Speech Tips and Techniques

What you'll learn to do: Discuss tips and tricks to giving an effective speech

We’re living in a time where ideas—learning and sharing—are essential skills. According to communication coach and bestselling author Carmine Gallo, “Ideas are the true currency of the 21st century.” The caveat: if you can’t communicate your ideas in a way that captures attention and inspires action, it doesn’t matter how good your ideas are.

Learning Outcomes

  • Discuss various strategies for overcoming common fears and anxiety about public speaking
  • Discuss public speaking strategies of effective public speakers

Overcoming Fears and Anxiety

In addressing fear of public speaking, author and professional speaker Michael Aun shares a quote from his grandfather who defined fear as “an absence of knowledge and a lack of information.” If you think about it, the fear of public speaking is simply a recognition of a learning gap, be it a lack of confidence in our knowledge of the material or an inability to effectively communicate our expertise. We don’t look at a bicycle and fear learning how to ride it (maybe getting hurt, but not the process of learning a new skill), so why should we fear developing skills that can improve our careers, our lives and, perhaps, our world? Logic aside, the fear of public speaking is so common that Mayo Clinic addresses it as a “specific phobia” on its website. In an article titled "Fear of Public Speaking: How Can I Overcome It?," Dr. Craig N. Sawchuk provides ten tips for managing performance anxiety or stage fright, which are adapted below:

  • Know your topic. In a point echoed by many professional speakers and coaches, Sawchuk notes that having a strong interest in and understanding of your material, including preparing responses to possible questions, will help you stay on point and keep your composure.
  • Get organized. The more organized you are—regarding information, materials and logistics—the less nervous you'll be.
  • Practice, rinse and repeat. If possible, practice your speech and request feedback from friends, family, and colleagues. You can also record and critique your own performance.
  • Challenge worries. Reality check your negative projections. List and then directly challenge specific worries, considering the evidence and alternative outcomes.
  • Visualize your success. Imagining a successful speech creates a more positive frame of mind that can reduce anxiety.
  • Do some deep breathing. To calm yourself, take a few deep, slow breaths before you get up to speak and remember to breathe during your speech.
  • Focus on your material. People tend to focus on new information, so focus on your message rather than the messenger (you and your nerves) or the audience.
  • Don't fear a moment of silence. If you draw a blank or get off-topic, take a few seconds and a few deep breaths to regroup.
  • Recognize your success. Congratulate yourself for on a completed speech. Reflect on your performance and identify what worked well and areas for improvement.
  • Get support. Join a public speaking group that can help you develop your skills in a supportive setting.

Practice Question

In an article for Forbes, author Carmine Gallo cites the results of a Prezi survey of American professionals indicating that 70 percent of those who give presentations agree that presentation skills are critical to their career success. Gallo’s rejoinder: “The other 30 percent don’t know it yet!” Further, 20 percent of respondents indicated they would do almost anything to avoid giving a presentation, even if it means losing respect. Given that, developing effective speaking skills is a powerful differentiator. The good news is that you’re not in it alone. You can join a local Toastmasters group (your college or work may sponsor a group), a campus speech and debate team, a speakers bureau, or take a Dale Carnegie course. If you’re an introvert, you can start by analyzing TED Talks and reading related articles and books on public speaking skills.

Pro Tips

In this section, we’ll focus in on a few key tips and resources drawn from bestselling author and communication coach Carmine Gallo’s Talk Like TED: The 9 Public Speaking Secrets of the World’s Top Minds. For context, TED Talks started as a one-time TED (technology, entertainment, and design) event in 1985, and have since morphed into a global brand and experience. At last count, TEDx (independently organized, local-level conferences) were being produced in over 130 countries at a rate of five events per day. As Gallo notes, “the world is clearly hungry for great ideas presented in an engaging way.” Consider the following four points a jump-start to further reflection and skills development from a professional public speaker.

Understand the Power of Pathos

Although emotion doesn’t factor into the definition of persuasion, it is an essential ingredient. Ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle identified the three elements of persuasion as ethos (credibility), logos (logic) and pathos (emotion). When Gallo analyzed human rights lawyer Bryan Stevenson’s "We Need to Talk About Injustice" talk, voted one of the most “persuasive” on TED.com, the results were surprising to many: 65% pathos, 25% logos and 10% ethos. Emotion often drives decision making and opinion formation.

Believe in Your Message

To quote law enforcement veteran Morgan Wright, “If you don’t believe what you’re saying, your movements will be awkward and not natural. No amount of training—unless you’re a trained espionage agent or psychopath—will allow you to break that incongruence between your works and actions." You must trust in what you are sharing with your audience or it will come across as insincere.

Keep Your Speech Brief

Keep your speech succinct, about 20 minutes or less. The science behind this ideal speech length explains how too much information creates a “cognitive backlog” and state of anxiety in your audience which prevents the transfer of ideas. A shorter speech imposes a discipline that forces you to clarify your ideas and helps you communicate for effectively. Brevity is also key to this era of sharing online; if your speech is recorded and available on the internet, a shorter speech is easier to publish and access.

Make it Memorable

Invest time in distilling your big idea into a short statement that’s captivating and shareable. For perspective, scan @TED Talk Quotes on Twitter or search quotes on the TED.com site. A short, memorable summary statement makes is easy for your audience to remember both you and the point of your speech when you include unforgettable phrases like:

If everything seems under control, you’re not going fast enough. – Mario Andretti

The difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say no to almost everything.  – Warren Buffett

Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works. – Steve Jobs

Practice Question

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