5 tips for better public speaking

Updated: Oct 24


I was invited by the organisers of Tech Connect Live to emcee the main stage at their 2022 event. In tandem I was also going to moderate a panel discussion on the 'Evolution of Digital Transformation' and deliver my own keynote 'The Unintended Consequences of Technology on Profitability', a busy day by all accounts but thoroughly enjoyable.

It gave me the opportunity to see the various speakers that were delivering talks at the event and it was my observations that prompted this article.

In fairness nobody turns up to deliver a bad talk but they occur all too often as there is a perception that it is easy to get on stage and talk your way through a PowerPoint presentation. Sadly, there is a huge opportunity missed as presenters have a lot of valuable content to share which gets lost due to a lack of understanding around talks and what is expected. Public speaking is a skillset that needs to be learned and then practiced. In this article I am going to share just five tips that will help any aspiring speakers, however, if this is something you need to do on a regular basis either internally or externally then we should probably have a chat (in confidence and without any obligation click HERE)


Moving on let's get to the tips starting as always with number 1.

1. Timing - the most common issue for speakers is going over their allotted time. For example I asked the first speaker of the day how they were in terms of time. 'I have practiced a lot and will only take fifteen minutes'. In actual fact what happened was that they never got to finish their talk as they were going to exceed their allotted time and had to finish quickly.

Speakers exceeding their time has a major impact on events because of its knock on effect. For example if there are six speakers each speaking for thirty minutes and the first five go over by five minutes each then the last persons slot is gone. Image that is you. On the other hand if you are allowed to speak then there may be a knock on effect for the catering staff or others who are trying to keep the event on schedule.

As a guide if your talk is written based on a 110 -120 words per minute it should help to keep you on schedule. Use a timer and make sure that the person looking after time gives you the signals you need. Be prepared to clip your talk if asked which can be a challenge but much appreciated by the organiser. I was asked by the organisers at an event to help them get back on schedule. I removed ten minutes from a forty minute talk as I delivered it.


2. What is the purpose of your talk? What do you want the audience to do when they leave? Do you want them to feel differently, act differently or think differently? What have you shared that could make a difference to their lives moving forward?

Watching the speakers at the event it was clear that so many just threw the kitchen sink at it. There was a huge amount of information thrown at the audience hoping that some of it would stick. Consider when you are crafting your talk what is the singular message you wish to deliver. There are different techniques for this, for example some speakers tell the audience what they are going to tell them, then tell it to them and them sum up by telling them what they just told them. This may work for you but there are other methods.


3. Being organised - have you checked the stage and how the audience is seated. If you get the opportunity listen to the speakers before you from different places in the audience to understand the acoustics. Have you your PowerPoint on a USB in case there are technical issues. Be careful of imbedded videos which can cause many problems. For example the sound may be poor or the quality of the video is poor and these have a tendency to lose an audience.

Be early so that the technical crew can get you miked up. Do you know what type of microphone you are using and do you know the difference between the various types? Some homework here will make you much more professional. Different types of microphones


4. PowerPoint - there is a lot talked about using this technology and it is obvious that most speakers have not heard it or ignore the advice. I saw many PowerPoint presentations on the day and virtually all the speakers used their slides as a crutch to deliver their talk. What does that look like, in reality all the slides are packed with text and then the presenter reads it back to the audience. From an audience perspective, they have finished reading the text (presuming that it is legible) before the speaker gets to the second sentence and then they get back to their smart devices. In essence the impact of what is being said is lost and there is no rapport between the speaker and the audience.

There is a place for PowerPoint when used correctly. It can engage the audience but it requires thought and a skill that most of us don't have. I seldom use PowerPoint but if it is necessary I will get a skilled designer to create the deck.


5. Practice - there is no substitute for practice and every great speaker spends endless hours crafting their talks. There is no one fits all solution and you must have the ability to adapt talks to match audience expectation.

My suggestion is to define your key message, map out your talk using researched facts and stories where appropriate and then take the audience on a journey with a clearly defined outcome. Break your talk into sections which will allow you to include or leave them out if there is a timing issue on the day. Once you have refined your talk, write it down in longhand to help memorise the key sections and then deliver it in front of your mirror or home studio to see how it comes across. Once you know it sufficiently well you will be able to deliver the it with confidence and ad lib as the event dictates.


Please remember that public speaking is an art and with practice you can very quickly become proficient. Here is a great example of some of the techniques you should be using Julian Treasure


If you would like to know more please email me at alec@alecwdrew.com


As Past President of the Professional Speaking Association, Ireland I can introduce you to the world of professional speaking.


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