Most people are more afraid of public speaking than death. As Seinfeld said, “At a funeral, most people would rather be the guy in the coffin than have to stand up and give the eulogy.”
Whether you are one of the millions with a fear of public speaking or you do it every day, I have compiled a list of my top 33 public speaking tips that will help you connect better than ever the next time you find yourself in front of a captive audience.
1) Know your content.
Speak on a subject that you know. The basic purpose of public speaking is to be persuasive. If you don’t know the topic that you are speaking about, it will probably be obvious to your audience. If they don’t think you know what you’re talking about, you’ll lose their attention almost immediately.
2) Know your “why”.
Your content is the WHAT. First you need to know WHAT it is that you’re speaking about, but equally important is the WHY. The WHY of your speech is how your content relates to the people in your audience. WHY do they need to know WHAT you are saying? WHY is this information applicable to them? WHY should they bother listening to you? If you don’t know the WHY, your audience will leave asking the question, “WHAT was the point?”
3) Be prepared.
Abraham Lincoln said, “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.”
You have to prepare for your speech, presentation, sermon, announcement, or whatever you’re doing that allows you to speak in front of an audience. This is where lazy, extroverted speakers get into trouble. They have the capability to “wing it” and therefore sometimes don’t prepare. However, the more prepared you are, the more freedom you will have, the less you will ramble, the more on-point you will be, and the greater impact you will make.
Preparation looks different to each person. For me, I write out a word-for-word script for nearly every presentation, speech or sermon that I deliver. For other speakers or pastors, they write out a basic bullet point outline. For still others, they draw fancy mind maps with different colors and icons and pictures.
Try a few different ways to discover what works best for you, but whatever does work best, don’t fall into the temptation to get lazy and stop preparing. The more prepared you are, the easier time you will have internalizing your message.
4) Internalize your message.
Internalizing your message means that you know your message like the back of your hand. You could pick up halfway through and deliver the rest of your message. You could give a 30-second speed version to a stranger in an elevator on the way to give your speech. You could give a 5-minute version to a friend without using any notes. The more preparation you have put into your speech, the more it gets inside you.
5) Speak from the heart.
Once you have internalized your message, it will be much easier to go “off script” and speak from the heart. By preparing well, you give yourself freedom to deviate from your own script or outline and add your personality and character into your message because you are less focused on the actual words you are saying and more focused on the message you are trying to convey.
6) Memorize your transitions.
A transition is what connects one point to another during your speech. If you start your speech with a personal story of the first time you fell in love, for example, you don’t need to look at any notes for that story. Why? Because it’s YOUR story. It happened to you.
If for some reason you need to look at notes for a personal story, then you have not spent enough time preparing. If you’re telling a story, you should be sharing it for a reason. You are likely connecting your story to a point or another part or your speech. To connect your story to anything else, you need a transition. Memorize each of your transitions. There are few ways that you will lose credibility faster than telling a personal story and not remembering what comes next or why you just told the story. Think of your stories as lily pads. You can jump from story to story or narrative to narrative and speak from the heart, but you have to remember how to transition from one lily pad to another. Typically a transition statement can be just one sentence long, so it shouldn’t be too hard to memorize.
7) Dress the part.
It’s not always appropriate to wear shorts on stage. It’s not always appropriate to wear a suit on stage. The trick is to usually dress in a similar fashion to your audience. This may not always be the case, but typically you want to come across as someone with whom your audience can relate. If you’re dressed too fancy, they’ll think you’re too uptight and will tune you out. If you’re dressed too casual, they’ll think you’re too lazy and will tune you out. Dress like your audience.
8) Deliver a 30-second version to yourself backstage.
As you wait to head out on stage, quickly review with yourself what you’ll be saying. Deliver a quick 30-second version to yourself (off mic of course!) so the entire flow is fresh in your mind before you begin. This will keep you on track for where you’re headed and hold you accountable to staying on point.
9) Smile backstage.
If you are hoping to be persuasive in your speaking (as you should be), then take a moment to smile backstage before you come out. Obviously this won’t be appropriate in some circumstances (ie. speaking at a funeral). But in most cases, you want to come across as a likeable person. If you simply smile backstage, it will help change your overall demeanor and make you seem more approachable.
10) Get your blood pumping.
You don’t want to come across mundane, monotone or boring. If you have a curtain or something else to block you from your audience seeing you backstage, do a few pushups or jumping jacks to get your blood flowing. Your energy—or lack thereof—will transfer to your audience.
11) Know your audience’s demographic.
Know who you are targeting your speech to. If I am speaking to a group of students, but parents are also present, I will address the parents here and there, but the vast majority of my speech is delivered to the students. If I am speaking primarily to high school freshmen, but I have all grades present, I will acknowledge the other grades and let them know they are welcome to “listen in” as I address the freshmen. Know who your main audience is and speak primarily to them.
