The Perfect Opening

Your audience’s opinion of you starts the moment you take the stage and open your mouth. The perfect opening to a great speech is important, but not difficult to deliver if you stick to a few guidelines. Today we’ll talk about how to decide on the perfect one for your topic and speaking style.

Should you use humor?

This one can be a bit tricky. Are you naturally funny? Would your friends and colleagues describe you that way? If so, great!

However, you don’t want to start your speech with forced humor. That can leave your audience puzzled and give them a negative impression of you right off the bat. Whether it’s your natural style or not, if you do decide to start with a joke, make sure it’s relevant to your speech topic, inoffensive (hint: leave the two killer topics of politics and religion out), and short. Tell it in such a way that it leads naturally into the body of your speech.

If you’re still unsure, remember that a joke is nothing more than something that makes people laugh. Funnyman and Toastmaster Rick Olson has some great tips.

What other options are there?

  • – A shocking statement or a statistic is a great way to open a speech. Are there surprising changes coming in your industry or something your client can do to make a big impact in the field? Using a surprising opening fact or statistic is a great way to begin. Here’s an example: 75% of business and IT executives anticipate their projects will fail. This is an opener that will grab your audience’s attention and make them want to hear more.
  • – Try using a catchphrase. These are short statements that bring something concrete to mind, often a particular product or industry. Just think of “Got Milk?” or “The Few. The Proud. The Marines.” to be reminded of the impact a catchphrase can have.
  • – Begin with a story. Weaving a story through your speech is a great way to capture and hold audience interest. A personal story creates empathy in your audience and makes them want to root for you and your success in both your story and your speech.
  • – Try bringing out an object. It’s a great way to represent your idea and kick off your speech. If your subject is too large or impractical to bring on stage, a smaller representation, such as a model, can work, too. A physical object makes a lasting impression on your audience.
  • – Involve your audience. Start out with a question such as, “How many of you made New Year’s resolution last year?” Beginning your speech with a question gets the audience directly involved right away and keeps them thinking and listening as you speak.

Whatever opening you chose, just be yourself! Let your energy and enthusiasm show. Genuine passion for your subject is the most attractive quality you can possess.

Have you tried any of this tips? Or do you have some to share? I would love to hear your thoughts on great openers! Drop me a line and let me know what you think.

When Technology Fails You

You’ve either see it happen or experienced it personally. Either way, it’s painful. You’re prepped and ready for your presentation and something goes wrong with the technology.

Your mic fails. Or the video equipment won’t load the carefully-selected images that illustrate important points you want to make. The clicker doesn’t work and you can’t advance your slide. Or maybe your computer crashes taking your slide deck and speech outline with it.


What now? Time has slowed to crawl and you’re sweating. How will you recover? What should you say now? I anyone coming to your aid?

Let’s take a look at how to move forward in this situation. It can be challenging, but try to stay calm. The most important thing to remember is your audience: they are on your side. They are silently cheering you on and want to see you recover. Once you get the ball going again and put the focus back on you, most audiences will forget that a glitch ever happened.

You can start with a simple apology for the interruption. But only apologize once. Multiple apologies won’t make you or your audience feel any better and they just draw more attention to your plight than your recovery.

Laugh at the situation, not at yourself. Everyone has been in an embarrassing situation before and your audience members will be able to relate to your predicament. It’s okay to make a joke and encourage them to laugh with you.

If there are technical assistants coming to your aid, give them time to do their job. You can use this time to chat with the audience or pull your thoughts together. If not, take a minute or two to see if you can remedy the situation. If not, just go ahead with your presentation as if the technology wasn’t there. Remember that audience came to see and hear you.

Have a backup plan. Technology is great, but low-tech will do the job just as well. If you have a white board or flip chart on stage, you can use that to diagram your ideas when a visual will help drive your point home.

Finally, put it behind you, literally! Go ahead and step out in front of the tech table and get started! Share your ideas, make your pitch, show your enthusiasm. Your speech should be able to stand on its own without the bells and whistles, anyway.

Have you had technology fail you before? What did you do to recover? What mistake did you make that you learned from? Would you be willing to share your successes and challenges with me? I would love to hear what happened.

Send me an email or leave a comment and let me know how it went and what you might do differently next time.

Using a Whiteboard When Presenting

Welcome back! Today I want to look at some tips about whether and how to use a whiteboard as part of your speech. You should think about a whiteboard in the same way you think about Power Point and any other type of visual aid you might want to use when you make a presentation.

