3 Simple Steps for Public Speaking Success

In a survey conducted a little while ago into mankind’s greatest fear, public speaking came first on the list. Death came third in that survey, which in effect is telling us that, were you to speak at a funeral, you would actually prefer to be in the coffin than standing in front of it!


It’s crazy to think that, according to that particular survey, we would rather die than ‘stand and deliver’, so it’s worth having a think about the factors that stand in the way of our being relaxed, authentic and natural on our feet.

There are 3 main factors:

1.  Focus on the audience

There is a saying in my industry to the effect that nerves are essentially selfish.A little judgmental, perhaps. But the statement poses an interesting question:• who are you focusing on when you are nervous? Yourself or the audience? The answer is plain.So, a nice little trick is toremember that a speech or presentation is not something to be survived, but instead it’s an opportunity. An opportunity to inspire, excite and captivate your audience. They don’t want you to fail – they want you to fascinate them!


2. Focus on what really matters

I was giving some coaching to a very senior executive a little while ago, who was preparing to go before the board of a public company for an amazing job opportunity. He was talking with great excitement about the fact that he had to be ‘on his game’ and to ‘know his stuff’. Both good points and very important to make sure of -but as far as getting the job is concerned, he was focussing exclusively on the rational elements -his knowledge and his content.  What he was missing -and it really showed -was the emotional element. His beliefs, his thoughts and how he presented himself. People buy into things emotionally.

They may justify this decision rationally, but the limbic -or emotional brain – will respond to emotional rather than rational stimulus.N.B. -It’s important that the rational material is in there -in other words, ‘knowing your stuff’ will get you onto the short list, along with other candidates that also know their stuff; but what will get you the contract -or the sale – or the engagement, is how people buy into you. You are your biggest asset -it’s not the slides (rational), or the content (rational) that you discuss that makes the difference -it’s how you present yourself. how you engage with your audience and how much they trust you and empathise with you at the end of your presentation, or speech (emotional).


3. Rehearsal

Think about the theatre for a moment. If anyone suggested the thought of putting on a play without rehearsals, he or she would be laughed out of the theatre. It’s inconceivable to think of not rehearsing a play and it should be the same with your speech or presentation.

Barack Obama, widely recognised as one of the world’s great orators, looks natural and at ease when he speaks. Do you think he practices? You’d better believe he does. He hasn’t reached the level he has reached through natural ability alone The old golfing adage – ‘The more I practice, the luckier I get’ isn’t just limited to golf. Public speaking is a great case in point.

The rehearsal process has several benefits:

  • Firstly, it ensures the smooth running of your speech, by ironing out any ‘clunkiness’ or lack of cohesion, both in subject matter and delivery.
  • Rehearsal allows you to feel more practiced, therefore more professional and therefore more confident.
  • Rehearsal allows you to get the timing of your speech right. There are few things worse than running over -it makes you look unprofessional -and there is no worse feeling as a speaker to run out of things to say before your slot is ‘done’.


Final word of advice – Don’t take yourself too seriously.

Lastly, on the subject of yourself. try and remember that in the grand scheme of things the presentation or speech you are about to make really isn’t the ‘be-all and the end-all’. It’s a presentation, that’s all. It’s your job to communicate a message as best you can, tut no-one’s going to die. The more you carry this thought into bigger and bigger stages and higher and higher stakes the more it will make sense to you.

It made the difference as I was about to walk out on stage in front of my first audience of 500 people.  And if you remember to use it – it will help you too.



Oliver Medill is an Open Water Coach and author of the book The Impact Formula (£14.99, Panama Press) available on Amazon.This article first appeared in the Hertfordshire Business Independent, May 2018.