12 Tips for Better Public Speaking

I recently took a workshop at UCLA Extension on delivering effective presentations. These are my top 12 takeaways:

1. Prepare, Prepare, Prepare

Preparation is everything and the key to exuding confidence. There’s no replacement for mastery of the material that you’re talking about.

2. Be Creative

Before you start planning your presentation, take five minutes to write down every possible idea you can think of on how you could deliver the information. Writing down every idea – even ones that seem off the wall – will get your creative juices flowing and help you deliver a more inventive and engaging presentation.

3. Get the Audience to Move

A tired audience is a disengaged audience. If you sense some sluggishness in the audience before a presentation, lead them in some quick stretching exercises. Guide them in raising their arms over their head, rolling out their neck, and doing some standing twists. They’ll be more awake and retain more from your presentation.

4. Wear What Your Audience Would Wear

Try to wear what your audience would wear if they were the ones giving the presentation. Your goal is to tear down barriers between you and the audience members to form a connection. If they see you wearing something they would never wear, it creates distance. That being said, this is a general rule, which may not apply to every single scenario. It’s a guideline, not an ultimatum.

5. PowerPoint Slides Should Be Heavy on Visuals and Light on Words

PowerPoint verbiage should be like what you see on billboards — just enough to read with a quick glance. You should need to have the presenter to explain the slide for it to make sense.  – The slide should never be compensating for the presenter. As for visuals — well-selected photographs and images can set a mood – use them to your advantage.

6. Have Your Audience Participate Wherever Possible

Pose questions, ask for volunteers to respond. Have audience members raise their hands if they agree with a statement.

7. Control Your Audience

Don’t let questions get you off track. If someone asks something off topic, politely steer the presentation back on track. If appropriate, you may even want to announce before the presentation that all questions will be fielded at the end.

8. Make Nametags

If you want to engage your audience, it helps to call on them by name, instead of asking them what their name is, and then transitioning back to the content of your presentation. If it’s a small group, you can memorize the names of everyone. Otherwise, you can have the group wear nametags or make name placards with a folded sheet of paper.

9. Visit the Space Before the Presentation

You want your presentation to be a smooth operation. You don’t want to be derailed by unusual lighting, tricky projector equipment, or an odd podium. Visit the space beforehand so that you know how to handle yourself in the setting. If it’s not possible to visit the day before, get there early so that you have some time to acclimate and get comfortable.

10. Move Around Your Speaking Space

Don’t stay rooted to one spot. Keep your audience engaged by moving around. This also gives their eyes some relief; it’s exhausting to look at one inert object for too long.

11. Open with a “Grabber”

Start the presentation with a bang. Seize the audience’s attention from the get go. Show a captivating photo, ask an engaging question. Throw out a moving quote.

12.   End with a Call to Action

The point of a presentation is to get the audience to do something. If they learned something, tell them to apply what they learned. If it’s a sales presentation, tell them to buy. Give direction by concluding with a call to action.