When The Time Comes – It’s All You!

It’s All You

When it is finally time to get in front of your audience, you will have no more lifelines and no backup, just you giving the presentation. Although this sounds very intimidating, with proper preparation you can make the most out of being in the line of fire and give an impressive speech.

Practice Your Speech

Practicing will make all the difference in the world when it comes to giving a great speech. Make sure you create a good outline that you can easily remember, so you won’t have to rely on note-cards.

You should also practice in front of trusted friends or colleagues in somewhat of a private location. Also, make sure you practice standing up and giving your speech out loud. Although practicing isn’t guaranteed to make you perfect, it will improve your delivery and make you feel more confident and in control of your content.

Be Fueled by Desire

Think about what your motive is, what moves you, what drives you. Also, what is your purpose behind your presentation? Really dig deep and uncover these things and you will be fueled by a desire to deliver a powerful speech.

Be Nervous

Being nervous before a speech is not a bad thing. Remember you are nervous because you want to do a good job and nervousness means you have passion for your topic. You need to allow yourself to feel because in your attempt to suppress your nervousness you could end up suppressing other emotions that will add life to your talk.

Pause and Take Detours

Pausing is an important way to engage your audience and to effectively deliver your message. To create emphasis and to allow your important point to sink in, do not under estimate the power of not speaking. Also, you don’t have to stick to your outline exactly; you can play around with your speech and make it more relaxed and fun.

Being a little spontaneous and courageous will lighten up the room and make your listeners feel more comfortable. However, do trust your instincts and gauge your audience, so you don’t end up going overboard.

Nail Your Close

End your speech with some final passionate thoughts. Use your creative thinking skills and a compelling delivery to end your speech strong. Always end a speech with a call to action. What do you want to see happen as a result of your audience hearing your speech? You should close with something inspiring that will illustrate your points, like maybe a good story.

Make sure your story is brief, and the moral is clear and ties in with your topic. Finally, let your audience know that you are finished in a manner that is authoritative and that adds to your credibility.

On your next speech, I challenge you to the make the most of being in the line of fire. Remember that you can turn your anxiety into passion and make your speech a success instead of your worst nightmare.

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Speaking for Success

Why bother?

Why should you spend time improving your public speaking skills? As long as you don’t have to speak too frequently and you can get through a speech without stumbling too much, who cares? I do and you should. And you obviously do, which is why you are here.

Improving your speaking does much more than enable you to deliver a message to a crowd. Knowing that you can address an audience with less discomfort is a real self-confidence builder. And that self-confidence will snowball and impact every area of your life, personal and professional. After all, everyone feels and performs better when they have confidence in themselves and their skills.

So, what can you do to boost your skills in the public speaking arena? TED Talk Curator Chris Anderson has been reviewing potential speakers for over a decade. In his own Talk, he discusses four major things you can do to ensure a successful speech.

  • – Stick to One Great Idea. Studies show that the great majority of people remember very little of a speech just a few hours after they hear it. By sticking to one idea, you can spend your time making your speech more memorable.
  • – Give your audience a reason to care. There is nothing new under the sun, as the old saying goes. Why should your audience care enough about what you have to say to actually remember some of it?
  • – Use language that resonates with the audience. Choosing the right words to motivate and inspire your listeners makes a big difference in their engagement with you and your topic.
  • – Have something worth sharing. Why is it important? Why do you care about it? Why should they?

How to Make It Happen?

  • – Do you have a choice? Is your speech topic prescribed or do you have some room to pick and choose? Either way, you’ll want to find the seed of the subject you’ll be discussing and coax it into germination. That is your One Great Idea.
  • – Share your passion! Find an angle of your subject that inspires you. Talking about something you truly care about makes public speaking much less nerve wracking because you can focus on spreading the message instead of your nerves. Give them a reason to care by showing them that you care! Passion is contagious!
  • – Tell a story. Present it as a mystery. However you do it, pick words that will motivate and inspire. Use a thesaurus to help you choose just the right word. Adjectives are especially helpful in bringing your story to life.
  • – Why is your speech worth listening to? Does it have the ability to make your audience more successful? Happier? Healthier? Consider why they are there and what they stand to gain. What’s the takeaway?

Try It on for Size

Pick a topic that you have recently spoken about, whether it was a one-on-one conversation or a discussion in a larger setting. Try out some of Chris Anderson’s suggestions and walk it through my How to Make It Happen tips and let me know how it goes.

For more great tips on how to improve your public speaking skills, sign up for my weekly newsletter!

