15 Ways to Elevate Your Public Speaking

The thought of public speaking once filled me with an irrational fear of audience reprisal—as if facing a pack of wolves. My anticipation was always worse than the reality. They never hurled sticks or stones, only their undivided attention.

It was a journey of growth, closely observing audiences and learning from esteemed speakers, that honed my craft. Here are fifteen pivotal lessons that transformed my public speaking. May they guide you to command the room.

Transform Your Public Speaking with These Guiding Principles

  1. It’s About the Audience, Not You!
    Focus on why they spent money to hear you speak, what they want from you, what you can do for them.  Side benefit: shifting your focus away from yourself can do a lot to reduce your anxiety. Why, because it’s no longer about you.
    If you take away nothing else, remember this point.
  2. Study the Topic of Presenting
    Invest time in learning from the experts. Engage with the works of renowned speakers and authors like Garr Reynolds (PresentationZen) and Nancy Duarte (Duarte.com) for groundbreaking insights.
  3. Avoid Crutches
    PowerPoint or KeyNote are there to support you, not the other way around.
  4. Do NOT Memorize Your Presentation Verbatim
    Make your key points with short stories that encapsulate your key points.

    Pro Tip: I heard Sec. of State Colin Powell give the same presentation multiple times. After about the 3rd time, the light hit me. This great speaker had not memorized his script. He had memorized the points he wanted to make but used different stories to make them. I adopted this approach. The late nights in a hotel room trying to memorize the next morning’s 32-slide script were over!
  5. One. Idea. Per. Slide. Period.
  6. Avoid Bullet Points
    Whenever possible. (See previous point.)
  7. No One Really Cares How Many Slides You Have: (See previous, previous point)
    Unless your presentation sucks.
  8. Only Use Graphics That Make Your Point
    Avoid gratuitous gimmicks like 3-D charts, fonts, and the like.
  9. Use Graphic Imagery to Support Your Point
    Full-bleed images (covers entire slide) with minimal text (< ~5 words) can be very powerful.
  10. Simple Is Best
    Simple does not mean preparation will not be complex though.
  11. Pay Attention to Your Audience
    Watch their faces. Watch body language. Adjust your presentation in real-time. Don’t be the Titanic – you can change course.
  12. Be Human. Smile. Relax:
    People want to relate to you. Don’t be a stiff ‘corporate’ persona. Leave the can of non-stick Teflon spray at home.
  13. Your First 30 seconds are Important!
    Don’t waste them blathering through lengthy self-intro. They likely know why you’re there already.

    Pro Tip: They already know something about your and/or the topic. It’s why they’re there in the first place.
    Bonus Pro Tip: Your audience really does not care about your company’s life history spread across 8 slides.
  14. Get Out From Behind the Podium
    Step into the light so they can see you, so they can relate to you (see point 12).
  15. Never Stop Learning: Practice. Study. Study the topic some more.

Bonus Item: Nobody is Perfect
Your audience does not expect you are either.

These insights represent a fraction of the wisdom I’ve accumulated. While some may be familiar, I hope others will spark new strategies for you. Now, it’s your turn to contribute to this dialogue.

What insights on presenting have impacted you? Share your journey in the comments.

Image credit (header): Miguel Henriques