5 Tips for Effective Public Speaking

Logan Murray is a comedian, actor, performer and writer who has pretty much done it all! He has been working as a comic since 1984 and has taught some of the best in the business how to be funny. Most recently he has run the Stand Up and Deliver comedy courses in London and Edinburgh, of which I was a student. Many of his former students go on to win major national and international competitions and awards. Here, Logan shares a few secrets about how best to prepare for and present in public.


1. Be Yourself

Remember, somebody obviously thinks you are a good communicator, so play to your strengths and charms. Most of us are very good at playing serious grown-ups in public situations, but this isn't always true to who we are as people. For example, Politicians and Newsreaders might try to sound impressive and authoritative when in front of the camera, however this is their job and does not necessarily always reflect their true personality or character. In all honesty, we would probably quite rightly walk away from them if they spoke to us like that at a bus stop!

So, why not write how you talk? We don't talk in full sentences, so don't bother writing in them. After all, no one is marking your speech as if it were an English Essay! Some of the best speakers rely on bullet points, rather than a carefully worded script. Embrace the freedom to improvise if required.

2. Rehearse! Rehearse! Rehearse!
Once you've written down what you want to say, try it out on a sympathetic soul (someone else on the team at work perhaps?). Sit them down and go through what you want to say, thought by thought. Get them to nod after each thought. That will force you to slow down and not to start using your 'list' voice. Also, it encourages you to make eye contact and engage with your audience.

The better you know what you plan to say, the more fun you can have with the performance. (Hint: The audience want to be charmed by a human being, not lectured by a robot). Ultimately, the script won't save you. It's not something to hide behind. It’s your charm will win the audience over and so this is why I suggest using bullet points.

3. Embrace the adrenalin!
Before your presentation, try to remember that the feeling of increased heart rate, dry mouth, nervous energy and twitchiness are all symptoms of adrenalin. You are feeling exactly the same thing an athlete might feel before a big race - your body is preparing to work at its optimum. If you decide to call these feelings 'stage fright', then you are simply creating a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Instead, try embracing these feelings as a positive and pro-actively use them to improve your performance. After all, they’re all part of your body’s natural preparations for delivering at your best. Adrenalin is a good thing as it ultimately increases alertness and awareness, and can improve memory and cognitive functioning. In essence, just what you need when you’re trying to remember what to say, whilst also attempting to read and respond to an audience in the heat of the moment.

4. Get your house in order!
In advance of your presentation, make sure any that any 'prep' work (i.e. PowerPoint, handouts, AV equipment, etc.) are all sorted out before the big day itself, so all you have to do is concentrate on what you and/or your team have to say.

Try and have a technical rehearsal (especially if you are working with a technician operating a display) a few hours before the talk. A technical rehearsal is not a dress rehearsal, it is just a 'stagger through' for everyone to familiarise themselves with their respective roles. At the very least, it is an opportunity to check out the room and arrange it to your liking (can everyone see you from where you've been asked to stand? Will you be blinded by the Sun shining through a French window as the afternoon progresses?)

Also, try not to have a heavy lunch before you begin as it will only slow you down. Oh, and don't think a drink will calm your nerves, it will only dull you.

5. Go with the flow!
It may sound simple enough, however during the presentation itself, remember that things will ALWAYS come out differently than you imagined, so enjoy it! All you have to bear in mind is that the audience is the most important thing and they need to hear what you have to say.

Someone who is a good public speaker is actually having a conversation with the audience; it's just that for the most part they are the only ones talking! Metaphorically, super-impose your best friend's head onto everyone's body. Remember to treat the audience as friends until such a time that they realise they ARE friends. Smile at them, relax your shoulders, and look at people. Far too many of us stare above people's heads when we're going into our thinking space. If you do happen to stumble at any point, acknowledge it, as it is these incidents that make you appear more human.

Above all remember, we talk TO, not talk AT an audience!