Top 5 Public Speaking tips

As part of a tutorial for students in the Online Journalism subject that I teach (KJB222 at Queensland University of Technology) we were discussing ‘Listicles’ this week … brief stories that are essentially a short list of related ‘facts’ that make a semi-coherent story.

I asked them for example of a topic they could use to create a listicle (pointing out that the easiest solution is to look at something that interests them).

Some included “Things to do between tutes and lectures at University”, to “The best sushi outlets in Brisbane”, to “Top Ten Drinking Holes within walking distance of (suburb)”

Then one asked me for an example.

And here is is!

Top Five Tips for Public Speaking

1 Prior Preparation Presents Poor Performance

We’ve all been there … when the speaker gets up and starts a rambling, often drunken, talk at a wedding or a party or an event. Or when a colleague’s making a presentation at work and its obvious that they haven’t prepared.

Now, they may KNOW their subject (their best friend who’s getting married, or the new workflow process that is being introduced) – but if they haven’t prepared WHAT they are going to say, then HOW they say it will be a disaster.

Take time to jot down the key points you want to say, and then work out a few short things about each point. Why short? Because


2 Brevity is the soul of wit

There’s a joke that says a good speech should have a memorable opening, and a memorable closing – and the two should be as close to each other as possible.

And that’s true – because studies show that around 18 minutes is the absolute maximum that you can keep an audience with you.

In fact, most public speaking groups such as Toastmasters encourage members to prepare speeches around the six-minute mark. Because otherwise, there is a serious risk of audience fatigue.

Keep your presentations short, sharp and shiny … as Susan Weinschenk says in her book ‘100 things every presenter needs to know about people‘, “If the topic is of interest, you can focus on the presentation for 7 to 10 minutes at most. If people have a short break, then they can start over with another 7- to 10-minute period, but 7 to 10 minutes is the longest block of time they will pay attention to any one presentation.”


3 What’s your aim? You can’t hit a target without it

It sounds like a cliche – but cliches work because they contain a kernel of truth.

Whenever you start preparing a speech, whether for work or your social life, for church or for school, ask yourself WHAT DO I WANT TO ACHIEVE.

As the Westside Toastmasters Club in Santa Monica, California puts it, “Compose one concise sentence that states your purpose. This will become your focus and, as you put the rest of your speech together, you will constantly refer back to this one line that will keep you on target.

Then construct an outline. Would you build a building without a foundation? You couldn’t; and you also can’t build your speech until you lay its foundation, which is the outline. In the outline you will reduce your ideas to three or four main sentences or key phrases and arrange them in the most convincing order.”


4 Your audience matters – you don’t

“Most public speaking advice focuses on taking center stage: how to make eye contact, what do with your hands, and how to kill the dreaded “um.” This advice is important, but it’s secondary to creating an audience-centered presentation. When you make the audience the star of your presentation, your reach rises, your impact increases, and your bottom-line blossoms.”

So says Michelle Mazur in a very important article at Fast Company – where she points out that “Exceptional public speaking is never about the speaker. ”

If you take nothing else away from this article, take this: YOU ARE NOT THE STAR – Your information is.

If you are giving a speech about a friend, a relative, a colleague then the star is THEM. If you are explaining a process, a development, an idea, then that’s what’s important. It’s not about you. No matter how clever, how smart, how erudite and how skilled you are, the audience is the focus. If they don’t get what you want them to get, then you’ve missed your mark.


5 Practice Makes Perfect

Quite frankly, this is the easiest – but also the hardest – part of preparing a presentation. You need to practice.

Remember when you were learning to drive, and you had to remember to use the indicator, and the clutch, and the gearstick, and the brake, and get it all going together at the same time?

And then suddenly you found yourself doing al that without having to think about it?

The same is true with Public Speaking. The more you practice, the easier it gets.

That’s the beauty of groups like Toastmasters – because it has a logical, structured, learning program in a ‘risk-free’ environment. You get the chance to learn your speaking skills – but without the risk of stuffing-up in the workplace – and that’s a good thing!

Check out their program at a club near you … they welcome guests, and many trainers believe there is no more cost-effective method to become a good presenter.

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