12 tips on public speaking


Speaking in front of people. It looks so easy. But it can be so difficult. I was recently asked to put together some thoughts on how to approach public speaking.

First a bit of background. I have no 'qualifications' in the art of speaking in public. No official training. No certifications. But as with most things, a qualification is simply a recognition for training. You don't get one for simply 'doing'. I find getting on with it in the real world can be as good, if not better in some instances, than if formal training has been acquired. Learn on the job. Learn from failures and successes.

From a young age I've been involved in regularly speaking in front of people through my faith community and have nearly 20 years experience in constructing talks and delivering them. I do this on theological Bible based subjects around once a month. So no qualification but heaps of experience.

The skills I've learnt in this have been a huge benefit to me in my career and has led to me speaking at grand places like the Barbican in London, on BBC radio, at awards nights and at business conferences. I even spoke at a clients Christmas party last year!

On top of all this there is the most important part of being a designer and manager - that of communicating ideas and solutions to your clients or team. Of leading workshops and running meetings. This communication is daily and is becoming more and more of an ask for designers.

Yes we have the internet and yes we can use email and Slack. But nothing compares to a passionate presentation of ideas to rally teams together around a design concept. It's interesting that in this digital era the emotion evoked by humans speaking is still the best way to drive action.


Credit: Parry Sound, Canada Source: Unsplash

So here are some tips in this - they are not conclusive and no doubt there will be more we can add at a later date - but see what you think:

Tip 01. Know your subject At school, when preparing for an exam, one of my teachers once said “Knowledge dispels fear”. True. The more you know on your subject the less you worry about what to say and the better you can focus on saying it. Prepare and plan ahead. Do your research - but also don’t over analyse or feel you have to put all your research in your talk. Keep it in your brain. Use some of it to answer questions from the floor.

Tip 02. Never show your fear Probably the worst thing you can do is open a talk by saying how nervous you are. No-one cares you are nervous. When they do know they will pick up on errors. Like vultures an audience can pray on your fears.

Reframe your fear. Instead of dreading your public speaking and taking the rush of adrenaline as an indication of fear, reframe your symptoms as excitement. As your body preparing you to overcome the challenge. Learn to embrace the weird things your body will do. Sweaty hands. Fast beating heart. Butterflies in your belly.

Be enthusiastic, passionate and positive in how you come across and pretty soon you will be believing it yourself.

This TED talk by Kelly Mcgonigal on 'How to make stress your friend' is brilliant in this regard.

Tip 03. Tell a story Stories are the way we create meaning. So tell them. Give your talk a story structure: Beginning, middle, end. Consider what your ‘golden thread’ will be - maybe a repeating phrase or common theme which you can weave in and out. Layer your thinking and build to a crescendo. Make it exciting!

Tip 04. Don’t read notes Trust your brain. You’ve got this. Over-reliance on notes can cause problems. If you loose them you will be stuck. If you have to read them like a robot people will switch off. If you need some help use bullet points or slide prompts but don’t write whole sentences down. This is dull. People get excited by you being in the moment and choosing your words on the fly.

Tip 05. Get to the point My wife always says this to me and I always have her little voice in my head every time I recognise I’m waffling. “Get to the point”. Keep it snappy & stop prattling on. I’ve found I can dig myself out of drowning in verbal diarrhoea with the phrase “so the point is...”

Tip 06. Explain People need to be navigated through their time with you. Say what you are going to say. Say it. Say what you’ve said. Explain everything - “We are now going to... because...” - this puts people at ease. They can follow. If they’ve momentarily switched off it can help to signpost them back in to your talk structure.

Tip 07. Be yourself Smile. People love positivity and happiness. No one wants to become more depressed. We like it quirky. So don’t be afraid to deliver your talk in your style.

I’d also say learn to laugh at yourself. If you fluff up, crack a joke about yourself and move on. “I always struggle with that phrase. Sorry one and all”.

Play to your strengths. If you are funny tell jokes. If you are passionate be passionate. If you are knowledgeable show that. Relax.

Tip 08. Be in the room Address distractions. If you have a stain down your front it’s best to explain you had a messy burger for lunch and you don’t normally dress like that. If you don’t people will be wondering “does he know he’s got ketchup on his shirt?”. A favourite of us brits is to mention the weather. It's on our minds and we all have it in common.

Mention people “I was speaking to my colleague Larry over there about this last night.”

Remember the time but don’t comment on it unless you are running over.

Tip 09. Continually develop To get good you should practice. Tell it to the wall. Give it to your family. Take on feedback.

Record yourself. Notice your “errs” and replace with silence.

Study others and how they construct and deliver their talks. Mimic greatness.

Tip 10. Know your audience Be ‘audience centric’ - why should they care about what you are saying? Is this directly relevant to them? If not how can you explain its relevance?

Keep looking at your audience as you speak to them and respond to visual feedback. Work the room.

Tip 11. Ask questions In your patter it’s good to ask questions. Then pause. This gets the audience thinking. Get the audience to raise there hands if they agree to an answer. Maybe even open up for an answer from the floor. Do this sparingly though. You are the speaker. Take control.

Tip 12. Practice The more you put yourself out there and risk failure the more you will develop, learn and grow in confidence. Accept that you are on a journey and will always be working on your performances.

And one more: Tip 13. Always give a little extra! Something unexpected. Give something small which is not what the audience is ready for. For example make an announcement. Thank someone. Give something away (like a free download). Delight people.

So thats that. I hope there might be something in there for you to take away and use. As more tips come to mind I'll be noting them down and maybe will do a further post in this in the future. Watch this space.


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