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The Ultimate Public Speaking Tips to Hook and Impress Any Audience

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The Ultimate Public Speaking Tips to Hook and Impress Any Audience

According to experts, public speaking is one of the most important and beneficial skill sets for your career. It helps to increase confidence and shapes the perception of others about you when you deliver a presentation.

Despite these benefits, however, many seem to fear public speaking. According to experts, roughly 80% of people get increasingly nervous and lose sleep before a big public speaking moment. Some experts even suggest that the fear of public speaking rivals death. Yet, most people will be put in a situation where they will be expected to speak in front of a crowd and these moments can sometimes be career-defining.

If you have been tirelessly trying to get the butterflies in your stomach to fly in formation when you’re thrust to speak to an audience, you’re not alone. Here’s an easy to follow step-by-step guide (with all the public speaking tips you need) on how you can overcome your fear of public speaking and impress your audience even if you’re a beginner.

1. Prepare for your presentation

A speaker’s worst fear is to see that the audience is bored or has gotten no value from the speech. This is why thoroughly preparing for your presentation is vital.

Here are a few easy steps to prepare and research for your presentation:

Identify the context of the event

For example, if you’re speaking at an industry conference on AI Technology – you can be sure that your audience will include practitioners and technicians in that space. Recycling basic content about their industry that they’re already aware of is a definite way to quickly lose their attention.

Instead, it’s likely you’d want to introduce big ideas that challenge what they already know about the industry currently and where it’s moving towards.

When Steve Jobs famously unveiled the iPhone in the 2007 Worldwide Developer’s Conference, he was tackling an existing industry norm of buttons on cell phones. Needless to say, his gamble paid off and set the foundation of the smart phones we now know today:

That said, Steve’s presentation style might not be for everyone, it’s up to you as a presenter to decide how best to deliver your speech when the time comes.[1]

Know the demographics of the audience

It is important to know the demographics of your audience as it determines how you can make your tone suitable and content relatable to them.

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If you’re speaking to audiences from a particular generation, consider including examples that will resonate with them. For example: when speaking to millennials, try referencing recent news on developments in technologies they use every day (e.g. SnapChat or Netflix) to be more relevant to them.

Organizing your content

You can have the best ideas. But if they aren’t sequenced in the right order, you’re basically back to square one.

Most experts agree that various presentations follow different ‘story arcs’ where they usually fall within three big acts: the Start(or Hook), Middle and Conclusion.[2]

These structures can exist in all sorts of ways such as a Problem, Solution, Call-To-Action type framework for sales. We see this mirrored by numerous presenters where they establish a cause for concern upfront before addressing these concerns with a product or method.

After you’ve decided ideas you’d like to flesh out, begin organizing them in an order that will keep the audience hinged on your every word. In this video, Aimee Mulins tells a story about adversity followed by resolution later on in life:

2. Develop a presentation that will captivate your audience

Picking a good topic and conquering your stage fright is half the battle won in public speaking. Putting it all together in a presentation that flows well and engages your audience is what differentiates a blockbuster speech versus a lacklustre talk.

Start strong

It’s been said that the first 30 seconds of your presentation determines whether the audience want to listen to you or not.[3]

Here are some proven ways to grab the attention of your audience:

  • Start with an anecdote. If you can draw relevance to your speech topic – sharing a quick story related to the topic is a great way to appear more relatable and lead audiences into your punchline.
  • Use an analogy. Analogies are a fun and interesting way to begin your presentation. Comparing two seemingly unrelated things can help build a case for what you’ll say next. Not only that, it can be helpful if you need to explain a complex situation that your audience may not understand.
  • Use a memorable quote. Starting with a memorable quote can help enhance your credibility and reinforce your own claims especially if it comes from notable figures or experts. It can also help inspire the audience which will then make them excited about your idea. The end result? It makes them more engaged with your presentation. Killing two birds with one stone!

