Key Tips for a Positive Public Speaking experience

Posted:13 February 2018

Author: Tanis Harms, Community Learning Network

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Comments: 8

Recommendations: 1

Have you ever been nervous to give a talk in front of a group? If you answered “yes” to this question, you are not alone! Most people have a fear of speaking in public. I remember getting physically ill at a young the point of missing school…if I knew I was due to give a presentation that day. Since that time, I was “forced” into many public speaking opportunities both big and small. To my surprise, a crazy thing happened through those opportunities: the freaking out slowly changed to an enjoyment of speaking in front of people! The nerves have never gone away, but I have learned how to control and direct “those” feelings into energetic talks.

Public speaking, and helping others with their fears and experience with it, became a passion of mine. I had the privilege of turning that passion into action when I taught hundreds of students their required Public Speaking course at the Bible College I worked at for many years. It was amazing to see many of these students come in with fear and trembling – only attending the class because they “had to” – and then seeing them leave knowing that whether they enjoyed speaking in front of people or not….they could do it!

*For those of you who already enjoy speaking in front of people, please share the tips and tricks you have found that work below in the comment section. For those of you who are still growing in your public speaking skills and enjoyment, I have listed some key tips below that I hope may help you out in your ventures.

In Preparation for Your Talk…

  • Have easy to read notes (size 14 font, lots of white space, bullet points if possible)
  • Highlight key notes that you don’t want to forget with a bright highlighter
  • Number your pages but don’t staple them or put them in a duotang (hard to lay flat); use a binder or just loose paper (Don’t hold loose paper though as it emphasizes shaking )
  • Write tips on your papers or draw pictures to remind you of your personal “helps” while presenting (e.g. Look up, draw eyes for eye contact, use gestures, or draw a smiley face)
  • Keep it interesting! If you’re bored…your audience is bored 
  • Plan your talk in 20 minute sections of information interspersed with something that grabs your audience’s attention again (such as a specific example, story, rhetorical question, image, or a shocking stat) 
  • Make your talk as personal as possible (using specific names and examples)
  • Add a joke (if appropriate) as it helps you and the audience relax
  • Add gestures (to match or emphasize what you’re saying) or to help grab or keep people’s attention
  • Move! Have a “home base” for your talk, but at various points in your talk try to move closer to the audience or to one side to give some visual interest for listeners
  • Practise out loud 3x...or until you are comfortable.  You can do this on your own or with someone listening (buy them a coffee).
  • Become a movie star: video yourself to see what you look/sound like and to be aware of things you could change (gestures, speaking volume, more eye contact, etc.)
    • Check your microphone for sound and height
    • Check where you can set down your notes (where they will be easily read)
    • Get water or tea ready (having a sip is an acceptable break for you to take, if needed, to calm your nerves or collect your thoughts)
    • Have a brief conversation with someone in the room in order to relax and distract you, and to remind you that these are real people that you will be having a large conversation with
    • Calm your nerves right before starting by slowing your heart rate. Take a deep breath in through your nose for 5 seconds, hold it for 5 seconds, then breathe out through your mouth for 5 seconds. Alternatively, clench your hands for 5 seconds and then release, repeat.

As You Give Your Talk…

  • Be yourself!
  • Trust that you are prepared and know your content
  • Relax as much as possible
  • Smile! It’s natural for people to smile back (which helps you relax)
  • Look: make eye contact with those you feel comfortable with or with “friendly” faces (not super quick glances…not super long stares…as both can be awkward); try to find 3 people in 3 different areas of the room to look at for about 3 seconds each as you give your talk
  • Position: stand confidently and without any barriers between you and the listeners
  • Remember: they don’t expect perfection from you, and want to hear what you have to say; assume they are for you (not against you)!
  • Pause before you start your talk as well as during it, as it helps you relax and to find your place again (if needed)

Remember to…
Try not to SAY you are nervous
Try not to READ straight from your notes the whole time
Try not to SAY lots of “um’s, like, so, just,…” or other verbal ticks
Try not to DISTRACT with your gestures
Try not to PSYCHE YOURSELF OUT. If you mess up or get lost with your notes, take a sip of water, pause, and resume when ready.


After You Finish…

  • First of all – well done! You made it through – give yourself a good pat on the back (at least mentally)
  • Immediately following your talk, be sure to smile at your listeners and then try to go and have a conversation with someone in the room (in order to relax you and to distract yourself from analyzing your talk right away) 
  • Don’t beat yourself up over any of your presentation (how would that help?)
  • Jot down a few notes or thoughts about things you noticed that you did well or would like to improve upon next time around (or feedback from your listeners)

Additional Resource:
* How to Deliver a TED Talk by Jeremey Donovan

Tanis Harms
CLN North Regional Support Staff


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