How to speak in public.


Many people are anxious about public speaking. Do not worry about being daunted by this. That is the principle: do not worry.

There are several commonsense rules that you can follow to enable you to speak with poise to a group. This could be a group of 10 or a group of 1 000 000. Some rules need to be adapted to the size of the audience.

Speaking to a group is simply an extension of a dialogue. You will normally speak to one person for a few seconds and then that person will expand. You will have spoken to two people at once, or three people at once, or four and so on. There is no difference in principle in the group of people you are addressing getting infinitely larger. Moreover, you usually speak for a few seconds or up to a minute. Again there is no essential difference to speaking for two minutes, or three minutes, or four, or ten or thirty. Therefore there is no reason to be scared. It is nothing you have not done before. You are simply speaking to more people and for longer.


Before you start:


This is vital. As in marketing or teaching your approach will vary dramatically according to who your target audience is.

Is it a class of 5 year olds? Is it a doctors’ conference? It is an army unit? Is it a church group? Is it some people in a retirement home? Is English their native language?

You will pitch your oration according to the interests and abilities of your listeners. There are things you can assume most of the group to know or not to know. You shall adjust your vocabulary, content and style to hold their attention and to inform them of what they need to know.


Have plenty of material. If you have to deliver a 30 minute speech prepare enough material for 40 minutes. It is sometimes hard to estimate how long it will take. You do not want to run out of things to say after 20 minutes and be standing there saying err, err, err…. If you prepare 40 minutes of material and you finish in 30 than fantastic. What will probably happen if you get 25 minutes in and you find you can skip the least important part and go straight to your closing 5 minutes. That extra 10 mins of material is not wasted. You can always use it in future or indeed give it to them in a handout to takeaway.

Alternatively you could plan 30 minutes of material and then have an extra 10 minutes’ worth in case you finish too soon.



1. Be prepared – as in all things. It is the boy scouts’ motto. (Planning prevents pitifully poor performance).  Know what you are going to speak about. Know your topic inside out. This way you will have plenty to say. This will boost your confidence and ensure you perform better. Moreover, you will be focusing on the content rather than the actual speaking part. Do not write out every word. Write brief notes. These are bullet points that you will then expand into a full sentence. For instance, ”Obama’s good” will be on your notes. But you would say, ”Barak Obama is a good president.” If you write out every word and simply read aloud it will be bland. You will be minded to look at your notes all the time and not engage with the audience.


2. Arrive early. You do not want to be fretting about making it on time. Give yourself more than enough time to get there. Once you are there you can take a walk around the room and test the acoustics. Get a friend to stand at the back of the room and see how well your voice projects. Then you can have your friend say something from the podium as you stand at the rear and see how loud their voice is. You can test any public address system they have and set up any equipment you have.  This way you will be composed by the time you start. If you can visit the speaking venue a few days before your speaking engagement then this is even better. You will feel much surer of yourself than if you are walking into that room for the very first time.




Dress appropriately. Make sure your appearance is perfect. This will make your audience warm to you and respect you. It will also imbue you with self-assurance. Because you know you look fantastic you will perform better. Go for a non-controversial appearance. Do not give them anything to criticise. There will be nothing to distract people from how marvellous your oration is going to be.



4. You can do it. People have had to deliver incredibly difficult and unpopular speeches. People have been booed, whistled and pelted with rotten fruit. They have still soldiered on. I saw a comedian speaking to 500 people and the sound system cut out. He heroically carried on with his act to the very end. King George VI had a severe stammer and was painfully shy. Despite this he manfully did his duty and spoke to hundreds of millions of people live on the radio. He had a severe speech impediment and a very silly voice. Yet it fell on him to make one of the most vital orations of all time: a speech declaring the Second World War.

In the film The King’s Speech the king’s speech therapist says to him before the king gives his speech at the outbreak of the Second World War, ”Forget about everything else – say it it to me as a friend. As a friend.” Think about it that way. Put the thoughts of grandeur or the fear of failure out of your mind. Say it almost casually. Do not fret – that will not help. It is going to be just fine.





6. Have visual aids and sound recordings. People have a low attention span these days. Make sure you show them something on a screen or in your hands. A brief video clip or sound recording will enliven proceedings. Very few people are willing to listen to a speaker for long.




Make sure it is all worth hearing. Presumably your task is to deliver certain information and not fill time. Therefore the vital thing is to deliver that info and not simply to use up time.

