Business Strategy | Leadership / Management | Organizational Development

Speaking in public? Make it memorable. Here’s how.

As you walk to the podium, your heart starts to beat faster. You have thought long and hard about what you want to say, and now it’s time to share your ideas to your audience. You look into the audience’s eyes, and your mind goes blank. You start sweating, you see that the presentation slide on the screen was just the draft version, and you realize your shoes don’t even match your outfit. You then look at the clock: It’s only 3:12 a.m., and you’ve only been dreaming of the presentation you’re going to give to your clients.

I still remember the first time I spoke to a crowd of thousands of people who were watching my every move. It was a nerve-wracking experience that I will never forget. I'd like to share with you some tips that helped me deliver that speech, and that even ended up trending on Twitter. I believe everyone can be an excellent public speaker if they spend time learning how to do it well.

Your audience is hearing your presentation for the first time. They will have no idea if you forget to mention something, or what words you may miss. Try your best to keep it simple. If people want to dive into the complexities of your idea, you can either schedule a Twitter chat or a meeting after your presentation to engage with the deeper issues.

Slow down. When you speak in front of a crowd, your body produces adrenaline that can cause you to talk faster. Toastmasters International, a world leader in communication and leadership development, teaches that this point is especially important when speaking to a diverse audience. Don't speak too fast. Remember that the normal pace of speech in one language might become incomprehensible for people relatively new to that language. I feel that slowing down helps me to breathe. Breathing helps me eliminate the shaky, nervous sound that my voice gets when I’m on stage. It also helps to eliminate those distracting "ums" and "ahhs" as my mind fills any empty space with sounds that distract people. A well-placed pause at just the right time will allow your audience to really think about what you just said.

Look your audience in the eye, or, if you're on stage, look right over their head. Please don't read from your notes; people are more trusting of people who look them in the eye. says it like this: “Don't look at the floor — there's nothing down there. Don't look solely at your notes — the audience will think you haven't prepared. You appear more confident when your head is up, which puts your audience at ease and allows you to take command of the room.”

Don't forget to ask questions during your talk. Do you remember the last time someone asked you a question? Did your mind immediately try to answer that question? Jeff Haden, contributing editor of Inc. magazine, wrote an article titled “20 public speaking tips of the best TED talks." In it, he suggests asking a question you can't answer. Asking questions to engage the audience often feels forced. Instead, ask a question you know the audience can’t answer and then say, “That’s okay. I can’t, either.” Explain why you can’t, and then talk about what you do know. Most speakers try to have all the answers. The fact that you don’t — and are willing to admit it — not only humanizes you, but it makes the audience pay greater attention to what you do know.

Finally, choose a hashtag that people can use to engage with your speech on social media. Be sure the hashtag connects well with your message. Also, try using a hashtag that is already being used, so you can ask your audience to join in a larger conversation that is already happening. It might just engage a set of people who would never have heard your voice otherwise.

I hope you are jumping up and down with an "a-ha" moment that you will share on social media. Want to be the talk of the town? Whittle down your main point to one sentence. It’s your entire message in a sentence that is tweetable and shareable. It’s challenging, but well worth it. Be sure to tag @MACPA.


Bill Sheridan