How to Successfully Speak in Public

Most people are concerned when they are to make a public presentation or speech. This is a normal feeling, though counter to the successful execution of the conveyance of information. We all have trepidation that something could go wrong. Often the time before a speech is spent preparing. Preparation is a good thing, but the time for it is far before the time for the speech or presentation.

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Preparation of Content:

Each of us must prepare for a presentation or speech. The first thing that must be done is to know your subject. We must be comfortable with the information, truly understand it in its full context, to project it clearly to a crowd.

Get the information down early Whether it is a Power Point presentation or notes on cards, write it out, put it in the order that it will make sense to the audience. I like to do this early. I like to have the time to write the entire presentation out, leave it for a few days, and come back to refine. Often I will do this many times. By the time that the presentation is near, you should have looked at it many times, made many balancing edits, and have the timing down.

The Scene:

Presentations can take place in a small cloistered room, with the speaker simply rising from a chair, or they can be from a stage with a large crowd. Will there be a microphone? Will there be a podium? these issues are important and they are necessary information to your preparation. While extreme gestures might be reasonable in front of the reflection pool on a stage in D.C. The same would look silly in a small room. The more distant the crowd, the more exaggerated the movements of the speaker may be to convey his message. Will you be given a set time, or is there flexibility in the timing of the presentation or speech? Will you be introduced, or will you need to introduce yourself?

The message:

It may seem not worthy of mention, but it is vital to have a presentation that engages your audience. Understand the biasses of your audience. Tailor your information to be palatable to that audience. The conveyance of information, which differs from the general understanding of the audience is a wonderful challenge and can change the course of discussion, perhaps even history, but, package it as I understand, and you do not, and you will be cleaning the tomato stains from your white shirt!


I am a strong believer in timing of the delivery of a speech or presentation. I have had to sit through so many Power Point presentations with the presenter reading slides to me that I never allow myself to have anything in my pockets that is sharp, lest I slit my wrists.

A strong point is accented by a buildup in speed of speech. A wandering audience is controlled by a speaker slowing to a quite or a pause. Unfortunately, the best example of great timing are two vastly unpopular men, Castro, and Hitler. Hitler stopped completely, retiring from the microphone and waiting. Fifty thousand people waited, totally quiet, for the next word. Castro spoke quietly to tens of thousands who stood in the rain to receive his insight. Strip yourself away from the content and the man, and watch one of their speeches. They exemplify the use of timing.

When you practice your speech or presentation, as you should, take time between points. It is much more effective to make fewer points better, than to ramble through information, losing the attention of the audience in the process.

Timing is not important, timing is everything.


The first thing one must do is to put oneself at ease. Relax, breath deeply, don’t care about anything. Put yourself in a place where you shed the fears that tend to overwhelm some, and have fun giving your presentation. You have worked hard. It is an honor to be heard. Enjoy every minute of it. Wear a smile and give it your best. You will do wonderfully.

Keep verbiage off of slides, and make the effort to speak to the audience. Consider it as a conversation. Make eye contact with people in the audience. move your eyes from point to point and see the audience as one person at a time. If you have slides, allow them to convey feeling, or data in the form of a chart or picture.

Be not afraid of greatness in words and in speech. When J.F.K. gave his wonderful address “Ask not what your country can do for you…” he did not select the normal order of common speech. If he had said “don’t ask what your country can do for you,…” we would not be quoting him now. Another great speaker, Martin Luther King said “I have been to the mountaintop” what a beautiful and significant statement he dared to make.

Your words and your message deserve the breadth of the words available to you. Your message deserves to be wrapped in poetic beauty. Dare to frame information in beautiful and well considered words and phrases.

The greatest speakers practice. They give the same speech over and over, to their staff, to the mirror, to the video camera. They check the timing, they get honest criticism, they refine and refine.

Look at yourself. Give your full speech or presentation to a mirror, or better, a video camera. You will refine your stance, your projection, and your demeanor. If you do this often, you will continue to become more proficient and more professional. Over time, you will become great.

I was once called on stage to give a 45 minute speech on a technical engineering issue without plan or prep because the planned presenter had missed a flight. I pulled it off, but it was not great. Always, your finest shall be that communication that you refined over time, considering, and reconsidering, until, at last you were completely comfortable with it.

Things that Kill a good presentation:

Rapid speech – often the nervous speak rapidly, reading the speech off of cards or (worse) off of slides. They abandon timing. It is hard to hear.

Fidgeting – A presenter who is tapping his side, or walking in circles, or rubbing his fingers together can be unnerving to the observer. Soon the observer is drawn from the content by the actions and the effort at communication fails.

Uncomfortable Presenter – When the presenter looks and sounds, even acts uncomfortable, the same feelings are telegraphed to the audience. Soon the audience is feeling the same things. Even embarrassment, discomfort, and nervousness can be so conveyed. A smiling, happy speaker, too conveys feelings to the audience.

See also this great article:

If you are able to convey information to others, you are a lucky person. You should consider it an honor. Take time to get a good outline early and work on improvement before the presentation. When the time comes, smile, look happy and be happy. Be sincere. You will be wonderful!

Scott Cahill