Public Speaking skills improvement tips

The 12 Public Speaking Commandments: Tips to Improve Your Public Speaking Skills

When you think about any leader, one of the characteristics you may surely remember about him / her is the capacity for public speaking. The ability to articulate thoughts clearly, engage listeners, and leave a lasting impact is something any business leader should try to achieve. Public speaking matters because it facilitates the exchange of ideas, fosters understanding, and bridges gaps between individuals and cultures.

Why is Public Speaking important?

Being it addressing the company board to sell your idea or results, a group of journalists to introduce a new product, or your team when you want to motivate them, strong public speaking skills enhance your leadership and influence. Leaders who communicate effectively inspire trust and rally teams toward a common purpose. Good speakers make connections with their audience, convey emotions, share experiences, and foster empathy.

Not surprisingly, many people express fears about public speaking or even develop public speaking phobia. The reason?: Speaking in public exposes you, and you need to be very sure about yourself to give a good performance. So what better way to reduce public speaking fear than understanding better the most important skills you have to develop to be a great public speaker?

Let’s dive into the 12 public speaking commandments and some tips for public speaking I developed for you to improve your skills.

The 12 Public Speaking Commandments

Thou shalt understand your audience

The heart of effective public speaking lies in the art of understanding your audience. Every audience gathers a diverse group of people with different backgrounds, interests, and expectations. Tailoring your message to resonate with them requires keen observation and adaptability.

Before stepping onto any meeting room or stage, invest time in comprehending your audience’s demographics, knowledge levels, and expectations. Consider their interests and concerns to craft a presentation that speaks directly to them. Aligning your message with their needs fosters engagement, as listeners recognize the relevance of what you’re saying to their lives.

Audience size and demographics influence your speaking style. In front of a large audience, project your voice and use visual aids to ensure everyone can follow. Address individual sections of the audience to establish a connection. Smaller groups enable more personal interaction. Maintain eye contact, engage with each listener, and create an intimate environment for discussion.

Demographics play a pivotal role in content relevance. Adjust your examples, anecdotes, and language to resonate with the age, culture, and interests of your audience.

The key word here is “adapt”. By understanding your audience, you will understand what kind of information they require, and if you adapt your message to them, your message will have a much better reception.

Thou shalt have a clear message in your mind

Whenever you prepare for speaking in public, you have to define a clear and compelling message in your mind. A message that is concise, relevant, and easy to grasp. What do you want the audience to keep in their minds after you finish your presentation? That’s the issue.

Begin by identifying the key points you want to convey and structuring them logically. A well-structured message helps your audience follow your narrative effortlessly. Some people say that to build any presentation, you have to begin with the three ideas (just three!) that you want people to remember after you close your mouth and walk away.

Moreover, clarity is an ally in effective communication. Avoid jargon or convoluted language that might alienate your audience. Instead, opt for simple yet powerful words that resonate with both experts and novices in your field. By striking a balance between depth and accessibility, you ensure that your message reaches and resonates with all members of your audience.

The key word here would be “Focus”. You must have a laser-focused message to print it out in your audience heads.

Thou shalt develop a solid structure for your presentation

Every time you step in front of an audience, you tell a story. Not that you tell them Snow White story, but you tell them a story that you want them to understand and believe. So it’s your responsibility to make it clear enough and to “drive” your audience into the “road” of your story.

A clear and logical structure is the backbone of a memorable presentation. I always begin by building the skeleton of my presentation. That would be what sustains all the meat you put later in it. To do that, divide your presentation into three distinct sections: introduction, body, and conclusion.

The introduction introduces your topic and provides context. It should include a clear statement of your main message and an overview of what your audience can expect. This roadmap prepares your listeners for the journey ahead, and makes it easier to understand

The body contains the meat of your presentation. Organize your main points in a logical sequence, building upon each point to create a coherent narrative. Use signposts to guide your audience through your presentation—signals that indicate transitions, like “Firstly,” “Next,” and “Finally.”

