Let’s face it, public speaking is generally not something fun. Though it can be enjoyable for some, the vast majority of us would rather just sit it out than have 100 faces staring at us and hanging on every word. But with a few mindset changes, you can take a weakness and turn it into a strength. Here is how to be a better public speaker with a few easy tips.
Ancient Roman orator Cicero. Credit: Wikipedia

In my review of the research, the experts really stress the importance of preparation in successful public speaking.

That makes sense. The more you prepare the more you can try to ensure a good result of your presentation. However, preparation has never really been a strong suit of mine. Hey, I’m human! Becoming a better public speaker is certainly helped by preparation, and I do advocate this approach. When talking to my kids about most educational topics these days, I stress repetition, and ergo preparation.

I recall a law school class where I aced it using a drill book of real estate questions over and over. This really guided my study and made me realize how important repetition is in searing something into your memory.

Short Cuts to Preparation

If you don’t have a ton of time to prepare your presentation, or frankly would rather spend your weekend doing something else, I suggest getting creative.

The statistics are sobering in the job market. Employee wage growth potential is reduced by 15% with a failure to do well with public speaking.

Suffice it to say, this is very important. Becoming better public speakers should be in everyone’s business toolkit.

Speaking in public

What Are the Tips?

Think about the venue: Where will you be speaking? What is every detail of the venue? I remember when I spoke at some very large events, I would watch the prior speakers and how close they needed to get to a microphone to get the correct sound carry. If there is good sound setup, and a cardioid dynamic microphone, I knew I was in good shape. My soft voice would be able to carry. This calmed my nerves immediately. I think sound quality is huge. If you’ve ever spoken at a wedding, you know that you can get a real boost from being able to just talk normally and have your voice carry through the mic.

For business venues, you’ll often have a podium. If you have no podium, you’ll have to control those hands. That is a nervous tic for some. There is something called the hands “strike zone” where you want your hands for most of the talking. Hopefully you can use the podium and it’s like having training wheels on.

If you are giving a talk without a microphone, my advice is get prepared to belt it out. I found that I would be literally shouting during some talks, and then I’d ask people what it sounded like later and they had no idea I was shouting. I guess I just thought I was. Be too soft here and you’ll draw less adulation.

Cardioid Dynamic Microphone
Cardioid Dynamic Microphone

Think about the audience in advance. Clearly, you want to give these people what they want. I addressed a large union once at a conference, and I knew these union members had a general anti-management slant. Afterall, some of the politics of unions tends to villainize owners of the company. So guess what? I was pretty anti-ownership in that speech. No surprise I got a standing ovation that time. I’ve had the opposite result during a smaller talk when I got some factual things wrong, and really annoyed the audience.

You need to truly think about them. Who are these folks you’ll be talking to? Are they all happy about a wedding? Or are they all depressed about a loss? Those are stark examples. But think about why these people are here. Are they getting some sort of CLE credit? Are they really fascinated to learn about what you are talking about? Or are they being forced there as part of their job? Can you deduce what their interests are? Political leanings? My home run presentations have really relied on this point, and my defeats have often underestimated it.

Take a few seconds before you start speaking.

I think we get a fear based response to public speaking. I think when you get introduced to start talking, your thinking begins to shift to your midbrain. This midbrain thinking creates a seeing red effect whereby you cannot think straight for a few seconds to a minute. I think this is also referred to as the predictive mind. The science suggests quite convincingly that our brain goes on autopilot during these situations. I don’t like that feeling. It feels like I’ve lost control. You have to get out of this state of mind to truly be comfortable. Have you ever gotten upset with one of your kids? I call this the “seeing red effect.” I try to snap out of it as quickly as I can. Give it a shot before you utter your first words.

Summiting the Peak
Photo Credit: Denys Nevozhai

Try Out Some of These Methods Next Time You Find Yourself in Front of a Crowd

Having a few public speaking engagements on your resume is a good thing. Becoming a better public speaker can land you promotions, business, and the respect of your peers. If you don’t do so well, just be honest about it and try to learn from it. I know I’ve given some flat performances. When I look back, I violated some of the core principles: 1) Know your audience 2) Know your venue, 3) Protect your thought process the unconscious takeover of the midbrain.

I hope this post has given you some actionable ideas for your next presentation. Sure, time and preparation will help, but you need some nuggets that can improve your overall performance.

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