21 Public Speaking Tips & Tricks

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Every time I speak, I’m asked for public speaking tips & tricks. After delivering and coaching over 1,000 presentations during my five-year tenure at the zoo and coaching hundreds of presentations since starting Speak Simple, I guess I know a few things about public speaking tips & tricks.

21 Public Speaking Tips & Tricks

  1. Talk about What You Know – Before trying to book presentations or accepting an invitation to speak, think about what you know and what you’d like to share. You don’t need to be a Ph.D. to be knowledgeable enough to speak, just talk about what you know whether that is about work, a hobby, a personal story, or something you can research well enough beforehand. Many great speakers use hobbies like volunteering at their church as a way to improve their public speaking abilities.
  2. web_offer_banner_3_contentmarketingFocus on the Audience – I call it being “audience-centric“. The presentation benefits the audience, not you, so you should focus on their needs and what they want to learn.
  3. Define Your Goals – Once you know what your audience wants to know, make that your goals. Even with bid presentations when the goal of your presentation is to win new work, your real presentation goal is to educate the selection committee on how to choose the best candidate (you).
  4. Brainstorm & Cut the Excess – With your presentation’s goal(s) in place, think of everything that you can possibly speak about and then spend multiple rounds of cutting unnecessary information and things that are off topic. You want to get your presentation down to three main points.
  5. Run Through Before Opening PowerPoint – Before you start working on your visual aid on the computer, run through your ideas and get them down to a succinct outline. If you jump straight into PowerPoint, you’ll waste a lot of time editing and be changing the order of your slides because you bypassed the first few steps.
  6. Simplify Visual Aids – Once you get to your PowerPoint (or Prezi or Keynote), keep it simple and stick to large images with 5-7 word titles. That’s it! Stay away from bullet points, paragraphs, and complicated graphs. If you even think you might say, “You can’t read this…” you have too much information on your slides.
  7. Practice Your Presentation – Don’t let your presentation be the first time you go through your presentation. Practice your presentation multiple times to get familiar with the order, transitions, and content so you feel confident in yourself. Feeling prepared will eliminate up to 80% of any public speaking fears.
  8. Have a Presentation Rehearsal Take your presentation practice up a notch and rehearse it as close to the actual presentation as possible — use the same room/stage, project your visual aid on the wall and use a presentation remote, wear that clothes you plan to present in, and gather a few colleagues to run through your presentation so you have an audience.
  9. Be Personal Your audience is made up of people that want to get to know you. Presenters don’t need to be stoic or robotic anymore, that practice went out the window decades ago. Share your insights, history, and flaws because your audience will better relate to you if you’re human.
  10. web_offer_banner_3_contentmarketingPractice Stories – Since you’re being personal, you’re probably sharing stories. Don’t fall into the common storytelling trap where presenters think they don’t need to practice stories because they lived the stories. When you don’t practice your stories you stumble on your words, go long, forget the point of the story, ramble, use more crutch words, go off on a tangent, and bore or confuse your audience.
  11. Keep It Simple – My company name is “Speak Simple” for a reason. Remember to simplify your complex message so your audience can understand what you’re saying. If you confuse them and talk over their head, you’re wasting their time and yours because they won’t understand or remember your message. Even if your audience is full of people with the same occupation, you need to break down acronyms, jargon, and complex terminology because they may be the same profession, but they have different backgrounds, years experience, and different fields of expertise. (Also, it isn’t “dumbing it down” it is simplification.)
  12. Arrive Early – Plan to arrive early so you don’t have to stress yourself with traffic, finding the building, getting to the room, and setting everything up. If possible, check out the room you’ll be presenting in a few days before so you can be sure you know where you’re going and it lets you visualize your presentation.
  13. Make Friends in the Audience – When you get their early, you can meet your audience so you have friendly faces in the audience come presentation time. For most presenters, it is easier to make solid eye contact with people they know, which reduces presentation fear.
  14. Breathe – Just before taking the stage, take a few deep breaths. You prepared well and you’ll do great.
  15. Be Conversational – Enjoy yourself and engage your audience because presentations are just conversations with more people. Even if you’re not looking for a response from your audience, ask rhetorical questions and make them think.
  16. Slow Down – Most people speak faster than normal when presenting. Take this knowledge to heart and intentionally talk slower. Use pauses to give your audience time to think and remember what you’re saying.
  17. Use Multiple Q&As For presentations longer than 15-20 minutes, I suggest breaking your presentation up into sections and stopping between them to ask the audience if they have any questions. Having multiple Question and Answer breaks does two big things. First, it gives you a chance to grab a drink of water, do a time check, and reset the pace of your speech because many people speed up as they talk. Multiple breaks also help your audience because they can ask a question while it is still relevant and they don’t tune out to your entire presentation because they had a question early on. (I don’t suggest allowing your audience from asking questions throughout your presentation because it breaks your concentration and flow, and generally their questions will be answered in a few minutes.)
  18. Repeat Audience Questions – When your audience asks a question, repeat it to make sure you understand it and to allow the rest of your audience to hear the question, especially if the audience member asking the question doesn’t have a microphone. Repeating back the question also gives your brain extra time to think of a response.
  19. Finish Early – Practice your presentation so you finish at least 10-15% shorter than the time allotment. This extra cushion of time allows you some flexibility and good dialogue during Q&A sessions. Also, don’t let Q&A sessions go on too long, you want to finish early so you don’t add undue anxiety to your audience members trying to get to the next session or on to something else.
  20. web_offer_banner_3_contentmarketingStay Late – Hang back after your presentation to shake hands, collect business cards, and to answer specific audience questions that they didn’t want to ask in front of everyone else. If you’re doing thought leadership presentations for lead generation, this time is crucial to building relationships with prospective clients and allowing audience members to identify themselves as potential clients.
  21. Debrief Shortly after you finish your presentation, go through the presentation in your head and make notes on where you can improve your delivery, wording, and overall speaking skills. You can also ask the event organizer for feedback (many events survey the audience, which the organizer can share with you) and you can ask friends and colleagues in the audience for constructive criticism. [Get my presentation debrief form.]

The key to delivering a great presentation is to continually improve your public speaking skills. This list really doesn’t have any “public speaking tricks”, it comes down to practicing your presentations and refining your skills through repetition.

Additional Resources

How Speak Simple Can Help You

Win more work, increasing your billing rate, and prospects coming to you are all results of being an excellent presenter. Erica Olson created Speak Simple to help technical professionals to become comfortable presenting and excel at each presentation, whether a bid presentation or an educational, content marketing presentation. Learn more about Speak Simple’s flagship program is SpeakU, a self-guided presentation training program.

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