Use storytelling techniques

Presentations are hardly ever a one-way dialogue. You’ll want to take measures to engage the audience and make the presentation a conversation.

Try to pose provocative questions or use props. Asking questions to the floor engages your audience presentation and also demonstrates that you value their opinion on things. In some cases, getting your audiences to visualize problems might be more effectively demonstrated than theorized.

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Bill Gates is an iconic example of how using props can really drive a message through when he released a swarm of mosquitos during his speech to communicate how people from countries with a high level of malaria infection feel:

Use visual aids effectively

Visual aids such as presentation slides are an opportunity to enhance and drive your message home with 43% added recall for presentations according to Prezi.

Sometimes putting all the information on a slide may steal the audience’s attention away. To prevent that, you can make use of evocative images that supports your speech to either transport audience members into a particular scene or to draw analogies for relevant messaging.

    3. Overcome your nerves and stage fright

    Picture this: moments before your speech, your heart’s pounding profusely in anticipation for what’s coming next. You step behind the podium and all eyes are on you. The pressure becomes overwhelming and you freeze, unable to utter a single word.

    It’s been long known that public speaking outranks even death as the top fear of most individuals. This then leads to the question – how do the pros make it look easy?

    Embrace your anxiety

    The truth is everyone gets nervous, even seasoned speakers. As Mark Twain put it nicely:

    “There are two types of speakers: those that are nervous and those that are liars.”

    Remembering and embracing that you’ll always get those butterflies in your stomach leading up to your presentation is half the battle won. Learn to harness that flush of adrenaline and energy to engage with your audience early on.

    Be conversational and authentic

    It’s easy to have a conversation with someone in a personal one-to-one setting. Public speaking does not need to be that different. Imagine speaking to one audience member at a time when you’re up on stage and you’ll find that it’s easier trying to connect to one person at a time than a whole room.

    Presenters like Elon Musk sometimes appear comical on stage, but always authentic. He speaks direct to the audiences and in a language they can understand:

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    Know your content

    Knowing your content at your fingertips help reduce your anxiety because there is one less thing to worry about. So one way to get there is to practice numerous times before your actual speech. However, you don’t want to memorize your script word by word. It can work against you should you forget your content.

    Instead, memorize the over-arching concepts or ideas in your pitch as it helps you speak more naturally. This will let your personality shine through. Speaking exactly from a memorized script may make you sound rigid and robotic.

    Still, if you need to have a reference just in case you forget your speech, it is okay to have prompts in your slides or cue cards.

    Mouth your words when rehearsing

    Another method that most speakers use to embed their presentations into their conscience is to ‘mouth’ the words as they rehearse.

    Not only do you begin to instinctively memorize your presentation each time you practice, it also aids in muscle memory when you need to deliver the speech on stage naturally.

    4. Deliver an impressive speech

    We’ve gone from prepping for a presentation, finding ways to engage your audience with presentations and combating stage fright. All this is left with is for the speaker to steal the show by delivering an impressive performance during the speech.

    Here are some things you’ll want to take note of to ensure you’re in tip-top shape when it’s showtime:

    Hand gestures

    Seasoned speakers swear by this and amateur speakers use it to great success.

    Hand gesturing is a great way to avoid looking stiff and awkward on stage. A key tip is to have your hands held high above your waist at all times and let your hands gesture naturally as you talk. This makes you look more confident and also engages well with audience.

    Body language

    What great speakers have in common is how confident they are. Just like any other human being out there, these people also get the jitters before every speech – even great speakers like John F. Kennedy will spend months preparing his speech before hand.[4]

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    Most people struggle to be confident and it is okay. Not everyone can talk confidently especially in front of a large crowd. But sometimes, confidence is not all about how you speak but through your body language.

    Standing tall and with good posture can do wonders for your perceived confidence and your actual performance. Using big hand gestures and standing firmly on your feet, a shoulder width apart, helps even the most nervous presenters open up on stage.

