Five Essential Tips for Successful Public Speaking

You wake up standing naked in front of the class. A ravenous lion is chasing you across the Serengeti. Living on the streets with no money, no food, and no clothes. Cancer. Falling from a tall building. Those are your greatest fears, right? Not according to studies which show that the most common fear people have is public speaking.

Public Presentation Skills by Dan Erickson

We have nothing to fear, but…public speaking? Fear no more. Dan Erickson shares five essential tips for public speaking. (Click to Tweet)

Odds are if you are reading this, at some point in your life you will have to deliver quite a few public speeches and Dan Erickson can help you. He is a “communication instructor” at a community college by trade. He is also a writer and blogs at

Here are Dan’s Five Essential Tips for Successful Public Speaking:

  1. Know your Audience and your Topic. Before you give a speech, you need to know who’ll be listening. If you have a basic understanding of your audience’s values, beliefs, knowledge and interests, you’ll be able to prepare your speech specifically with them in mind. Knowing your audience will help you choose your topic and design the presentation for your listeners. Make sure to have a solid grasp on your topic. You need to be the expert, so do your research with due diligence.
  2. Organize and Outline. Great speakers know the key to organizing a great speech: keep it simple. A good speech has three main parts:
  • The Introduction gains attention, establishes your expertise on the topic and previews your main points. Don’t overdo the intro. Keep it short.
  • The Body is the main content of the speech. It’s best to stick to four or less main points. Each main point needs to be developed with supporting material or subpoints. Again, simple is best.
  • The Conclusion reviews your main points and provides closure in the form of a final statement. If you’re trying to persuade, you need to use an action statement to tell your audience exactly what you’d like them to do.

guest-postOnce you’ve organized your speech, you need to put it on paper. Rather than writing your speech out word for word, it’s best to have a simple short-sentence or phrase outline. If you can, keep it all on a single page. You should know your topic well enough to deliver the presentation form a brief set of notes, but don’t try to memorize. Memorizing a speech often leads to disaster.

  1. Attention-Getters and Clinchers. As a public speaking teacher this is an area where I often see students struggling. The first and last thing you say in your speech need to be memorable. Don’t settle for mediocre starts and finishes. Use great stories or quotes, or ask intriguing questions. Practice your intro and conclusions a couple of extra times. You shouldn’t have to do more than glance at your notes for these parts of the speech.
  2. Practice, Practice, Practice. Once you’ve organized and outlined your speech you need to practice your delivery. You should make sure to give yourself a week to practice. Practice once or twice per day, but don’t overdo it. Make sure to project your voice, but keep in conversational. Use direct eye contact. Use a variety of gestures suited for the size of your venue. Practicing with a video camera can help you review and fix problem areas.
  3. Communicate with Confidence. Many people get nervous before delivering a speech. The reasons vary, but often it has to do with lack of practice and/or confidence. Another reason people are stressed out is that they treat public speaking as a performance and think they need to be perfect. You don’t have to be perfect. Rather than performance, think of public speaking as a “communication event,” as if you were explaining a new topic or idea to a few of your family members or friends. If you focus on your message and not on yourself you will communicate with confidence.

There are hundreds of online resources to help you in preparing and delivering your presentation. One excellent source is Toastmasters. Just remember to consider your audience, keep it simple, organize, practice, and be confident. And make your next presentation your best ever!

For more on presentation skills, check out the Guide to Keeping Repetitive Presentations Fresh.

What would you add to Dan’s list?

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