Friday, April 8, 2016

4 Tips For Public Speaking

Public speaking is something that’s been a part of my life for a long time. In high school and college, I was the cool girl on the debate team. Then, I argued regularly and often to juries and judges.

These days I do more writing than speaking. I miss speaking, and I’d like to start again. When I mentioned this to someone, she suggested I go to Toastmasters.  I had assumed that Toastmasters was for people who had a fear/dislike of public speaking. But this longtime Toastmaster assured me that it was a place for people of all level of skills and speaking interests. So, I went.

The speaker that night gave a prepared speech and was critiqued. Then everyone in the room, from regular members to first-time attendees like me, was asked to give a 1-2 minute speech.

It made me nervous.

I was in a roomful of strangers getting ready to speak on the oh-so weighty topic of scent and the only thing I could think was, “What if I stand up and have nothing to say?

Thankfully, that didn’t happen but I was genuinely worried that it might. If public speaking sends your stomach fluttering, here are four tips to try:

1. Tell A Story – The lessons we remember are the ones told in story form. It’s why Jesus taught in parables, why writers use allegory and metaphor – our brains respond to stories. No matter how dry your subject matter, weave in a story. Your audience will thank you and more importantly, they’ll remember what you said.

2. It’s Okay to be Vulnerable – People often think that for speakers to be effective they need to be smooth and polished. While that is an expectation of anyone who makes a living speaking, there’s something more important than being articulate and that’s connecting with the audience.

I once heard a very experienced (and pompous) lawyer say that when he was picking a jury, he  took off his Rolex and drove a car other than his BMW to court. He believed this made him relateable to jurors. I thought it made him sound like an arrogant ass.

There is an easier way to connect with people, be authentic. You don't have to appear perfect. You need to appear competent and trustworthy. You achieve that by being your true self.

3. Silence is Your Friend – Speakers often dread white space and that’s a shame. Silence is a powerful tool.  It can be used for emphasis, to add suspense, to attract attention. Let the silence speak.

4. Laughter Is Your Friend Too – Laughter breaks tension, putting people at ease. It’s an effective starting point, but it doesn’t have to just be an icebreaker. You can use it at various points in a speech. If your subject matter is dense, a joke or self-deprecating comment may provide the lightness needed. Humor is also a great segway, helping to transition between thoughts and ideas.

Is public speaking something you dread? What tricks do you use?


  1. I remember ODACS competition. You were a natural from the young age of 12, and well me ... not so much. :-)

  2. ODACS, that seems so long ago! Apparently our careers were mapped out then, we just didn't know it!

  3. I pretend that the audience is the equivalent of potted plants. It's surprisingly helpful.

    - K.