    “Our bodies change our minds and our minds change our behaviours, and our behaviour changes our outcome.” – Social Psychologist, Amy Cudd

    Small gestures like these give signs to your audience how to think and feel about you and whether they should listen to you in the first few seconds of your presentation. Hence, it is important to take note of your body language as it is a stepping stone to make you feel or at least look confident – even if you’re not.

    Tone of voice

    Your voice plays a critical role in your success as a presenter. According to an analysis of media appearances by 120 top financial communicators, the sound of a speaker’s voice matters twice as much as the content of the message[5] and even an evaluation found one of the most popular TED talks concluded these very speakers have 30.5% higher vocal variety than other speakers that are less popular.[6]

    Technical speakers focus a lot on how they train their voice as they articulate words. Some use a higher pitch when communicating an idea with energy and a lower pitch in solemn instances.

    In short, it is about matching your emotions to the idea. For example, if you are sharing a sad story, it only makes sense to match that mood with your voice in a lower tone and volume.

    Pause and emphasis

    Pauses and emphasis are a powerful tool in a presenter’s arsenal. When used purposefully in the right moment, it can create a dramatic flare to further reinforce what you have said, make the audience ponder over a topic or it can provide time for the audience to let the message sink in. It’s basically a ‘full-stop’ or ‘period’ used but in spoken word.

    Check out how to master the pausing technique from Brian Tracy:

    Time management

    Ending too early or too late can spell trouble for speakers that are on the clock for an event’s schedule. At times, event schedules get delayed and leave little time for speakers to deliver their full speech.

    The key tip to avoid an awry moment is to be very familiar with your content and to practice several versions of your presentation at varying durations.

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    Summing it up

    And there you have it, these four big steps are what will help you ace your public speaking.

    Don’t shy away from your next chance to speak in public. Instead, make full use of the opportunity and apply these public speaking tips:

    1. Study your audience before preparing your topic
    2. Develop a presentation that will captivate your audience
    3. Overcome your nerves and stage fright
    4. Never Wing It. Practice Your Voice, movement and time-keeping

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    Eugene Cheng

    Eugene is Lifehack's Entrepreneurship Expert. He is the co-founder and creative lead of HighSpark, offering presentation training for companies.

    Why Leadership and Management Are Two Sides of a Coin How to Overcome the Fear of Public Speaking (A Step-by-Step Guide) How to Succeed in Business: 10 Skills Every Entrepreneur Needs How to Learn Business as an Aspiring Entrepreneur 10 Most Successful Entrepreneurs (And What to Learn from Them)

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    Last Updated on July 20, 2021

    How to Overcome the Fear of Public Speaking (A Step-by-Step Guide)

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    How to Overcome the Fear of Public Speaking (A Step-by-Step Guide)

    You’re standing behind the curtain, just about to make your way on stage to face the many faces half-shrouded in darkness in front of you. As you move towards the spotlight, your body starts to feel heavier with each step. A familiar thump echoes throughout your body – your heartbeat has gone off the charts.

    Don’t worry, you’re not the only one with glossophobia(also known as speech anxiety or the fear of speaking to large crowds). Sometimes, the anxiety happens long before you even stand on stage.

    Your body’s defence mechanism responds by causing a part of your brain to release adrenaline into your blood – the same chemical that gets released as if you were being chased by a lion.

    Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you overcome your fear of public speaking:

    1. Prepare yourself mentally and physically

    According to experts, we’re built to display anxiety and to recognize it in others. If your body and mind are anxious, your audience will notice. Hence, it’s important to prepare yourself before the big show so that you arrive on stage confident, collected and ready.

    “Your outside world is a reflection of your inside world. What goes on in the inside, shows on the outside.” – Bob Proctor

    Exercising lightly before a presentation helps get your blood circulating and sends oxygen to the brain. Mental exercises, on the other hand, can help calm the mind and nerves. Here are some useful ways to calm your racing heart when you start to feel the butterflies in your stomach:

    Warming up

    If you’re nervous, chances are your body will feel the same way. Your body gets tense, your muscles feel tight or you’re breaking in cold sweat. The audience will notice you are nervous.

