Sweaty palms, butterflies in stomach, clenched throat. For some, giving a talk can be as fun as a root canal and no amount of imagining your audience in their underwear can save you. (Plus, ew.) For others, toasts and TED talks come naturally. But even the most confident speakers usually rely on a trick or two to get them through a presentation.
So we asked our contributors, notable pundits and women who regularly speak for a living for their best tips on speaking out loud to a crowd.
Let’s Talk About the Weather
“Connect right up front and say something in the moment, that you all share — about the room, the day, the weather, what’s going on in the world. You’re inviting them on your ride. As Tip O’Neill once said, ‘All politics is local.’ All public speaking is too!”
— Jane Condon, comedian
Soft and Smooth
“I learned this in one of my acting classes: Right before you walk out in front of an audience, feel and identify the fabric of your clothing: ‘This is denim. This is cotton. This is silk.’ Forcing yourself to really touch something brings you out of the heady, scary place of speaker prep and grounds you in your physical body. I usually hum for a second to get my voice involved as well.”
— Adrianna Dufay, TueNighter, actor and voice-over artist.
A Heady Conversation
“When facing a big room and you’re standing at the podium, every individual wants to feel a connection with you, and that isn’t easy. Instead of trying to make eye contact with a select few people – whom you’ll find yourself returning to again and again – look at the tops of people’s heads ‘in the aggregate.’ From a distance, they won’t know you aren’t looking directly at them, and you’ll accomplish two things: (1) you’ll be able to sweep the room without getting distracted by an eye-lock; and (2) everyone will feel included and engaged.”
Walk Away Renee
“Walk away from the material 20 minutes before the talk, as you will need a chance to relax into the event environment. Smile and breathe as you get to the podium, then smile again and start.”
Strike a High-Power Pose
“My best tip for lowering anxiety is to do this first. Watch this TED video. I tell every client to do it and I always do it before my own speaking gigs.”
— Sally Kohn, columnist, activist, pundit
Ban the Bangles
1. A good blow out will make you look and feel invincible.
2. Always wrangle friends and colleagues to be in the audience so that you have an instant connection with people in the room.
3. Don’t wear jingly jewelry. It’s incredibly distracting when you are speaking.
4. Take a photo of the crowd and tweet it before you start.
“Two tips: Record yourself speaking — and then watch it — before your time on stage. I once thought I was a fabulous public speaker until I saw myself on video.
Tempted to talk on and on about your history or brag? Multiply the time you’re speaking by the number of people in the audience. Speaking to 200 people for 15 minutes? That’s actually 3,000 wasted minutes, not 15. Life is too short to waste other people’s time!”
I See You
“Make eye contact with several audience members throughout the presentation, smile throughout and most importantly, have a blast sharing your knowledge.”
— Susan McPherson, CEO and Founder, McPherson Strategies
Accentuate the Positive
“I used to teach public speaking in college — it’s actually how I met my husband! My best tip: While speaking, make the emphasis stronger in your head. When nervous, one is likely to come across as more stilted. But if you think about more emphasis, energy and excitement while speaking, your true personality will shine through.”
First is Best
“Just concentrate on your first line — the rest will come. Not the beginning, or the middle, or the end, just your first line. I got this advice from Michael Sevareid, my theater mentor 20 years ago, and it worked on my first opening night, and it worked at TEDxCoMo. Here are a few more tips.”
Do the Prep Work
“My tip: Know your stuff. Be prepared with much more material than you think you’ll need. Then you’ll be able to handle the (inevitable) curve ball, be that faulty equipment, an unexpected question, a change in lineup, or whatever may crop up. Working behind the scenes as a radio producer helped me to be a better public speaker. I was familiar with how things worked so it was less scary when things went awry; and it gave me more exposure to hearing people who were good on the air and those who were not so good. I learned what worked.”
Know it Cold
“The best advice I ever got — and it came from my father years ago — was to admit to the audience that you’re nervous. Once you do that, the nerves magically go away. I gave a talk at a women’s MBA event last year that I really liked. I think the reason it was a good talk was that it was honest and deeply personal, and one of the critical factors for the success was my level of preparation. I worked hard to write good content and then memorize it. I didn’t speak everything I’d memorized, but I was much more comfortable ad lib-ing when I knew the content cold. In the beginning of the process it [doesn’t sound] authentic, but then once you keep saying it and you know it really well, it starts sounding like you again. You can get comfortable and have fun with it.“
— Naama Bloom, Founder, HelloFlo
Sharing is Caring
“Make it more about sharing your experience with your audience than lecturing at them.”
— Nicole Bernheimer, Founder, TacFi