Public Speaking Tips From a Professional Motivational Speaker
I’ve been fortunate enough to have a wonderful motivational speaking career that has spanned over 40 years. There are hundreds of public speaking tips I’ve learned along the way.
From best practices on body language to eye contact, I’m going to share as many of them with you as I can.
Whether you’re speaking in a small meeting or to a larger audience, I’ll cover techniques in this post that can help you in any situation, from Ted Talks to business pitches.
How to Pick a Speech Topic
The starting point in the art of public speaking is to pick the subject that you will be speaking about.
Now, this might seem obvious, but choosing a speech topic can sometimes feel more difficult than actually giving the speech.
But once you lock down your topic, you’ll find it the creative ideas will start flowing. So let’s get started with four of my favorite tips for determining your speech topic.
1. Speak About Something You Care About
To pick a subject, reflect back on what you are truly passionate about.
You can speak about almost anything you want as long as you have a genuine interest in it. For example, I began speaking in business, sales, and leadership qualities because I truly believe that is my purpose in life and I love helping others in these areas.
Think about your passions and pick one to speak about – just make sure your passion and expertise on the subject come through in your speech!
2. Focus Your Speaking on a Single Subject
To crave a distinct lane for yourself, you should specialize and always focus on a single subject – especially when you’re first starting out.
What you don’t want to do is try and please everyone, and end up with nothing unique about your personal brand.
You don’t want to give a potential prospect a laundry list of things you’re knowledgeable about or say something along the lines of, “I can give a speech on anything you’d like.”
Instead, you’ll want to demonstrate your specific expertise and how it will benefit your specific audience.
For example, if you’re someone with a lot of business experience and you specialize in increasing company efficiency, you might say, “I show leaders how to get the very best out of each person that reports to them.”
To which your prospect would reply: “Great. All of our managers would like to hear that.”
3. Don’t Stray Too Far Out Of Your Direct Experience
Every subject I ever agreed to speak on was within my direct experience.
It may be tempting to say “yes” to every request, but it is better to be transparent about your skills than to end up scrambling to learn enough on a new subject to “wow” your audience.
Now that doesn’t mean you have to deny every opportunity that doesn’t directly align with your main focus. Look for ways to indirectly merge the two topics.
For example, early in my career I primarily spoke to salespeople about selling techniques. So when I was presented with the opportunity to speak on leadership, I had to pause and reflect. I had been a sales manager in large organizations. I had hired, fired, trained, and managed people for years.
Although most of my talks had a sales focus, I had years of experience leading a team that I could pull from to craft a well-informed talk.
So, it’s all about finding that middle ground of your direct expertise and tweaking your real-life examples to fit your topic.
4. Get to Know Your Audience
Once you figure out what you want to say, you’ll be able to pinpoint who would benefit from hearing your motivational speaking.
I’m sure you’ll agree with me when I say the ability to entertain, inform, and inspire an audience through public speaking is a skill that offers immense value. Because of this, you should know what your audience wants from you.
Whether it is your first speech or 300th, you should know why people are coming to listen to you. Defining your target audience will help you determine what examples you should use to communicate your points most effectively.
Some things to consider:
- What age are the people who need to hear your message?
- What’s their career?
- Where do they live?
- What are their interests?
- What do you and your audience have in common?
These considerations allow you to cater to your audience’s curiosities and interests in your speeches. And when you know your target audience, you’ll also be able to figure out where to find them — such as a marketing conference or another industry event.
How to Write a Speech
Once you have your topic locked in, it’s time to start the writing process! This is where a lot of speakers start to feel overwhelmed.
From how to begin, to what to cover… from how to time your talking points, to how to close it out, – every decision seems monumental.
So let’s break it up into a few smaller chunks to help you tackle the writing process with ease.
How To Structure A Speech
Writing and presenting a speech is just like dialing a phone number. When you want to call someone, you dial the right numbers in the right order, and you’re connected.
When you want to give a successful presentation, the same rules apply.
1. Implement the Rule of 3’s
Structuring your speech should be as simple as 1, 2, 3 – literally. No matter how simple or complex the subject matter, the basic flow of your speech should be:
- Your opening
- Your key points
- Your closing
That’s it. Whether it’s a 10-minute presentation or a 2-hour keynote, this basic structure is all you need to write a great speech.
I’ll get into how to start and end your speech in the following sections, but first I want to focus on the structure of your key points, which will end up being the bulk of your talk.
If you’ve done a good job brainstorming, you might have lots and lots of ideas you want to cover. But again, remember the rule of three.
It’s been proven time and time again that there is a little bit of magic behind the number three when it comes to writing.
So try to stick to three main key points. You can (and should) have a lot of supporting ideas and examples, but they should all relate to one of your three overarching points.
2. Use Stories to Link It All Together
Once you have the main three points of your speech, use stories to help further illustrate your points.
