Afraid of public speaking? Start here.

Whether you’re a good public speaker (or a terrified one!) there are ways to improve your public speaking. Below I’ve included some general tips for effective public speaking that you can focus on, no matter your level as a speaker.

  • Identify the occasion and the desired impact:  This the easiest way to know where to start even before you write your speech. This influences your style, tone and outcome. If it’s an advocacy speech you will likely use more imagery and storytelling to boost people’s connection with the outcome you want. If it’s a policy/update speech, you’ll focus more on ensuring your audience understands the topic at hand better than they did before they heard you.
  • Don’t fight your natural style+understand your strengths: Everyone has strengths as a speaker. For me, I’m good at incorporating humor and reading the room (so I know when to speed past less compelling points and dive into whatever people show an interest in). For others it’s the ability to enunciate and speak clearly, and use inflection effectively to share their speech (this is an important skill that I’m still working on). Start with what you’re good at, and then build on that, versus trying to be whoever you consider a good speaker is. If you aren’t sure what your natural speaker strengths are, ask those around you. Also consider joining a Toastmasters club as their curriculum is excellent at helping you assess your strengths and weaknesses as a speaker (I found my 7+years with the group to be exceptionally helpful with this).
  • When possible, tell a story: Build a narrative arc. The one universal speaking tip I have regardless of your industry, expertise or audience, is to tell a story. It doesn’t matter whether you’re giving an advocacy speech, a presentation for managers or a training. We are all drawn to stories and narrative arcs and you can use this to get people to listen. Here’s what I mean: if you’re giving a speech about a business problem, sharing the origins, the results and the way to move forward is a way to tell a story (the arc). If you’re lauding a colleague or giving a toast, telling a story is the easiest way to connect others to that person’s achievements or successes.
  • Practice but don’t rehearse: Some people like rehearsing their full speech over and over and refining it each time, so that when they deliver it live, they can go into autopilot and just deliver without fearing losing their spot or losing track. I personally don’t like this approach. I prefer the marathon prep equivalent of public speaking prep. Ever notice how marathon runners never run a full marathon during training? They progressively work upwards toward larger runs that come close to but not the full length of the run, and they taper toward the end of training before the actual run. So how to apply that concept to public speaking? I write the speech. I read it several times. I boil it down to highlights on a notecard that I can read later. I rehearse it in my head in the shower and each run is slightly different in my head. But I never do a full-run through out loud in front of a group before I actually deliver it because I like for it to feel fresh. I don’t overthink it right before I give it (hard, I know) and I try not to practice it until the last minute.  This likely goes against most other speech prep guides. However, I like this approach because the best speeches connect directly to the audience and make them feel as if you’re speaking live and extemporaneously to them (versus delivering a canned speech that might feel comfortable to you but doesn’t have the full impact you wanted). It’s okay if you need time to build to this approach, or if you prefer to never use it at all. But I’ve found this approach to result in the most connection to listeners.

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