What purpose will it serve? Is there a better alternative? Do you actually need it for a successful speech? What will be lacking without it? Are you willing to put the necessary time into planning on how you’ll use it and practicing with it?

Here are some pros and cons to consider when thinking about using a whiteboard.


  • – Using a whiteboard adds variety to your presentation and helps keeps your audience engaged.
  • – Adding important points, diagrams, graphs, and other pictures can help your audience remember what you talked about. This is especially true for people who are visual learners.
  • – Using a whiteboard as a tool for engagement can make people feel comfortable speaking up and help create a more collaborative environment.
  • – A whiteboard gives you something to do with your hands while you speak, even if it’s just holding the pen when you aren’t writing


  • – Visibility can be problematic. It’s challenging to write large and legibly enough for the entire audience to clearly see and easily read what you put on the board. Letters should be at least 3” high and written in a simple, easy-to-read hand.
  • – Just as with any other visual aid, using a whiteboard takes planning and practice. It is one more thing to plan for and be comfortable with using during your presentation.
  • – Whiteboards are usually on the same level as you are. It’s easy to forget to stand to the side so that you don’t block your audience’s view. It’s important for everyone in the room to be able to see it easily. Here is a short clip that demonstrates how to stand in front of and next to the board at appropriate times. Notice that the presenter shouldn’t talk while her back is to the audience. It’s a great time for pausing as we’ve talked about before.

So, if you do decide to use a whiteboard, how can you best prepare?

  • – Think about what points you want to emphasize on the whiteboard and how you will write them. Will you use individual words, phrases, diagrams, or illustrations?
  • – Will you need the entire board for any of the points? How will you transition and at what point will you need to erase the board to make room for your next point?
  • – Practice writing on the board in front of other people. At the very least, practice and then step to the back of the room to see if you can read what you have written.
  • – Be sure you are comfortable and confident integrating the board into your speech.

In closing, just remember that whiteboards are like any other visual aid. They take time and consideration if they are to become a successful part of your repertoire as a public speaker.

Do you use whiteboards in your presentations? I would love to hear your tips for making it work!

Building Your Personal Brand

Hello and welcome back! I’ve spent a lot of time recently giving you tips on how to be a successful speaker and overcome the public speaker fears shared by so many. I’ll definitely be sharing more public speaking tips in future posts, but today, I want to talk about something a bit different: your personal brand.

What is a personal brand? The easiest way to describe it is to think about what others would say if asked about you.

Or to put it another way, what is your reputation built on? And is it consistent from client to client and among your peers? Could someone easily sum up what you do in a few words?

We sometimes talk about what we want our audience to take away from our speeches, that is, what do we want them to remember about what we said? A personal brand is people’s take away about you.

Do you have a personal brand? Or have you been thinking about developing one? Let’s look at what steps can help you do just that!


Spend some time reflecting on what you want you brand to be. Write down a list of five or so characteristics you want to be known for. It’s important to be able to demonstrate these characteristics across all areas of your life. Consistency counts.

Your Mission

Try putting the words you wrote down into a simple mission statement that reflects who you are and what you do. Perhaps you are a web developer specializing in health care facilities and professionals. What special knowledge or characteristics to you bring to the table for practitioners in the field?

That is what you want your mission statement to focus on. It’s what you want to be known for.

Spread the Word

How can you let others know about your brand? Social networks are certainly important. Think about the various platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Do you have profiles there and, if so, do they reflect your brand? Is your profile picture clear and free of background distractions?

It’s worth spending a bit of money to have a professional headshot taken. It will serve as your online face and can be used in other ways, such as press releases or mailings to your clients.

Every Day

There is another aspect of self-marketing and personal branding that is sometimes forgotten. Some people spend so much time online that they forget to build their personal brand in real life. One way to do this is through community meetings and professional organizations.

Look for opportunities to speak to groups such as the local Rotary Club. You’ll also find professional groups in your area on It’s a great way to be introduced to a wide variety of people who can help you build your network and share your personal brand.

Staying on Top of Things

You’ll need to stay current on news, development, and trends in your industry. It pays to read widely and interact with others in your field, both online and in person.

How have you built your personal brand? I would love to hear what has worked for you and what your plans are for building your brand!

It takes hard work and consistent dedication, but it will pay off over time.

Talking Off the Cuff

An off-the-cuff speech is really just a few remarks made in answer to a question. It’s a mini-speech, if you will.

Nevertheless, it is a form of public speaking and sends many people into a mental panic. It can give you that “deer in the headlights” feeling.

Believe it or not, there are ways to handle it without panicking.

