Eight Tips for Nervous Public Speakers

Last Updated May 26, 2009 12:08 PM EDT


It seems such a simple thing, but being able to stand up and state your point of view clearly and warmly is still one of the greatest challenges executives face.

But it can also be invaluable for your business. I was listening to financial guru Gerald Ashley's SIMA talk, "Could it be true that psychopaths make the best traders and entrepreneurs?"

He's a brilliant speaker and it occurred to me that his ability to be funny, relaxed and informed in front of a large (and probably demanding) audience speaks volumes for his reputation and brand.

Here are some pointers for those who'd like to follow Ashley's lead:
  1. Put some thought into what you wear so that you feel good, then when you step up to the stage you will know that whatever happens you look great. And pay attention to your shoes -- on a stage they may be right in front of the audience's eyes.
  2. Tell your story in three slices -- the beginning, (tell them what you're going to tell them), the middle, (tell them), and the end, (tell them what you told them). People won't retain much of what you say, so you need to reinforce your story.
  3. Know your topic inside out. It's a bad idea to learn your speech off by heart. If you dry up or stumble, you'll just stop dead and look foolish. Instead, think in bullet points to make a speech flow.
  4. Slow down. Breathe and use pauses (great orators speak at 120 words a minute -- newsreaders at 200). If you speak too quickly the audience retention will be next to nothing anyway. Take your time and pause to verbally underline important points.
  5. Imagine the audience is full of five-year-olds. That should help calm your nerves and remind you tell them stories. People love to picture things in their minds and will remember more of what you've got to say as a result.
  6. Join a speaker's club such as Toastmasters International -- it's encouraging, not intimidating. Toastmasters is a worldwide organisation that's easily accessible and will teach you how to use your voice to good effect and build your confidence. I know it helped me.
  7. Move around the stage -- don't be tied to the spot by fright, and use gestures and pauses to emphasise sentences.
  8. If you're prone to sweat when you're nervous, don't wear a mid-coloured shirt or blouse that may expose tell-tale dark patches -- wear white.
What do you think -- do you have other tips to help nervous speakers make the most of their moment in the limelight?

(Photo: MSDPE, CC2.0)
  • Tessa Hood

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