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Vocal Variety

Vocal variety is a great tool to add to your speaking skills kit. It includes things like your tone, your speed, your volume, and your pitch. It’s something you that already use in everyday conversation, but it can be easy to forget about it if you are nervous before you have to give a presentation. Your voice is an instrument that you can use it to great effect with just a little practice. It’s a way to add interest to your speech and hold your audience’s attention.

Turn it Up

Parents often use a whisper when they want to calm or get the attention of an upset child. Why? Because it difficult to hear what someone is whispering unless you are quiet and able to focus on the words. Try using a quieter voice to emphasize a point or regain the fading attention of an audience. Similarly, a pause can capture attention due to the absence of sound. The so-called “dramatic pause” calls attention to what you are about to say. The classic example of this is Henny Youngman’s joke, “Now, you take my wife…please.”

Slow it down

You can also drag out your words for effect. Instead of saying it was a long trip, say looooong, drawing out the middle of the word. Speeding up has the opposite effect. Think of the commercials you hear where an actor is reading the fine print at very high speeds. It can be annoying when it goes on for that long, but it’s definitely an attention getter.

Although you don’t want to go quite that fast, you can definitely play with speed to great effect. Watch how actor Danny Kaye and some of the cast of the 1956 comedy musical The Court Jester masterfully use a variety of speeds to keep viewers on the edge of their seats as they try to remember whether they should drink from the “flagon with the dragon” or the “vessel with the pestle” to avoid death by poisoning.


Sizzle. Spray. Gurgle. Onomatopoeia is a word that is associated with its actual sound. If you can weave a couple of them into your speech, you can capture the audience’s imagination and hold it. This is especially effective if you are weaving a story through your presentation. Words like these are often used in children’s books, which are a great tool for practice.

Emoting for Effect

Ham sandwich. Ham sandwich? Ham sandwich! This is a popular phrase to use when practicing using a variety of tones and varying your speed and pitch. Try saying “ham sandwich” in different ways, such as excitedly, sadly, happily, or lovingly. How does it take on different meaning as you vary your phrasing? What effect might that have on your audience?

I’m Lovin’ It!

Talking about what you love is a great way to practice vocal variety. If you have a choice of what your will speak about, choose something that genuinely interests or excites you. You will find yourself adding vocal variety without having to think about it because you want your listeners to be excited about it, too.

Give it a try! Pick a favorite topic and practice telling a friend about it. Notice how often you change your tone or speed or use more interesting words to describe the subject.

Let me know how it goes by joining the conversation in the comment section below!

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Make A Speech Memorable

Let’s get down to business. How can you make it easier for your audience to remember your speech? The most important thing you’ll need to do is capture their imagination.

To get started, think about a movie or book that has stayed with you over the years. Great writers and film makers know how to grab your attention and keep you on the edge of your seat. How do they do it?

The Intro: Memorable books and films grab you from the very first sentence or opening scene. There is a mystery that captures your imagination.  Take a look at the opening scene from Jaws, for example.

In this case, it’s the sudden death of a beautiful girl swimming in the ocean. The cause of the death is not seen in the introduction, but it will become clear and take center stage in the movie. The audience wants to know what happened to her and whether it can be stopped.

When you take the stage, it’s best to avoid the traditional self-introduction. The people attending your presentation already know who you are.

If need be, have the person who introduces you establish your credibility, or have that background information available in a handout as people come in. It’s your job to grab their attention with a startling, profound, funny, or otherwise engaging beginning, or hook.

The Hook: Writers and screenwriters have a central story, or idea, to share. They have chosen to spend a great deal of time and money and physical, and emotional labor to tell you about it. They believe it’s important and worth the effort. What is your central idea? What do you want your audience to walk away knowing, believing, or doing? Do you believe in the idea yourself? Why?

The Audience: Writers know their audience. With some exceptions, movies and books are targeted at a very specific audience.

They know what their audience cares about and what will inspire them. They use this knowledge to inform the creative choices they make when presenting the story. Who is your audience and what inspires them?

The Sequence: All stories have a beginning, middle and end. Some storytellers choose to move in chronological order, while others have flashbacks, prequels, sequels, and or an afterword.

Think about what order will have the most impact. Is there a surprising ending that can be told first, followed by the backstory? Or is chronological a better order? What would be most engaging from your audience’s perspective?

The Spice: Visuals are like spice. They add something special to your speech. But if over-utilized, they will drown out the central message.

Limit your visual to no more than one new one every ten minutes. Like great passages in books and films, they make ideal transition markers between important points. Make the image bold and keep the words on the screen to a minimum.

The Wrap: Both your introduction and conclusion should comprise about 15% each of your speech. You’ve spent a lot of time on your presentation and want people to leave with something memorable. This is the time to conclude the story you were telling, present a call to action, remind the audience of your central point, or wow them with a compelling quote or testimony. Go out strong!