12) Know your audience.
This isn’t just knowing your audience’s main demographic, but literally knowing your actual audience. Know some of the individuals in your audience. If you are a recurring speaker, this takes place naturally and you will know some of the names of people who are present.
If you are a guest speaker, one of the best tips you can implement is to mingle before your speech and get to know even a few of the audience members, it gives you the chance to personalize your message to people you actually know. I’m not suggesting that you change your entire speech to solely address the few people you know, but since you do know a few people in the audience, it will make your entire speech come across to the masses in a much more believable way.
13) Remember you are speaking to individuals.
Yes you are speaking to an audience, but an audience does not think and breathe and apply knowledge. The INDIVIDUALS who make up the audience are the ones thinking and breathing and applying. Remember that the audience is not who are speaking to, but the individuals who make up the audience.
Some speakers will talk to the audience like the audience is one massive huge monster or ameba or something. Challenge yourself to limit your references to the group as a whole and try to word statements that apply to a single person. For example, instead of saying, “You guys should all try to take this step…” say instead something like, “You should challenge yourself to take this step…” The first statement is an obvious reference to speaking to the masses whereas the second statement can be personalized to each individual who makes up your audience.
14) Engage your audience from the beginning.
Don’t bother welcoming your audience by saying something like, “Hi, how are you?” Your intention with asking such a rhetorical question is to engage your audience, but the truth is that you don’t really want a response from your question and the audience knows it. Can you imagine if someone actually answered and said, “I’m having a horrible day.” “Well, hmm… don’t really know what to say to that, so let’s move on and get started!”
If your audience already knows who you are, just jump right into your intro or a story without asking how they are doing. You have a very brief few seconds to capture the attention of your audience. If you waste your initial few seconds on a meaningless welcome, you may begin to already lose some audience members. If you immediately jump in with an interesting story, they will naturally want to know what happens and be engaged from the beginning.
15) Control your mic—don’t let it control you.
The more you fiddle with your mic, the more unprofessional you look. If you’re using a headset mic, get it set backstage and try not to touch it. If you’re using a handheld mic, you have a bit more freedom compared to a headset because you can raise or lower your volume based on the mic’s proximity to your mouth.
16) Don’t EVER do a live mic check.
If you have audience members already present where you will be speaking, do everything possible to avoid doing a mic check in their presence. If you must do a mic check for the A/V person to adjust your levels, then make up some sort of announcement about the speech starting in a few minutes. Do NOT, however, do a mic check with audience members in the room. This comes across as though you don’t know what you’re doing, even if you’re not the one requesting the mic check. And whatever you do, don’t grab the mic when it’s your turn to talk and tap it and say, “Is this on? Can you hear me? Check 1, check 2.” Let the sound tech adjust your audio on the fly if he has to, but don’t start your speech with such a rookie statement. You will instantly lose respect from audience members if you do a mic check while they’re listening. It is not unreasonable or unusual to ask to do a mic check while the doors are still closed and your audience cannot hear it.
17) Tell stories.
Humans are storytellers. We relate to stories. Stories have been passed down and told for centuries, and stories will forever be a part of persuasive communication. Become a master storyteller and you will bring people right along with you wherever you want to take them.
18) Don’t lie.
If you tell a story, make sure it is a real story. It can be someone else’s story as well, but don’t lie or fabricate details. If you do tell a story that is fiction, let your audience know it is fictitious. On the other hand, if they find out that you lied about a story that you tried to pass as truth, your entire speech will lose credibility.
19) Keep it focused.
If you don’t prepare by writing out a script, you can quickly get carried away while telling a story. Know ahead of time what parts of your story you want to share and what you want to leave out. There should be a reason that you are telling a story, so make sure the story is leading your audience toward the reason or point of the story. Don’t derail the effectiveness of your own story by allowing yourself to go down irrelevant rabbit trails that happen to pop into your mind as you’re speaking.
20) Utilize interactivity.
Invite your audience to participate in a texting poll. Or maybe you put a question on the screen and have them turn to their neighbor to answer the question. Or play a video. Or invite them to shout out an answer. Get your audience participating in your speech and they will listen longer.
21) Vary it up.
Think about what elements you can include in your speech that will create a change of pace or scenery. You want to keep the interactions changing as you go. Don’t stick with any particular type of communication for more than 5-10 minutes at a time. When you are varying up your speech, you may have your audience laughing in one moment and crying in the next. Some audience members may even feel like you lose control of the room when you have the entire audience talking to each other, but if you plan for it in advance, you will know exactly how to regain control of the room again.
22) Don’t pace.