The conclusion reinforces your main message and leaves a lasting impression. Summarize your key points, restate your main message, and conclude with a call to action or a thought-provoking statement that lingers in your audience’s minds.

PUBLIC SPEAKING PRO TIP: Remember: you are the owner of your presentation. Nobody obliges you to put anything in it. So make sure that everything that’s in there it’s included for a reason. If you don’t know what any part of your presentation is doing there, just take it out!

The key word here is “Drive”. Drive your audience through your story, ensuring you leave the breadcrumbs for them to follow in order to remember your messages.

Thou shalt deliver a strong opening

They say that you never have a second opportunity to give a good first impression. Never more of a truth than when you give a presentation.

Just as a novel’s first sentence sets the tone for the entire story, your presentation’s opening frames the narrative. That’s when you have to capture the audience’s minds.

Begin with a hook—a compelling question, a thought-provoking quote, or a surprising fact that captivates your audience’s attention. An engaging opening piques curiosity and ignites interest, compelling your audience to lean in and listen.

The key word is “Punch”. This is the time to punch the audience in the face, to show them they must pay attention to you and listen to what you have to say.

Thou shall incorporate stories and analogies

Facts and data inform, but stories resonate. Humans are wired for narratives, and weaving stories into your presentation can breathe life into your content. Share personal experiences, case studies, or examples that illustrate your key points. A relatable story adds a human touch to abstract concepts, making your message memorable and relatable.

Analogies provide a bridge between the unfamiliar and the familiar. They simplify complex ideas by drawing parallels with something your audience already understands. Analogies invite your listeners to see your message from a new perspective, fostering deeper comprehension.

The key word here is “Bridge”. This is when you build bridges with your audience, to help them understand the concepts that you’re offering them.

Thou shalt change the pacing of your presentation

Pacing is the rhythm of your presentation, akin to the melody of a song. A monotonous pace can lull your audience, while a dynamic rhythm sustains their interest.

Making a monotonous presentation is a sin I cannot allow you to do! Vary your speed to emphasize different points. Slow down for emphasis, allowing your words to sink in. Speed up to convey excitement or urgency.

PUBLIC SPEAKING PRO TIP: Don’t forget that pauses are also a potent tool; they allow your audience to process information and create suspense. A well-placed moment of pause can make your audience listen to you with more attention than if you throw a myriad of words at them.

Varying your vocal tone and pitch prevents monotony, sustaining your audience’s interest. A monotone voice risks numbing your listeners’ attention, while a dynamic range can keep them engaged. Pair your vocal nuances with the content of your speech—delivering passionate anecdotes with fervor and reflective moments with solemnity.

Your non-verbal communication plays an important role too. You’ll discover that your body, face, and voice are intricate instruments that complement your words. Each gesture, expression, and intonation adds depth to your message, creating an immersive experience for your audience.

So the key word for this section would be “Rhythm”. You’ll have to catch the rhythm of your presentation to make your voice, your body and your gestures to play a symphony that attracts your audience even further. But don’t overplay it! Don’t let it go over your message, because that’s what you want to remember the most.

Thou shalt use visual aids effectively

Visual aids are the visual companions to your spoken words. Well-designed slides, props, and demonstrations can help elucidate complex concepts, making your presentation more accessible and memorable.

Design slides that are clear, uncluttered, and visually appealing. Use images, diagrams, and bullet points to support your key points. Keep text concise, focusing on keywords rather than full sentences. Slides should complement your words, not repeat them.

It could also be a good idea to highlight the main idea of each slide in a box when you finish it. That way, it functions as a takeaway from each slide, and contributes to fixing the message in the mind of the people.

Demonstrations also offer a tactile dimension to your presentation. A live demonstration can add an element of excitement and engagement, allowing your audience to see your message in action.

