Dos and Don’ts of Public Speaking

Tips from a Person Who Thought She Could Not Do it  (but has spoken around the world)

“You are an expert! You should speak at our event!” The thrilling sentence that is both flattering and outright scary. I’ve consulted CEOs and other business experts about their personal branding for years, and the topic of public speaking often comes up. Even the most knowledgeable experts can have fear of public speaking, and I totally get it. I am the person who had to run out of the classroom in high school to have a panic attack because I could not speak in front of 20 students that I knew well. I have also spoken at numerous conferences around the world, including keynotes in front of hundreds, and not even in my native language. Here are some of my public speaking tips for those who might be worried to jump back into speaking after a break, or who might have jitters even speaking at Zoom events. If I have been able to conquer my fear of public speaking and learn to love it, so can you.  

Public Speaking Dos

1. Be Prepared and be Prepared to be Flexible

Know what you are going to talk about. If you are very new to public speaking, write the entire speech up, and practice speaking it again and again until you feel confident that you know your top points. Some even like to time themselves to know that the speech is the correct length. Equally important: be prepared to be flexible not to speak word to word. You might forget something you wrote, there might be an interruption that throws you off. That’s OK. Remember, nobody else knows what you practiced in the front of the mirror, so nobody else knows if you forgot to say something. It’s actually better than you will sound natural, and go with the flow. If you forgot to say a point, you might get an opportunity to point it out later, maybe when someone is asking a question. Don’t say things like “I forgot to say earlier,” but try to find out a natural way to go back to the topic and say it.

2. Bring Assistance – Notes & PowerPoint Presentation

Sure, most experienced speakers can speak without notes or a presentation. But I know what it feels to be one minute before stepping into the stage and being so nervous that you forget what the topic even was. There is no shame for having assistance to deliver your speech. Bring your speech on a paper with you if you must. I like a note paper with the top 5-10 key topics that I will speak about, and just seeing the topic title reminds me of the entire that part of the speech. If I create a PowerPoint presentation, I don’t bring additional notes.

Here are some PowerPoint presentation tips:

  • Keep the slides simple; you want people listening to you, not reading your slides.
  • Use a large font and less than 2-3 paragraphs per slide. If I do more, I tend to ask people to take a photo of the slide, instead of encouraging them to read it.
  • Use pictures or videos, and especially video can give you a nice break during your speech. I personally like starting a presentation with a high impact video that gets people excited.
  • Remember to include a title slide with your name, and the name of your presentation, and an ending slide with your contact information.
  • It’s good to include a “brag slide” about yourself too so everyone in your audience knows who you are and that you are an expert on the subject you speak of.
  • In conferences, it’s also a good idea to include your Twitter handle and the event hashtag in each slide encouraging people to tweet your speech.

3. Smile and Be Welcoming

First, remember to breathe. Secondly, remember to smile. Really, even if you make mistakes, people will forgive you, and sympathize with you, if you are nice, you genuinely smile and you are welcoming. When you smile and look people directly in the eye – they usually smile back giving you a confidence boost during your speech. You know the quote by Maya Angelou by now: “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” You will always deliver your speech better when you make people feel welcome and that you also respect them.

4. Slow Down and Relax

While I don’t advise you to be slow and boring, I advise you to speak at a slower pace, and in a clear language. You will seem more relaxed (and knowledgeable), and it’s easier for people to make notes. Also, if you forget something, or need time to think about what comes next, it is easier to look smart by speaking at a slower pace, than talking very fast and then suddenly stopping because you were going too fast even for yourself and can’t remember what you were going to say the next.

5. Engage with Your Audience

I don’t enjoy the spotlight, so this is a trick I almost always do: I turn the table and spotlight someone I know in the audience. I say things like “for example, such and such here is a great example of..” and showcase an industry case or a person in the audience. Sometimes I even ask them a question and let the person confirm or extend what I pointed out. After this, people in the audience usually spark up a little, maybe some are either hoping (or fearing) I will feature them next. Once I even said “I’m happy to have my dad in the audience today,” instantly showing a personal side of me, sharing a spotlight with someone, and giving me an eyes-off-me moment. Encouraging your audience to ask questions, and share their view is also a great way to engage.  

Public Speaking Don’ts

1. Don’t Be Over-rehearsed – Be Real

While you should be prepared, don’t be over-rehearsed. Nothing is more boring than a speaker who is only speaking from memory, and not engaging with the audience at all. Be in the moment, don’t sound like you wrote a great essay or a blog post about the topic and you are just reading it aloud.

2. Don’t Ignore Your Audience

You will be able to see what topics really interest people, and which are not, don’t ignore the cues (like leaning forward and smiling – they probably agree with you. Or yawning and checking email – you might be boring them). If someone is raising their hand – don’t ignore it, let them voice their opinion and ask a question. Or at least tell when you will allow questions.

3. Don’t Disrespect Your Audience

I once spoke in a conference where someone in the panel said to the rest of us to keep it simple because it was a beginner-level session and the audience might not understand – in the front of the audience. I was mortified. Don’t disrespect your audience, and never present yourself as the ultimate only expert of your subject matter, and the smartest one in the room – this is when someone in the audience will ask you a question you will not know an answer and you will look foolish. Don’t use phrases like “this is probably new to you” or “you probably don’t know what this means”, unless it is something groundbreaking news that nobody has heard yet. And in most cases, that is not the case.

4. Don’t Lie

Be honest and truthful, even if you don’t know the answer. If your audience realizes you just said a little white lie, you will have no respect for the rest of the speech. And someone in the audience might point it out for you, and good luck being a respected speaker after that. It’s OK if you make a mistake, or even if you had a fact wrong, and if someone points it out, be honest if you are not 100% sure you are right. If someone asks you a question that you don’t know an answer, do not lie and make up something – you can answer “that’s a great question, and I think I have to do some research to get a good answer for you, or would someone in the audience like to answer to that one”.

5. Don’t Be Afraid

Really, don’t be afraid. The people in the audience have come to listen to you because they think you are brilliant and you have something to say. People want to see you succeed. Stand with your head up high, smile, and be ready to be brilliant. Don’t be afraid, you know what you are talking about!

Interested in learning more about personal branding?

Ever thought you have goals you want to accomplish, but don’t know where to get started? I hear you. When I was a stay-at-home-mom of three living in a foreign country, I thought my career dreams were useless and unrealistic. But I decided to showcase to people what I can do – and today I own a marketing agency in Helsinki, Finland, and I am a Chief Commercial Officer for a media company in London, UK. I’ve spoken in professional conferences around the world. I launched my first online business in 2004, and since that, I’ve worked with companies of all sizes (one-woman show to Fortune 100), and in multiple industries that I’m interested in (travel to fashion, AI to IAQ). I’ve written a book, lived in five different countries, and in addition to making many of my career goals happen, I’ve also enjoyed life to the fullest making personal dreams happen. If I can do this, so can you.

I have multiple secrets, and I’m launching my secrets to personal branding training soon. Sign up for my newsletter to get the details when I’m ready to launch! You won’t want to miss this.

Skimbaco Lifestyle

Skimbaco Lifestyle is for nomadic trailblazers, fearless founders, rebel leaders and people who live life to the fullest.