The Power of Threes

You can harness the power of threes in a couple of different ways.

ONE: Think about your reply as having three parts: a beginning, a middle, and an end. Depending on your situation, your beginning might just be thanking the person who invited you to speak.

John, thanks for the question/chance to speak/etc.

The middle can be a few sentences that answer the question put to you. For example:

It has been my experience that colleges who evaluate their students’ performance and make meaningful changes have a higher number of students who graduate. Last year the faculty agreed to add the same statement about the course outcomes to their syllabi and discuss them in class the first day so that student would have a better chance at remember the goals for the course

You can wrap it up by thanking the person who asked you to speak or adding by a concluding sentence.

TWO: Focus on your remarks as a mini speech that has three points. Just have we have discussed in talking about a full-length speech, off-the-cuff remarks can be composed of three points. You can thank the person who asked for your opinion or you can begin by launching right into the first point.

Thanks, John. Our department has used three methods to collect data from potential clients with varying rates of success. Cold calling, email, and networking.

THREE: Now that you have verbally outlined you points, you can briefly talk about each one before wrapping it up.

 It’s Not All About You

And that’s a good thing! Why were you called on to speak? Most likely it was because you have knowledge or expertise that others need.

Your opinion is valued, which means the battle is already won! There is no need to prove to your colleagues or peers that you are an important part of the team.

Rather than focusing on yourself and your fear, focus on your audience and on answering the question that was asked. You may have a few seconds while walking up front to a podium or while you are thanking the group or person for asking you to say a few words.

Use that time to quickly consider their perspective and what knowledge they are lacking, then use one of the three-point strategies as you speak.

Practice, Practice, and Practice Again

Take every opportunity you can to practice off-the-cuff speaking. If you are member of Toastmasters, be sure to participate in Table Topics whenever you can.

As with anything else, repetition results in greater skill and increased confidence.

Join the conversation for more great information in my weekly emails and let me know about any tips you have to share!

Top Ten Tips for Presenters

Hello and welcome! Today I’m going to do a top ten countdown, reviewing the topics we’ve been covering. If you have been reading my tips for public speaking for a while, you’ll know we’ve covered a wide variety of tips in the last few months.

If you’re new to, you can get an idea of the kinds of topics I discuss here.

Let’s look at ten of the tips that will help you on your way to speaking with no fear.

  1. 10 – Know your material. Practice is crucial to success. It’s important to be generally comfortable with your subject, but there is no substitute for practicing your speech until you can give it without detailed notes. Joining a Toastmasters Club in your area will give you an opportunity to practice speaking on a regular basis, too.
  2. 09 – Keep your visuals simple. If you plan to use Power Point, Prezi, or any other kind of slide, limit it to those that will highlight your main points. Keep the words to a minimum and use bold images that drive your point home.
  3. 08 – Don’t read your speech. It may seem obvious, but it’s easy to fall back on detailed notes or wordy slides when you are nervous. That’s why tip #10 is so important! The easiest way to lose an audience’s attention is by focusing on notes instead of on them.
  4. 07 – Move around the stage. Don’t plant yourself in one spot. Moving around as you speak allows you to directly engage different sections of the audience and it keeps them engaged as they track your movements.
  5. 06 – Vary your voice. Use volume and tone to change your speech patterns and emphasize important points. Changing your voice when you talk will keep your audience’s ear. This is especially important in tip #5.
  6. 05 – Tell a story. Using a story to make your point is one of the best ways to keep your audience interested. Weaving the parts of the story through your presentation will hold their interest and keep them wondering what will happen to your story’s characters.
  7. 04 – Put yourself in the audience. What would you want to hear if you were in their seat? Are you selling something or trying to influence opinions? What do they need to hear and see to be convinced?
  8. 03 – Use gestures, but don’t plan them. Allow yourself to use your natural gestures. Planning ahead and inserting them as you talk makes you look stiff.
  9. 02 – Ask the audience if they have questions. Questions give you a chance to take a break from speaking and encourages the audience to stay engaged. It takes the spotlight off you briefly, as well.
  10. 01 – My number one tip is to have fun! Remember that the audience is on your side. They want you to succeed! Let your enthusiasm for your subject show and your audience will love you.

What tips do you have for successful presentations? I would love to hear from you!

Record Your Presentation

Most people take at least a quick look in a mirror every morning before they start their day. In fact, a great many people spend several minutes there, making sure that they are presenting themselves as they want to be seen. But the same isn’t always true when people are preparing for a speech.

