How to speak in public

Learning to speak in public will help you raise support for your cause and inspire passion in others – in a way that books and pamphlets won’t.  Most people are afraid to speak in public and greatly respect those will – especially on a controversial issue.  Leaders must be able to speak in public.  Fortunately, public speaking can be learned and the sooner you learn, the better you will get.

These tips will help you be a more effective speaker and thus a better leader.

Organise your talk

  • Your talk must have an opening, a body and a conclusion.  The opening must wake people up and outline what you are going to talk about.
  • The body should explain the issue using at the most six distinct points – which is all most people can remember.  Pause between each one.
  • The conclusion should summarise what you have said and boldly challenge people to act.

Use body language

Show your passion for what you believe by using body language.  Use your face, your hands and your arms.  Bring a visual-aid such as an object or picture which can help illustrate your point.  Act out some of your points – perhaps even using a friend or volunteer from the audience to help you.

Make eye contact with people all around the room and not only those close to you.

Avoid negative body language such as putting your hands in your pockets or swaying about.

Vary your voice

Vary the way you speak to make it more interesting.  Make it loud and soft or high and low.  Use a different voice when reading a quotation or if using a dialogue.

Chose your words

You aim to communicate – not just impress people.  Try to eliminate or explain any words your audience won’t understand.  Vary your sentence length.

Memorise your talk

  • Memorise your talk and repeat it until you have learned your main points, but don’t memorise every word – else it will sound fake.  Use notes to find your place if you get lost – don’t read them.  Looking too much at your notes undermines your credibility; loses eye contact and makes you seem like you don’t feel strongly about it.
  • Unless you are very experienced, don’t try doing a talk without any notes.  Rather bring them and don’t look at them than risk forgetting what to say next.

Interact with the audience

Pretend you are having a conversation with your audience, especially if it is less than 25 people.  Sense where they are at.  Slow down if they are not with you.  Tell a joke or story if they are losing attention.  Give them activities to do such as role play.  Ask questions they can answer by raising their hand.  This interaction will help them learn faster and keep their attention.

How to learn

  • Practice first with a mirror, a tape recorder and a stopwatch.
  • Then practice in front of a friend.  Ask for constructive criticism.  When you give your talk, ask an experienced person to give you feedback afterwards.
  • Use every opportunity you can get to speak in public – to overcome your fears.

Bring your speech in writing

Bring written copies of your speech to give to those who ask for it.  This is especially important for the media, who will otherwise usually get some fact wrong.

 Ask your host for help

 Ask about the audience: their knowledge, enthusiasm on the issue.

  • Explain to your host how you want to be introduced.
  • Ask for a glass of water.
  • Ask your host to indicate when you have five minutes left to complete your talk.
  • Ask for a volunteer to help hand out materials.
  • If they record your talk, ask for a copy to listen to.
  • Ask for feedback afterward.

 On the day of the talk

 Arrive early to check equipment and allow time for traffic problems.  If you feel a little nervous, don’t worry about it.  A little nervousness is a good thing.

 Using technical equipment

 If you use technical equipment such as a slide or data projector, always prepare a backup plan for what you will do if the equipment fails.  For example, bring overhead projector slides or a wall chart as an alternative to a data projector.  Also visit the venue beforehand and/or early to check the equipment is working and where the electric plugs are.

 How to do a radio interview

Radio interviews can be by telephone or in a studio.

Give your host a list of questions they can ask you and some background information on the subject.

  • Lay out all your information in writing in point form in front of you – the listeners can’t see you.
  • Try a recorded interview first, because any mistakes can be edited out or re-recorded.  Start with a friendly interviewer on a subject you are confident on – before trying a hostile interviewer live.
  • Ask a friend to listen in and give you constructive criticism.

What not to do

  • Don’t apologise or make excuses for yourself.  Just do your best.  Others probably won’t notice your weaknesses.
  • Don’t thank people for their time.  You are doing them a favour by speaking to them.

So, to be a better speaker remember to: organise your talk; vary your voice; use body language; chose your words; memorise your talk and interact with your audience.  Brief your host and ask them to help you; arrive early and check technical equipment.  If talking on radio, give the interviewer questions and take your notes with you.  So learn to speak in public and inspire others to help your cause.

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2 Responses to How to speak in public

  1. Bandile says:

    That was a good read and I believe it covered all the vital points of public speaking.. I do, however, believe that knowing and doing are totally two different things. A platform to practice my public speaking abilities at UCT would be awesome if I happen to further my business studies there next year. Is there a public speaking society of some sort that I could join there as an extra curricula activity? How does UCT contribute to creating young dynamic individuals that can boldly address crowds for worthwhile causes that seek to empower an audience. Hope this is the right place to be asking for direction.

  2. Kavesan Pillay says:

    Hi there.

    I’m in my final year of Business Science Marketing. I was involved with public speaking at school and being my final year before going into the business world, I was hoping to get into it again.

    However, I can’t find any info on public speaking as an extramural at UCT. if you have any details on how to get involved with public speaking or even Toastmasters, id appreciate you forwarding them onto me.

    Many thanks again 🙂

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