If you can do this effectively in 20 minutes then do it. Do not tell them irrelevant things or express yourself in a long winded way just for the sake of killing time.

I have seen a debater single handedly lose a debate for his team. he had 5 minutes of good material. He then had nothing worthwhile to say but continued prattling on. He undid all his good work. He was so in love with the sound of his own voice that he bored the audience. I, as judge, had to award the debate to the other team simply because this boy had torpedoed it for his side.


8. Practice.

We all know the hoary adage – practice makes perfect. Practice it to yourself in front of a mirror. You can see your facial expression and any hand gestures you make. You could also record yourself and film yourself. Have a friend watch you and give constructive criticism. Your friend will not always be right especially if you know the content and the audience better than he or she does. The more rehearsals you do the better you will perform.



If you stand stock still and have a blank expression then it will be dull. It would be good to enliven it with some facial expressions and gesticulation. This should be close to what you would naturally do. If you are not an expressive person then your facial expression will be largely neutral most of the time and you will hardly make any hand gestures. When making a big speech it is wise to make a small effort to be a little livelier than usual. Do not go too much out of your comfort zone. That would make you feel gauche and come across as false. If you are a very outspoken and dramatic person you will usually go throigh plenty of striking facial expressions and make very notable hand movements. This is useful when public speaking. However, do not go too overboard with these.




Imagine someone speaks in a monotone at exactly the same speed and at precisely the same volume for the whole time. It would be egregiously boring to listen to. Your voice is your instrument. Use its range. We all know that variety is the spice of life. Vary the speed, tone and volume. You should begin quite loud and emphatically. This will grab their attention. A little later you can speak more softly. Softly does not necessarily people will not hear you. If you are sure that they are paying rapt attention then if you speak quieter they will strain even more to catch you. Then you can suddenly get LOUDER. There will be different tones at different moments in your oration: jocular, excited, serious, anxious, philosophical, mournful and so on as the moment demands.

You can keep one tone/speed/volume for a minute at most and then shift. You can shift back again to that tone/speed/volume later.

The best time for speaking fast is when repeating things.



By the time you get to the dais to speak you will have practised your speech out loud several times and mentally run through it several more time. You know it backwards even if you do take notes. Your audience has never heard it. Remember that. They are hearing it for the very first time. Speak slowly. Allow them time to absorb all the information. Do not race through it. Remember they might miss something. Saying something important. Then pause. Then carry on. Then pause again. Allow them time to digest what you are saying. The most effectual public speakers speak slowly. Barak Obama is a past master at this. He speaks in brief and often simple sentences. He gives his hearers time to take in what he has just said. He had oodles of self-confidence so he does not rattle through it. If you are jittery you may be tempted to race through it just so it is over. No. Take your time. In your script write in ”pause” for yourself. Silently count in your head ”pause one two three” before continuing. You might even ask your audience to tell you if you go too fast. People almost never complain that is a speaker is too slow!

Another excellent example of a slow speaker is Elizabeth II. She has over 70 years of experience which helps! She has ample self-confidence and she knows people are willing to listen. She speaks at a sedate pace and she leaves plenty of pauses. The trouble is her voice is very banal and unvarying.



Ideally you will know your speech off by heart. Even if you do learn it by heart take in your notes: just in case. You might suddenly get stage fright. Your mind could go blank. If you have your script with you then this cannot be a problem. Moreover, it is something to hang onto. You can squeeze it a little and channel your nerves into the paper. It will be a fillip to your self-confidence.



Look at your audience. Do not talk to your toes! If you find it unnerving to make eye contact then look at their foreheads. This gives them the impression you are making eye contact while avoiding the awkwardness of actually doing so. If you manage to make eye contact with someone then hold it for a few seconds. Give them a smile. Then move on. Do not death stare someone. Keep your eyes moving across the audience. This will hold their attention.

You should glance down at your script and see words such as ”Ok for diabetics” and that will jog your memory. You will then look up at the audience and say ”This medicine is suitable for prescription to people who have diabetes.”

You carry on in a like manner. Looking down and finding these phrases to remind you of your speech. Then look at the audience while you deliver the speech and engage with them.



Imagine there is a partially sighted and hard of hearing person at the back of the room. Even she needs to be able to hear and see. So project your voice and exaggerate your movements and facial expressions. Speak to the back of the room – not to the front of the room.


