Twenty Great Tips for Public Speaking

When I received the following set of tips on public speaking from the organizers of Affiliate Summit West, I knew it was good enough to put online. And so, here it is. This is originally written by Bill Hoogterp, who kindly granted me permission to republish it.
Even the most experienced speaker can use a primer on public speaking tips from time to time. Please read through the following as you prepare for Affiliate Summit

PREPARATION

  1. Become your own best teacher. This list gives you 20 tips to do that, but you must acquire your own. Learn how to analyze a presentation and you will be able to learn and improve every time you speak at a conference.
    Anxious Public SpeakerIf you hear someone speak and didn’t even learn one thing, then you have wasted an opportunity. Everyone has something to teach and something to learn.
  2. Space and room set up are important to speaking. For example, in the Affiliate Summit Ask the Experts session, it’s a casual, roundtable atmosphere, and this environment is ideal sitting when speaking. If you are giving a solo presentation in a classroom, it is better to stand, so that your voice can project better and because you command more presence, which you want to do.
  3. There is no substitute for preparation and practice. The best speakers practice each sentence in their head many, many times before they speak it. They try it over and over until the timing is just right, and it begins to feel natural. Often, it looks like they are sitting there thinking, but really they are practice speaking in their head.
  4. The cure for stage fright is to get emotional or tough. Allow yourself to feel very happy or very angry and your stage fright will go away. Allow yourself to laugh and it will also go away. Stage fright is like fog. A good breath of emotion or laughter will blow it away.
  5. Observe other speakers. Other speakers can be excellent teachers. Pay attention to what you admire and respect about other public speakers. At the same time, notice what distracts or bores you about other speakers. You can see previous speakers on video at affiliatesummit.tv.
CONTENT
  1. Use an introduction, body, and conclusion in your presentation. All three of these should tie directly to your main theme. The goal of any speech is to help the audience understand something, and having an introduction, body, and conclusion helps your audience understand your theme, and tie it back into everything you say.
  2. The introduction has two purposes: first to secure attention, and second to orient the audience toward your theme. Most audiences will pay attention to any speaker for the first 20 seconds. In that time, you must grab their attention and orient them.
  3. Develop the main theme or message you want to communicate. Often, when we try to get through too many themes, it gets confusing and the audience doesn’t remember any of them. It doesn’t matter if you are making a point in a class or delivering a full scale speech. Develop your main theme and keep developing it to get that message across.
  4. Use stories rather than statistics. Statistics appeal to the head, but stories touch the heart. Most people can’t relate to statistics. The human brain processes images and emotions, not words. Words and symbols are used to create images and convey feelings. People can understand statistics, but are not moved by them. Everyone, however, can relate to stories. Start with a story if you can.
  5. The conclusion has two purposes: To summarize the speech and to motivate the audience, the summary should restate the theme clearly. The motivator should focus on what they want the audience to do. End by asking them to do a specific thing.
  6. Improving you public speaking means developing your own style. It does not mean learning to speak like a newscaster or someone else. It means strengthening your ability to say what you want to say.
  7. Know your audience. Know what they want to know. Know where they came from. Find out what interests them and makes them laugh. If possible, know them by name and use their names in the speech. One study indicated that the sweetest sound in any language is the sound of your own name. Know your audience as well as you can.
  8. Body language is good if it agrees with your message. It is bad if it distracts from your message. Slamming your fist in your hand when you say how angry you were emphasizes the point you are making, so it is good.
    Swaying while you talk distracts the listener from what you are saying, so it is bad.
  9. Make eye contact with the audience. Allow yourself to smile. Definitely use emotion when it is real and sincere. Real emotion and feeling allows your audience to relate to you. If you let your guard down and speak from the heart, then the audience will let its guard down and listen from the heart.
  10. There is no one right way to speak, but there are some wrong ways. Don’t read from a script unless you absolutely have to. Also, don’t repeat things. If you want to reinforce a point, say it again, but in a different and creative way.

