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Advice for Speaking in Public – from an Audience Member

People often ask me for advice about that scariest of adventures: speaking in public. I recently enjoyed spending a couple of days at a wonderful conference. I gave my own talk, but what I really enjoyed was having the chance to listen to lots of other speakers. I’m not going to comment today on the content of their talks, but here are a few lessons I learned about the style of their delivery. I hope that it helps you…

  • A crisp opening sentence is crucial. Same for the final sentence. However much you ad-lib your talk, don’t fluff these key moments by leaving them to waffly chance.
  • Don’t say things like, “I told a couple of you this story earlier.” Just crack on with it!
  • You can’t have too much humour, so long as it is funny!
  • Assume that the venue will have terrible visibility. If you have key bits of text on your slides, pop em high up on the screen.
  • Empathy with your audience is important.
  • Telling stories is great, so long as they don’t feel too much of an affectation, or run on too long.
  • (An aside to us members of the audience – turn off your ****ing phone, not because it will ring, but because you won’t be able to resist looking at it!)
  • Come out from behind the lectern.
  • You need changes of pace and theme, or else one hour starts to feel like a long time.
  • You need a very clear hook at the start of your talk to get the audience intrigued and focused.
  • Props are great.
  • Need a firm thread running through your talk, even if it is hidden and subtle.
  • Resist looking up at the screen all the time.
  • Change the pace throughout your talk.
  • Don’t read your slides. Obvious, but everyone still does it. Soooo boring!
  • Address Q&A answers to the whole audience, not just to the questioner.

I hope this helps!

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  1. Great advice, especially the first point. Whatever you do, rehearse the hell out of the first 30 seconds so that it is punchy, confident, catchy and slick. Get that bit wrong, lose your audience and rehearsing the rest may just be a waste of time.



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