constantly (but not too quickly!) making eye contact with one section at a time, and it doesn't have to be left, middle, right. It can be right, middle, left, or middle, left, right- just so it seems like you are scanning the entire room, and not focusing on one person or section. It also helps with keeping your eyes off the paper or the floor, because the audience does not appreciate that.
Another tip is to fake it until you make it. It sounds very cliche, but it's true! If you're trembling and nervous, slap on a smile and project your voice. Walk tall, shoulders back, head lifted high and nobody will know you were throwing up in the bathroom an hour earlier. (kidding.)
And if you are being judged by a panel, make sure you make eye contact with them in the beginning and end of the presentation, and throughout as well. They want you to acknowledge their presence, and they want to sense the confidence in your eyes as well. It's not easy making eye contact, it can often times be fairly scary, but definitely worth it, and it will help with your presentation.

05-29-2014, 01:15 PM
If you want to learn what not to do, attend any funeral where family members slouch up to a stand, pay no attention to acoustics or microphone position and mumble on, head down, into their notes. It doesn't take much to check folk at the back can hear what you are saying.

Flow, clarity and eye-contact win every time.