My Top Ten Speaking Tips

They work for me

(WORLD) I’m one of those weird people who loves to get up on stage to speak in front of hundreds of people.

My career only spans 4 years but in that time I’ve delivered talks on four continents and to thousands of individuals at cross-sector events, conferences and in-house sessions.

Along the way I’ve learned a few things and thought it time to share the wisdom. So without further ado, here’s ‘My Top Ten Speaking Tips’ (not in priority order) based on personal experience:

    1. Finish the presentation the night before—it stays fresher in your brain than if you completed it a few weeks previous. This is important for my industry as stuff moves so quick but it also offers the opportunity to add in references from earlier talks (if it’s more than a one day event) plus ensures you can omit things which have already been covered. Most importantly though it doesn’t give you a chance to practice…

    2. Don’t practice—a great talk is like a conversation (and no conversation goes the way you planned, no matter how many times you practice it in your head). Sure, run through it once to check the timings plus transitions etc but this is more an exercise of knowing what you want to convey rather than rehearsing exactly what to say verbatim.

    3. Don’t do lecterns—it forms a physical barrier between you and your audience. Less is definitely more in this instance and before you say, “where do I put my script…?”

    4. Never use a script—if you know your stuff you don’t need it written down. This method means: head down, losing intonation / connection with your audience / professionalism. We don’t talk the same way we write and it just doesn’t work. If you’re an organiser of any events / conferences, ban podiums and scripts. It will scare a lot away but I guarantee you’ll be left with fantastic speakers who simply know their stuff.

    5. Let your client dictate the topic not the content—I once had a very needy client who heavily dictated the content of a presentation I was giving at their event to the point of even signing it off. It’s the ONLY time the organisers didn’t think I delivered (even though three quarters of the audience thought I was good/very good). Coincidence maybe, but experience tells me otherwise.

    6. Move—the best speakers are passionate and passion means movement. Move around the stage / floor. Move your arms, your face, your eyebrows. Communicate with your body not just your words / slides.

    7. Look at your audience—engage them through eye contact. Don’t pick a spot at the back of the room / hall and drift off. Sometimes this is hard if you’re speaking on a lit stage but you can still make people out. After a while you can have some fun with this: I like to pick out those yet to be convinced (you’ll spot them through body language—the ones with their arms crossed and sitting back in their seat—once you have them coming forward and sitting on the edge of their chairs and nodding their heads you know you’re onto a winner).

    8. Bullets kill people—well maybe in this case it’s attention. People can read faster in their heads than you can read it out loud. The only words I use in my presentations are the titles for each slide. This directs my talk. They act as cues for the topics or a point I want to convey. The underline comes from the images/video plus the story weaved around it.

    9. Fool your nerves—those damn butterflies can turn into courage-eating moths which can eat you from the inside out. Trick them. The emotional and physiological response to fear is exactly the same as when you’re excited. Tell yourself it’s not nerves but positive anticipation and after a while you will create an ingrained learned response.

    10. Enjoy it—if you don’t have fun speaking then don’t do it. There are other ways to promote yourself or spread your message.

As stated, all of the above work for me—they might not work for you. Then again they could.

Do they help or hinder? Agree / disagree?

MediaSnackers Speaking/Masterclass

20 thoughts on “My Top Ten Speaking Tips”

  1. Great tips DK.
    I find moving about enables me to hide the nerves. If I am nervous etc moving about and using arms and gestures makes me forget I’m a bit shaky. Using the energy to perform instead of letting it build.
    I also look to the audience to find that first nod of recognition when I start, when I have it confidence soars.
    I wonder all you tips would work at my wedding speach in 8 weeks…….. gulp!

  2. Inspiring as usual…
    But some of those tips are better for Native English speakers than for Native-English-bad-speakers like me :)

  3. MB – thank you sir and thanks for underlining further the ‘move’ advice, good luck with the wedding speech!

    GF – we all know you speak better English than me ;-)

    BG – it is daunting isn’t it. Maybe if I used the analogy of music: you practise the chords and scales but when it comes to improvising it’s about that moment (remember it’s a conversation)… like I say, this won’t work for everyone but if you’ve never tried ;-)

  4. As you say these are what work for you, but as someone who speaks a heck of a lot like you and teaches from the beginner to more advanced I would take issue with a few points.