The only pitfall you must avoid here: Don’t just read the slides!!! If you just read Powerpoint slides, something the audience

The key word here is “Omnisenses”. Make your presentation enter your public’s mind through multiple senses, and then they’ll have more ways to remember it.

Thou shalt prepare for the unexpected

Even the most seasoned speakers encounter challenges and occasional slip-ups during their presentations. The ability to navigate these obstacles gracefully is a hallmark of a skilled communicator.

Live presentations often unfold in unpredictable environments, where interruptions and distractions are par for the course. Whether it’s a ringing phone, a sudden noise, or an audience member’s query, these disruptions can momentarily throw you off track.

Maintain composure by pausing and addressing the interruption professionally. If possible, humorously acknowledge the distraction, showing your adaptability and ability to connect with your audience even in unexpected situations. Quickly resume your presentation with grace, showing your audience that you’re in control.

Technical glitches are an occupational hazard in virtual presentations. From connectivity issues to malfunctioning equipment, these challenges can test your composure. Keep contact information for technical support handy, and familiarize yourself with basic troubleshooting steps.

If technical issues arise, remain patient and maintain a sense of humor. Inform your audience about the situation and the steps you’re taking to resolve it. Use the opportunity to engage with your audience while the issue is being addressed.

When you make a mistake, avoid dwelling on it. Instead, take a breath, smile, and continue. If appropriate, make light of the situation or use humor to defuse tension. Most importantly, stay confident and maintain eye contact with your audience.

Remember that your audience is more forgiving than you might think. They’re there to absorb your message, not nitpick every detail. Focus on delivering your content with enthusiasm and authenticity, and your audience will be more likely to remember the substance of your message than any minor slip-ups.

Maybe there should be two main keywords to take from this commandment. Those should be “Patience” and “Humor”. Those two skills should help you pass those difficult moments.

Thou shalt anticipate the questions of your audience

foresee the questions from your audience

One thing that always worked for me was trying to anticipate which questions the attendants would throw at me. To do that, the key is, again, to understand the audience.

The first question you should answer is who are the people from your audience? Is the president of your company, it’s a group of journalists, is it your team or it’s a group of students? Of course, depending on the size of the audience it could be more difficult to define, but even then, you can get some insights on your audience that get you to understand them better.

The second important question you should ask is: What do they care about? You should try to step in the shoes of that person or group of people and think what is the key piece of information that they would like to get from your presentation. Maybe the president of your company would care about the profit of the business you’re proposing, or how are you going to be able to do the things you’re telling you’ll do.

Another useful data you should think about is what are the current ideas flowing around your audience. Do they care about costs? They’ll ask about costs. Are they worried about environmental issues? Be sure you’ll get questions about that.

PUBLIC SPEAKING PRO TIP: you might intentionally leave a hole or two in your presentation, things you believe the audience could care about, to drive them to ask about it. When they take the bait (and believe me, most of the times they do!) you should have a slide or two prepared to show your answer. The impact of this on the perception of your presentation is tremendous!

The keyword here is simple: “Anticipation”. This simple exercise of thinking in advance could save you a lot of trouble when you do any public speaking.

Thou shalt rehearse your speech

The first times I had to do speeches, I didn’t want to practice. I preferred to do it in one single take. It was when I met one of the presidents of the local branch of Honda, Kamiyama San, that he made me rehearse my presentation. And boy, that made me improve a lot, and get to the moment of public speaking with much more confidence. Nowadays, every time I do some public speaking, I even rehearse while driving my car!

Public speaking is an evolving craft that benefits from consistent learning. Regular practice is the cornerstone of improvement. Create a supportive practice environment, whether it’s rehearsing in front of a mirror, recording videos for self-assessment, or presenting to a small group of friends

Remember that mastery is a journey, not a destination. Embrace imperfection as a catalyst for growth. Each presentation, whether a triumph or a learning experience, contributes to your evolution as a communicator.

