11 tips on public speaking for the 1st time
Updated: Apr 16
When you start your own business, you'll invariably need to talk about it in public. Whether you're at a speed networking event, giving an elevator pitch or are lucky enough to have been given an award, there's going to come a moment where you'll need to take a deep breath and embrace public speaking.
For those born in front of a camera, this is a walk in the park. For the rest of us mere mortals who dread the very thought of public speaking, that park seems filled with muddy puddles and dog logs, if you catch my drift.
So what's the answer? Well, as someone who's now accustomed to public speaking and was recently asked for insider secrets, I've got a few tips to help out even the most nervous of newbies.
Eleven top tips for good public speaking
1. Connection Be kind to yourself and choose an audience who already half-know and like you. The photos from this blog post were taken at Freelance Mum, a networking event for parents who can bring their (often tiny) children. Many of us are grateful if we're wearing a top that doesn't have snot stains on it; we're really not going to be a load of Simon Cowells. Everyone's very kind and helpful - it's genuinely a comfortable place to get up and speak. If you know people want to hear your story, it's much easier to deliver a good talk.
2. What will everyone get out of it? Be honest: what are you going to tell everyone they don't already know? Will it be useful tips in an area of business they're not familiar with? Will it be a funny story about a disaster you had that will make them warm to you? Will you be giving them genuinely good information they can take away and act on to make their businesses better?
This cake table is an example I have to illustrate branding. In the 'before' photo, it's not evident what either my USP is, my business name or what sort of style I deliver. In the 'after' photo, there's a strong wedding theme with complementary cake colours. It doesn't matter if the audience I'm talking to are involved in the wedding cake industry: the illustration about giving a clear message is obvious.
3. Be prepared (Dib! Dib!)
At all times, people should know who you are and what you do. This doesn't mean you should jump up and down every minute yelling, "I'm Ali and I run The Local Bakehouse where we provide gluten-free cake!" It means you should have a business sign or banner next to you and possibly sheets for people to make notes on that also have your logo & details, too. (This works well if you're expecting people to write a fair bit down.) Meanwhile, great as technology is, there are frequently times when a projector will fail or a microphone will cut out. Don't be daunted by this. Just know you can deliver a good and honest speech by voice alone. Although it's handy to have some tools, make sure you can carry on without them. If there aren't too many people in the room, you may wish to rearrange the furniture so you're sitting with people around you so everyone can hear properly. If you had a great video to show everyone, you can describe the purpose of the video and ask them to look at the link on your website later. Take a look at number 8 if you want to know how to deliver a speech without any notes. (Yep, it works!)
4. Ask your audience to do something immediately There are 2 things that are really annoying as a speaker when you begin: people not concentrating and/or people chatting. Asking everyone to do something immediately will make them go silent and focus on you and what you're saying. An easy way to do this is to ask for a hands up ("Hands up if you've got a pen and paper!"). If you see someone hasn't put their hand up, you can get someone else to help them ("Could you kindly pass back this paper to..."). This has the added bonus of you not having to leave your place at the front.
5. VAK skills VAK stands for Visual, Audio & Kinaesthetic. A good speech will have a variety of all three. Visuals can be anything from a video to a PowerPoint to holding up an object. Audio doesn't just have to be your voice - it can be a piece of music or a radio advert. Kinaesthetic simply means getting people to do practical stuff like writing things down or putting their hands in the air. Using all three of these will help your audience focus more than if you simply rely on just one or two.
6. Ignore the noise Someone's phone may buzz quietly, there might be a spot of not-too-annoying feedback from the microphone or a chair may scrape against the floor. These things aren't reasons to stop what you're saying or feel upset. It's easy to think you need absolute silence from everyone so you can concentrate but it's rarely possible for an extended duration of time. If you don't make these things an issue then it's highly likely no-one else will notice.
7. Call out the chatterboxes Number 6 doesn't mean people can have a natter in the background! If you see someone get out their mobile phone or two people talking, call them out on it in a way that's kind but nips the problem in the bud. I'll give you some examples: "I'm glad you got your phone out." (Make it clear who you're looking at.) "This is one of the best tools to use if you've forgotten your business cards and quickly want to show someone your products." (For the chatterboxes.) "Is that an issue close to your hearts?" (Smile as you look over at the culprits. They will stop talking, I promise.)
8. Encourage audience participation One of the best ways to liven up a speech is to involve your listeners. Here's a particularly good way if you also don't want to use cue cards to remember what you want to say. Laminate 5 main points onto card and hand them out randomly close to the 4 corners & middle of the room. Then say, "Who's got number 1?" and get that person to read out the card. When they do so, repeat what they've said but using a different set of words. This has two purposes: firstly, if someone's not heard what they've said then you've helped them understand. Secondly, that repetition helps your listeners really think about the point you've made.
9. Don't compare yourself to others Think you can't do a speech as well as someone else? You're not alone. But don't compare your beginning with someone else's experienced journey in speaking. When I began my previous career as a teacher, the first year wasn't pretty. One time I was shaking so much I put my hands in my pockets and was very grateful for wide-leg trousers so no-one could see my legs trembling! It takes time to combat nerves but they will go away eventually. And just because you've seen other people get up and make great speeches doesn't mean you have to do yours in the same way. There's no set style for a brilliant speech; there are lots of ways to engage people. You don't have to be an all-singing all-dancing lively character. Some of the best speakers I've seen have had softly-spoken voices but really interesting stories.
10. Video yourself
Already cringing at the thought of watching yourself back on video? I'm willing to bet you're not as bad as you think, especially if someone thanks you for something in particular you said.
Still not convinced? Try to think of it like this: you can only learn from mistakes by acknowledging what they are and without a video, you probably won't remember saying most of what you said. See it as a necessary evil and try to be kind to yourself. If you stuttered, forgot a massive chunk of what you were going to say or tripped over a step, it's not the end of everything. There'll be things you did well, even if it's just having the guts to get up there in the first place.
11. Have a call to action Why are you getting up to make your speech? What do you want people to do when they've heard you speak? Will it be to book your services? Leave you a review on Facebook? Think carefully about one thing and don't be tempted to ask for more. Much as you might like numerous sales, Twitter followers and bulk orders for 2020, people rarely tend to take on board more than one request. If you ask for something simple (like a comment on a Facebook post) then your wish may well be granted.
A huge thank you to Nicola Jane Photography for all the wonderful photos!