LANGUAGE

  1. Build in strong language to your presentation. Strong language is language that paints pictures in the mind of the listener. “Red” is regular language, but “fire engine red” is strong language. Strong language is more descriptive and helps your listener understand.
  2. Cursing is bad, because it stunts the speaker’s mental growth. The definition of cursing is when “A feeble mind tries to express itself forcefully.” Human beings do not have feeble minds. Every time somebody curses, they are stunting their own mental development. Instead of developing higher reasoning powers and the ability to communicate more complex thoughts, a curse poisons the brain in a tiny way, keeping a person from developing intellectually as fast as they could.
  3. Identify and eliminate weak language from your speaking. Weak language is any word or phrase that does not add anything to what you are saying. Any word that does not make your message stronger makes it weaker.
    When you analyze a sentence, cut it down to as little as you need without cutting out the message. The most common example of weak language is the word “um.” Other examples of weak language are “basically”, “well”, “that is to say”, “I mean”, or “in other words.” We use weak language like a crutch. We say words like “basically”, not because they mean anything, but because they help us stall until we can think of something to say. It is far better to be silent that to use weak language. Be comfortable with silence.
  4. Vary your tone. A person who speaks in one tone is monotone. That’s what monotone means. One tone. Get a little loud sometimes and then get soft. Vary the tone. Don’t be boring.
  5. Vary your speed. Mono-speed is as bad as monotone. It does not matter whether you talk more quickly or more slowly. What is critical is that you vary your speed and practice your timing. You don’t actually speak in sentences. Phonetically, we speak in groups of words. Speed up some groups of words. Pause after important points. Practice improves timing.

Anything to add, those of you that have either sat through a great (or boring) presentation? Or how about those of you who have given a presentation at a conference, for better or worse?

10 comments on “Twenty Great Tips for Public Speaking

  1. Thanks for posting this, Dave. Mostly things I’ve read elsewhere, but good to review. I’m speaking at DCBSDCon next month and will keep these things in mind.
    I have spoken at about 15 conferences and while it’s certainly easier now than it used to be, I still have a hard time with it. I’m painfully shy, and have a hard time talking to one person much less in front of 50-100+ people. Going over what I will say over and over helps. Things always go more smoothly when I’m not worried about a lack of preparation, or exactly what I’m going to say.
    The profanity item on the list reminds me of a presentation I gave at a seminar held by a former employer, where in response to a question I referred to something as “crap.” One of the attendees went up to the owner of the company afterwards and complained about the one use of that word – not a single other remotely profane word in the entire 1.5 hour presentation and Q&A. The owner mentioned it to me, but didn’t make a big deal out of it. I haven’t done it again though!
    I don’t really have much insight to add, as I still feel like an amateur after 15 times.

  2. Those are some great public speaking tips! My biggest pet peeve is when public speakers do not make eye contact or read notes the whole time. It makes me think they didn’t prepare.

  3. Very nice compilation of speaking tips, a few resonated with me in particular. Funny that just this morning I had read about the importance of storytelling in World Wide Rave by David Meerman Scott – I find this aspect interesting and have also found that people relate more to stories than to statistics or dry lists of facts as you had noted. Another was the use of profanity – I had never heard that it could stunt the growth of the mind – but it makes sense, in any event, not a good idea to use profanity in a presentation. I also agree with each person having their own voice – this certainly takes time, however it is worth searching for as if harnessed correctly can make an individual truly an unique, dynamic speaker.
    One item that I would like to add that I didn’t notice on the list was the importance of just getting out there and speaking. As many times as one may practice, it will never be enough. The more experience that a person gets with actually speaking in front of a crowd the better they will get at it. Practice is no substitute for real life experience.

  4. I’ve been bettering my communication and public speaking skills for almost 3 years now and still I realise how much there is to learn. Your 20 tips are fantastic and I’ll be sure to let our club members know about your article.
    Well done

  5. 20 Excellent tips which can go along way to helping anyone to improve their public speaking skills.
    I still find it quite incredible how public speaking is still the number 1 fear that many people still hold today.
    Putting these useful tips into practice and with a little persistance along with a sound belief system we can all start delivering dazzling presentations and put our public speaking fears to rest.

  6. Dave,
    These are 20 very good tips. I have been enjoying public speaking for over 20 years and I still appreciate a good list of important things to remember. For anyone who is new to this, or feels less than comfortable with public speaking, you can be sure that all of us can improve our public speaking skills.
    In item 19, you mention tone. If your readers are interested in examples of varying tone, check out Youtube. Do a search, there are some good videos on the topic.
    Thanks again
    Ellen

  7. I find that speaking passionately, from the heart, about a topic that you’re an expert on, is the best formula for success while speaking.
    By applying these tips on top of that to polish and refine a speech, you’ve got a winning formula to make a big difference!!

  8. Hi, Nice post; truly great content.
    I think the key to making a good speech is to make it seem like an “Impromptu Speech.”
    Impromptu Public Speaking is in my opinion the best form of public speaking because in doing so the speaker gives the audience a certain level of comfort to know that they’re not reading from a script, or you know… it’s original. But I believe you can give an Impromptu Speech without giving the impromptu speech. Meaning; make the audience think that you’re giving an impromptu speech.
    It’s hard to explain, hope you got the message.
    Thanks for the great content.
    Cheers

  9. When I first started out, I didn’t have the opportunity to learn public speaking, where you provide the top tips to become a better speaker. Thank you so much.

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