Public Speaking Tips That Will Improve Your Next Presentation

Public Speaking Tips That Will Improve Your Next Presentation

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Sheep Wolf by AJq82

Public speaking is a daunting thought for the vast majority of us, so in the light of my upcoming presentations (more info at end of post) I thought I’d brush up on my public speaking skills, especially considering the talent of the other speakers. Below I’ve gathered some public speaking / presentation tips from some of today’s most experienced talkers.

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In Cameron Moll‘s article 20 tips for better public speaking, he states that:

“The art of speaking is roughly 51% entertainment, 49% meaty content.”

Your primary responsibility is to entertain a room full of people. This doesn’t necessarily equate to jokes and magic tricks, but it does mean that the content of your presentation, and the delivery of that content, should be compelling and engaging. Keeping the audience eyes’ on you rather than their laptops benefits both you and the audience.

Moll then continues on quoting other high profile speakers, such as Jeffrey Zeldman:

“Attendees will apologise for not understanding a talk, but will want an apology for a talk that’s too basic.”

Edward Tufte argues the same, as paraphrased by Phillip Kerman:

Match your presentation to the level of The New York Times or Wall Street Journal. Audiences don’t suddenly become dumber when they sit down to hear you speak — no reason to “dumb down” anything!

Master the 4 P’s of Presentations:

Similarly, in Ben Yoskovitz‘s article 5 Phrases You Never Want To Hear In A Presentation he suggests that we should master the 4 P’s of Presentations:

  1. Prepare.
    You might not need a word-for-word script, but prepare something. Make sure your story is compelling, entertaining and worth listening to.
  2. Practice.
    You need to practice. Even veteran presenters practice. Make sure you at least read it out loud a few times to develop a good rhythm.
  3. Pronunciate.
    You need to speak clearly. There’s no room for mumbling in a presentation. Let me toss another P in there – Project. Speak clearly and firmly to get your point across.
  4. Participate.
    You should always try to engage your audience. The sooner they feel like they’re part of what you’re doing, the better.

Use a Framework of Some Kind

Chris Brogan, in his article ‘The Anatomy of Good Speech‘ suggests that we should use a framework of some kind:

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I absolutely loathe the “I’m going to tell you this; I am telling you this; I told you this” method of presentations. We don’t watch movies that way. Only some books have a table of contents up front (fiction doesn’t do that often). It’s just not fun seeing the “Title, Agenda, About Me” method. We’re too used to it.

Instead, how about a framework like this (for example)?

  • Ask your audience a question that frames the speech.
  • Tell your audience how you’ll try and answer that question.
  • Start with a personal or investigatory story.
  • Drill down into the details of how the story applies to your presentation.
  • Offer some takeaways or next-actions for this.
  • Tell another personal or informational story.
  • Repeat the drill down points, the takeaways, etc.
  • Finish with a solid set of steps people can use to take action based on your presentation.
  • Thread questions in earlier than the end.

This is one storytelling frame. You can do all kinds of other variations on the theme. For instance, what if you did something like this:

  • Start with a question about a famous figure.
  • Explain that your audience is there to help you figure out if that figure embodies the subject matter you’re covering.
  • Ask them to consider the figure at every step in the presentation.
  • And present…

Whichever framework you choose, make sure that you check in, frequently with your audience. Be sure they’re moving along with your presentation. If you see eyes glazing, react (either by livening up your speaking tone, or by noting where people start to glaze and fixing it in a subsequent effort). If you see enthusiasm, look at that person for inspiration. But always check in. Often.

Expert Presentation Tips

Continuing on from Brogan’s suggestions was this great list of presentation tips from Edward R. Tuftes, as summarised below:

  • Never apologise
  • Always provide a handout
  • Audiences are precious: respect them
  • Humour—make sure it’s on point, not nasty or gratuitous
  • Do not use masculine pronouns—use plurals
  • For complex information use: Particular, General, Particular
  • Treat questions carefully
  • Show your enthusiasm!
  • Finish early
  • Work hard
  • Innovate
  • Drink enormous amounts of water

See here for more public speaking

Public Speaking / Presentation Tips & Resources

Below are some further resources to help improve your next presentation.

My Speaking Engagements

As mentioned at the beginning, the reasoning behind this post was in light of my two upcoming presentations, as outlined below.

PR Advanced: Brand Yourself – Saturday 27th February 2010

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PR Brand Yourself Conference Speakers Boston University

The first presentation, coming up this weekend is for the PR Advanced Brand Yourself conference, being held at Boston University. I’ve titled my talk “The Art of Online Self Promotion: Branding, Blogging & Social Media“. The other speakers include those from Boston Red Sox, JetBlue Airways, Dunkin’ Brands, Wholefoods and many more… just one of the reasons I needed to up my game. I am some what nervously looking forward to the experience.