I know that many people don’t like to watch themselves while performing a public speech, but recording your presentations offers a unique perspective on your performance. It’s like watching a playback of a game to analyze your moves. Pay attention to your body language, gestures, vocal tone, and pacing. Are there moments where you could engage more or gestures that feel excessive?

Engage in self-assessment without self-critique. Instead of dwelling on perceived flaws, focus on actionable insights. Celebrate your strengths, and set realistic goals for enhancement.

Don’t shy away from soliciting feedback from trusted peers, mentors, or even your audience. Their observations can shed light on aspects you might not have noticed.

When receiving feedback, maintain an open mind. Focus on the constructive elements, using them as stepping stones for growth. Acknowledge your areas of improvement without self-judgment, as every piece of feedback is an opportunity to refine your skills.

The keyword here is “Practice”. Practice makes perfection, and public speaking is no different than other human areas.

For more infoirmation, check out my article on rehearsal techniques in public speaking

Thou shalt learn to relax

relax to avoid fear of public speaking

It’s natural to feel a surge of nerves before stepping onto the stage. Rather than considering nervousness as an adversary, embrace it as a sign that you care deeply about your performance. Acknowledging your nervousness helps transform its energy into a driving force for an electrifying presentation.

PUBLIC SPEAKING PRO TIP: Instead of seeing nervousness as a hindrance, perceive it as adrenaline priming you for an exceptional performance. This shift in perspective empowers you to harness the energy of nervousness, allowing it to fuel your words with passion and conviction.

Mental and physical preparation are twin pillars that support your confidence. Mentally, envision yourself triumphing on the stage. Rehearse your presentation multiple times, not just to memorize your lines, but to become intimately familiar with your content. As you rehearse, visualize a receptive and engaged audience, applauding your message.

Incorporate relaxation techniques to calm pre-presentation jitters. Deep breathing exercises, for instance, slow your heart rate and center your focus. A few minutes of deep, mindful breaths before taking the stage can transform anxiety into serene confidence.

As you embark on your public speaking journey, remember that confidence is not merely the absence of fear; it’s the mastery of it. Embrace your nervousness, prepare meticulously, and utilize visualization and relaxation techniques to radiate confidence

Check out my article on overcoming fear of public speaking for more info

The keyword to take from this is “Relax”. You’re speaking to people, not much different than you or me. You know your thing, you have prepared your material, it your show. Enjoy it as it goes!

Thou shalt summarize your key ideas

What’s your goal with any public speaking event that you do? The goal is that your audience takes home your key ideas, that they keep thinking about them, that they even discuss them at home, with their friends or with the person seated besides them.

So don’t be shy to repeat your key ideas through your presentation, and specially, to remark them as you finish it. Even to ask them to repeat them aloud, if the type of audience allows it. Be sure that if anybody sees the person in the next seat or in front of them shouting an answer, they’ll remember what they were saying!

PUBLIC SPEAKING PRO TIP: remember this: Repetition is key! Repetition is key! Repetition is key!

Do I need to highlight the keyword here? “Repetition”!

Some final words on Public Speaking

Public speaking is a skill. Some people might be more extroverted and seem to have a more natural ability for that. But don’t fool yourself and don’t let public speaking phobias take the best from you: public speaking is a skill that can be developed, can be practiced, and even an introvert can learn how to manage.

If you follow these commandments, and remember the keywords we included in each of them, you’ll learn how to be a proficient public speaker, how to engage your audiences, and how to develop memorable messages for them to take home and remember you by (and maybe approve your plans and budgets too!)

Just for you to remember, these are the keywords from each commandment:

  1. Adapt
  2. Focus
  3. Drive
  4. Punch
  5. Bridge
  6. Rhythm
  7. Omnisenses
  8. Patience / Humor
  9. Anticipation
  10. Practice
  11. Relax
  12. Repetition!

I can’t wait to see you on a stage!

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