Fifteen Tips for Effective Public Speaking

Remember those early days of having to stand up and recite the times table in front of the class? How about doing an oral book report? Did you have dreams about coming to school and being naked? Many people still have deep fears about public speaking. I’ve seen teachers exhibit so much confidence when talking or singing in front of groups of children, then wilt when I ask them to join me in front of a class of adult peers for an activity or demonstration.

We all have fears we need to address. Some are afraid of snakes, spiders and wiggly things. Others are afraid of flying or of death. Approximately 24% of people have stage fright or fear of public speaking. There is even a name for this: Glossophobia.  In the past week, I have had two people voice their fears to me about an upcoming public presentation they need to do.  Recently, I was training with some other professional speakers who were rubbing on essential oils before their trainings to calm their stress and anxiety. It’s quite common to feel nervousness before a presentation.

How do you become comfortable in public speaking? Like anything else, you become more comfortable with public speaking the more you do it. Start small by speaking up in a meeting or doing a small presentation on something you love to an interest group or club. Be sure that this is on a topic you love. To be comfortable with public speaking, it is important to be passionate about the topic. I’ve been thinking about my first time in front of an audience. I was in third grade and singing a solo in our class Christmas Pageant. I loved to sing and I really really wanted to wear those beautiful angel wings! I also love to read and can be very passionate about books. I really enjoyed sharing my books by doing oral book reports in school. I love working with children and parents and teachers. Teaching and presenting to these groups enabled me to teach in a school classroom, in a college classroom, provide key note presentations at State conferences, speak at international forums for teachers, conduct parent trainings and now provide teacher training programs nationwide. I love to be creative and to sing and have fun. This led me to having a great time performing in theatre productions as an adult, even though I had absolutely no experience in this! I’ve been speaking in front of others most of my life.

In order to give a wonderful presentation, it is very important to be passionate about your topic. This will allow you to speak from the heart, it will ease your fears, and it will enable you to connect with your audience. Passion generates enthusiasm and your audience will thrive on this. But it needs to come from the heart. You need to have a genuine interest and passion for your topic. Be authentic and let your personality shine through.

What if you have to do a presentation for your job and you aren’t thrilled with the topic? I’ve had this happen several times. As a college professor, I always dreaded teaching the assessment course. How in the world was I going to keep this exciting and interesting for an entire semester? In my current job, I am still doing one day and two day trainings on assessment. The key is to find a loophole. Plan in advance for this and practice what you are going to say. Search for moments in the presentation when you can share stories, make it “real” and make an emotional connection. Find ways to reinforce how knowing this information is going to benefit them. Will this make them more effective on the job? Will it result in greater gains? Could it result in an advancement or more money? Will this help them to be the very best they can be? Will it make their job easier? Find something that they can be passionate about related to this topic and model your enthusiasm and excitement for this.

So, you are passionate about your topic (or parts of it!) and ready to develop your presentation. Here are 15 tips for success:

Prepare well

  • Know your audience. Your presentation should be about them, not you. Why are they there? What do they hope to gain? You want to speak to the needs and interests of your audience and how this will benefit them. To be successful, this needs to be about them and not just about your objectives. Knowing your audience also helps you to determine your intro, content and how to tailor your presentation to build upon what they already know.
  • Prepare, practice, rehearse! Pay attention to how quickly you talk. I talk fast and I need to consciously remind myself to slow down and pause. This will help you to sound more natural and confident. Be conscious of how often you say “uhhh..” and practice until you can talk confidently without saying this. It is very distracting. Be aware of how many times you repeat certain words/ thoughts. I was so disappointed in myself a few weeks ago. Due to a scheduling issue, I was forced to try to conduct a 6 -hour training in 2 hours 10 minutes!! It was later brought to my attention that I use the word “time” over 25 times! “We have limited time today and need to get started.” “We won’t have time to thoroughly explore this section but bookmark this so you can return to it”. “We will cut out bathroom breaks due to limited time”. “Our time together is short, but it is going to be amazing!” I received very positive reviews on the training but I’m sure this was distracting and had an element of negativity. I learned from this experience.
  • Do NOT read from the script. NEVER! If absolutely needed, use small cue cards or hold up an interesting quote or picture and have notes on bullet points on the back for you to see. Put key points on chart paper or on a powerpoint. Have items you hold up to help you recall what you want to say to emphasize the point. Don’t memorize the script word for word. If you forget a word or sentence or phrase, it can throw you off entirely. Do not deliver a canned speech.
  • Know your topic and content well. Inside out and upside down. Be able to explain your topic in different ways and contexts, including breaking it down. Be prepared to answer any and all questions. There will be times when you need to modify your presentation for your audience or you may not have the technology or materials you need. If you aren’t able break it down or present it in different ways, then you don’t understand it well enough. Be prepared for changes. 90% of your communication is nonverbal and shown through your facial expression, tone of voice and the way you move. Prepare well and always prepare for the unexpected. Keep your focus on the audience, gauge their understanding and reactions and tailor your presentation accordingly.
  • Have a back up plan. Have extra activities, content or discussions planned in case you end early. Bring a variety of adapters, extension cords and a power cord. Bring a small speaker and markers if those may be needed. Bring an extra copy of the handouts, if used. Put your powerpoint on a flash drive. Powerpoints can be overused and some slides are unnecessary. Be prepared to present without using a powerpoint in case the technology doesn’t work properly or in the event it doesn’t adequately address the needs of your audience.

