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 www.danerickson.net.

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?

21 thoughts on “Five Essential Tips for Successful Public Speaking

  1. Joshua Rivers says:

    Believe in your message. You can polish and practice as much as you want, but if you don’t absolutely believe it, it won’t be authentic. That will show through. I would rather listen to someone that I know believes what they’re saying, but stumble a little bit, than to listen to a polished speaker that is just reciting from memory. Believing in your message also helps to build that courage and confidence.

    1. Matt McWilliams says:


      Is it even possible to deliver a message with passion and effectiveness when you think the message is crap?

      1. Joshua Rivers says:

        People can act, but it doesn’t take the place of real passion.

      2. Dan Erickson says:

        Or when you don’t really care about the message? A good speaker needs to show his or her audience that they care.

    2. Mark Sieverkropp says:

      I love that tip! It’s so true…if you dont believe in the message, nothing you do will help!

    3. Dan Erickson says:

      Great point, Joshua. Sincerity and honesty will always win listeners.

  2. Tom Dixon says:

    The simpler the better…and I’ve had more success proportional to how I’ve tailored to the audience. You have to meet them where they are. Great stuff from Dan today!

    1. Dan Erickson says:

      Thanks, Tom. I’m a big fan of minimalism in all areas of life, including speaking and writing.

  3. Jon Stolpe says:

    Great post! I’ve been contemplating starting a Toastmasters group at my office. Any advice?

    1. Matt McWilliams says:

      Perfect question for Lily Kreitinger. I tweeted her with your question.

    2. Lily Kreitinger says:

      I’m so glad you asked. I happen to be VP Public Relations at my club. All you need is 20 members and some forms filled out. You can go to http://www.toastmasters.org/newclub and they guide you step by step. it’s been a really rewarding experience for me

      1. Jon Stolpe says:

        Thanks, Lily!

    3. Dan Erickson says:

      I was in Toastmasters for a year. I moved and didn’t stay with it, but it’s a great program. I use a video created by Toastmasters in my classes.

  4. Mark Sieverkropp says:

    Great post. I actually dont mind speaking infront of people at all. And many of these things are things that I would tell people if they asked me. The one thing I would add would be along the lines of practice: find opportunities to speak in front of people. The more you do it, the easier it gets. And just be yourself… dont try to be Matt McWilliams talkin to people…or Chris LoCurto, or Dave Ramsey. Be you.

    1. Lily Kreitinger says:

      I’m too short to be Chris LoCurto and have too much hair to be Dave Ramsey… just sayin’

      1. Matt McWilliams says:

        And you are too nice to be me. 🙂

    2. Dan Erickson says:

      Great advice, Mark. I tell my students they should never consider themselves a public speaker or try to be someone else, but be yourself. And yes, every opportunity is practice.

  5. Lily Kreitinger says:

    Great post on a topic near and dear to my heart. Thanks for all the accurate and helpful guidelines on how to rock the stage!

    1. Dan Erickson says:

      You’re welcome, Lily. Once we learn the basics, we can shine.

  6. Jared Latigo says:

    Awesome tips! I think the most important tip I’ve heard is that your audience doesn’t want you to fail. That’s not fun for them either. It really went to my heart. Someday, when I get the chance to speak, I trust I’ll put this time in these areas to make the first time worthwhile for everyone attending 😀

    1. Matt McWilliams says:

      Great point Jared!

      When is the last time you said, “you know, I really want to go to a horrible presentation today. I just love bad powerpoints and speakers.”

      They want to be moved. They want to be taught. They want you to amaze them.

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