Finally, remember that the attendees came to hear you. This already give you an edge. Take that as your starting point and make the rest happen by doing the work ahead of time to engage your audience with a memorable speech. Try using some of these tips the next time you are invited to speak and let me know how it went.

What are some of your favorite ways to make a speech memorable? I would love to hear them!

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PowerPoint Failures During A Speech

You’re doing great! It’s about 2 minutes into your speech and you’ve never felt more confident.

You started with a strong opening and, just as practiced, you stepped away from the podium to take advantage of the large stage. You have been looking up behind you to draw the audience’s attention to your PowerPoint slide with it’s bright colors and clear bullet list of points you are making.

You turn to make eye contact with your audience and – what? — they are all looking down at their phones or whispering to each other.

Your confidence goes out the open window and you lose your place. You struggle to regain the audience’s attention and barley make it through your presentation, speeding through the words so you can get off the stage.

What happened?

You worked really hard to plan your speech and make sure your audience could keep up with you through your slides.

You know that visuals are an important tool to engage your audience. You’ve read up on public speaking tips and thought you had all the bases covered.

Let’s take a look at why PowerPoint presentations sometimes fail and what you can do to prevent it from happening to you.

  • – What is the purpose of a slide in a speech? It shouldn’t serve as a teleprompter, causing you to turn your back on the audience for extended periods of time. If you’re going to use slides, make sure they are there to simply emphasize or illustrate a point you’re making. A single bold image will have much more impact than a paragraph of text.
  • – How much is too much? There should never be more than six words on a slide and the font size should be larger than 30 pt so your audience can see it easily. Try not to use more than one slide for every major point you are making.
  • – Color, if you need to use it, should be simple and there for a reason. It should highlight or emphasize an element of the slide. Too many colors are a distraction.
  • – Image quality counts. Choose your images carefully. The stock graphics that come with PowerPoint are tired and outdated. Make sure the image you choose is sharp and clearly relates to the point you are making.

Finally, think about when you will display the image. If you have selected a good one, put it up just as you transition to a new point in your speech. Use it to grab your listeners’ attention and make them curious about what you’re planning to tell them.

Then make your point and tie the image to your idea. Helping them associate you and your idea with an image makes it easier for them to remember you later.

PowerPoint slides and visuals in general are a great way to keep your audience focused as you move through your speech. Just don’t let them take your place as the center of attention.

Try taking a recent speech you gave or one that is coming up and review these tips to improve your results. Let me know what you think.

I would love to hear about your success and challenges in using PowerPoint in your presentation!

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Have you ever gone to a class or a presentation prepared to just listen or perhaps jot down a thought or two, only to be been bombarded with slide after slide of text, making you feel as if you had to get it all down? You may have left feeling as if you had drowned in a sea of information with nothing to think about after you left and a few pages of scrawled notes.

Slides are meant to punctuate your presentation, not outline it or display it nearly word for word. Remember: slides and visuals in aren’t for you. They are for you audience.

Slides with several bulleted points are too busy for the audience and takes their attention off of you. But when used correctly, slides can underscore the most important aspect of each section of your speech in your listeners’ mind.

What’s In?

Consider your audience. No more than six words on a slide, according to speaker and entrepreneur Seth Godin. And nothing on the lower quarter to third of the bottom of the slide.

Remember, depending on the setup of the room, many of your audience members may be seeing your visuals over the heads of several rows of other people. What about the design element? Find a font and color combination you like and stick with it throughout your presentation.

A powerful photograph paired with a few words can help your message resonate.

What’s out?

An entire document. Too many words will be lost on your audience and most of them won’t even be able to see it from their seats. Long lists or entire sections of your speech don’t belong.

Never, ever turn your back on your audience to read from the slide. It’s just as important as ever to make eye contact as you talk.

A good rule of thumb is no more than 10 slides for a thirty minute presentation. Even fewer is better.

Saving the Best for Last

Create your slides after your presentation is written. This will allow you to pull out a few key points you want to emphasize rather than focusing on the content of your speech at the same time you are creating slides.

Think of it as using a highlighter to mark the most important parts of an article and take a look at Nancy Duarte’s tips for creating great slides.

What Next?

Take advantage of a speech you recently gave where you wanted to use slides but weren’t sure how to, or did use slides but weren’t entirely happy with the outcome. Use some of the tips we discussed as well as this great beginner’s guide to master slide basics and see what you can come with.

You can also sit down with your speech and go through it highlight the points you want to illustrate. Transfer each point to one side of a small card or Post-It note and, on the other side, write down no more than three words that describe what you want to illustrate. You can use those words to look for images later.