    If you observe that this is exactly what is happening to you minutes before a speech, do a couple of stretches to loosen and relax your body. It’s better to warm up before every speech as it helps to increase the functional potential of the body as a whole. Not only that, it increases muscle efficiency, improves reaction time and your movements.

    Here are some exercises to loosen up your body before show time:

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    1. Neck and shoulder rolls – This helps relieve upper body muscle tension and pressure as the rolls focus on rotating the head and shoulders, loosening the muscle. Stress and anxiety can make us rigid within this area which can make you feel agitated, especially when standing.
    2. Arm stretches – We often use this part of our muscles during a speech or presentation through our hand gestures and movements. Stretching these muscles can reduce arm fatigue, loosen you up and improve your body language range.
    3. Waist twists – Place your hands on your hips and rotate your waist in a circular motion. This exercise focuses on loosening the abdominal and lower back regions which is essential as it can cause discomfort and pain, further amplifying any anxieties you may experience.

    Stay hydrated

    Ever felt parched seconds before speaking? And then coming up on stage sounding raspy and scratchy in front of the audience? This happens because the adrenaline from stage fright causes your mouth to feel dried out.

    To prevent all that, it’s essential we stay adequately hydrated before a speech. A sip of water will do the trick. However, do drink in moderation so that you won’t need to go to the bathroom constantly.

    Try to avoid sugary beverages and caffeine, since it’s a diuretic – meaning you’ll feel thirstier. It will also amplify your anxiety which prevents you from speaking smoothly.

    Meditate

    Meditation is well-known as a powerful tool to calm the mind. ABC’s Dan Harris, co-anchor of Nightline and Good Morning America weekend and author of the book titled10% Happier , recommends that meditation can help individuals to feel significantly calmer, faster.

    Meditation is like a workout for your mind. It gives you the strength and focus to filter out the negativity and distractions with words of encouragement, confidence and strength.

    Mindfulness meditation, in particular, is a popular method to calm yourself before going up on the big stage. The practice involves sitting comfortably, focusing on your breathing and then bringing your mind’s attention to the present without drifting into concerns about the past or future – which likely includes floundering on stage.

    Here’s a nice example of guided meditation before public speaking:

    2. Focus on your goal

    One thing people with a fear of public speaking have in common is focusing too much on themselves and the possibility of failure.

    Do I look funny? What if I can’t remember what to say? Do I look stupid? Will people listen to me? Does anyone care about what I’m talking about?’

    Instead of thinking this way, shift your attention to your one true purpose – contributing something of value to your audience.

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    Decide on the progress you’d like your audience to make after your presentation. Notice their movements and expressions to adapt your speech to ensure that they are having a good time to leave the room as better people.

    If your own focus isn’t beneficial and what it should be when you’re speaking, then shift it to what does. This is also key to establishing trust during your presentation as the audience can clearly see that you have their interests at heart.[1]

    3. Convert negativity to positivity

    There are two sides constantly battling inside of us – one is filled with strength and courage while the other is doubt and insecurities. Which one will you feed?

    ‘What if I mess up this speech? What if I’m not funny enough? What if I forget what to say?’

    It’s no wonder why many of us are uncomfortable giving a presentation. All we do is bring ourselves down before we got a chance to prove ourselves. This is also known as a self-fulfilling prophecy – a belief that comes true because we are acting as if it already is. If you think you’re incompetent, then it will eventually become true.

    Motivational coaches tout that positive mantras and affirmations tend to boost your confidents for the moments that matter most. Say to yourself: “I’ll ace this speech and I can do it!”

    Take advantage of your adrenaline rush to encourage positive outcome rather than thinking of the negative ‘what ifs’.