The stories you include in your speech act as anecdotes for the points that you are trying to make and help the listener better relate to your message.
You can tell stories that are motivational; that have to do with greater success and achievement as the result of persisting. And you can tell stories that are emotional; that makes people feel a bond with your journey. They can be stories that inspire, persuade or anything in between.
However, DO NOT tell a story just to tell a story. As the great orator Winston Churchill once said, “If you have an important point to make, don’t try to be subtle or clever. Use a pile driver. Hit the point once. Then come back and hit it again. Then hit it a third time – a tremendous whack.”
3. Remember That Less is More
Always aim to be as clear and concise as possible. This will help you get your point across as the audience won’t be distracted by fluff, and when every word carries meaning, they will listen even more intently.
When everything is clear, concise, and related to the point you are trying to make, it’ll be much easier for the audience to understand.
Refer back to that Winston Churchill quote and remember, less is more.
How to Start Your Speech
You have heard the saying “First impressions are lasting; you never get a second chance to create a good first impression.”
The same is true when talking about how to start a speech…
The truth is, when you start your speech, you must focus everything on making a positive first impression on your audience members.
The start of your speech is so important that I have written an entire blog post specifically on techniques to start your speech, but here are my three favorite options.
1. Make A Strong Statement, Then Ask A Question
If you start by making a strong statement and then ask a question, you can then follow with an answer and ask another question. This gets people immediately involved and listening to your every word.
Here’s an example:
“Twenty percent of the people in our society make 80 percent of the money. Are you a member of the top 20 percent? If not, would you like to join the top 20 percent or even the top 10 percent? Well, in the next few minutes, I am going to give you some ideas to help you become some of the highest-paid people in our society. Would that be a good goal for our time together today?”
2. Start Your Speech by Referring to Current Events
Use a current event, front-page news story to transition into your subject and to illustrate or prove your point. You can bring a copy of the newspaper and hold it up as you refer to it in your introduction.
This visual image of you holding the paper and reciting or reading a key point rivets the audience’s attention and causes people to lean forward to hear what you have to say.
3. Make A Shocking Statement
You can start your talk by making a shocking statement of some kind.
For example, you might say something like: “According to a recent study, 72 percent of the people in this room will be doing something different within two years if they do not rapidly adapt to new technological advancements in marketing.”
In this case, I’ve gone with a fear tactic. The people in the audience are quickly realizing that if they are not careful (and listen to what I have to say) they could very well be out of a job.
This is the kind of gripping introduction that you want to lead with – something that surprises the audience and leaves them wanting more.
How to End Your Speech
So, as we know with our rule of 3s, a good speech is like a good play. It opens by arresting the listener’s attention, develops point by point, and then ends strongly.
There are tons of ways to end a speech, depending on what you are speaking about or what your public speaking goal is.
And before we get into a few options, I want to share this one universal tip.
To ensure that your conclusion is as powerful as it can be, you must plan it word for word.
The worst thing you can do is leave the audience questioning what the point of your speech was, so you want to ensure you have a strong closing memorized.
This is especially important if you are someone that gets nervous when public speaking or tends to riff on ideas because it will ensure that you have bullet-proof anchor points to fall back on.
With that in mind, here are three of my favorite techniques.
1. Give A Clear Call-To-Action
Perhaps the best way to end your talk is to tell your audience what you want them to do as a result of hearing you speak.
Ask yourself, “What is the purpose of this talk?”
Your answer should involve the actions that you want your listeners to take after hearing you on stage.
For example, you might say: “We have great challenges and great opportunities, and with your help, we will meet them and make this next year the best year in our history!”
Whatever you say, imagine an exclamation point at the end. As you approach the conclusion, pick up your energy and tempo. Speak with strength and emphasis.
Drive the final point home.
2. Share an Interesting Quote
Another option is to end your speech with something motivational.
People love to be motivated and inspired to be or do something different and better in the future. Find a quote that is memorable, and even better, make it relatable to your talk.
For example, if you’ve just given an inspirational speech about starting your own business, you could close out with this quote from Steve Jobs:
“If you are working on something that you really care about, you don’t have to be pushed. The vision pulls you.”
Remember, everyone in your audience is dealing with something, and for this reason, everyone appreciates some encouragement that gives them strength and courage.
Here are a few more of my favorite inspirational quotes that can be tied into most speeches.
3. Make Them Laugh
Another closing option is to tell a joke that loops back into your subject and repeats your main point with a story that makes everyone laugh.
For example, during my talks on planning and persistence, I discuss the biggest enemy that we have, which is the tendency to follow the path of least resistance.
I then tell this story:
Ole and Sven are out hunting in Minnesota and they shoot a deer. They begin dragging the deer back to the truck by the tail, but they keep slipping and losing both their grip and their balance.
A farmer comes along and asks them, “What are you boys doing?”
They reply, “We’re dragging the deer back to the truck.”
