8 Golden Rules for Public Speaking

Feeling nervous before giving a speech is both natural and normal. This is especially true for business people who are not necessarily ‘good on stage’ but are required to speak publicly to an audience on a regular basis. Whether you like it or not, people will judge you on your speaking performance. Here, we list 8 golden rules that will help calm your nerves and encourage you to deliver strong and convincing public speaking performances.

Golden Rule for Public Speaking #1 Preparation 

You need to know your content and your audience. Every measure short of delivering the live performance can be classed as preparation. Be it the initial idea, the design of a story, producing graphic support, PowerPoint slides, practice, rehearsal… There is simply no substitute for good preparation.

Golden Rule for Public Speaking #2 Opening

You have about 90 seconds to grab the audience’s attention. They’ll start making judgments about you from the moment you walk on stage but once you open your mouth, there’s really no time for dithering. Why not commit the first 200 words of your presentation to memory? That way, you’ll know every word, every breath and every movement and begin your performance full of confidence.

Golden Rule for Public Speaking #3 Purpose

Why am I here? What am I going to get out of this? Both audience and speaker ought to be able to answer these questions. The most important thing about purpose is to have one. Make sure you have a clear message and make sure you deliver it.

Golden Rule for Public Speaking #4 Structure

Use a simple structure - with a beginning, middle and end - to tell a story. Your first task is to awaken the audience's interest in what you have to say. (See #2 Opening) Once you've got them hooked, you can focus on guiding the audience’s understanding through your sales pitch using relevant stories. The stories you choose will create points of impact for the audience. By the time you reach the end, nothing should come as a surprise to the audience. Your call-to-action should come across as being a reasonable and logical next step. (Read more about this model for presentation structure here)

Golden Rule for Public Speaking #5 Timing

Stick to the schedule. People plan their day around advertised time slots. Know how long you have and don’t overstay your welcome.

Golden Rule for Public Speaking #6 Voice

Prepare your voice in advance. There is no way around the fact that, when speaking publicly, you are dependent on your voice. In order to engage your audience, you need to be both heard and understood. Achieving this is about balancing volume, pitch, pace and articulation. (Read more about those 4 key areas here)

Golden Rule for Public Speaking #7 Humour

Only use humour if it’s appropriate. If it doesn’t fit, don’t force it. Speakers are expected to be reasonably entertaining and humorous in the same way that poems are expected to rhyme. It doesn’t have to be that way. Humour often comes from well delivered stories with points pertinent to the main material. Be proud of your message and confident in your delivery. If it’s not funny, don’t worry.

Golden Rule for Public Speaking #8 Notes

If your presentation slides can be printed and distributed as a handout without any further explanation, there’s probably something serious wrong with the content. Presentation slides are for the audience; they’re not there to keep you on-track and on-script.  It all goes back to preparation. If you really know your message, you won’t need speaker’s notes to help you deliver it.