Posted: Tue 13th Jun 2023
Public speaking doesn't come naturally to most people. But just like any other skill, with a bit of preparation and practice, it can be mastered. So here are my expert tips to get you started.
1. Know your audience
Who are you presenting to and what are they turning up to hear? If you're delivering a sales or investor pitch, for example, do some research in advance on the people sitting across the table from you.
By checking out their LinkedIn profiles, you can tell if they're the sort of people who want to get straight down to business or if they prefer to shoot the breeze and get to know you first.
This will allow you to adjust your presentation style accordingly. If you have bad news to deliver, get it out of the way early. And if you're presenting online, ask people to turn their cameras on, and keep them on mute. But encourage them to ask questions and add comments in the chat.
2. Visualise a successful outcome
Imagine the audience reacting positively, smiling and applauding. Run that image through your head a few times before you begin to speak.
If it's a live presentation, turn up at the venue early and greet the people who are attending as they come in. Then when you're delivering your presentation, look for the positive faces in the crowd who are wishing you well as you speak.
3. Record your presentation
Use your phone and record one of your practice sessions. Watch it back and check your content, body language and eye contact.
If there are elements you need to improve on, change them. If you're presenting online, practise in front of a mirror.
Facial reactions are really important on the small screen, so keep your expressions in check.
Record the actual session too, so you can review it afterwards. And remember, the more you practise, the better you get!
4. Don't forget to pause
When you say something really important in your presentation, take the time to pause. Highlight those moments in your script in advance and when you deliver them, look around the room to make sure the audience is getting the message.
Ask yourself what single sentence you would like the attendees to take away and remember. Once you identify this key message, make sure you focus on getting it across effectively.
Repetition is good and don't forget to pause after you deliver it!
5. Change your approach
Be prepared to alter your tactics during a presentation, particularly during a sales or investor pitch. If you notice you aren't connecting, or the audience doesn't seem as interested as you'd like them to be, change tack.
Maybe you could ditch the slides and speak to the attendees directly. Perhaps you could interact with the audience more. Think on your feet and if you feel it isn’t working, do something different.
6. Volunteer to speak
Take every opportunity you can to practise and improve your public-speaking and presenting skills. Volunteer to chair meetings for your local charity, sit on committees, attend conferences and speak up at work.
It's also worth watching and listening to other top speakers to pick up tips on how to improve. You can do this in person or online. Whether you enjoy speaking in public or not, the way to improve it is to do more of it.
7. Join a public speaking club
Drop into a Toastmasters club, either online or in person. There are more than 16,000 clubs in 145 countries. Toastmasters:
teaches you how to manage your fear of public speaking
schools you in leadership and communication skills
helps you run meetings effectively
encourages you to develop listening and evaluation skills
As a guest, you're welcome to turn up for almost all of these meetings to see if the club you've chosen suits you. As a member, you're assigned a mentor to help you on your speaking journey to achieve your communication and management goals.
Although Toastmasters clubs originally met in person, the organisation has adapted and many of its clubs are now hybrid or online only.
8. Water, water everywhere
Always have a glass of water nearby. It's not just to keep you hydrated or to assist you in clearing your throat, but it helps you if you lose your way during your presentation.
This happens to all speakers and when it occurs to you, follow this simple advice. Don't apologise or even acknowledge it. Take a moment instead and have a sip of water.
In those 10 seconds or so, you'll reconnect with your train of thought and get going again. And all the audience will see is a speaker having a drop of water.
Steer clear of coffee, energy drinks and of course, alcohol.
9. Evaluate your performance
After your presentation, think about how you did. Did you connect with the audience? Did you feel comfortable as you spoke? How could you improve when you present next?
Use your presentations as a learning experience and an opportunity to grow and improve. It can also help to ask someone in the audience to give you a private evaluation afterwards so you get an objective view of how you performed and how you can do even better next time.
And if you have concerns about particular areas, you can ask your evaluator to keep an eye out for them.
10. Prepare for the Q&A session
Many speakers work hard on their presentations, but they often forget about the Q&A session afterwards. You need to work just as hard on the Q&A session as you do on your talk.
Try and anticipate what the questions might be and prepare some good answers. If you can, practise and prepare and refine the answers to these questions with a trusted colleague.
If you're speaking live at a venue, it can also help to get the event organiser to ask the first question or two, especially if you agree in advance to what they're going to ask.