The farmer tells them, “You are not supposed to drag a deer by the tail. You’re supposed to drag the deer by the handles. They’re called antlers. You’re supposed to drag a deer by the antlers.”
Ole and Sven say, “Thank you very much for the idea.”
They begin pulling the deer by the antlers. After about five minutes, they are making rapid progress. Ole says to Sven, “Sven, the farmer was right. It goes a lot easier by the antlers.”
Sven replies, “Yeah, but we’re getting farther and farther from the truck.”
After the laughter dies down, I say…
“The majority of people in life are pulling the easy way, but they are getting further and further from the ‘truck’ or their real goals and objectives.”
That’s just one example of closing using humor. For more ideas, check out my post dedicated entirely to tips on how to end a speech.
BONUS TIP: If you feel like your closing is falling a little flat, try this: Sometimes the best strategy for ending with a BANG, is to plan your close before you plan the rest of your speech.
You then go back and design your opening so that it sets the stage for your conclusion.
How to Prepare for a Speech
When someone asks me how they can learn how to get better at public speaking I like to tell them this quote:
“The only way to learn to speak is to speak and speak, and speak and speak, and speak and speak and speak.” – Elbert Hubbard
While it’s true that the only way to become good at anything is by repetition, there are many things that you can do to be more effective in speaking in front of audiences.
Public speaking is a process, and therefore everything from preparation and practice to knowing your audience plays a part in the final product.
Being able to deliver a complete message, from your body language to your word choice, makes all the difference in landing a sales pitch or impressing a live audience.
1. Record Your Practice Sessions
If the first part of successful public speaking is caring and preparing, the second part is practicing and improving your presentation skills.
If you have a tape recorder or, even better, a video camera, record yourself giving the talk from beginning to end. Then listen to it or watch it and make notes on how you could make it better.
If you’re using a video camera, look into the camera and focus on your facial expressions and body language. If you don’t have a video camera, use a mirror to watch yourself while you speak.
When you critique yourself, be very hard on yourself. Remember, the more honest and objective you can be about how you come across to others, the faster you will build effective communication skills for success.
2. Take Deep Breaths
The phrase “take a deep breath” isn’t just an expression, it’s legitimate advice. Deep breathing exercises are a proven way to help reduce stress and can sometimes serve as a sort of reset button whenever you are becoming too worked up over something.
If you feel your stress starting to spiral out of control, pause, close your eyes, and breathe in and out deeply a few times. A welcome wave of calm relaxation should follow.
In addition to helping you relax, when you focus on your breathing, you develop the ability to breathe calmly and focus better during your speech.
3. Practice With a Friend
There are plenty of people you can practice with. Be sure to tell the person to be completely honest with you in their critique.
Speaking directly to another person will help relax you and give you experience with receiving feedback. If they have questions about your speech, it is likely that members of an audience will have the same questions.
Remember, making sure you are prepared and confident in the material you are presenting is an effective way to create an impactful presentation.
How to Book Your First Speaking Gig
We’ve discussed the basic structure of a speech and how to best prepare yourself to present in front of your audience, now onto the next step — how to get speaking engagements.
A public speaking career can be a lucrative and rewarding way to make a living. But if you’re still trying to book your first gig, you might feel as if you’re never going to be able to launch your career.
1. Determine Your Area of Expertise
Before you start looking for that first speaking engagement, sit down, and define what you bring to the table. All of us have a different skill set and this allows us to bring a perspective that’s unique from anyone else.
When I first started my speaking career, I had a lot of sales experience. So I started off by speaking about sales techniques, which allowed me to capitalize on my experience in the industry.
Think about where you have experience and where your strengths lie.
- What kind of audience would benefit from this information?
- Where are they?
The answers to those questions will reveal the types of people and organizations you should target as you look for gigs.
At this stage, you don’t have much speaking experience — and that’s okay! So instead of presenting yourself as a speaker, try pitching yourself as an expert in your field. Framing yourself as an expert can help people take you more seriously. It can also boost your confidence because it’s completely true.
2. Utilize Your Network and Local Venues
As you’re looking for your first speaking engagement, don’t be afraid to be open about your search. Ask your network of coworkers and friends if they’re aware of any opportunities. You never know who has connections, and in most cases, people are more than happy to share with you.
The future belongs to the askers. The future belongs to people who confidently ask for what they want, and especially to speak to a company or organization.
You can call them up and explain that you specialize in this subject and that you’d love to speak to their organization.
The more you ask, the more answers you get.
It can also be helpful to start small and slowly gain credibility. If you’re selling books, you might try a local bookstore, library, or an event at a coffee shop. If you’re building your coaching career, try to find local meetups or conferences in your area.
You won’t be able to jump into nationwide events right away, but if you start building now with small local venues, you’ll be able to speak at larger and larger events over time.
