Public speaking is a powerful way to build any business. Not only does it establish you as an expert, it also allows you to be seen and heard by many people – in the same amount of time that it would have taken you to sit down with one single person for a coffee. About a month ago I gave a presentation at my local WordPress Meetup group. It was only my third time presenting in my life, and the previous engagement had been several years prior – so I was a bit nervous to say the least. All in all the presentation went well, but I also walked away from the experience having learned a ton about what I could improve for the next time. And so I present to you: 8 tips for making your public speaking engagement a success.

1) Rehearse rehearse rehearse. I would suggest running through your talk from start to finish several times before your big day. Doing this by yourself or in the front of the mirror is great – but in front of a friend or a few colleagues is even better. You’ll find that delivering your speech to yourself, and delivering it to other people feels very different, and the more practice you can get doing the latter, the better.

2) Get a clicker. If you have onscreen slides to accompany your talk, you’ll definitely want to get a wireless hand-held clicker that you can use to navigate from slide to slide. They cost less than $15, and the advantage of being able to further engage your audience by walking around the room (or the stage) instead of being stuck behind your laptop is priceless. Here’s the one you want.

3) Take a moment before you begin. I picked up this tip at my Toastmasters chapter last fall, and I never forgot it. Before you begin to speak, take a moment – 5 or 10 seconds – and stand in silence. This does a few things: it gathers the attention of everyone in the room, and also gives you a moment to calm and collect yourself before you begin. Use this short period of silence to tell yourself: this is my room and I am in control.

4) Don’t take people’s facial expressions to heart. This one is easier said than done, but remember that even if people aren’t repeatedly smiling or laughing or nodding their heads during your talk – it does not mean they aren’t enjoying it or getting something out of it. In fact, for all you know they may be listening intently and trying their best to absorb the information you’re providing them with. Ultimately, it’s feedback received after your talk that will tell you how things went, so try not to worry about how people appear during the talk itself.

5) Show up early. As with anything in life, there will always be surprises. When I showed up for my talk last month, I couldn’t have anticipated that my laptop was just old enough so that the adapter cable provided to me to connect my computer to the big screen did not work. Fortunately I had showed up early and the tech point person in the room was able to find a solution. There’s many reasons to show up early, and while you know what some of those reasons are – it’s mainly the reasons you can’t think of that make showing up early so crucial.

6) Use stories. People love stories, and the more you can incorporate them into your talks, the greater effect you’ll have on your audience. Is there a humorous anecdote from your day-to-day life that relates to your subject matter? If you can think of one, it’s a great way immediately get your audience engaged, maybe make them laugh a little, and bring life to your presentation.

7) Don’t look at your slides. This might seem obvious, but I feel it’s worth mentioning all the same. You don’t need to look at your slides – you know what they look like. You made them. Of course you can and should glance at the screen as you change from slide to slide, but after that return your attention to your audience. Look at your audience and make meaningful eye contact with audience members as much as you can.

8) Be lively and engaged. You may have noticed that this tip has been sprinkled throughout the rest of my tips, and there’s a reason for that: it’s important. After all, if you’re not fired up and excited about what you’re talking about, why should your audience be? Even if they look bored, even if your jokes fall flat, even if inside you’re worried that nobody cares about this topic at all – push through all that and present yourself as excited and engaged. It’s the single most important thing you can do to hold your audience’s attention.

I’m learning that while public speaking is something that requires a lot of practice, it’s also something that gets easier the more I do it. Are you a speaker or presenter of some kind? What helps you to prepare for and get through your talks successfully? If you have something to add to this topic, please consider sharing in the comment section below.

  1. Great tips Janelle – I spoke (for the very first time anywhere) at the May WordPress meetup. Surprisingly, I think I did most of these – I did practice both by myself (that was so awkward – the first run-through I felt like I couldn’t even speak correctly!) and then for my family. But I was glad I did. When I did the actually presentation, I didn’t feel too nervous. I think it went OK, but as you said, I learned some things I can improve on. I had one person in the audience who kept nodding through my whole talk – which was so encouraging – I told myself I need to try to be that kind of audience member for other speakers. Than you for sharing your tips.

    • Thank you for reading Suzanne! I know just what you mean. It’s like once you know what it’s like to be up there holding the microphone, it makes you want to be a more encouraging audience member 🙂 I totally agree.

      Continuum (Author)

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