What are you scared of?
If you ask most people, they might say talking in front of an audience. In fact, nearly 30% of US folks fear public speaking.
As your business picks up, you’ll probably have to learn the art of public speaking. You can send as many cold emails and calls as possible, but big deals get done in person.
From investor meetings to team presentations, business owners must project confidence and grab their audience’s attention regularly.
While public speaking might be one of the most common fears out there, many people do it all the time. Whether they’re musicians, TV hosts, or entrepreneurs, commanding a crowd is a key communication skill for ambitious people in every industry.
We asked the experts to weigh in on the best public speaking tips. Here’s what they said.
15 effective public speaking tips
1. Learn about your audience
Research! Research! Research! There’s nothing that irks me more than seeing a public speaker onstage giving the same old sound bites they give to every crowd. I really try to understand the audience I’m speaking to each time, and figure out what about my talk they will find the most valuable.
Once I’ve identified that, I customize what I’m saying for the audience. For example, a group of professional women at executive levels in the workforce will take something completely different away from what I’m speaking about than a group of high school students.
Aliya Jasmine, Award-Winning TV Host and Producer
2. Share your next presentation before your talk
Right before I go onstage, I tweet a link to my presentation using the event/conference hashtag. It helps get amplification from the crowd and grow my Twitter following, and it means that the hours I’ve poured into creating a slide deck have a much higher ROI (because so many folks who aren’t in the crowd see the slides).
I’m not sure that counts as preparation, but honestly, I’m not a big prepare guy. I just follow this process for creating presentations and then rely on the slides and my passion for the topic to inspire the crowd.
Rand Fishkin, founder of SparkToro
3. Know your presentation well
I just want to know my presentation really, really well. If I don’t know which PowerPoint slide is coming next, it’s impossible to be in command of the presentation and it loses its flow. It’s important that I have the whole structure of the presentation in my head as I go.
Tim Urban, Wait But Why
4. Be yourself
I always think of the crowd as a group of friends, all out for a whiskey or a coffee together, and I just happen to be dominating the conversation for a bit.
My goal is to be the same person onstage that I am offstage, and for the presentation to feel like 45 minutes when we’re hanging out together, telling stories and looking at data, and trying to find great tactics and answers to our marketing or technology or startup questions.
Rand Fishkin, founder of SparkToro
5. Be over enthusiastic
Remind myself to be over enthusiastic. We tend to think we have more energy in our delivery than we actually do. You notice this when you watch a playback of your speaking engagement. So you have to over emphasize and be over enthusiastic to get the type of energy across that makes a presentation engaging and interesting.
Brian Balfour, Reforge
6. Pick a topic you’re passionate about
When you are passionate about a topic, you are more likely to be articulate and engaging when discussing it in public. Your enthusiasm will also be contagious, helping to energize and engage audience members. Speaking about a passionate topic can also help build your credibility as an expert on the subject.
Ashley Cummings, CMO of Reading With RIK
7. Make eye contact with a friendly face in the crowd
While giving your talk, find a couple of friendly faces in the audience and focus on them. Take your time and be yourself. No one ever has wanted to sit through a bad talk, so realize that people are rooting for you and they want to hear interesting and personal stories.
Chris Savage, Wistia
8. Remember to breathe
My confidence comes from recognizing that what I’m saying is coming from a place of authenticity.
When you’re on a riser, in front of bright lights, and hundreds of faces staring at you, it’s easy to get lost in the feeling of your accelerated heartbeat. I try and take a deep breath and remember that I’m sharing my genuine beliefs and giving a talk I truly believe is important and authentic. So there’s nothing I can say that poses any risk, and that usually calms down my fears!
At the risk of sounding like a hippie, closing my eyes and centering myself in my own truth is really the best way to feel confident and own what I’m saying.
Aliya Jasmine, Award-Winning TV Host and Producer
9. Practice, practice, practice
The secret is hours of practice. Obviously you have to know the material well, and articulate it in a compelling way. But there’s also the format of that knowledge—practicing your pacing, intonation, storytelling, and body language. There’s no better way than to watch recordings of yourself speaking, no matter how painful that might be! Then iterate, try new things, and watch the results.
Andrew Chen, a16z
10. Leverage the power of manifestation.
Visualizing a successful speech met with ferocious applause and engagement from attendees is a powerful tool to ensure that is exactly what happens. Creating success through expectation rather than desire enables one to take the proactive steps needed to achieve that goal.
Craig Stevens, Public Speaker
11. Use visual aids
If you really want to capture your audience’s attention, use visual aids in your presentation. This could be anything from charts and graphs to photos and videos. Incorporating visual elements will help make your presentation more interesting and easier to follow along with. Just make sure not to rely too heavily on them—you still want to be the focus of attention!
Emam Zaman, Vivipins
12. Greet your audience at the door
One of the ways I connect with my audience is to be waiting by the door of the speaking room and greet and shake hands with each of them as they enter the room. In this way, I have a rapport with them.
Since I am an expert in nonverbal communication, I also can read their body language and see if they are having a bad day or seem uninterested in being there. I can try to shift them to a more accepting and open energy.
Patti Wood, Body language expert and speaker
13. Make the audience laugh
Make people laugh within the first minute of speaking. It relaxes the audience immediately and opens their ears to what you have to say. It also relaxes you as the speaker and makes you feel like people are “on your side” in a sense.
This could be a quip, a funny meme (that’s already been socially proven to be funny), or a quick impression, or act-out or something physical (and often unexpected) that you ask your audience to do.
Selena Rezvani, Leadership speaker
14. Practice in front of a mirror
One great tip for someone new to public speaking is to practice in front of a mirror! It might not feel like you’re in front of a group but practicing in front of a mirror can help you get over the jitters, and you’ll be able to see what others might see when you’re speaking.
The mirror is a great tool for finding out if you’re keeping eye contact with the audience, if your hands are relaxed or if you’re touching your face a lot. Things like this can help you figure out how to improve and make your presentation even more engaging and effective!
Robert Thorpe, HiStylePics
15. Use inclusive language
An inclusive audience can frequently make or break a speaking appearance. As our societal norms shift over time, it’s vital for great speakers to grasp and adapt to the vernacular that’s considered proper for their listeners.
Use language that everyone can understand, and avoid industry jargon and filler words unless it’s common knowledge to the individuals you’re presenting to. Avoid gender-specific and all-encompassing words, as well as antiquated naming practices that may alienate attendees.
Lulu Albanna, co-founder of WRC Media
Turn these public speaking skills into the perfect presentation
Whether you’re speaking to five people or five thousand, the perfect public speaking engagement takes preparation, passion, and a deep understanding of your audience.
With an approach based on these public speaking tips, you’ll be able to master the art of stepping up in front of a crowd and delivering powerful speeches and presentations.
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Public speaking FAQ
What are 10 successful public speaking tips?
- Pick a topic you’re passionate about
- Prepare your talk
- Know your audience
- Tell a story
- Use humor
- Be yourself
- Make audience members laugh
- Communicate with conviction
- Use visual aids
- Practice, practice, practice