Public Speaking

In a poll people fear public speaking more than death, which says a lot! While you may be among the majority who fear public speaking, it doesn't have to be this way. While many have speech anxiety, there are several tips and tricks to overcoming anxiety and giving a great speech or presentation. The most important thing to remember is that public speaking is a skill that can be developed just like riding a bicycle.

Overcoming Speech Anxiety

Speech anxiety comes in many flavors, most of which is sweaty palms, rapid breathing, and even stuttering. The following tips will help even the most averse develop the confidence necessary to get going.

Take a Deep Breath: This does wonders for those who start breathing rapidly and shallowly. Forcing yourself to breath deeply allows you to speak slower and in a measured pace.

Imagine Yourself Speaking: If you visualize yourself giving a great speech and practice giving said speech (especially if you can practice where you will be giving the speech), it will help you develop confidence in your ability to give an amazing presentation.

Practice, Practice, Practice: For every minute onstage, it is said you should practice five to ten minutes offstage. While this may seem like a lot for a ten minute speech, it helps you go through your speech enough to develop the confidence to say, "I know what I'm talking about."

Bring a Bottle of Water: One of the worst things to happen while giving a speech is to have your mouth dry up either before or during a speech. Having a bottle of water handy should be used to provide a nice pause as well as make your speech more understandable.

Slow Down: One of the biggest problems that many beginning speakers encounter is they speak too quickly during their presentation. By practicing giving your speech extra slowly, you will help yourself speak slower when you actually give the speech.

Characteristics of a Great Speech

Tell a Story: People are inclined to listen to a story, and if you have a good one regarding your social enterprise, use it. People have been telling stories for centuries, and it's a natural way to describe things, so you should use it to your advantage!

Put the Most Important Information First: Many people tend to leave the 'Aha' moment for the end, but this is a mistake, because if people don't get what you are saying in a relatively quick hurry, they will stop paying attention. Especially when presenting to the digital natives, we have a shorter attention span and thus it is very important to grab us quickly.

Don't Get Caught Up in the Details: This is especially relevant when giving research presentations. Too many researchers get caught up in the details, when all an audience needs, especially a lay audience, is enough to understand what point you are trying to convey and no more. If people want further details, they can follow up with questions.

Use Strong Transitions: Tying points together is sometimes as important as the points themselves. Transitions generally happen naturally when you tell a story, but if that isn't the format available to you, you'll have to make clear, understandable, and short transitions from point A to point B.

Use Internal Summaries to Keep Attention: People pay the most attention during the beginning and the end of a presentation. They automatically pick up on cues such as "in conclusion", so if your presentation is long, including mini conclusions that tie together a punch of points is a great way to hammer home a general takeaway.

Make Eye Contact: Focusing on different people in the audience while giving your speech lends a personal nature so that it appears you are talking to the audience rather than at the audience.

Make Your Conclusion Strong: Great speeches have strong conclusions that wrap up the whole speech succinctly. A strong conclusion, especially one with call to action, does wonders for a presenter.

Characteristics of a Great Presentation

Highlights: Great presentations highlight what the presenter is discussing. For example, use Steve Job's style. Good presentations use bullet points, great presentations use headlines, and amazing presentations use pictures. The key takeaway is that less is more.

Use Bling Sparingly: Any animations, or other whiz-bang items, usually get repetitive, dull, and/or annoying. That is why it is important to use them where it's important. For example, when announcing the iPhone, having a revolving phone on the presentation is a great example of bling.

Don't Look at Your Presentation: This is a common mistake to make. It is important for people to stay focused on their audience, and let the presentation speak for itself with the help of your great speech.

Use Contrasts: Having a white background with black text, or a black background with white text are good examples. Every projector seems to display colors differently, therefore it is important that use contrast to prevent people from having a hard time reading your presentation.

Have a Backup Plan: Technology failures occur, thus knowing your presentation backwards and forwards, especially so that you can give your presentation without the assistance of a powerpoint, is important. One of the worst things to happen is that you spend 25 minutes of your 50 minute speech trying to resolve technical difficulties.


Great speakers generally have the same anxieties as everyone else, yet it is through years of practice and feedback that they are able to improve and overcome their fears. Taking it one step at a time, and getting help when necessary, can allow anyone to develop the skills of a great presenter.


Primary Source:

Allen, Dr. Doree. Professor at Stanford University. "The Art of Effective Speaking." March 2009.

Secondary Source:

Public Speaking Tips. Page Online. April 2009.

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