Principles of Public Speaking
If you’ve got a public speaking gig before you – whether in a professional venue or just for a wedding or retirement roast – having a quality speech prepared is key to wowing your audience. But beyond that, there are plenty of principles you can stick with that can greatly improve your overall presentation. I’ve put together a list of what I consider the more important principles of public speaking:
Public Speaking Principle #1
Never, ever start your speech with an apology about your level of preparation or about how poor a speaker you are. In a non-professional venue, the audience will be on your side. In a professional venue, don’t go in unprepared. Have a professional help you to get ready if necessary.
The only exception to the apology rule is if you’re using it intentionally to make a point, it’s part of a joke, or it’s otherwise being used as part of your speech.
Public Speaking Principle #2
Control your body. A lot of people start to sway (often because of shifting from one foot to the other) when they speak. Or they bat their arms against their sides. Or they otherwise don’t have control of their bodies because of nerves. Make sure you practice ahead of time in front of a mirror, video camera, or people you can trust. Not only will the practice help to keep you from feeling nervous, but you’ll have practice in this body control.
Public Speaking Principle #3
Control your eyes. Yes, you might largely be reading from a script (and remember, don’t apologize for that), but don’t forget that you’re speaking to real people. Make eye contact with them as often as possible, even if it means keeping one finger on the page to keep your place. Also, the more stories you can tell from your own experience, the less you’ll need to refer to that paper, and the more the speech becomes a comfortable situation for you where you’ll be able to really relate to your audience.
Public Speaking Principle #4
Control your voice. Because of nerves, many people speak too quickly, too indistinctly, or too quietly. Keep in mind that you’re having a conversation with someone and use that voice of yours. Sometimes fast is ok, because it can emphasize excitement or it can be used in a humorous way. Sometimes extra slow can add real power. But use speed intentionally. Likewise, don’t do monotone or your audience will sleep. Make sure to vary your tone to help convey meaning and keep things interesting.
Public Speaking Principle #5
Use your body. Don’t just control it. Use it. It’s better to stand still than to sway about, but it’s best if you can use body language to help communicate your message. A good deal of communication is made through the body. Don’t lose the opportunity to say more than your words are saying.
Public Speaking Principle #6
Use the pause. A lot of people don’t understand the power of the pause. A good pause can help to command people’s attention, underline a point you’re making, or throw an audience into hysterics. Write these pauses into your speech and practice it this way. Professional comedians and speakers put a lot of time into learning how to drop a pause in just the right way.
Public Speaking Principle #7
Practice. No, really – practice! When I’m writing speeches for people, they often come to me at the last minute for help. I’m happy to assist, but I know it means that they won’t really practice their speech.
That’s ok for some situations, but if you’re a professional speaker, you should never make that error – and non-professionals can take a lesson from that if they want to pull off something really good. Enough practice can help you to overcome the fear of public speaking; say good-bye to that anxiety and a lot of the other points start to fall into place … especially if you’ve practiced them. Take this last principle seriously and you will help yourself to pull off a really successful public speech.