10 tips for public speakers

Preparation is crucial. That entails identifying your audience, proper rehearsal techniques and working out strong starts and finishes.

Regardless of your audience size, setting the stage in your own mind is essential.

Follow these steps:

1. Affirm, pray, focus, ommm. Whether it’s a staff meeting or a concert performance you’re leading, a short pre-show ritual pulls your energy into your center. Before I take the stage I say this quickie prayer, “Help us shine.” That covers me, the audience and the world in one fell swoop.

2. Being prepared is an act of love and intelligence. Even if you can improvise with the best of them, you should do a complete run-through in advance and compile a written key points list of your talk. I like to do a verbal rehearsal the day before, and I do a key points list the morning of the event.

3. Know your audience. A co-presenter and I addressed a group of underprivileged single moms. My co-presenter talked about shopping at Tiffany and Saks. They turned on us. It was ugly. By contrast, at a presentation in Vancouver last year, Guy Kawasaki sported a Vancouver Canucks jersey, made some good jokes about the event organizers, and told personal stories that related to the organization’s mission.

4. Lead with your best stuff. Make an entrance. Put forth your big point right away. Start with your best story, your funniest joke, your guiding theory. Don’t make them wait to see you shine. Grab ’em from the get-go. Remember, too, that every gig is an honor. Thank the host, and thank the audience for the possible mountains they moved to show up and listen to you.

5. Respect your audience. A playwright friend commented on an actor’s performance: “You could tell she didn’t like the character that she was playing. You’ve always got to find something to love about who you’re playing to make it real.” The same goes for your audience. You won’t always be presenting or pitching to your tribe, to people you “like,” so find the common ground, and put your love there. To the same point, dress well. That says, “I care about you enough to polish it up.”

6. Never admit to fatigue. I heard a popular author open his talk, to a packed theater, with “I’m quite tired; I’ve been on the road for a few days.” That instant downer made us feel guilty for keeping him up past his bedtime, as well as being ticked off that we had spent $50 to hear a jet-lagged psychologist. I’ve done gigs on two hours’ sleep, in the middle of a professional tragedy, stoned on Sinutab. You get up there and you smile, no matter what. You can collapse when you get offstage.

7. Know that people are rooting for you. Everyone watching and listening to you wants you to be amazing. No one likes to see someone bomb. They really do want you to win. To that end, limit the apologies. Remarks such as, “Sorry to keep you waiting,” and, “My apologies for the technical snafu,” can create snags in your fabric. Just keep going. An ice skater doesn’t apologize for slipping. She keeps skating, wowing the crowd with the next great move.

8. Ask questions. Frame your stories into questions, and you’ll create a conversation.

9. Plan your finish. Wrapping up can be the hardest part of a talk. because either you’ve used up all your good stuff, you’ve gone over time or you have space to fill. Hold on to your gold nugget so you can leave on a high note.

10. Know how you want to feel when you’re done your presentation. Ultimately, you can’t control what the audience does. If you try, you’re likely to fumble. Some hilarious stories don’t get so much as a giggle. Seemingly low-engagement audiences have swarmed me after I got offstage. You never know. What you can aim for is how you want to feel. When you tap into that feeling, your energy gathers momentum and you get into a magical flow. When I leave the auditorium, I want to feel that I connected, that I was divinely feminine and innovative. If I did my best to do and be those things, then I can sleep well, even if I forgot to say thank you—or I tripped over a speaker.

A version of this post first appeared at daniellelaporte.com.


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