Update 1/3/2010: The conference was a success!

You can read the wrap-up of the conference here.

NYC College Of Technology – Thursday March 4th

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The second presentation, will be the following week and will be a bit less formal and is being held at the NYC College of Technology. The talk will be quite similar, with some Q&A at the end.

Update: 8/3/2020 – Photos + Video

You can see some photos from my talk over on Facebook. A video will soon follow.

If you are interested in me doing a talk at your next event, please do get in contact.

Have you got any speech / presentation tips to share?

Sheep Wolf photo by Ajq82.

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29 thoughts on “Public Speaking Tips That Will Improve Your Next Presentation”

  1. Hey Jacob – I might just have to come hear you speak since you will be in my neck of the woods! See you saturday!

  2. The four p’s sound like good advice to me. I personally do find public speaking quite difficult in front of large groups of people but sometimes it just has to be done and once it is over it feels pretty good.

  3. Jacob I, personally look forward to your speech at my school. I am a big fan of your blog and can’t wait to see you in person.

  4. Hey Jacob, great post here. I thought this post might help you and your readers as well, I have an award winning one person show that I will also be performing in Japanese soon. These are a few things I’ve learned along the way: http://gigsmacked.com/2010/01/22/5-tips-for-better-stage-performance/
    Would love to have you guest blog for us if it interests you. Kick butt at your speaking engagements and let us know if you come to Vancouver. Beer on us!


    Kahlil & Sudds

  5. When I was in Graphic Design school, I had to incorporate a bit of showmanship just to get my audience (i.e. my fellow classmates) to pay any attention. Sometimes it didn’t work, but most of the time it did. I tried to be thoughtful and informative with my presentations, but I’d put some entertainment value so I wouldn’t bore myself or everyone else. I kept telling myself, “I’m the salesman here and I’m here to sell something.”

  6. Hi Jacob, very helpful article.
    I found public speaking very hard all through my life but in the last 6-7 months Ive absolutely nailed it, due to being confident in what I’m talking about ‘web design’. My method is to allow yourself loads of time before the ‘show’ if you feel rushed setting up or preparing yourself it can affect the whole presentation, you’ve got to be calm to think calm.
    The four P’s is great advice, interacting with your client/audience makes them feel part of it and not just getting talked at, of fed a lines. I wish I was in New York (generally) to see your presentation, GOOD LUCK.

  7. The 4Ps that you mentioned are great…

    I have seen many presentations and I have seen people fumbling.. It really doesnt seem very nice listening to them.

  8. ‘51% entertainment, 49% meaty content’ is interesting constatation. Reading words in book can be monotonous, public speaker being entertaining is a good motivation for listeners to hear the words.

  9. I have been in Toastmasters for a long time now and enjoyed reading your ideas and post about public speaking. Agree with most except the “enormous” amount of water, which in some cases could lead to a much needed break midway through a long speech but yes, necessary to be hydrated. Also, a tip from a pro-speaker class from years ago, keep your hands at your side and stand straight and erect (don’t lean on one side, no hands in pockets or hands clasping) and unless you are gesturing, that is the least distracting and most confident presentation of a speaker to the audience. And pause and breathe often! 🙂

  10. Niki,
    Don’t think I saw you there? Am I mistaken?

    It’s a lot easier when you know what you are talking about. Next time I’ll be more prepared, rather than doing the slideshow the night before the talk.

    Nice to meet you there Yana, see you round Brooklyn sometime.

    Thanks for the link, I did have a read through your article before my talk, some interesting tips & insights you have. As for guest blogging, I have a lot of other commitments at this time so I will have to kindly pass, thank you for the offer though. Perhaps, I’ll get to Vancouver one day.

    Thanks for your insight… as for my talk, rather than using showmanship, I got the audience involved by asking questions and I also had some free swag (stickers / business cards) to give away. I found this was a good way to give them a break from me talking, while also getting feedback myself.

    I still find public speaking a bit daunting, though I’ve found after the first five minutes or so, the nerves settle down and you can be yourself (to an extent). Also, very good tip about being prepared… for the talk I did at Boston, I had a spare hour before the talk and this gave me time to relax and it was a lot easier to talk. Though for my talk at NYC College of Tech, I had about 5 minutes spare time and this really effected the first ten minutes of my talk as I wasn’t relaxed. I’ll be posting a video of my talk as soon as I get hold of it.

    Thank you for your tips, much appreciated!

  11. good tips there, it is always important to make sure that your voice is heard in the best way possible, if ou don’t look like you mean business you don’t look like you can do business. fact.

  12. Jacob I, personally look forward to your speech at my school. I am a big fan of your blog and can’t wait to see you in person. Thanking for blog side.

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