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Speaking Tips: Things a public speaker needs to know

Updated on May 23, 2013

Murphy's Law: If things can go wrong they will go wrong

The writer in action.  Tom has spoken to probably 40,000 people and presented hundreds of speeches.   Here he presents the reader with a few tips about venues and audiences
The writer in action. Tom has spoken to probably 40,000 people and presented hundreds of speeches. Here he presents the reader with a few tips about venues and audiences

Speaking Tips on Public Speaking - Depends how you regard Murphy

Things a public speaker needs to know can fall into one sentence: Most of the time everything will not go perfectly. So let us elaborate on that. Perfection, for the speaker, is something that will never happen, though we should always aim for it.

Let us say that you know your subject; you have tremendous experience as a speaker; your are fit and well; you've checked up on the people you'll be addressing - what else can go wrong?


First of all, the venue. What is it like? More important: what will it be like at the time you'll be presenting? Will the room be too big for that little audience? Too small for that large audience? What are the acoustics like? Does the place echo, causing the voice to bounce around and come at the listener from all angles? No? All this is good. Great!

Let's take a look at some other problems - or should we say challenges?

Room Shape

Let's have a look at some other things a speaker needs to know...

Most rooms are rectangular - but don't you rely on that being the case. I once attended a venue which had an L-shaped room. The obvious place to stand was where the two angles of the L met. The challenge was, that corner was all glass with bright morning sunlight behind it. No, I couldn't stand there. No matter where I stood, half the audience would be 'around the corner.' So how did I overcome this?

I got those who were around one side to move their chairs!

There was a lot of grumbling, and mumbling, but most of them complied. Which brings me to another aspect of being a speaker.

You have to be assertive

You have to be assertive. Don't let the meeting organiser, or the MC, or whoever might be the person in charge of the event be in charge of you. When you go on, it is your show. It is also your reputation, your credibility at stake here.

I'm not saying be bossy. I'm not saying you need to argue or try to dominate. Just quietly affirm that you're not willing to go on unless things are at least such that you'll be able to do a reasonably good job in being seen and heard.

Let's face it, if the audience can't hear you, and understand you, and see you as well, you are not going to come over very well.    The organisers won't get blamed for that.  You will.

Speaking Tips: Things a Public Speaker Needs to Know - Getting an audience to cooperate

Quite often when you go into a venue to speak, the audience will be hunkering back in the back rows. For example, ten rows theatre-style. Nearest row to you - the front - empty, except for the MC. Second row, 20% full, Third row, almost full. And from there backwards the place is pretty well crowded. No one wants to sit at the front.

Now, you could deliver your presentation with the audience seated like that. To do so would put you at a disadvantage. You would have a barrier between you and the bulk of the audience. So how can you get them to move forward so that those first couple of rows are filled?

You could ask them. Or you could ask the MC to ask them. You know what will probably happen if you do that? There'll will be a lot of grumbling, shuffling of feet, and maybe two people will come forward. So the exercise would fail.

So how can you get them to move? This definitely falls into things that a public speaker needs to know.

Get them to stand up.

One way I've used a few times to get an audience to move forward into the front rows is simply to say: "Ladies and Gentlemen, I'd like you to stand, if you will." They stand. Why? Because it is impolite not to do so.    To immediately sit down again would be rude.

"Right, now that I've got you all standing up, I would like those people right up the back there to come forward. Please come forward into the front row. Or if you can't fit in there, the second row.   Yes, you, sir.  And you....

Now, there will be muttering. There will be a few protests. Some might even stay where they are. But you will find the majority will make the effort. They will comply. And having complied, you'll be better placed to present as you want to - as close as practicable to the audience relevant to its size.

Smaller the audience, the closer you need to be

What do I mean by relevant to the audience's size?   Yes, also comes under things a public speaker needs to know.   So let us continue...

Let us say you're addressing three hundred people. In such a case, you could be up on a platform with the nearest people perhaps twenty feet away in the first row. That would be fine. But if you were talking to a dozen, then you virtually need to be in their midst. The general rule is, the larger the group, the wider the space you can get away with between you and them.

Smallest group I've addressed: five people. So what do you do here. You sit at their table. When it comes time to speak, you simply push back your chair, stand, and talk from there, adjusting your voice to a conversational level.

Differing Seating Arrangements

There are quite a number of seating arrangements in which you will find yourself wondering exactly where you'll stand.  

Theatre style is the best.   It's designed for the actor, the speaker.   You simply go out front and, generally, to the front centre of your audience.   Not always though.  Always bear in mind background, lighting, that sort of thing.

Then there are occassions when tables are set up; round tables, rectangular tables, L-shape and U-shape.   In these cases, try to find an optimum speaking position where the majority of people can readily see and hear you.   (I'm assuming here, no microphone)   And, before you start, get the MC - or do it yourself - to have the audience adjust their chairs (generally you're on after a meal) so that they don't have to crane their necks or have their backs turned towards you. 

Speaking Tips: Things a Public Speaker Needs to Know - Microphones and Murphy's Law

Microphones are great! You can speak to thousands with the right microphone and amplifications systems. But be careful here. Murphy like to tamper with microphone reliablily.

When you arrive, and hear someone speaking, perhaps the president or chairman, or MC, watch exactly what they are doing as far as the microphone is concerned. Are they holding it very close? Do they tilt the head of the mic right at their mouth? Or are they talking across the top of it. How's the volume? Any squealing? Is their voice coming across too loudly? All of these things can be checked in a instant. All you have to do is take notice. Taking notice of what is going on in the room before you go on is also definitely oen of the things a public speaker has to know.

And do take notice! Look out for loudspeakers. Yes, on stands and up on the ceiling. Work out where not to stand as regards that awful, squealing feedback.

Be prepared for anything

 A lot of unexpected things can happen when you're up in front of an audience.   I've had fire alarms go off (once four times in one presentation - someone was smoking in the room next door and triggered the smoke alarm)   I've had people in the audience collapse.   I've had jack-hammers start up right outside the venue.   Even had an opera singer start singing in the next room!

Anything can happen!    If something untoward happens, keep your cool.   No one is deliberately trying to torpedo your presentation.   It isn't deliberate.  The organisers are probably every bit as embarrrased as you.   If you can, and it's spontaneous, make a joke about it.

In conclusion of what a speaker needs to know

There are many things I could include in Tips on Public Speaking - Things A Public Speaker Needs to Know but this hub has grown long enough. I will include more, hopefull, in further hub pages. Here, I draw attention to the hubs I've already written. If you're a beginner, or if you'e already into speaking, you will probably find what has been included in these will help you in some way. I hope so, anyway.

I hope you gained something from Speaking Tips: Things a Public Speaker Needs to Know.

Good luck, and keep smiling



Submit a Comment

  • profile image

    Archana 4 years ago

    Geez, that's unbllievabee. Kudos and such.

  • C.V.Rajan profile image

    Disillusioned 6 years ago from Kerala, India

    Very interesting, down to earth and breezy to read. Nice tips!

    I have linked your article to mine of a similar subject.


  • kimbles profile image

    kimbles 7 years ago from The World

    I remember at school I used to have days off sick when it came to presentations, I just cannot stand up and speak in front of a room full of people.