3. Have Realistic Expectations
You might have to reach out to multiple places regarding a speaking engagement before you get a yes. And that’s okay! Don’t lose your motivation. Remember, the more you ask, the more answers you get.
Have perseverance, stay consistent, and follow up with your leads if your initial message doesn’t get an answer.
It’s also important to keep in mind that your first speaking engagement might not be a paying engagement. And that’s okay, too.
Zig Ziglar, who is one of the great and legendary motivational speakers, used to say that he gave 3,000 talks before he was paid for the first one.
I worked with Zig for years, traveling and speaking together. I finally found out that what he meant was that he started off in sales and then trained salespeople for a decade or more.
Every morning he would give a little sales talk to his people. He would tell little stories and give little motivational and sales tidbits, and that was his beginning.
You’re building the blocks of your speaking career, and once you nail down your first speaking gig, things will get easier and easier.
How to Pitch Yourself
If you are to become a public speaker, you have to convince people that you are worth their time and worth listening to.
This is why, as a public speaker, being able to pitch yourself is one of the best skills that you can have. It is key to getting bookings and getting the people who come to your events excited.
1. Set Yourself Apart
Similar to speaking about a subject you truly care about or are passionate about, you need to be distinct from other people or speakers.
Whether it is your topic, or if there is a way you go about your speaking, you need to set yourself apart from others and make it clear why you are unique. Creating this “unique selling point” immediately makes your pitch stronger and at the least, different from the rest.
2. Speak Slowly and Clearly
Talking about yourself is never an easy thing to do. And normally, when pitching yourself, you aren’t exactly given all day. This can lead one to feel pressured, talk faster, miss important points, or hurry through significant points.
While you don’t want to speak like you’re listing bullet points, you should speak slowly and clearly so that your audience can absorb all the information you are giving them.
Lastly, remember to speak naturally. Speaking slowly doesn’t mean you should talk like a robot, speak as you would in any conversation. This will not only put your audience at ease but through speaking normally, you can also put yourself at ease.
3. Finish with a Call to Action
When pitching yourself, you should know exactly what your goal of the pitch is. Make it clear to the other party what you want to happen or what you expect to happen next. This could be anything from a follow-up meeting to confirming a booking, but make sure that the final call to action is an actionable step that makes your intentions clear.
When you do this, you are confirming that you and the other party are on the same page. Now you can walk away from the pitch knowing if you did or did not achieve your goal, instead of wondering how it went.
How to Negotiate Your Speaking Fee
After you pitch yourself perfectly to your prospect and they are interested in having you speak at their event, the next step (and often the most uncomfortable) is to negotiate your speaking fee.
But you don’t have to dread this conversation. In fact, it is essential for your speaking career.
The truth is, knowing how to set speaking fees can accelerate your success. Yes, it can be awkward, but you need to know how to do it…fortunately, it gets easier with practice!
1. Estimate Their Budget
A bit of simple math can help you estimate your client’s budget.
Start with the cost of each ticket as well as how many tickets the client expects to sell.
Multiplying these two numbers gives you the client’s gross budget.
Next, divide this number by four—this roughly accounts for the cost of the venue plus the cost of any additional overhead your client will need to cover (e.g., security, refreshments, etc.). The figure you’re left with is a fair estimate of how much your client has in their budget for speakers.
Finally, you’ll need to know how many speakers the client will have at the event. Then, simply divide the estimated budget by the total number of speakers. The result? A decent estimate of how much your client can pay you.
2. Discover Who They Have Worked with Before
Knowing who your client has worked with previously gives helpful context when figuring out what they are prepared to pay for guest speaker fees.
Are their prior guest speakers well-known personalities or industry-leaders? Or, are they lesser-known individuals who are earlier on in their public speaking careers?
Whether you’re speaking at an annual conference, an academic institution, a corporation, or some other engagement, learn about who came before you. You may be able to find this out online or by asking the client directly.
3. Look for Averages in Your Niches
Do some research; talk to other speakers in your field, who share your level of experience, to figure out what they earn. Their figure doesn’t have to be the exact same as yours, but determining what the “going rate” is can help you establish a good ballpark figure in your mind.
Ask for some time to think it over. Most people actually have a range in mind when they offer you a certain fee. Whereas they probably want to pay you the lowest amount in that range, however, your goal is to get the highest!
How to Prepare Backstage
Now that you’ve negotiated your fees and booked yourself a gig, I’ve included a few tips below that will help you mentally and physically prepare to speak publicly.
Your speech is a product of the practice and preparation that you put into it. When people think about preparation for public speaking, they’re usually referring to memorizing your speech or the key points within it.
However, when done properly, these 6 tips to improve your public speaking voice, along with the exercises (both mental and physical) below, have the ability to bring your speech to the next level.
1. Get Organized
Take a moment to breathe and collect your thoughts. When you organize all of your thoughts and materials it helps you to become much more relaxed and calm.
