3 Tips for Effective Public Speaking

For many government employees, especially leaders in highly visible positions, effective public speaking is just another part of the job. Whether it’s addressing the media, motivating employees, making an innovative pitch or speaking to the community, watching a talented orator deliver an effective presentation can be both inspiring and intimidating – especially to those of us who have to really work at being charismatic.

The ability to enchant an audience isn’t necessarily an inherited trait, though, and there is hope for the reluctant raconteur. Like many professional skills, confidence can be practiced and perfected with time.

If you’re an ambivert like I am, a person whose personality displays both extroverted and introverted features, the idea of public speaking isn’t totally terrifying, but when you actually find yourself open to the scrutiny of spectators, your nerves take over and your ego deflates.

No matter your personality type, with patience and preparation, even the most timid talker can overcome a fear of public speaking.

When you’re getting ready to give a speech or presentation, it’s hard enough to focus on the material you’re discussing, so trying to remember a bunch of public speaking tips can be distracting. We’ve all been told over and over to make eye contact, speak slowly and avoid reading slides verbatim, etc. But I’ve narrowed it down to three rules you absolutely have to follow, and once you’ve rehearsed enough times, they should become muscle memory:

Be Prepared

Preparation for public speaking is the linchpin of a successfully delivered presentation. I think a lot of the jitters we feel before making any speech can be contributed to the anxiety associated with feeling unprepared. Some people thrive on improvisation, but for those of us who need a game plan, preparing for a speech or presentation is a necessity. Whether you’re using a slide deck, videos, photos or other visual aids, practice your presentation as many times as you can.  Understand the timing and pacing of your delivery so the flow of ideas makes sense and your messages are easily identified. Cut as much fat from your script as you can to make it easier to recite conversationally. You should never make a speech for the first time to your audience.

There are some other things to consider beforehand, like presentation location and tech capabilities. If the computer suddenly breaks and your accompanying slides and visuals are lost, can you make your presentation a cappella?

Don’t Say Too Much

How many times have you been told to keep it simple? We’ve all endured meetings, presentations and speeches that felt endless, like being drawn into a PowerPoint black hole. When you’re the one on the podium, do you want people to be checking their watches? During the preparation phase, you should have identified your key messages. If you bury those in extra information, you’re relying on your audience to decipher which material matters most. Do the leg work for them. Keep your presentation short and make your key messages obvious and memorable.

Know Your Audience

You should know in advance who you’re actually going to be speaking to. How old are they? Are they subject matter experts? Members of the general public? High school students? Senior leaders? All of this information will dictate how you make your presentation, what kind of visual aids you use and how you shape your language. If you use industry jargon, will they understand it? How much background information do you need to provide? Is it a formal presentation? Does your audience have a sense of humor? Understanding your audience’s limits and expectations beforehand (this is why preparation is key) will ensure your presentation or speech is appropriate and well-received.

Even experienced public speakers still combat nervousness and stage fright, so don’t set the bar too high for yourself.  You can find some additional effective public speaking tips here.

If you need help during the preparation phase to ensure your script is efficient and effective, check out these resources.

And if all else fails, just picture the audience naked.

Let us know in the comments what public speaking tricks you use to decrease distress.

Anna Taylor is part of the GovLoop Featured Contributor program, where we feature articles by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Contributor posts, click here.

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Sherie Sanders

It gets easier with time. The first day I taught college, I could not read the clock properly in front of a class, I was so nervous my flight-or-flight response circumvented my brain. Now, I could have 12 wardrobe malfunctions, dislodge the podium, then find out I am in the wrong venue and my attitude would be “Oh well, life goes on.”

Avatar photo Leah Anderson

I think these three are great fundamental tips. I especially agree with ‘Don’t Say Too Much.’ Sometimes over-preparing or over-rehearsing can lead to a very stiff presentation. I feel like I do my best public speaking when I’ve put my time in and know the in’s and out’s of the topic, but not memorized every word of the presentation. Thanks for sharing!