    Here’s a video of Psychologist Kelly McGonigal who encourages her audience to turn stress into something positive as well as provide methods on how to cope with it:

    4. Understand your content

    Knowing your content at your fingertips helps reduce your anxiety because there is one less thing to worry about. One way to get there is to practice numerous times before your actual speech.

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    However, memorizing your script word-for-word is not encouraged. You can end up freezing should you forget something. You’ll also risk sounding unnatural and less approachable.

    “No amount of reading or memorizing will make you successful in life. It is the understanding and the application of wise thought that counts.” – Bob Proctor

    Many people unconsciously make the mistake of reading from their slides or memorizing their script word-for-word without understanding their content – a definite way to stress themselves out.

    Understanding your speech flow and content makes it easier for you to convert ideas and concepts into your own words which you can then clearly explain to others in a conversational manner. Designing your slides to include text prompts is also an easy hack to ensure you get to quickly recall your flow when your mind goes blank.[2]

    One way to understand is to memorize the over-arching concepts or ideas in your pitch. It helps you speak more naturally and let your personality shine through. It’s almost like taking your audience on a journey with a few key milestones.

    5. Practice makes perfect

    Like most people, many of us are not naturally attuned to public speaking. Rarely do individuals walk up to a large audience and present flawlessly without any research and preparation.

    In fact, some of the top presenters make it look easy during showtime because they have spent countless hours behind-the-scenes in deep practice. Even great speakers like the late John F. Kennedy would spend months preparing his speech beforehand.

    Public speaking, like any other skill, requires practice – whether it be practicing your speech countless of times in front of a mirror or making notes. As the saying goes, practice makes perfect!

    6. Be authentic

    There’s nothing wrong with feeling stressed before going up to speak in front of an audience.

    Many people fear public speaking because they fear others will judge them for showing their true, vulnerable self. However, vulnerability can sometimes help you come across as more authentic and relatable as a speaker.

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    Drop the pretence of trying to act or speak like someone else and you’ll find that it’s worth the risk. You become more genuine, flexible and spontaneous, which makes it easier to handle unpredictable situations – whether it’s getting tough questions from the crowd or experiencing an unexpected technical difficulty.

    To find out your authentic style of speaking is easy. Just pick a topic or issue you are passionate about and discuss this like you normally would with a close family or friend. It is like having a conversation with someone in a personal one-to-one setting. A great way to do this on stage is to select a random audience member(with a hopefully calming face) and speak to a single person at a time during your speech. You’ll find that it’s easier trying to connect to one person at a time than a whole room.

    With that said, being comfortable enough to be yourself in front of others may take a little time and some experience, depending how comfortable you are with being yourself in front of others. But once you embrace it, stage fright will not be as intimidating as you initially thought.

    Presenters like Barack Obama are a prime example of a genuine and passionate speaker:

    7. Post speech evaluation

    Last but not the least, if you’ve done public speaking and have been scarred from a bad experience, try seeing it as a lesson learned to improve yourself as a speaker.

    Don’t beat yourself up after a presentation

    We are the hardest on ourselves and it’s good to be. But when you finish delivering your speech or presentation, give yourself some recognition and a pat on the back.

    You managed to finish whatever you had to do and did not give up. You did not let your fears and insecurities get to you. Take a little more pride in your work and believe in yourself.

    Improve your next speech

    As mentioned before, practice does make perfect. If you want to improve your public speaking skills, try asking someone to film you during a speech or presentation. Afterwards, watch and observe what you can do to improve yourself next time.

    Here are some questions you can ask yourself after every speech:

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    • How did I do?
    • Are there any areas for improvement?
    • Did I sound or look stressed?
    • Did I stumble on my words? Why?
    • Was I saying “um” too often?
    • How was the flow of the speech?

    Write everything you observed down and keep practicing and improving. In time, you’ll be able to better manage your fears of public speaking and appear more confident when it counts.

    If you want even more tips about public speaking or delivering a great presentation, check out these articles too:

    Reference

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