When you have clear, organized thoughts it can greatly reduce your speaking anxiety because you can better focus on the one thing at hand, giving a great speech.
2. Visualize Your Speaking Success
All improvement in your outer performance begins with an improvement in your mental pictures. Once your thoughts are focused and organized, visualize yourself on stage.
You should ‘‘see’’ yourself standing calm, confident, relaxed, and smiling as you address your audience. See the audience leaning toward you, smiling, laughing, enjoying, and hanging on to every word you say as if you were amazingly intelligent and entertaining.
Here is an important discovery: Your subconscious mind cannot tell the difference between a real event and an event that you vividly imagine.
If you visualize and replay a positive speaking experience 10 or 20 or 50 times in your mind, the subconscious mind records that you have just given 10 or 20 or 50 successful talks, all ending in standing ovations and happy audiences.
3. Use Voice Exercises
The human voice is like a muscle. It can be made stronger with exercise and use.
For example, memorize a piece of poetry and recite it regularly as you drive or walk around. Imagine that you’re making a dramatic presentation on a stage, in front of a large number of people.
Put emotion and strength and emphasis and energy into the words. Go slowly. Change the emphasis on each word in the line of poetry, thereby changing the meaning of the line.
Many people with weak voices have become powerful, confident speakers by building their voices over time with exercise. Use your voice consistently to make it stronger.
4. Eat and Drink Well
Energy is essential for good speaking and voice projection. What you eat and drink before a speech can impact your performance.
Before a short talk, eat lightly. This ensures that you are bright and alert when you start speaking and that your brain is functioning at its best.
Before a long talk, it’s essential to eat well. A solid, high-protein breakfast or lunch will give you the energy to burn for four to five hours.
Only drink room temperature water prior to and during your speech, this will ensure that you have the best possible voice. Cold water can chill your vocal cords and decrease the amount of warmth in your voice.
When you have a sore throat, it can be difficult to speak clearly and project your voice. If this occurs, drink hot water with lots of honey and lemon juice. This miraculous combination has saved me on several occasions.
How to Overcome Your Fear of Public Speaking
If you’ve ever had to give a speech – whether it’s to a thousand people or just a few, you know how nerve-wracking it can be.
The fear of public speaking is very real for a lot of people. In fact, more people fear public speaking, or glossophobia, over dying.
Thankfully, there are many ways that you can learn to overcome your fear of public speaking, here are some of my favorites.
P.S. None of my tips include having to picture the audience in their underwear.
1. Avoid Thinking About the “What ifs”
“What if my audience hates my speech? What if they boo me off stage?”
Try to eliminate all of your fears of rejection. The audience is there to listen to you for a reason.
2. Work on Your Breathing
When you focus on your breathing your voice will have more resonance and you will be able to relax. Breathe calmly and focus on getting into a rhythm.
Although this is a public speaking exercise, breath-work will help reduce stress and improve clarity in all areas of life.
3. Take Public Speaking Classes
One of the best ways to improve your public speaker skills is to take a class. You may be able to find a class offered nearby every once in a while. These tend to focus on a few particular lessons, techniques, or strategies.
After attending a few of those, you’ll understand how to give a great speech and, better yet, how to get paid for doing so.
It also helps to find a great coach or mentor. There are many groups that you can join to learn the art of public speaking. A group such as Toastmasters is a non-profit and helps people get over their fears by having them practice speaking on subjects over and over. These groups may be a great place for you to find a mentor.
4. Further Your Expertise with a Public Speaker Course
If you can dedicate enough time to your training, enrolling in a course is one of the best ways to fully immerse yourself in the matter. Some programs even offer degrees or certifications, but these aren’t necessary to get started. The important thing is that a public speaking course will teach you to engage and entertain any audience.
5. Be Prepared to Improvise (A little bit)
Ernest Hemingway wrote that “In order to write well, you must know 10 words about the subject for every word that you write. Otherwise, the reader will know that this is not true writing.”
Personally, I feel that, in speaking, you must know 100 words for every word that you speak. Otherwise, your audience will have the sense that you don’t really know what you’re talking about.
This also helps if you have a mental block on stage. When you know 100 words for each word, you can easily pivot to a different way of getting your point across, without being affected by the mental block.
6. Make Your Nervous Energy Work for You
Learn to channel your nervous energy into positive energy. Being nervous is a form of adrenaline.
Use this energy in a positive way to help give an impassioned presentation during public speaking events.
How to Master Stage Presence
When you get on the stage, it feels like everyone’s eyes are on you. However, that doesn’t mean that everyone is paying attention.
As a speaker, you want to truly capture the attention of your audience so that they can really absorb what you are saying. The more your audience absorbs, the more likely they are to learn, which means the more likely they are to come back, and the cycle starts again.
Your stage presence is a huge part of your public speaking, and truly having a solid stage presence comes with a lot of experience. However, these tips below may help speed up the process a little bit.
