Public Speaking: How to put your best foot forward


SpeakingWhen we speak in front of an audience, what is it we are saying about ourselves?

You have to agree that speaking in public involves many dynamics. We have witnessed all styles of presenting. Some out there use a script, while others do not. Many speakers use props, side men and games. Do you like a podium or do you opt for a lapel mike? What about support materials such as presentation graphics? Do you have follow-up products to distribute or sell? Do you position yourself as a paid presenter or do you use speaking engagements as a marketing exercise to gain new leads?

What ever your intention, it is important that you look at the entire picture when you are presenting to your intended audience. Whether your audience paid to be there or not, you are using their time which is valuable. They have taken the time out of their busy schedules to hear what you have to say and hopefully they can get some tip as to how they might make more money from what you have to say. If you are going to present as an expert in your field you have to present that image also.

One successful technique for engaging an audience is:

Ask questions directly at attendees. Get them to participate. Their problems will give you the opportunity to show how you can think on your feet. Since you know the subject matter passionately, this should be no problem. Support your presentation with professionally prepared graphics. These graphics should not be word-for-word depictions of your script or dialogue as it will only encourage the attendees to read along. A kiss of death. If you are going to take this approach, what is the need for you? Just hand out the notes and leave. You are there to pass on your passion, to involve them in the message that you can help solve their problems. This is your opportunity to show your brand and gain buy-in as the expert in your field.

When presenting with graphics projected on a screen, use a remote to move seamlessly between frames. Running back and forth to hit a key on your laptop, distracts from your delivery. If you like to gesture when you speak, consider a wireless lapel mike or headset. This plus the remote separates you from the technology and keeps the eye contact constant. The presentation appears to change on cue with your delivery instead of your delivery following a keystroke.

Utilize videos in your presentation to make a particular point. I start my presentation off with a brief video to set the tone of my discussion. It has the right inspiring effect I am looking for.

Everything in your entire presentation should be consistent. Your materials and presentation graphics and handouts should absolutely reflect your brand image. Your audience must be exposed to your entire professional image to exhibit a complete professional image. I include my logo on every frame so that they never forget who is presenting to them. I use every opportunity to reinforce my brand with them.

You may be considering public speaking but are apprehensive.
I have found that the best way is to not have a speech but to speak to the screen. Since you know your subject matter very well, speak to what is on the screen by quickly glancing as you hit the remote. This allows the presentation to be more conversational. People who may have heard you speak on the topic in the past, may hear a new nugget of wisdom they can take home with them. If you are fortunate to be quick witted, a little humor goes a long way in taking the edge off. I’ve found that most audiences appreciate a genuine effort to give them free advice from someone who is passionate than to worry about whether the presenter is a “professional speaker” or not. They only judge short comings.

You are only as good as your worst element, so try your best to make sure that you present yourself from the highest bar. When you consistently exhibit a professional image, you will also relax and enjoy the show from your vantage point. If you are enjoying yourself, it will show on the faces of your audience.


  1. Very useful suggestions.
    When I speak in front of my audience, I love to ask few warm-up questions and try to make them part of the show. With that I quickly understand the type of audience and I choose my presentation strategy based on that. I don’t use game like strategy but I mostly ask the audience to share their opinion or experience on that.

    Rajesh Shakya
    Helping technopreneurs to excel and lead their life!

  2. Hi Ed,

    Very useful pointers here, particularly asking questions of attendees. Having the audience take part builds interest and keeps them alert. There’s nothing better than a one-way, monotone preach to get those eye-lids heading south.

  3. Rajesh and David,

    I’m glad you both like to ask questions as well. I like how it helps to take the edge off right away. Since I am not a “professionally trained” speaker, this always makes it easier and definitely more enjoyable.

    I wonder if other readers have experiences to share?

  4. I like that Danielle. I’m going to use the question sheet idea. When they did check off their answers, how did you get them to join in verbally? For instance did you ask questions like: “how many of you chose this over that? For my own presentation, I could see how this would help get the audience to better understand why paying attention to their own brand is so very important. I think I will use it as a re-cap after each section. Nice tip.

    I tried Toastmasters once myself. I had a heck of a time introducing myself. I was impressed with the talent in the room.

    William, I agree with your attitude towards public speaking. I really enjoy the one-on-one discussions following events. A superb opportunity to pick up new business.

  5. William Profet from says

    This is a great article with very useful tips. Every time I face people in order to make a presentation I have to reinvent the wheel, but I am going to use these tips next time.

    I believe that speaking skills are crucial for success and everyone who want to achieve something in life must be a good speaker!!!


  6. Danielle says

    Hi Ed,

    Great article! I’m not long home from my Toastmasters meeting and felt compelled to comment! 🙂

    I totally agree with the “questioning” approach, or more specifically, making it interactive. And I’ve found there’s heaps of ways you can do this when you get creative.

    I discovered this wonderful technique by accident back when I first studied HR. I was so nervous about getting up in front of the class so I tried to come up with ways to deflect the attention from myself. I decided to structure the entire presentation so that it was interactive, and gave them a 1 page sheet that they had to tick off their answers to as we went (with a few trick questions to make it fun). It worked a treat, they loved it and it took the heat off me!!

    I also learnt that this is a wonderful way to “demonstrate” your points. What’s more, your audience will have fun and they’ll also remember you.

  7. Danielle says

    I’m glad you liked the idea Ed, it’s always worked a treat for me. And I think you’re spot on that it will help get your audience to better understand.

    I find that getting them to join in verbally really depends on your topic. Definitely use “how many of you chose this over that?”, because people love to see what other people chose. Selecting people who went against the majority to share their thoughts usually opens up opportunities to make important points, and also asking if anyone thought anything other than the options on the sheet can also open up some interesting discussion. I’ve always found that actively making your audience part of your presentation (i.e., when they have to DO something) also makes them more willing to join in verbally. It sort of “primes” them. I recommend having a bit of fun where you can, and “tease” them occasionally too… they love it.

    A few surprise things on your tick & flick sheet is good too. You can break each section up with a “Did you know?” and add an interesting fact or statistic related to your topic. People love that sort of stuff. And also add a couple of “ridiculous” options as one of the choices – everyone loves a laugh. All these things also get them chatting with their neighbour too, which makes it a nice atmosphere.

    Yeah actually, I was really daunted by Toastmasters at first! But I’m fortunate that ours is a fairly young club and the culture is very supportive. It’s a wonderful forum to experiment in. Would you believe I’m now a record holder at our club – I currently hold the record for the most “um’s” ever uttered in any one night! 🙂 …apparently this means I need to pause more … “there’s power in the pause”!

  8. great points on Public Speaking.

    The best way to improve is to simply get up and do it. Toastmasters is great for that.


    Darren Fleming

  9. You know Derrick it’s funny, but your absolutely right. “Just get up and do it.” is really all you need to know. Before I did my first engagment I put so much thought into it, I was feeding my anxiety. Once I just threw myself out there and starting addressing the topic it became fun quickly.

    Thanks for your encouragement!

  10. I would have to add that the basics are also important. Go to the toilet – and don’t drink too much water or coffee during your presentation!
    Make sure your clothes are ironed, and check your zipper before you go anywhere near the stage.
    Check your teeth in the mirror – and then feel comfortable to smile, and smile a lot!

  11. Martin, you are absolutely right. Once you are prepared and you don’t have this nasty feeling that there might be something wrong with the way you look (like the zipper or something in your teeth), you will be much more relaxed delivering your speech.