Opener

  • Make sure to grab the audience’s attention in the first 30 seconds. Make the first words out of your mouth count. Those words should not be “good morning.” Or if you chose to say this do it quickly followed by a grabber! Your grabber can be a song, joke, startling statement, quote, story, validation reading, a Brain Gym or energizer movement activity or a question. I use a different grabber in each of my trainings.
  • Develop rapport with your audience. Smile!! Smiling will relax you and will help your audience to connect with you. Don’t just list your accomplishments during an introduction. Let them know how you have walked in their shoes. Portray that you are organized, know this topic well and that you have wonderful things to share with them. Let them know how happy you are to be there and why.
  • Make a comment that lets them know you are knowledgeable about their agency or perhaps about them personally. Show your personality. I use to joke about being the youngest presenter. Now, I joke about being the oldest presenter. I use my age to my advantage and I make statements that enable us to connect personally. Don’t stand behind a podium. Look people in the eye, gesture and walk around. Show your passion! Build credibility. Let them know that you are very knowledgeable about this subject, that you care about it and you care about them.
  • Provide an overview of the agenda and format. Find out what they know and what they want to learn so you can be receptive to their needs and build upon their current knowledge.
  • Review the objectives of the training and then move immediately into WIIFM! Get right to this burning question. They need to know “What’s In It For ME?” Why should they listen to you? What are they going to walk away with? Be very specific. Tell them what they going to learn to make their job or life easier, better, more manageable etc. Be very direct and do not skip this step!

Body

  • Always involve your audience in activities that are memorable and engaging. Just speaking or lecturing is not effective. In a very short presentation, your activity may be as simple as a visualization. In longer presentations, incorporate a wide variety of activities to address multiple learning styles through talking, writing, moving and doing activities related to the topic. Be sure that these are not just “filler activities”. They need to be purposeful. Maximize their time. They want information and ideas and strategies that they can immediately use. I’ve attended many trainings where participants are just looking up key facts. Save time. Give them the facts on a handout or by directing them to pages in a book. Then spend the time on using these facts in exploring new hands on experiences.
  • To get into the brain, the information must first be in the hands, body and heart. I share this in every training I do. I even have it written on a laminated card that I hold up several times throughout my trainings. Get books, handouts or materials into their hands. Get them writing and moving and talking. Examples include making charts, doing a walkabout survey, “Say something” reading activity, pair and share activity, small group activity, webbing or interacting with materials. Rearrange the groups through counting off, putting together puzzle pieces, finding a partner with a card that matches yours (I like to use compound words for this), using a deck of cards and grouping by suits etc. Most importantly, for the information to get and remain in the brain they need to “care about it”. Help them realize how this information is powerful and important for them and for those they serve or work with.
  • Make the information come alive. Give lots of examples and provide visualizations. Be creative. Tell personal stories related to the information. They will remember your stories easier than facts, so creatively weave key facts into your stories.

Closing

  • Tell them what you told them. Review the objectives. Summarize your main points.
  • Don’t end with an evaluation form. Do this a little earlier. Don’t end with a Question and Answer time. You can do this earlier. Or ask for comments and thoughts.
  • The last words they hear from you should be memorable. End with a summary. A validation. A quote, wish or poem. Do a group activity where everyone shares a “take away” or action step (i.e. The thing I will take away from this and use most is…).

I once had a trainer say to me “Brenda, just remember that you know more than they do. They are eager to hear what you have to say”.  Whenever I start to feel nervous, I remember these words and all the strategies I’ve listed above. I have become a much more passionate and confident speaker.

What is my big fear now? Medical procedures. I have an enormous fear of needles and medical procedures and I just can’t work through it. We all have fears!

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Joyfully, Brenda