Speaking in front of 2,000 or 200 people

Some people are natural public speakers. It’s as though they came out of the womb mid-anecdote. Others are not so good.

If, when faced with a room full of people, you’re more likely to induce last night’s dinner than believable, passionate speech – you are one of these others.

But, luckily, there are some things you can do to maximise your confidence and make yourself believe – along with your audience – that you know what you’re talking about.

First and foremost, be yourself. If you try to be someone you’re not – a comedian, for example – the audience will see right through you and struggle to connect. You have to own the material. Even if someone else has helped you prepare, it’s important that the content is yours (here’s an example from Australian politics that will either make you want to laugh or cry: Transport minister used lines from speech from Michael Douglas movie). Where appropriate, use language that you would use amongst friends, or throw in a personal story or anecdote.

Know your audience. Obviously you’re not going to give the same speech to a group of primary school students as you would to a group of business men and women. What is your audience passionate about? What is their attention span? What sort of language do they use? How do they dress?

Don’t treat it as a one night stand – try to have a meaningful relationship with your audience. It’s about engaging (but don’t worry, you don’t have to get engaged straight away!). Make eye contact and use your hands – use your entire body! If the space permits, why not walk the room?

Things happen. Be flexible. Your audience could have just been told that half of them will get the sack after lunch. Be prepared to change the length and flow of your presentation based on changing circumstances. It’s about taking and following the audience’s cues. Watch people’s body language. If they’re clapping and nodding their heads in agreement, keep doing what you’re doing. If they’re half asleep on their neighbour’s shoulder or jeering at you, try doing something different.

Most people get asked to speak at events, or they are chosen over their peers to speak in meetings and work functions, because they are good at what they do. They’re probably passionate about it too. Let this show!

And finally, be careful with humour. The joke you told last Friday night at the pub might not go down well elsewhere. Sometimes it’s just not worth the risk.

When done well, public speaking can be a great marketing tool for putting you in front of new audiences who might be potential customers or referrers. It also builds credibility for and your business.

Do you have a role model who is a fantastic public speaker? What makes them so good? Do you have any other public speaking tips?

10 thoughts on “Speaking in front of 2,000 or 200 people”

  1. As a trainer and speaker there is always that time when you’ve arrived early to set everything up and test AV equipment and right when you are about to deliver the projector goes on strike or some other piece of AV decides to play up.

    Remember, that’s life! Know that you’ve done your best but things will happen.

    The one thing that turned me off a speaker was how they behaved when this happened to them – “this never happens to me”, “how could this place be so unprofessional to let this happen”… the speaker wasted critical minutes in blaming and faffing/phaffing about and was trying to cover themselves as not being at fault, when really, there wasn’t any need.

    Just acknowledge that the hiccup was not in the plan and move on as best possible. Audiences, I find, are far more forgiving when you can name and identify the ‘elephant in the room’ and then move on.

  2. Hey Phoebe, Sally
    Great post Phoebe.
    And yes Sally agree, you must acknowledge mistakes… audiences rather like it when you do it with a sense of humour.. .. keeps it human.
    If your PowerPoint doesn’t work you can always use your body as a descriptive tool. So much can be conveyed with gesture and body shape.

  3. Great article Phoebe and very timely considering I’ve got a public speaking engagement next week. I must have done OK at the last one, since I’ve been invited to speak again 🙂

    Sally also makes an excellent point about how to react when things go wrong. One of our speakers at the last gig was there to extol the virtues of Skype to our audience and, of course, the network kept dropping out and things just didn’t go to plan at all! The poor guy giving the speech was an absolute trooper and his ability to have a bit of a laugh about it meant his presentation wasn’t a complete flop.

    It was also a great opportunity for our NBN rep to reinforce how much better online network connections would be once the broadband program was rolled out (and our area is one of the first in line). It was a great save all ’round.

    Hopefully things will be a little less eventful on Tuesday, but I’m sure it will be a fantastic day nonetheless.

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