1. Slow Down
When you speak more slowly, your voice has more power and authority. Your listeners have an opportunity to absorb and reflect on what you’re saying.
A speaking voice that exudes confidence will give your words greater importance. All powerful people speak slowly, enunciate clearly, and express themselves with confidence.
When you speak too rapidly, your pitch increases, often to something squeaky and child-like. This decreases the impact of your words and your influence on the audience because listeners downgrade the importance or value of what you are saying.
So, remember, a loud, confident speaking voice presented at an even pace will lead to a powerful and moving speech.
2. Speak to Win
Your job is to speak to win on every occasion. Your goal is to be seen as an important player in every conversation. Your aim is to persuade others to your point of view and to make an impact on your world.
You will achieve this by thoroughly preparing for every meeting that you hold or participate in, and by making others in the room feel important.
The more you can involve the participants in the discussion, the better sense you will have for how they are thinking and feeling, and the more likely it is that they will agree with you at the end of your presentation.
3. Create Mental Images
A picture is worth 1,000 words, even if that picture is in your head. Creating mental images for each major point in your speech can serve as a great reminder for you while you are on stage.
As you shouldn’t aim to memorize a speech word for word, this technique can be equally as helpful.
Visualize the point you are trying to drive across happening, or things that are associated with the point, so that when it’s time, you can relay what you are “seeing” to your audience.
4. Take it Seriously
No matter the size or the purpose of your speech, you should always treat it with the utmost seriousness.
Whether, consciously or subconsciously, your audience will continually upgrade or downgrade their opinions of your personality, ability, competence, and level of confidence based on your presentation. For this reason, you must think of your speeches as important events in your career.
Do your best to avoid distractions while giving your presentation. Your ability to speak well and persuasively can have an extraordinary impact on your life and career.
How to Connect with Audiences
A lot of your success in public speaking will come through knowing your audience and what your purpose is in speaking to them.
Are you trying to motivate a large crowd? Inspire results within your team? Persuade a potential business partner?
Each one of these scenarios requires a different approach in order to best achieve your goal. From preparation to execution, every speech should be tailored to the audience that it is being delivered to so that it can have its greatest effect.
1. Use Storytelling in Your Presentation Wherever Possible
The key to keeping an audience engaged during a speech is with personal stories. Stories are the most important part of a good presentation.
They make your audience feel like they know you and can trust what you are telling them. You can tell very short stories, and they can be your stories or someone else’s stories. If it’s your personal story, that’s even better.
Start by saying, “I heard a story just the other day.” And then you tell the story.
Or, “Let me tell you a story,” or “This is something I heard recently that really moved me.”
The truth is, in order for your presentation or speech to have its greatest effect you need to be able to wow your audience. When you’re giving facts and figures they will pay a certain amount of attention.
But when you tell a story, your audience will listen intently.
2. Connect with Emotion
Sometimes when I’m talking to my audiences I will say, “Tell me, what percentage of people’s thinking is emotional, and what percentage is rational or logical?”
And people will guess for a while, and then they’ll finally say, “Oh, well it’s 10% logical and 80% or 90% emotional.”
I tell them “No. People’s thinking is 100% emotional.”
What does this mean? This means that people think emotionally and justify logically. The subconscious mind, and our emotions actually function at several thousand times the speed of logic.
For example, you may meet a person and instantly like them. You may find later that there are a lot of reasons for you to instantly like that person. Your emotions acted like a switchblade, instantaneously, but your logic followed after and you figured out the reasons.
3. Relate to The Audience’s Self-Interests
What motivates people to be really interested in your talk, aside from the subject, which many of them may have to be there for?
Many people have told me that they were forced to come to my seminar. They didn’t want to come, because they didn’t think they would learn anything.
The question you have to ask is, what are the motivations that you need to appeal to so that they will really listen?
Truthfully, I’ve found that one of the great motivations is self-interest.
That’s why I ask how many people would like to double their income. They all raise their hands simultaneously.
Then I say,
“Well, in the time we spend together I’m going to give you several ways that you can double your income. These are ways that have been tested and proven by people all over the world. They’ve done these things over and over, and I’ve used them myself to go from rags to non-rags. I’ll give you those same ideas. Would that be a good use of our time together today?”
And they all say, “Yes! Yes!”
I have their total interest.
4. Tell the Audience EXACTLY What They Are Going to Gain
The desire to gain is a great motivator. If you can convey to your audience that they’re going to gain things from your talk, like time, money, or greater success, then they will be listening, and they’ll want to know how they can do that.
For example, a wonderful way you can open a talk is by saying: “There are three things you need to do if you want to double your income in the next 12 months.”
Then you pause.
When you pause, do you know what happens?
People lean forward and say to themselves, “I wonder what it is.” They wonder what the three things are.
Then you say, “The three things are these. You have to be able to do this, and this, and this.”
