Got a speech or presentation coming up?
Here are 16 public speaking improvement tips to turn your delivery up a notch.
If you have any questions or comments I’d love to hear from you (and I will reply) so please leave your comments below.
Know Your Audience
One of the most important steps to delivering an effective speech is to understand your audience.
You don’t need to know everyone personally, but it’s good practice to understand the broad demographic you are speaking to.
Imagine your speech is about a new product your company is rolling out. The speech will be framed differently depending on what members of the organization are in the audience.
If you are presenting to the executive management team the framing could be related to revenue potential of the new product or the distribution methods which you will use.
If you are presenting to the factory staff the framing could be related to the process for assembling the product or the additional jobs or overtime potential the new product will create.
Further reading: Audience Centered Speaking
Choose Your Destination
You don’t drive to the airport and then sit back to think about where you want to go on vacation. You choose the destination first and then go through the process or booking tickets, packing, and getting to the airport.
Your speech should be the same.
Decide on the destination (or purpose) before you do anything else. Once you have your destination, all the other planning, and the speech itself, will be much easier.
Draft an Outline
Get a blank sheet of paper and write the purpose of your speech in the middle.
Draw bubbles around the purpose. In each of the bubbles write a key talking point which should be included in your talk.
Once you’ve brainstormed all your talking points, try to consolidate them into three main talking points.
You should finish this drafting process with a purpose and three main talking points. This forms the basis of your rehearsal and eventual delivery.
Further reading: How to Outline Your Presentation
Don’t Write a Script
As you prepare don’t fall into the trap of writing out a script.
Nothing good can come of this.
Upfront you feel better because you’ve got everything you want to say written down, which helps calm your nerves. Trouble is, that script will make it harder to remember what you are going to say, so that initial nerve-calming is a false sense of security.
The problem with a script is that it’s really tough to remember everything you’ve written down (even if you practice a lot, and who’s got time to practice a speech over and over and over?)
A better use of your time is to ensure you have a full understanding of the topic. This will put you in a stronger position to talk naturally about the topic.
Further reading: Killer Presentations (3 Things to Never Do)
Don’t Use Cue Cards
Using cue cards is a mistake.
Like a script, cue cards help calm your nerves because you are doing something that will act as a “memory backup” when you are on stage.
The reality of cue cards is they act as a distraction on stage and end up causing more problems than they solve.
Cue cards reduce your ability to make eye contact with the audience.
Cue cards have you fumbling around in front of the audience.
Cue cards remind you to follow a speech flow that might not work once you’re on stage.
Further reading: Cue Cards Will Destroy Your Speech
Rehearse Standing Up
So, you know your topic and you have a speech outline. Now it’s time to practice.
Practice standing up.
Practicing while seated is not as effective as standing up. When you’re sitting down you’re more likely to become distracted. It also doesn’t give you the full effect of what it will be like when you’re on stage. If you rehearse standing up you’ll be a better public speaker live because you’ve trained yourself in context.
Further reading: 33 Tweaks to a Better Presentation
Don’t Practice Body Language
One of the biggest mistakes you can make is to practice your body language.
It’s a mistake because practiced body language never looks natural.
Having said that, practicing your speech is important. And you’re going to practice standing up, right? So, you’ll be “practicing” your body language by virtue of the fact that you are practicing your speech. And this kind of practice is okay.
The more natural your speech delivery becomes the more naturally you will use body language, which is how it should be.
Further reading: 9 Visual Communication Mistakes That Make You Look Stupid
Move with Purpose
When you are delivering a speech or presentation excess movement will kill your credibility. Excess movement makes you look as though you lack confidence so it should be avoided.
You can avoid excess movement in two ways:
- Stand in the same position the entire time
- Move with purpose
Moving with purpose means moving infrequently, moving slowly, and maintaining eye contact with the audience as you move. For example, if you move from one side of the stage to another, continue talking and making eye contact, walk slowly, and once you reach your destination stay there for a reasonable amount of time before moving again.
Further reading: Presentation Cheat Sheet
Employ Real Eye Contact
Don’t listen to these public speaking “gurus” who tell you to look at the back of the room so you don’t feel nervous.
Imagine talking to a friend who looks over your head the entire conversation. You’d think your friend had something on his mind or wasn’t engaged in the conversation, right? Same goes for your speech. If you look over people’s heads they know you’re doing it.
Actually make eye contact with people. It doesn’t need to be sustained and uncomfortable. It needs to be natural. Treat it the same way you would if you were talking to a group of friends.
Further reading: How to Maintain Eye Contact With Your Audience
Push to the Audience
Take the pressure off at the start of your speech by pushing to the audience.
At the start the spotlight is entirely on you, which is intimidating. Take the focus off yourself and put it on the audience. You do this by asking a question before you do anything else.
Instead of starting your presentation like this: “Good morning. My name is David from the marketing department. Today I’d like to talk about our new advertising campaign.”
Try this: “What do you think of our current television advertisements?”
Further reading: Public Speaking Anxiety Treatment
The more engaged your audience is the better received your speech will be.
Trouble is, most audiences are quite disengaged from speeches and presentations.
You can “force” your audience to be engaged by sprinkling questions throughout your speech.
When you ask a question, the rising intonation in your voice automatically gets the audience to pay attention. This works effectively with both regular questions and rhetorical ones (questions for emphasis that don’t require an answer).
Further reading: 21 Things I Wish I Knew When I Did My First Presentation
Don’t Sweat Mistakes
Don’t let mistakes derail your talk.
If you make a mistake, forget a word, or lose your place, don’t panic. The audience won’t notice mistakes unless you panic and make a big deal out of them. Drawing attention to mistakes is a double whammy – not only do you highlight a mistake you made, you also frustrate the audience by creating a “speed bump” in your talk.
Further reading: 3 Tricks to Tame Your Anxiety Before and During Your Presentation
Focus on Communication
The most important thing about your speech is communication.
Good communication is about getting an idea from your head into someone else’s head. Everything you do in your planning or delivery should be centered around this point. Always remember: You don’t need frills and bells and whistles, you just need to communicate your idea effectively.
Further reading: 4 Tricks to Keep Your Audience Interested
Design Your PowerPoint or Keynote Slides Last
If you plan your speech by creating your slides first you are planning to fail.
Slides lock you in to delivering your presentation in a fixed way which is not optimal for regular communication. Therefore, the most effective time to design your slides is at the end – once you have planned your speech, practiced, and know what you are going to say. Designing your slides at the end is how you can create slides which add impact to your talk.
Further reading: Why You Should Practice Before Creating Your Slides
Consider Replacing Your Slides With a Whiteboard
Using slides adds a non-fluid element into your speech.
You can make your speech feel more natural and boost your confidence by replacing the slides with a whiteboard.
It feels more natural because writing on a whiteboard as you speak feels less practiced.
You will be more confident because writing on the whiteboard gives you regular breaks from standing face-on to the audience.
Further reading: How to Do a Presentation Without PowerPoint
The Bottom Line
There is a simple test to check if your public speaking skills need improvement or not. Consider a speech you’ve done recently. Think about everything, from the way you spoke to your body language and eye contact to the slides and whether you used cue cards. Ask yourself this question: if I communicated that way during a regular conversation how would I be perceived? If the answer is not 100% positive then you know where work is to be done.
I’d love to hear what you think and I’m happy to help out if you have questions. Please hit me up in the comments below.