Public Speaking Tips: What to Do

What to wear. This outfit was mandatory

The writer at forty about to embark on the Ice-Breaker, Nella Dan (in background) prior to going down to Macqarie Island (Oct 1976) We were all obliged to buy jacket, pants and tie for the occassion.
The writer at forty about to embark on the Ice-Breaker, Nella Dan (in background) prior to going down to Macqarie Island (Oct 1976) We were all obliged to buy jacket, pants and tie for the occassion.

Whether you like it or not, you will be pre-judged

In my Hub, Public Speaking Tips: What to Wear, I mentioned that there are only four ways an audience member, who has never seen you before, can judge whether or not you’re worth listening to. Actually it’s a pre - judgment in this instance. The first was: How you look. The second: What you do. The last two are: What you say, and how you say it. ‘How you look’ has already been described in some measure in my ‘What to Wear’ Hub. In this essay my intention is to write about ‘What to do,’ (or what you do) as it pertains to your actions before you actually get up there and start to speak. As I said, you will be pre-judged.

Go out and speak - it's the only way to gain experience

The scenario used is common to many who speak at the hundreds of volunteer service and social clubs we have in our Western communities. I speak of such organizations as Rotary, Lions, Probus, National Seniors clubs and the like. However, some of the points listed here would apply in just about every public speaking situation.

Audience up close and tightly packed -great!

This looks like a great venue for a speaker.
This looks like a great venue for a speaker.

Okay, you've been booked to speak

Okay. You’ve been booked to speak; or at least you’ve been scheduled in some way and know the name of the group you’ll be addressing. You’ve done your research. You also know the location of the venue. Additionally, you know the date and time, and when you’re expected to ‘go on.’

Arrive early!

Arrive early! Don’t think because you were told that you’d be on at, say, 11-00 am that you should arrive at 10-55am. Or even at 10-45am. Unless you are very familiar with the type of organization you’re dealing with, allow at least thirty minutes before you’re scheduled time. By this I mean, you arrive and are inside the auditorium. If the room is practically empty of people, take you time to stroll around it. Go up the back, down the front, up in the far corner. Look towards the spot you expect to speak from. Pick up the microphone, detach it and re-attach it to its stand, if you expect to use a stand. Be familiar with it so you won’t fumble it later. You might like to stand in that far corner and have someone say a few words into the microphone. You want everyone to be able to hear you clearly. Make sure you as happy as you can be with all the equipment provided.

What to wear - Better make it a suit at this place

A dream stadium, the main auditorium at Darling Harbour in Sydney.   You'd need to be good to draw a crowd big enough to fill this one.
A dream stadium, the main auditorium at Darling Harbour in Sydney. You'd need to be good to draw a crowd big enough to fill this one.

Speaking tips: What you do

If the room already contains people, find the person who booked you – your host, the Speaker Seeker and introduce yourself. After a chat with him or her, make it a point to be introduced to the chairman or president of the group and perhaps one or two other key members. Ensure you meet with the person who will do your introduction. Brief him or her. You might even give them a prepared script. It’s something I frequently do and they appreciate your doing it.

Take the opportunity to circulate

If there’s a tea/coffee break, then take this opportunity to circulate and talk to other people. Most of them will realize you’re the guest speaker. Chat about things they’ll probably know about which has relevance to both of you. “How long has the club been going?” What do you think of this place as a venue? All open ended, friendly questions. Win a few friends over a cup of tea before you go on. This way people are already beginning to form an opinion of you as a friendly, gregarious person even before you’re called up front to speak.

It's good to be the centre of attention at times like these

Yours truly being loaded up with plaques for winning a short story writing competition.  Note how presenter gives you full attention.
Yours truly being loaded up with plaques for winning a short story writing competition. Note how presenter gives you full attention.

Move things around to suit you - it's your show

You notice that the room is not set out exactly to your liking. It rarely is. But if you want to move the head table and have the club or organization’s executive sit with the audience in front of you, or off to the side, arrange for that now. Do it in that coffee break. It might even mean moving the head table or tables and the chairs yourself. Do it! Having the audience where you want them – to the best of your ability – will not only make for a better presentation, it will let the organizers know that you’ve got initiative and are experienced. “This feller knows what he’s doing.” There might be a few frowns and grumblings from recalcitrants who don’t want to move - ignore them. It’s your show. Taking these steps now, could make all the difference.

Ensure you are as happy as you can be with your speaking area.

Okay, you’ve done what you can. The audience is being called back to their seats. It won’t be long before you’re required to go on.

Stride up confidently. Don't dawdle. But definitely don't run.

I make it a point to sit, if I can, in an aisle seat a comfortable distance the back. I let the person who is going to introduce me know where I’ll be. When the MC commences introducing me I wait until he’s reached the point where he has only a sentence or so to go and then I stand up. Depending on the size of the room, I time it so that I arrive off to the side and ready to shake hands with the MC just a few seconds after he finishes. Stride up confidently. Do not dawdle, but definitely do not do, as so many do, run! It seems and is artificial.

Good little auditorium

Some of my audience when I received an award for writing a short story back in 2008.
Some of my audience when I received an award for writing a short story back in 2008.

Speaking tips: What you do

Arriving at the podium area I look at the MC. A quick handshake then take the microphone. Then ensure that the MC has left the podium. Watch him or her leave. When they have, only then do I raise my eyes to look directly at the audience.

There is a critical 90 seconds in which to win the audience over

Remember, this is still a case of “What you do,” and what you’re do in those few seconds before you start to speak is important in establishing yourself in the eyes of the audience as someone ‘who is safe.’ So you take your time. You act confidently even if you do feel nervous. Don’t be in too much of a hurry to commence. If you have a lectern and you want to reposition it, do it now. If you have something to move such as a whiteboard, or screen, and you didn’t have the chance to do this earlier, do it now – before you actually commence speaking. Remember, once you start speaking you’ll have around ninety seconds in which to make the impression which will bring the audience on side. Don’t let last minute alterations, where you might be seen fiddling around or dropping things, spoil that.

My Toastmaster Club - I've belonged to nine over the years

Yours truly, on right, being introduced by the Toastmaster of the evening at my Toastmaster Club.  Yes, it's the same blue jacket, out of mothballs for the first time in an age.
Yours truly, on right, being introduced by the Toastmaster of the evening at my Toastmaster Club. Yes, it's the same blue jacket, out of mothballs for the first time in an age.

Make your presence felt in silence

So you stand there. Wait for the mumbling and feet shuffling to die down. As this is happening look directly in front of you to someone around two thirds of the way back. Focus your gaze on this person. Then slowly turn you body and your gaze to meet the eyes of someone about forty-five degrees to either the right or the left. Slowly peruse the room until you find another in the audience some forty-five degrees or so in the other direction. It now appears that your gaze has wondered right across the audience. All is quiet now. They are waiting.

Start you presentation.

I hope you got something out of Speaking Tips: What to Do.

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2 comments

greatstuff profile image

greatstuff 4 years ago from Malaysia

Interesting article..I have to admit it sounds easy but in reality for guys who suffers from 'stage fright' all the tips and advices will vanish..best bet is to practice and practice and practice. Joining the local toastmaster club is probably the best thing to gain the experience.


LindseyCrockett profile image

LindseyCrockett 4 years ago from Melbourne, Australia

i really enjoyed this - especially the bit about the silent gaze across the room! i will defiantly try this!!

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