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How to Be an Effective Public Speaker

Two Methods:BeforehandDelivery

Whether it is your first time speaking in public or your 100th, a lecture at a university study day or a school project, if list of speakers included some very successful people in the field whom you admire or if it's just you, well-prepared or not, public speaking can be daunting. So how do you get from someone in the throes of a panic attack to a confident speaker? The best way is to gain experience, but there are ways which can help you appear confident. Read on...

Method 1

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    Know your audience – it makes the experience easier. Knowing as much as you can about their knowledge, their age, the number of people you will be lecturing or speaking to. If you get some idea of what they hope to achieve from the speech, then that will help you to prepare in a more effective way.
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    If you have been asked to speak on a particular subject, for example “The Roman Gladiator” it is essential to know whether the people you will be lecturing to are novices in the subject, or experts. This will obviously affect your research and delivery. If they are beginners you do not want to talk over their heads, and if experts you do not want to tell them what they already know.
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    The tone of your speech will also differ for small groups. A large group lecture (50+) will be far more formal than a small group. For small groups you can include them in the speech, by asking questions or involving them.
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    Sometimes it is not always possible to find out all this information before the lecture so you need to try to be adaptable. For example I was expecting to lecture to 50-70 people with a great deal of knowledge, and due to bad weather six total beginners turned up. It was a much more informal group than I had prepared for so started by asking them what they expected, what they knew, preconceptions and ideas they may have.
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    Research – The better prepared you are for your speech or lecture, the better the speech will be. It is better to be over prepared than under. When I first started I wrote everything down that I wanted to say, including jokes and quips. Many people say this is bad practice but if you are able to read it “naturally” then you can get away with this in the early stages. Only very experienced lecturers and public speakers can talk without notes. The form of these notes will be personal to you, and you should not feel pressured to use a particular method.
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    Be aware than any holes in your research will be noticed and questioned by someone in the audience, so to prevent any awkward moments make sure there are no holes, sweeping statements or uncertainties. Never assume “no one will notice” or “no one will ask about that”. Always assume someone will ask. Try to think of all the questions you could be asked and make sure that you have an answer.
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    If you think ”I hope no one asks me ……” you can guarantee someone will, so have an answer. However, if you are asked a question you do not know the answer to, then do not be afraid to admit to not knowing, although you can lessen the impact of “I don’t know”, to “I haven’t researched that yet”, or “that is an interesting line of thought, which I hadn’t considered”. Better to bluff why you do know an answer rather than make something up; someone is bound to notice.
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    Timing – You will be given a time for your speech, sometimes these are flexible (between 10-15 minutes for example) which is good, as going over time is bad manners. However, if you are told you have 20 minutes make sure you stick to it, as you cannot rush your lecture to finish as this will affect delivery, and you do not want to be stopped before the end. If you have a time slot of 20 minutes, for example, the audience will know this, and will start fidgeting as you go over time, which is distracting for you, and you are certain they are not listening, but rather thinking about their lunch or tea-break.
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    Use the premise that 2000 words will last approximately 10 minutes talking time. So for an hour’s speech you will need approximately 10000-12000 words. It may seem a pain to write this much for a speech, but it is a good guideline for the amount of information you will need. After some experience this will come naturally and you will not need to be so pedantic with the preparation. It is better to have too much information than finish a lecture ten minutes early, as if you are a new public speaker you will not want an extra ten minutes question time. Also if you are being paid to speak they may feel they have not got their money’s worth.
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    Practice the speech at home, and time it. Remember to speak slower than you would normally in order to be heard and understood.

Method 2

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    So now that you have prepared your speech you have to do the difficult bit which is to deliver it. The more prepared you are the easier delivery will be. There are thousands of amazing speakers out there, so do not be afraid to watch some and observe their styles. However it is essential that to be a good public speaker you have to be you.
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    Whilst every public speaker puts on a “persona” when they get on the podium it fits in with their personality. For example if you do not joke in real life, do not do it in lectures – there is nothing worse than the “academic joke” that falls flat. If you are boisterous and lively in life then be like that when you speak. You can be professional and fun at the same time as long as it is appropriate.
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    To start with, simply concentrate on giving your speech, clearly and succinctly. How you do this can vary. As I mentioned for my early public speaking I wrote everything out in full. Some people use index cards, with key words, or headings. However this has never worked for me. When you become more experienced you might be able to work simply with a list of headings, or key information, such as names and dates or slides as prompts.
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    You need to experiment with methods of notes, and go with what feels right for you. A good public speaker is a confident one, so worrying about what note method you are using and whether you are going to forget something vital is not going to help. If you need everything written in full in case your mind “goes blank” then have them. There is nothing wrong with a security blanket; it will make you a better speaker if you have all eventualities covered.
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    Always read your notes before you arrive at the venue so it is fresh in your mind which will eliminate a total reliance on notes. Also remember that you are the only one who knows EXACTLY what you intend to speak about, so if you miss something out no one else will know.


  • Don't let being anxious or nervous lower your confidence. Embrace it by expressing it as excitement and enthusiasm.
  • The audience have attended to hear you speak so they are interested in what you have to say. Enjoy the experience of being the centre of attention. There is nothing greater than someone being openly interested in your ideas, opinions and knowledge. So enjoy the experience, and make it something that reflects you, your personality and your interests. Public speaking should be a pleasure, not a chore.
  • With every speech speaking will become easier so don't stress it if you mess up the first few times no matter if you speak internationally, on television, or just for a few people in your hometown.

Article Info

Categories: Public Speaking