Public speaking isn’t just for corporate salespeople or teachers or whatever comes to mind when you hear the phrase.
All of us are going to have the “opportunity” to speak publicly.
It might not feel like a “public speaking” situation, if you’re imagining a podium and a projection screen and an audience.
But everything from job interviews to showing your kids and their friends how to tie a fishing lure is speaking, in public, with an audience whose attention you need to capture for at least a short period of time.
Public speaking is one of the most commonly-reported triggers of fear and anxiety.
So if you’re one of the people who get nervous just thinking about the phrase, don’t worry — you’re in good company.
I’m here to tell you today that you can move past that fear.
The worst thing that can happen is that you’ll freeze up awkwardly in front of a crowd, and you know what? I’ve done that.
It wasn’t a big deal.
The audience helped prompt me and get me back on track, and we moved on.
Anyone can do it.
But it helps to have some advice and preparation beforehand, so here are my top ten tips for public speaking.
Click on the video below for a summary of my ten public speaking tips!
10 Presentation Tips For Effective Public Speaking
1. Observe Other Speakers
Never miss an opportunity to watch other public speakers in action.
Go to talks when you’re at conferences. Watch videos like mine online. Check the bulletin boards at your local college or library for public lectures (you can learn some really weird and cool stuff from those, too).
Exposing yourself to a wide range of speakers shows you both the good and the bad of public speaking. I got to watch Ian Cleary of Razor Social speak recently, who’s an absolute master of the craft, and I was thinking to myself “man, I’ll never be as good as this guy.” But at the same conference I saw enough presentations that made me think “okay, I’m at least this good” that I could feel positive about my skills, and aspire to get them closer to Ian’s level by learning from him!
Remember what I said earlier — nothing bad is going to happen to you even if your public speaking goes horribly, horribly wrong.
Unless you’re stirring up crowds somewhere with a violent insurgency, the penalty for failure as a public speaker is that people forget about you quickly. Not the best thing in the world for a business, but certainly not the end of the world, either.
A while back I had two presentations in a 24-hour period at the New Media Expo in Las Vegas. I was literally building the slides for the second one minutes before I got on stage.
I’d known for a couple days that I wouldn’t have as much time to prepare as I wanted, and it was seriously stressing me out. I’d just recently seen some great stuff from Pat Flynn on how much preparation he puts into his public speaking, and the comparison was embarrassing — here I was throwing my slides together in less than an hour, and Pat was putting something like 70 or 80 hours of prep into a single 45-minute presentation!
Luckily, I knew Pat well enough to tell him that, and he gave me the same advice I’m giving you: just relax. Don’t think about consequences (unless, again, there’s a chance that you might upset an armed mob or something like that), and don’t think about other people.
What I needed for my presentation was different from what Pat needed for his. We’re two different guys, and we were in two different situations. Once I was able to take a deep breath, relax, and stop worrying about everything except the actual content of my speech, I was just fine.
3. Arrive Early
Never assume that a space is going to be ready to go for your presentation. It almost never is.
Potential problems are not limited to basic stuff like a missing computer cable or not enough chairs. I’ve seen wrong room mix-ups, pass badges not getting where they need to at conventions; even security turning away people who are supposed to be there.
You can’t fix those things if you’re not present. Get there early and be prepared to be as much of a facilitator as you need to be. I once watched Chris Ducker go to bat for a whole crowd of people that were being told they couldn’t come into the room where he was presenting — and eventually he got them in, and they spent the whole presentation Tweeting great things about him!
Hopefully you’ll never need to argue with security staff on behalf of your audience, but no matter what the last-minute wrinkles are, you need to be there to smooth them out.
4. Know Your Audience
The best way to reach an audience is to tell them what they already want to hear.
You’re not always going to be able to pull that off. But you can do a much better job of it if you know your audience ahead of time, and as specifically as possible.
If you can, do some research ahead of time. Look at the demographics of people who are searching the internet for information similar to what you’re going to be presenting. Get a sense for the average age and income of your potential audience. Find out if you’ll be looking at a big gender gap, or if you should expect a pretty even mix of men and women. Look at the other, unrelated topics that people in your target demographic also tend to care about.
One of my recent presentations, for example, was about veterans and the military. I knew from the guest list and from looking around the room at the faces I knew that my audience was heavily comprised of veterans, so I felt comfortable using more military language and jargon than I would have in a crowd that wasn’t so homogenous.