    Night Before – Works for some. Others need to be more prepared especially if they are going to practice

    Practice – Ooh I encourage even seasoned professionals to practice. Get there stories congruent, pacing and even sometimes in front of camera to be aware of their facial expressions. Again it depends on the audience but I get my clients to practice a few times before delivery. Blame Churchill!

    Topic/Content – Hmm. Depends again. My four key speeches are quite clearly defined and then I adopt them to the specific audience looking for the three key points they want and then aligning it to my core message.

    That was all. Those were the core ones I beg to differ on.


  5. DM – always happy for you to challenge especially with the experience you have, sir. Sounds like you almost agree with me on the ‘Topic/Content’ one so I’ll move onto ‘Night Before’ & ‘Practice’. They are definitely challenging although the only reason most people don’t do this is because someone told them not to.

    Like you rightly state at the beginning, these work for me and they won’t work for everyone for sure. Welcome the comment and counter-point…

  6. Mark – great question. Yes is the short answers but I wouldn’t listen. If I only could advise two things it would be :

    1. Public speaking is not something you can practice in isolation but something you have to practice by doing. No well-learned script written down or honed in front of a mirror can prepare you for standing on that stage in front of hundreds of people… just do it (TM Nike).

    2. Cut your hair…

  7. I still hate public speaking but from my limited experience, not practicing out loud once or twice is a big NO NO for me. Most of the time, I will know my stuff. If it was academic work, I made sure I practiced in a mirror, in front of friends or with a camera in front of me, recording.

    For personal stuff and things I’m passionate about, it’s a lot easier but because I’m passionate about it, I tend to ramble quite a lot and have too many ideas to verbalise coherently. I need to write key points, look over them, practice and then rein in my thoughts before I even think about saying a word. In interview situations (which is a bit like public speaking for me), I’ve recently started to relax a bit more and not write down what I will say – no-one knows my best qualities and skills better than I do! I guess I’ve learnt to rein it in after getting the job! It’s a bit hit and miss but something I’m sure I will learn from experience and watching people like you!

  8. Agree with all of them except practice. Practicing a talk makes you more confident about what you are going to say, and how you are going to say it. It allows you to time yourself, and see how long things take. You become familiar with the flow. I never want to sound scripted, but I like to do a run through before a major presentation so I am confident.

  9. ASI – my concern is over-rehearsal of talks reduces the natural feel of what it should be, a conversation (although many people like Steve Jobs proves I’m wrong on this point). I guess these work for me.

    Thanks for popping by and I like the look of your site… nice design!

  10. Perhaps this is the theatre person in me speaking, but I can’t imagine getting up in front of a crowd without several rehearsals. I agree that with speaking, chuck the script in order for the presentation to grow organically. Rehearse the framework though. And I always rehearse in my head with a guided visualization before taking the stage.

  11. Michelle – you’re right, learning the framework (or narrative) is important, learning a script is just not for me and I would go further and say it actually hinders the naturalism you want to convey when speaking. Thanks for your comment :-)

  12. Hi,

    These are some nice tips you got here. I actually never thought about the fact of not practicing. But in reality its a very valid point. The same applies to exams. Its reccommended that you should not really revise prior to the exam (i.e. on the same day) to prevent nerves and extra tension. You did what you could do and there’s nothing that can change that last minute.
    I’ve also noticed that breathing plays a huge role in speakking. You must be able to slow your breathing down. The trick is to take long deep breaths. Inhale via the nose and exhale via the mouth. This effective breathing exercise is also used commonly in martial arts and yoga.

    But nice tips. Thanks!

  13. Dan – thanks for the comment. Breathing is a big thing you’re right and for many a way to tackle those nerves / sweats etc. I don’t get nervous (see #9) so didn’t make my top ten. Thanks for popping by…

  14. Good God. I hadn’t thought of that. I might be on stage and the crowd will be down below. I had never considered that before.

    In my mind I had been standing with the attendees not above them.

    How do you make a connection when you’re above people like that.


  15. Allanah – I like stages. Ensures everyone can see you and more importantly you can see everyone else (sometimes), see #7 on how I handle it.

  16. An addition for your excellent list –

    Be sure that the audience knows how passionate you are about your topic. Let them feel your passion.

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