We often forget to think about how we look as a speaker, not as an individual, before we give a speech. The ubiquitous nature of recording devices we carry with us every day in the form of our cell phones makes this an easy problem to resolve.

What’s at Stake?

It really difficult to be aware of all of our mannerisms and speech patterns without seeing our own performance. We tend to think more about how we look on camera from a physical standpoint than how we are coming across to an audience. So what can we gain from being in front of a camera and hitting the Record button?

  • – Mannerisms: How do you hold yourself when you speak? Are you gripping the podium for dear life? Do you pace the floor? Do you read word for word from your notes and make very little eye contact?
  • – Speech patterns: How often do you use filler words such as “like”, “um” or “uhh”? Do you speak as fast as a speeding train? Can audience members in the back row hear you comfortably or are they straining to catch your words?
  • – Expert advice: Is there someone whose presentation skills you admire? You can show them a few minutes of your recording and get their advice on how to improve.

It’s important not to be too hard on yourself in the beginning. Try not to focus on your clothes or physique. In fact, it may be helpful to watch the recording a couple of times yourself if you need to get more comfortable seeing or hearing yourself before you begin a critique of your actual skills.

Once that is accomplished, watch it again and take a few notes on your mannerisms and speech patterns. Work on improving the areas you noticed and then try recording again.

Do this two or three times over the course of a few days, letting what you have learned about yourself sink in. After you have made some changes, try taking it to a colleague or friend whose presentation skills you admire and get some feedback you can incorporate into your speech. It’s a great way to gain valuable insight on how you can improve.

With a little practice, you’ll find yourself naturally making corrections and you’ll see the version of yourself as a speaker that you want others to see.

Take a look at Kathryn Zonghetti’s short clip on what she gets out of recording herself. It’s evident from that clip alone that she has made quite a few improvements!

It’s Your Turn

Give it a try! Run through about fifteen minutes of your presentation and then watch the recording. Take a few notes and tell me what you noticed and what kind of changes you made.

I would love to know how this exercise worked for you!


Hooking Your Audience

Hooking your audience is key to drawing them in and holding their attention. A hook is a crucial part of your speech consisting of your opening words that serves to prick the ears of the audience and make them want to hear more.

If you get your presentation off on the right foot, you’ll have a much better chance of holding your listeners’ attention to the end.

The Best Bait for the Job

There are many ways to grab your audience’s attention.

  • – You can surprise them with a fact they probably don’t know: “Did you know that pigs are physically incapable of looking up at the sky while standing?” That could apply to a speech about thinking outside of the box or one that seemingly has nothing to do with your subject until you fill them in.
  • – You can use a story to reel them in. Telling a great story gets people interested in your point of view and makes them want to hear more about how the story ties in to your presentation. In the video below Martin Presse talks about how to do this effectively. A story also serves as a great takeaway that, when done well, is easy to remember and helps your audience remember what you said long after your speech is over.



  • – You can share a personal experience. Tell the audience something about yourself that they can relate to. Perhaps something specific happened in your life that brought you to where you are now. Share that with your audience as a way of illustrating that you understand their situation because you have lived it yourself and have some wisdom to share now.
  • – You can ask for audience involvement. “Imagine a world where…” Getting people to participate by thinking draws them in and makes them feel like they are a part of your presentation. It also provides a great touchstone for your wrap up. You can refer back to your opening after talking about how your product or idea can help make that world a reality for them.
  • – You can use a proverb. Foreign proverbs are especially useful because many people will not have heard them before.

Practice Reeling Them In

Look back at the opening of one of your previous speeches and think about how you can improve it. Practice adding a proverb or a story or mine the Internet for an interesting but little-known fact about something you can tie in to your speech.

Or get ready for an upcoming speech using one of these techniques.

Think about the kind of impact you want to have on your audience when choosing a technique. Do you want them motivated to a specific action? Try sharing personal experience or asking for their involvement.

Be sure to let me know it went! Want more great tips for hooking your audience? Sign up for my weekly email tips to sharpen your speaking skills in the public arena!

Also leave me a comment to share your thoughts on this post.

Audience Engagement

Audience engagement. It’s important, but not as difficult to master as you might imagine. If you’ve been visiting this site and reading and practicing the guidelines I provide for improving your speaking skills, you already have a great start! That’s because strong speaking skills are the very foundation of audience engagement.

Audience engagement is important because you want your listeners focused on you and your message from the beginning. It’s easy for them to drift off at any time and, once you’ve lost them, it’s difficult to recapture them. So today I’m going to look at some ways to get them engaged even before your presentation begins and keep them attentive all the way to the end.

