7 tips to help you become a better public speaker

Before you speak at your next conference or seminar, these small things might make all the difference.

I attend a number of events throughout the year. Sometimes I speak myself, sometimes I’m just an impartial observer.

However, no matter which role I inhabit, I see speakers make the same mistakes time after time.

And — for the most part — it’s not through lack of skill or intelligence, it’s because they’ve never had any coaching.

I don’t claim to be the greatest public speaker myself, but I try to eliminate all the basic errors which gives me a fighting chance at being taken seriously and interested.

1. Make a memorable first impression

Forget the obvious

Why do you start by telling people your name? People will know who you are and should even know the title of your presentation.

Ditch the vanity introduction and launch straight into something that will make them sit up and pay attention.

It could be a controversial statement. It might be a nostalgic memory of when you were a kid. But whatever it is, simply wait for any applause to die down and then deliver it with force.

When you do something different, you can visibly see the audience suddenly sit up in their seats because you’ve switched things up.

2. Don’t bother with the credentials

“Let me tell you a little about what ACME Industries does.” Actually, don’t. If your expectant public hasn’t fallen asleep after you repeated your name, job title and where you work, they will do if you continue with this.

You’re here to deliver insight and wisdom about a particular topic. When you reach that part of the speech, by all means weave in what your company/organisation does, but not right at the start.

3. Don’t use words… unless you have to

Assuming you’re using Powerpoint/Keynote, you’ll have created lots of slides ram-packed with bullet points, graphs and ‘important’ paragraphs, won’t you? Delete them!

When you’re presenting, it’s tough for people to concentrate on what you’re saying and what’s on a screen simultaneously.

As soon as you distract your adoring audience with a slide full of text, they’ll immediately struggle to concentrate on what you’re saying.

Former GDS demigod Russell Davies has it right by suggesting you put no more than 7 words on a line and making it at least 36pt.

4. If you do use words, don’t read them out

Some of us learned to read at a very young age. Some of us were a little older. The thing is, WE CAN ALL READ.

This means that reading verbatim what’s on a slide is both incredibly annoying and not at all inventive. Add something to your slides — give some insight. That’s what people want.

5. Keep facing your audience

Your audience is in front of you — for the most part. You’re there to talk to them. Your slides are a prop, something to use to complement what you’re saying.

So, please avoid turning away from the audience and towards the screen. Not only does it deprive the onlookers of the sight of your beautiful face, but it also makes you far more difficult to hear.

6. Breathe and pause

Very few people can get up and speak without any nerves. If you find yourself getting anxious during the middle of your presentation, stop for a couple of seconds, and take a deep breath. You’ll be surprised at not only how natural it looks, but also how it helps your audience to focus.

An even better tactic is taking a second or two to grab a drink of water. Those couple of seconds allow you to centre yourself and give you a chance to refocus.

7. Practise

No matter how easy they make it look, even the seemingly-fluent speakers rehearse. In fact, that’s how they make it look so easy.

In 2014, I spoke at #dareconf and I practised for more than 3 months to get the speech right. Even then I made a few stumbles.

Even if you don’t know it by heart, make sure you know the key points you’re intending to get across and understand how you’re linking individual slides.

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Now the one thing I can’t do is write your speeches and slides for you, but these 7 tips should help your delivery and ensure that what you ‘do’ say achieves the greatest impact it can.

Good luck and help to fight speaker boredom everywhere!

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