And then the question they ask in their mind is, “I wonder how to do that.”
Now it’s almost like fishing…
You just reel them in.
The Power Of The Pause is a technique that everyone should be using in their talks.
5. Bring The Audience Into the Conversation
In this age of technology, one of the most common and effective ways to speak to your audience is virtually.
There are many methods for how to conduct an effective online presentation, whether it is through a Facebook Live, a YouTube video, a webinar, or even in video lessons.
It is one thing to get your audience to tune in but another to keep their attention. Try bringing them into the conversation. This will engage your audience and keep them coming back for more.
Public Speaking Tips for Small Groups and Meetings
1. Ask Specific Questions
Asking specific questions can be very helpful as you can use questions to lead your audience where you want them to go.
Asking small groups specific questions is a way to put everyone on the same page, and it is also an indicator of whether people are following along or not.
If people seem confused by your questions, and if they’re specific enough, you can easily tell what is confusing them and quickly circle back.
2. Call on Volunteers
When working with a small audience, the best way to keep people engaged is to get them involved. Volunteers can also help you demonstrate certain points or scenarios.
As you may have been on the other side of this tactic, it also helps your audience pay attention. No one wants to be the person who gets called out and doesn’t understand, so in a way, this can pressure your audience into being attentive.
3. Give Very Niche Examples
When you have a small group, they most likely are all there for the same, if not similar reasons. So, in these settings, make sure your examples are as tailored to them as possible.
These niche examples will show your audience that you know what you are talking about, and encourage them to be involved. They also will most likely be naturally interested in examples that cater to their interests.
Public Speaking Tips for a Larger Audience (10+ People)
1. Participate with Hand Raises
This is similar to calling on volunteers in small groups. In large groups, volunteers can take up time, and people may not be able to hear others in the audience, causing confusion and distraction.
Hand raising allows people to be involved, without having to be vocal, and this keeps the focus on you.
2. Utilize Relatable Anecdotes
Depending on your topic and the nature of your speech, anecdotes can have different purposes. However, as long as your audience can relate to them, they will most likely be very helpful.
Using anecdotes to relate to your audience makes them feel like you are talking directly to them, no matter how large the crowd is. If it is a joke, struggle, or even idea that they can relate to, they will feel more involved and invested.
3. Ask Rhetorical Questions
Asking questions naturally gets the attention of your audience as they will want to know the answer. But when you ask a question that they already know the answer to it helps them engage.
This gets the audience to think about their own situations and response, while also allowing you to emphasize points that you are making.
Lastly, it can also make your audience think about certain ideas for a bit, or even help you transition into new ideas.
Click here if you want to learn more techniques to wow your audience.
How to Utilize Visual Aids
30 million PowerPoint presentations are made around the world daily. How many more bad ones should we have to sit through? Sitting through a long, boring, PowerPoint sales presentation that no person wants to listen to can be torture.
The much worse scenario is that you are the one giving that presentation. . .
Keep reading to find out how to avoid this!
1. Keep Your Slides Short and To The Point
Each slide should only be about one key point or takeaway. If you put too much information on one slide it will become confusing to the viewer.
Try to focus on putting one point and then some bullets explaining it on each slide.
2. Use Pictures and Visuals When They Add To The Presentation
Use visuals in your presentation that help get your point across. Know your audience.
Click here for more help on presentation ideas and PowerPoint examples.
3. Use Bullet Points Rather Than Paragraphs
When you use bullet points on your slides, it gives your audience key points from your presentation. It also gives you speaking cues, in case you lose your train of thought.
Don’t overload your slides with bullets. This will keep your audience engaged with you and not reading slides.
Your slides shouldn’t do the talking for you. Limit your words to 6 words per line, and 6 lines per slide.
4. Don’t Read Your Slides Word for Word
Elaborate on the information in your slides, don’t read them word for word.
Your presentation should help to supplement what you have to say and give key points. You are the presenter, use your slides to get your key points across and keep them simple.
With each point, if you are using bullets, you can then elaborate by telling an interesting story, or a joke.
How to Turn Public Speaking into a Career
Public speaking can be a great source of income. In fact, the typical compensation for a public speaking event is $4,500 to $7,500. Here’s a video I made recently about speaking in 69 countries and how I began public speaking.
Public speaking is also the most effective way to share your ideas with the world. It takes confidence, passion, and authenticity to share a message that influences and resonates with an audience.
How does one attract eager audiences around the world?
It starts with the commitment to make as many speaking engagements as you possibly can. Get your name out there.
1. Start Small
I have spoken in over 70 countries around the world in the last 30 years. I have been translated by about 50 different professional interpreters. Because of all that, I have been titled the most prolific speaker in the history of the world.
The first thing you want to do is start where you are. For the first 10-15 years of my speaking career, I was focused in North America.
