Ten Tips for Public Speaking

When the switch finally flips, it’s an amazing thing to witness. Change is not always dramatic or speedy in the communication coaching world, but there are those instances when someone makes a sudden leap from bumbling to sublime in public speaking, and those instances are truly amazing. In the few years I’ve been a coach, there are several major challenges I see regularly. You may have seen some of the symptoms in speakers you’ve watched: the shaking hands, the trembling voice, the sweating or the rambling and restarts, the lost train of thought, the seemingly pointless droning. Sometimes the fix is a simple change in content, and the epiphany you see when someone makes that connection is one of the reasons I enjoy the work I do so much. It feels really good to help people with a challenge that can seem so daunting. The explosion in the number of communication opportunities in recent years has made public speaking and communicating effectively more important than ever.

Here are ten tips that are bound to make your next interaction more engaging:

1.    Know your audience. It’s essential in every aspect of communication but nowhere is it more important than face-to-face interaction. You simply must tailor content to the interests and education level of your audience.
2.    Make it personal. Sure, you’re selling the information you’re presenting, but even more than that, you are selling yourself. If you want people to engage, to be influenced, to act, you must get them to believe in you. A great way to do that is to connect a personal story to the point of view you are trying to share. A personal story is also great for presenters because you don’t have to memorize it. You’ve lived it, so it will flow more naturally than any script.
3.    Make it memorable. Think about how you can make the interaction stand out in people’s minds: a demonstration, a repeated phrase or theme, a graphic. Anything that is going to be more visual, more tactile or otherwise engaging.
4.    Make it simple. We like to have our clients boil things down to one main point, and that point has to fit on one post-it note (and not the big kind either!). Communicate one clear idea and use all your other information and illustration to reinforce that one idea.
5.    Use your space. Don’t lock yourself behind a podium. Moving creates visual interest, but don’t just stroll around randomly. Move with a purpose to different areas of the room or stage. Address different parts of the audience. Reference your presentation or props from different angles.
6.    Focus on beginning and end. These are the two most important areas. Think of a theme. Think of an interesting, visual way to start and then return to that visual at the end. It takes a lot of planning to make beginnings and endings good but they can make or break a presentation. Take the time to do something good.
7.    Think theme. This goes back to the one-main-idea plan. Is there an analogy that demonstrates this idea? Is there a way to visualize it that you can use throughout the presentation? If you can think of a theme it makes the rest of the process easy, and it makes the presentation more engaging and consumable.
8.    Don’t just say it – prove it. Audiences are much more likely to buy-in if they can see the proof themselves. Figure out a way to show it, demonstrate it or approximate it so they can see or feel with their own observations that what you’re saying is true.
9.    It’s a performance – own the stage. You are the leader, the MC, the director… you must take charge of the spotlight this attention gives you and lead your audience through every part of your presentation. You need to be authoritative without being a dictator. You want your audience to engage with you and trust you and respect you.
10.    Practice. This might be old news, but the reason you hear it so often is because it works. The more you practice, the less reliant on notes or slides or outlines you will be. That will make you more engaging and appear more confident and competent. Practice is critical.

Try putting a few of these items into practice. If you speak publically on a frequent basis, try focusing on one or two at a time. Add more if you feel comfortable. Use these tips well and the switch you’ll be flipping is in the engagement of your audience.  To flip this conversation, do you have any tips that have helped you?

This piece originally appeared in the DeKalb Bar Association News, where Blair Meeks has a regular column on communication in the legal sector.