The PBI Blog

Follow these 10 tips to take your public speaking to the next level.

1) Understand Your Purpose

Discuss with inviter. Advance-check your content against the purpose.

2) Be Confident

Your host gave you Expert Status—take it! You are not a fraud. No need to boast, or refer to the time you almost represented John Lennon (irrelevant, and it never happened anyway).

Don’t apologize. Smart people don’t know everything. The smartest people know what they don’t know. Present like a confident person: appropriate volume and body language. Wear an outfit that makes you comfortable. Don’t hang onto the furniture for dear life. Take charge. Be clear. Please do not ask if the mic is on.

3) Have Fun

No one wants to be stuck in a room with a sourpuss who wishes she was anyplace else. Smile. Enjoy the interaction.

4) Know Your Audience

Ask the inviter who is likely to show up, and what he knows about them, especially what would motivate them to attend. Send out a short email in advance to participants with some friendly questions. It will help you deliver the goods. Arrive early; greet folks at the door.

Yes, wear a name tag that says Presenter—you are not Lady Gaga or the Pope. Engage the five people not on cell phones: what’s their specialties; locales; what are they hoping to learn?

Identify a few people you sense like you. Make eye contact with them and ‘read’ them while you present. These people can quash your nervousness. They are your new BFFs.

Looking to improve your communication skills even further?
Check out these On-Demand Videos:

5) Don't Ignore the Remote Audiences

Specifically welcome your remote audience if you have one, and speak to them throughout your remarks. Ask your sponsor for a way to get their email questions during the program.

6) Create Interactivity

Nobody wants to hear you talk constantly. Most people have a thought or two to share. Tease them out, but politely quash the time-eating bore.

Ask for a show of hands. Ask for the remote and archive audience to email you. If the timing, people, subject and venue work in favor of this, ask folks to chew on a question in small groups, and then ask each group spokesperson to report an answer.
Post a multiple choice question on a slide; wait a minute, then explain the ups and downs of each possible answer.

7) Use Visuals That Stimulate Rather Than Sedate

Just say NO to PowerPoint. Slides are old-school. They are usually misused. Why would you want to lull your audience to sleep?

If foreign agents threaten to kill your pets if you don’t use slides, just make a few great ones, and put very little data on each. Use color and icons. Make slides readable, from the back row, in a few seconds, like a billboard.

Just because practically everyone else uses overloaded does not make it a good idea. Control yourself. Be better than the rest. Show your visuals to your sponsor and tech in advance and on the day of your presentation. Be sure you know the drill. Be sure they know the drill. Technical malfunctions are a drag.

8) Practice With Bare-Bones Notes

Depending on length of presentation and your expertise, perform for a friend, or a few colleagues like those in the audience. Be grateful even if you cannot understand their reactions. Don’t invite jokers to your test group.

Don’t over-practice. Don’t memorize. Work with slimmed-down note cards, or slide prompts. Save the full script for DeNiro when your presentation becomes a feature movie.

9) Do Not Offend or Exclude

Yup, it is easy to display implicit bias. Everyone is not like you. Religion, politics, and divisive social issues are dangerous for amateur presenters.

Anyway, what do these have to do with your presentation? Do not display explicit bias. Did we really have to say this? Respect your audience in three big ways: stay on time; assume they are smart; and dress so you are in the top quarter of those in the room. It doesn’t matter that 10% of the audience are super-comfy in flip-flops.

10) Embrace Post-Course Feedback

You will present again, so look for the crit as much as the kudos. If the inviter lacks a useful evaluation form, ask if the sponsor will also distribute and collect your own. Get a copy of the digital file of your presentation and study it. Learn and improve. Have a sensible colleague with you to balance your ego or lack of ego.