On Your Mark, Get Ready…

If you know your audience members, send them an email a few days before the speech asking them some questions to get them thinking. You can ask them what they already know about the subject, what they hope to learn, what their biggest obstacle is, or anything else to engage them ahead of time.

Be sure you will have what you need on hand ahead of time. Visit the room you’ll speak in, even if you are already familiar with it. Stand up front and look around. Think about what you plan to say. Will you need anything to support visuals, if you are using them? A screen? Projector? Computer? Is there a podium and, if not, do you want one? Being sure your presentation space is staged properly ahead of time will enable you to focus on your speech, rather than looking for things you need while you are talking.

Get Set…

The U.S. Center for Disease Control recommends that “adults aged 18–60 years sleep at least 7 hours each night to promote optimal health and well-being.” But it also says that about 35% of us aren’t getting that. Try to get a good night’s sleep at least a couple of nights before your presentation. Adrenaline goes a long way when you are speaking, but a good night’s rest will ward off brain fog and forgetfulness while you are speaking. You won’t be as likely to lose your place or stumble through your speech.


It the day of! Did you get a good night’s sleep and have breakfast? These may seem like small things, but they will help power you through the day.

Is your group large? You can include a “show of hands” opening question. If you have a small group, ask the audience members to introduce themselves. Getting them moving and talking is a great way to get their brains firing and increase interest in you and what you have to say. It also helps put everyone more at ease, including you.

Ask for a volunteer to help make your point. Having someone from the audience on the stage creates interest and breaks up your speech.

Try a visual or two. Don’t let PowerPoint or Prezi visuals take over your presentation. Use just one or two to emphasize important points. A large image with no more than ten words on the screen is best. Images that invoke emotions or include a call to action are good choices.

Tell a story. Using stories to illustrate your presentation gets your audience involved by calling on their imagination and making them want to hear how your story ends. Spread pieces of the story throughout your presentation at the beginning, middle, and end.

Break into small groups if there is time and have each group discuss some aspect of the subject. Set a time limit as ask for a brief report from either some or all of the groups, depending on the time available. This engages them with each other and gives them additional ideas to take back.

So there you have it. Give some of these ideas for audience engagement a shot and let me know how it goes!

Pausing for Effect

In the 1980 film Star Wars, the hero, Luke Skywalker, is fighting his arch nemesis, Darth Vader. Darth asks Luke what he knows about his father and Luke says he knows enough.

“No.” says Darth Vader.

“I am your father.”

Listen to the pause Darth Vader uses to emphasize this horrible news.

The pause is an effective tool that can be used in a variety of ways to punch up your speech. Darth Vader uses it for dramatic effect.

When and Why?

The Opening: You don’t have to start speaking the instant you take the stage. You should feel free to position yourself, adjust the microphone as needed and make eye contact with some of your audience before you begin. This will give them the opportunity to focus on you and what you are about to say, which will give your opening sentence more punch.

A Replacement for Fillers: If you find yourself using speech fillers such as “um” or “like” or “uh”, you can use a pause instead. A pause sounds intentional whereas filler words show that you are nervous or may be under-prepared.

Audible Punctuation: The punctuation you use when writing a speech or creating a presentation is invisible to the audience when you deliver it. You can use pauses as part of your vocal variety toolbox. A short of pause of “one one-thousand” said silently in your head can stand for a comma or a colon.

A slightly longer one can indicate the end of a sentence, especially when it comes at the end of a major section of your speech.

Dramatic Effect: As in the example of Darth Vader above, a pause can be used to create tension or emphasize the next point you want to make. Silence always draws attention. Another example of this is the teacher in the classroom who stops talking to regain her distracted students’ attention.

This is the kind of pause that says “Listen!” I’m about to say something important.

Give Yourself a Break: You may find yourself needing a short break during your presentation. If you are nervous or out of breath or find that you are speaking too fast, you can just pause for a few seconds. This will allow you to take a sip of water or catch your breath. Pausing between major ideas in your presentation is similar.

It will also give the audience time to let what you have been saying sink in before you move on. Pausing in this way is not unusual and your audience will understand that you are just a second before you move on.

It’s Your Turn!

Take a speech you have been working on and see where you could add a pause or two. Consider using one in between the major sections of your presentation or to emphasize a particularly important thought. You can go through the text of your speech and replace some commas or periods with a pause. Consider using a heavy apostrophe above the place you want to pause.

Try rehearsing the speech with the pauses in place. Record it if you can and let me know how it went. Did you see or feel a difference in your performance? I would love to know what you thought!