14. Body language.

Position yourself in front of the podium if there is one. If there is a stage the podium should be at the centre and near the front. Do not cower against the wall wishing you could disappear into it. Stand up straight – puff out your chest (within reason). Tilt you head back slightly. Chin up! Have you feet shoulder width apart. You could have your forearms pointing forwards and your palms up: as though you want to hug them. This is an open getsure. It says: trust me.



You have to believe in yourself so everyone else can. You have done plenty of preparation. You are brimming over with self-belief. You are going to smash it! Breath slowly and deeply to become tranquil.

You may need to fake it to make it. Tell yourself you are marvellous. Smile and you can trick yourself into being happy. Make it seem that you are enjoying it so then they enjoyr it.




Get up and get to the podium. Pause a moment: wait until you have everyone’s attention. There may be chatting or people moving. Have the self-assurance to wait a few seconds or even half a minute before you are sure they are concentrating on you. This hesitation will cause them to shush each other and be even more eager to hear what you have to say. You might not get total silence so use your discretion get as close to silence as you can. Only then begin. Some speaker race to the podium and start gabbling before the audience is quiet or even looking at the speaker. Wrong.



Do not bother will periphrastination. If you are too wordy at the beginning you will start to lose your audience. Maybe a one sentence introduction of yourself and then one sentence on the overall theme. There could be a self-deprecating joke or some other humorous remark. Then get right down to brass tacks.



What are the five major ideas you want to impart?

These could be: Brexit has happened.

Brexit is good.

Brexit cannot be reversed.

Other countries will copy Brexit.

Brexit will not change as much as some think.

List your five main ideas at the outset. Then go over idea 1 in depth. Then do idea 2 in depth, then idea 3 in depth. At the end you might repeat the list.

If they is a crucial fact or quotation then you could repeat that. You could put it up on the screen and get your audience to repeat it. Rhymes work particularly well or anything with music.



Listening to someone for a long time can be banal. Engage your audience. Ask them questions. ”Does anyone know when the Brexit referendum was?” ”Put up you hand if you voted Remain.” etc… Get them involved. It wakes them up.




Do not give them bits of paper during the speech or before. If so they will read and not listen. Give it to them as they leave. A summary of the speech is good.



Do not speak and get them to read it at the same time. Let them read it – then say it.




Make sure they have got it. Ask a question and say the whole audience has to answer. These should be questions they can answer in one word.

”Did Brexit happen?”

”Yes”. If someone is mistaken and says no then he will soon realise his error.

”Who was the Prime Minister during the Brexit vote?”


and so forth.



If you can crack a  joke to lighten the proceedings then this is welcome.  You know your virtuosities. If you are a humourist then go for it. If you know that you are not good at this sort of thing then leave it out.



You can tell them you feel unsure of yourself and you have never done this before. This should not undermine your confidence. It will make them more sympathetic to you and that will give you more belief in your ability to make a fantastic speech.



Have a convincing or memorable statement for the last sentence. Deliver it loudly and with panache. This could be repeating your key message. You could then add, ”Thank you for your attention.” or ”That’s all.” The former is better.  If your words do not make it blatant that this is you signing off then you could step back and/or give a slight bow. This will signal to your audience that your speech is finished.

Do not finish until you have really finished. I have seen a competent debater taper off her speech prematurely. Her voice dropped almost to a whisper as she moved away from the podium and delivered her last phrase seated! That was very feeble. It undermind her previous good work.

Once you finish pause, stand then for a few seconds – only then move away.



Deliver your speech from a standing position. This way they can see you and you can see them. You are the focus of attention. Your lungs are open and you are energised.



Care about it but do not worry. If you are totally nonchalant this would come across as indifference and idleness. There is no sense in panicking.



Check any words you are unsure how to pronounced. If there are two legitimate pronunciations say your preferred one and then say that some people pronounced it the other way. If you have to say a word in a foreign language you can point out that you may not be pronouncing it correctly. You are eliciting sympathy and demonstrating sensitivity.







About Calers

Born Belfast 1971. I read history at Edinburgh. I did a Master's at UCL. I have semi-libertarian right wing opinions. I am married with a daughter and a son. I am allergic to cats. I am the falling hope of the not so stern and somewhat bending Tories. I am a legal beagle rather than and eagle. Big up the Commonwealth of Nations.

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