Send me an example of one your slides that you’re most proud of. I would love to know how it went in the comment section below!

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Making Eye Contact with Your Audience

There are several great reasons to improve your eye contact skills when speaking to a group.

  • – It’s an effective way to connect with them on an individual basis.
  • – It increases the support and buy-in you have from the audience as a whole.
  • – When you are looking at one person directly, the people in their immediate vicinity feel you have also acknowledged them.
  • – It can calm your nerves by helping you focus on one person rather than the entire crowd.
  • – It will boost your confidence when people acknowledge you in return with a slight nod or a look in their eye that tell you they see you.

So now you know why improving your eye contact skill is worth investing some time in. What can you do to improve?

How to Practice

If you rarely make eye contact during your presentations and the thought of it makes you a little uncomfortable, remember that you aren’t alone. Eye contact is powerful and it can be a little intimidating because you are inviting someone to notice you. Here are some ways to practice.

Use the everyday opportunities you have

Spend a few more seconds at the cash register when you shop, looking your cashier in the eye as you chat and go through the transaction. Many people stand at a checkout counter for an entire transaction without ever looking the cashier in the eye. Having a meal out with clients or colleagues?

Look them in the eye during conversation when you have the floor, moving from one person to the next as you talk.

Speed Talk

This is a great exercise for two. Take turns picking a topic your partner is likely to know little or nothing about. Give them the topic and have them talk for a minimum of two minutes while making direct eye contact with you.

Have a Conversation

When you are speaking, treat each person in the audience as if you were speaking to them alone. How long should you hold one person’s gaze?

Sheri Jeavons of Power Presentations, Inc. says it should be for the length of a complete sentence, beginning to end.

Although you are talking to a group, it’s really a collective conversation. You can gain valuable feedback when you address the audience members one at a time. Most will nod slightly or look back at you in a way that indicates they know you see them and they understand you. But if someone is not looking at you or appears bored or confused, move on to the next person.

If you see several people like this, you can make some changes in real time to recapture those whose attention has slipped. Add some vocal variety as you talk by raising or lowering your voice or pitch and using descriptive words that will resonate with the audience.

Over the next few days, make a point to try out some of these exercises.

If you are in a group like Toastmasters, use your next meeting to work on making eye contact with your audience and see how it improves your speaking skills. Then send me an email to let me know how it went!

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Exciting Your Audience

Last month I was at a presentation where the audience members were bored, antsy, and waiting for the speech to end. Some were trying to be polite and attentive, but many had already mentally checked out and were texting and surfing on their phones.

The speaker knew she had lost their attention and struggled to regain it. Unfortunately, she was unable to do so.

We all want to start strong and finish strong when speaking, but, after your opening, how do get your audience excited and hold their attention to the end? I have some public speaking tips that will help you do just that.

Starting Strong

We’ve talked about great openings before but it’s worth a second mention. Use an opening that grabs your audience’s attention. Pick a startling fact, statistic, or other comment that will command attention. Try pausing after your first few words to let that information sink in before moving on.

Put Barriers Behind You

Literally. If there is a physical barrier between you and your audience, such as a podium, get comfortable moving away from it during your speech. The motion of movement renews audience attention and gets people to refocus on you, partly by wondering how you’ll do without notes or a stand in front of you! This is a great time to bring emotion to the forefront, as well.

It’s a great tool for building suspense and holding attention. You can do this with a story, as we have discussed here & here.

Remember Why They’re There

As you plan your speech, think about why the audience members are there. What motivates them? What do you want them to take away from your talk? What reasons might they have for disagreeing with you? For agreeing with you? Construct your presentation with these things in mind.

Take Action!

Let your audience know early in your speech what you want them to leave knowing and prepared to do. Then give them a challenge to follow through on! Do you want them to contact a representative? Sign up to be a volunteer? Whatever it is, make it easy to do by providing the appropriate information for completing the task.

A flyer is helpful for this and gives them something concrete to take with them.

Interrupt Yourself

Interrupting can be a very effective tool when used correctly. You can say something like,

Before I move on, I want to stop and see what you think. Do you have questions or ideas about how to make new contacts to increase sales?

This brings everyone back to center and gives them an opportunity to participate in your presentation. Allowing others to talk and share their ideas also demonstrates your own self-confidence, which is exciting to an audience.

Wrapping Up

So, you now have some great speaking tips on exciting your audience. Have you tried any of these ideas? Do you have thoughts of your own on the subject? I would love to hear from you!

Even better, try some of these tips out during your next speech and let me know how it goes!

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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!

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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 SpeakingWithNoFear.com, 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!

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