10 Steps to Becoming a Great Public Speaker

Today’s guest post is provided by Allan F. Wright as part of the Podium 101 series, detailing the ins and outs of effective public speaking. Allan has recently published his 2nd book and provides over 90 talks per year.  For more information, visit www.allanwright.org 

I’ve read surveys where fear of speaking in public is right up there with fear of death, cancer and spiders! Like most things in life, a little preparation and planning can go a long way to alleviate these fears for the public speaking novice and for those who are regularly speaking in public, I’ve found a few simple guidelines can help me structure and deliver the talk I’ve been asked to present.

  • When choosing a topic make sure it’s one that you have some level of knowledge and expertise. This will increase your confidence and comfort level when speaking as well as      alleviate any fear.


  • Be clear about your expectations from the beginning. Be sure to confirm with the person who hired you about your role as speaker. Are you there to inspire, to educate, to give information on a new product, to witness to your experience or to give encouragement to a crowd? Knowing your expectations will focus the presentation and allow you to be on the same page with the person who hired you.


  • Know your audience and their expectation. Are you speaking to executives, to high school students, to people who are experts in the field? Knowing your audience will again allow you to focus your talk and provide direction for where you want to take them.


  • Never apologize when you begin a talk. Hearing a speaker say, ‘I’m really not prepared’ or ‘forgive me because I lost my notes’ sets you up for failure. Imagine an athlete stepping up to the plate or free throw line and turning to the crowd and say, ‘I’m sorry, I really don’t think I’ll do well this at bat…’ Be positive! Expect to hit it out of the park.


  • Connecting with your audience is key to any effective communication.      The best way to begin is with eye contact and a smile. (Unless it’s a tragic event of course) The way you approach the podium and ‘carry yourself’ often communicates confidence and authority. People want to listen; they are there to receive what you have to give them.


  • Making an outline is vital even if  you never look at it during your presentation. If you do get sidetracked it can bring you back to topic and if you make one beforehand it will likely get ingrained in your mind.


  • Be careful adding personal stories because while they can be helpful most novices can get into them quickly but have difficulty getting out of them. What was supposed to be a 30 second example of ‘life experience’ quickly becomes an 8 minute rant which no one but the speaker cares about. If the personal experience doesn’t directly relate then cut it out.


  • Don’t be afraid to use an object lesson to get across a point. Let’s face it; people may forget what you say but using dramatic action, holding up an object which gets your point across,      is rarely forgotten. (I once heard a presentation about the power of the tongue to hurt or heal. The woman held up a 7 pound Cow tongue as an example of one of the most dangerous weapons! I still remember it today.)


  • If necessary or desired, allow some time for personal reflection questions or leave      them with a challenge. Without a moderator, Q&A periods often get sidetracked, become gripe sessions or audience members with agendas take over. Again, once the audience gets sidetracked it’s difficult to bring them back.


  • Have an ending and watch your time. I consider it disrespectful if a speaker goes over the allotted time frame. Leave them wanting more not less.      Have you ever been to a presentation that you thought was too short? Most likely it’s the other way around.


These simple, yet significant points can make or break a presentation. A good friend reminds me that, ‘the brain can only absorb what the butt can endure,’ so try to leave your audience wanting more and not wishing you had ended fifteen minutes earlier.

Resources for the Road

Toastmasters: 10 Tips for Public Speaking

Lifehacker: Tips for Public Speaking

5 Essential Presentation Tips

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