5. Engage Your Audience
Once you know your audience, this is the next logical step!
Talk about things you know your audience is going to be interested in. If you can, talk about it in terms of their lives specifically.
Never be afraid to use “you” in addressing a crowd — it’s one of the most effective forms of speech to use in public speaking.
Use eye contact, gestures, and rhetorical questions to keep the crowd from drifting off.
If you can catch someone’s eye and say something that seems pitched directly to him or her, it’s going to have a powerful effect.
Remember, in this day and age you’re constantly fighting with anything people can access on their smartphones — which includes the entire internet, most of the time — for attention.
6. Bring in Stories
People like listening to someone that they feel a personal connection with, and personal stories are a good way to build that connection.
That’s why so many speakers choose to start off with an amusing personal anecdote.
The most important thing here is to keep the story short and on-point. Don’t go all over the place with it! Know the story you’re going to tell ahead of time, and resist the temptation to improvise on the fly.
At most, a personal story should take maybe a minute to tell, and it should have a single clear point that relates to the rest of your presentation. Any more than that and you’ve gone from “identifiable” to “boring and self-centered.”
7. Be Vulnerable
This one is hard for a lot of people. Getting up in front of strangers and talking is already intimidating, even without bringing strong personal feelings into it.
But the best presentations are ones that create a deep personal connection, and one thing we all share as human beings are feelings of fear or vulnerability. If you’re willing to open up about yours, it can help people feel a stronger connection with you.
My personal example: I will, in the course of talks, sometimes talk about suicide, which is an issue that’s touched me closely in my family and in my military service. Getting people the help they need to try and prevent suicide is something I’m involved with and something that means a lot to me.
I don’t bring it up to impress people or to try and make them feel like they need to get involved, but I will mention it to show people that hey — I am a guy who does care and think about serious stuff, beyond whatever the topic of the moment is.
And most people are like that! They have some things they care very deeply about, or have strong feelings about, or are committed to or involved with in a serious way. Hearing about mine reminds them of theirs, and then we have a connection as real human beings.
I’m not saying every presentation needs a serious, deep issue in it. But don’t be afraid to discuss things that make you feel vulnerable if they’re relevant. It can be a powerful outreach tool.
8. Move Around
Whatever room you’re in, own it! Don’t just hide behind the podium.
Move around and gesture when you talk. It’s much better to look too energetic than not energetic enough. In a lot of public speaking settings (like business meetings and conferences), people have been doing the same sit-and-listen routine for a long time. You want to offer them something that looks and feels different to get them out of their mental rut.
In one presentation that I did with John Dumas of Entrepreneur on Fire, we only had 20 people or so and a fairly small space. When we got there, we moved the chairs into a big circle and had one “hotseat” at the center that different people took at different points in the presentation.
The change in structure really helped break up the feeling of sitting and staring at screens while someone talks from up on stage. It gave people a sense that they were there getting one-on-one advice from some guys with big successes under their belt, which made the whole experience feel very valuable to them. We got great feedback on that one.
9. Have Good Questions
A question and answer period is always a nice way to end a presentation, but there’s no good way to predict how long one might run.
Sometimes everyone in the audience has a question. Sometimes there’s that one guy who wants to ask a long string of complicated questions no one else cares about. And sometimes you don’t get any questions at all.
Be prepared for the last scenario! Have some good, leading, FAQ-style questions at the back of your mind that you can pull out if you need to. That way, when you hit a stretch of “dead air” where everyone’s sitting awkwardly in silence, you can say “One question I get a lot at these is…” and go from there.
10. Stick Around After the Presentation
Schedule some time to meet and greet after you come down off the podium. If you come down to join the same space the audience is in and make yourself clearly available, you’ll be surprised how many people approach you, whether it’s with a specific question or just to shake your hand and say thanks.
Bring business cards and give them out freely. If people want to have a more in-depth conversation and you don’t have the time, try to schedule a meeting later, or offer to exchange e-mails.
People will forget what you said, but they will remember how you made them feel.
Make time for your audience and give them everything you have. Our time is our most valuable resource – treat it as such and be thankful to those that give you a bit of theirs.
Now go out there and speak with confidence and style 🙂
What did I miss?
Please add your thoughts in the comments below!