You are most impactful when you are planted firmly in one spot. You can move from one side of the stage to the other, but don’t just pace back and forth like a hungry tiger. Pacing communicates nervousness, and nervousness communicates a lack of confidence, and a lack of confidence makes you less likely to be believable in your speech.
23) Move with purpose.
It is estimated that 80% of all communication is non-verbal. Therefore, how you move your hands, arms, feet, legs, eyes, head, etc, all matter. When you move, do so for a reason. If you have no purpose to move by standing, sitting, or moving in some other way, then don’t do it. Only move when you have a reason to move.
24) Roll with the punches.
You cannot be 100% in control of your audience members. A baby will cry. A phone will ring. Something may happen. If you know your content and have prepared properly, no distractions that come your way will have the ability to derail your entire speech. However, the most seasoned communicators are able to use what would normally be disrespectful or unexpected distractions as a way to connect with their audience.
Comedian Dane Cook comes up with predetermined statements for each comedy routine so he doesn’t have to come up with something on the spot. He already knows his response to a heckler before a heckler ever opens his mouth. Use distractions to your advantage by being comfortable with responding to unexpected events.
25) Don’t insult your audience.
If you begin to lose control of your audience, one of the best tools you can use is silence. People can’t stand silence, and if you’re looking at someone who is distracting and you stop talking, everyone in the room will look where you are looking. However, do your best not to insult your audience. If they aren’t responding how you had hoped, it likely isn’t their fault, it’s probably yours. If you resort to insulting them, you might as well walk off stage, because you are not likely to regain respect quickly enough to be persuasive.
26) Speak in your “opposite” to make your greatest impact.
If you are usually a really fast talker, most of your speech will naturally be fast because that is what is normal for you. As a fast talker, if you … really … take … the … time … to … slloooooww … down … during your main point or bottom line, your audience will lean in because your natural form of communication has just shifted, signifying what you are saying is more important than everything else you’ve already said.
If you … are … naturally … a sloooow speaker … and you suddenly speak really quickly with energy, the audience will lean in and listen because whatever you’re saying is getting you excited and therefore your audience will believe it’s worth listening to. However you normally speak, do the opposite when making your most important points.
27) Have a bottom line.
Most content from speeches is forgotten within minutes of the conclusion of the speech. Roughly 95% of a speech is completely forgotten by the next day. If there was one thing you would want your audience to remember from your speech, what would it be? Whatever that one line is—make that your bottom line. If you have multiple bottom lines, you increase the likelihood that none of them will be remembered. Select your one main point of your entire message and have everything else you say support that one bottom line.
28) Repeat your bottom line.
If you repeat anything during your speech, your audience will instinctively know that whatever you are repeating is important. Oftentimes communicators will repeat things for emphasis. Oftentimes communicators will repeat things for emphasis. Try this as an experiment if you want: Find a single sentence somewhere in your speech, deliver that one line, and then pause and deliver it again verbatim. Watch your audience to see how many people write down that sentence only after you said it the second time.
29) Preach the announcements.
This is less applicable if you’re a guest speaker or a camp speaker, but if you’re a recurring speaker like a pastor, give sermons on your most important announcements. If you have a mission trip coming up, preach on the importance of being selfless rather than just mention a trip coming up. This way when you come to the application section of your message, you have an actual activity they can do to implement what you have just taught.
30) Provide application.
Knowledge is worthless unless action is taken because of the knowledge. Encourage your audience not to just listen and learn, but to listen, learn and DO something. Rather than make it vague and difficult for your audience members to try to figure out what to do, it will be easier if you simply tell them what to do. How can individuals apply what they have just learned? This could very well be the most important tip of all.
31) Have call to action.
Providing an application is fundamental. However, providing an application that someone can do RIGHT NOW is even better. Can your audience sign up for something today? Can they text in a response for something? Can they go make a phone call? Can they do something right now with what they have learned? Don’t just give them ideas for how to apply your teaching; give them a practical way to implement it as soon as possible.
32) Land the plane.
If you have provided a solid application and given your audience a call to action, it’s time to wrap up. You can wrap up by quickly summarizing the main talking points and the bottom line. You can wrap up with a story of someone who has implemented the same or similar action step into their life and share how it has positively affected them. You can wrap up in a variety of different ways, but the longer you talk after you have given them the application, the less likely they will actually take action. Once you have told them how to do what you’re wanting them to do, wrap up rather quickly.
33) Engage them after your speech.
Try to connect with your audience after your speech. This may mean that you are available at a merch table. Maybe this means that you provide a sign-up sheet for your newsletter where people can hear from you again. This could be as simple as just stepping off stage and talking with people who approach you. In nearly every speech you will ever deliver on stage, someone will want to talk to you right after. Embrace those opportunities. You will become way more real to your audience members when they get to talk with you personally.
QUESTION: Do you have a public speaking tip that you’d like to share with others? Add it to the comment section below.