Pick a subject that you really care about and that you think is important for people to know about. Become very knowledgeable in that subject.
Then, begin to offer speeches or small workshops to people within your circle, and at no charge.
2. Build Up Your Experience and Credibility
In my early beginnings, I would often ask if I could speak for free or at minimum cost to get experience and credibility. Sometimes if people don’t know you or your reputation, you have to start from the bottom and work your way up.
There is a basic rule that says, “Before you get paid for speaking, you have to give 300 free talks.”
It may actually take you 100 or 500. But the point is, keep offering free talks until somebody comes up and asks, “How much would you charge to give that talk to my people or my company?”
Professional motivational speakers have one central focus: We’re always thinking in terms of how to get more speaking engagements.
3. Always Ask for Opportunities
The future belongs to people who confidently ask for what they want. Especially those that ask to speak to an international company or organization.
You can call them up and explain that you specialize in a subject and that you’d love to speak to their organization.
Ask them for the opportunity. Ask them for more information. Ask them if they use speakers and when they will be using a speaker again.
The more you ask, the more answers you get. And eventually, the more you will get asked to speak for them.
4. Get to Know Your Audience
85% or more of all speakers are hired because someone else recommended them.
Someone who heard them speak said, “This is a great speaker.” The more people who say that you did a great job when you spoke somewhere else, the faster and easier it is for them to hire you.
Word of mouth travels fast, especially when it is positive.
5. Stick Around After Your Speech
When you’ve given a speech or a talk, stay around after and offer to speak again to others, maybe even on different subjects.
It’s amazing how much business comes when you stick around, have coffee, and talk to people. Sometimes, this will cause people to tell you about their business and ask if your talk would be helpful to them.
Many speakers have developed this to the point that they get two bookings from every talk they give.
How to Take it International
After making a name for yourself, if you want to get paid to speak around the world, the steps below should help you begin on your journey.
1. Focus on One Country Outside of The U.S.
Once I established myself in North America, I made a bridge to Germany. It was the starting point of my speaking internationally.
Put your stake in the ground of a country outside of the U.S. to kick off your international speaking career.
2. Learn the Language
Next, you should learn their language.
After my first few gigs in Germany, I immediately started taking German classes and tutoring. It was an opportunity to develop a tremendous business around my seminars, programs, and books.
3. Talk To International Colleagues
In your travels as a speaker, you will more than likely come across a few audience members or fellow speakers who are international. Develop those relationships and keep in touch with them.
You need to make sure that the message and purpose of your speeches are meaningful in their cultures, so these acquaintances can be very helpful down the line.
How to Become a Successful Public Speaker
An enormous number of professional speakers start off the same way:
They start off speaking in their organization or in their company or sometimes will be asked to talk on their subject to a small group of people within their industry. They put together some notes and share what they know.
When people respond positively, the speaker will suddenly realize that they really enjoyed it too. And that is one of the main reasons people want to get into speaking.
Keep reading, I’m going to share some things I’ve learned during my public speaking career.
1. Always Be Willing to Learn
There are always new skills to be learned that can complement your public speaking or new resources that can help you see things in a different way.
As a person and a public speaker, you should always be open to learning new things no matter the level you reach. In a way, this is a skill as well, and all it takes is being hungry to learn.
In my 40-year public speaking career, this hunger and willingness to learn has been the one skill most crucial to my success.
2. Practice Makes Perfect
Practice makes perfect, and perfect practice makes it even more perfect.
If you practice consistently, you will find that your presentation skills have dramatically improved over time.
Whether it is practicing your eye contact or sharpening your memory to recite speeches word for word, repetition will help every aspect of your “performance”.
Remember, your ability to speak effectively in front of people can do more to advance your career and your life than perhaps any other skill you can develop.
3. Take Action!
Are you passionate about spreading your message, creating a lasting impact, and making more money through speaking and communicating effectively?
This information is ONLY for professional or aspiring speakers. Becoming an accomplished, effective, sought-after speaker isn’t simple. It’s the result of putting together a careful, highly specialized plan.
And it’s not your fault you’re not as effective a communicator as you want to be.
Speaking doesn’t come naturally to everyone, and without experience and expertise, it’s difficult to know how to turn speaking into a successful business and spread your message effectively.
If you want to be your own boss, travel the world, and get paid for it, learn how you can join one of the highest-paid professions in the world in this free online public speaking training.
Editor’s Note: This post was updated for 2021 with additional public speaking tips and more details on how to book speaking engagements, how to master stage presence, and how to start a professional speaking career.
About Brian Tracy — Brian is recognized as the top sales training and personal success authority in the world today. He has authored more than 60 books and has produced more than 500 audio and video learning programs on sales, management, business success and personal development, including worldwide bestseller The Psychology of Achievement. Brian's goal is to help you achieve your personal and business goals faster and easier than you ever imagined. You can follow him on Google+, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Linkedin and Youtube.