By James D’Ambrosio

(This is the first in a series on effective public speaking strategies)

As a communications professional I’ve long known that speaking in public is the No. 1 public fear, even greater than the fear of death. Having given a fair amount of presentations during my career, I’d like to offer some strategies to help nonprofit executives and staff deliver more effective presentations.

First, some perspective. Just about everyone experiences some level of nervousness and anxiety before giving a speech, it’s the body’s way of  preparing. It can’t be completely avoided, but it can be controlled and managed to reduce negative impact(s). The following strategies are designed to lessen tension, keep you at ease, and garner audience’ attention:


PRACTICE ALOUD: Many people falter because they are unprepared to hear the sound of their voice amplified in a quiet room. Even though a speaker may have memorized their lines, the shock factor can be overwhelming. Counter this by practicing aloud in front of a mirror several times before your presentation. This may seem awkward at first, but you’ll  begin to become more accustomed to how you sound. This will not only increase your confidence, but you’ll also identify potential trouble spots to smooth out.

USE NOTE CARDS: The biggest mistake people make is reading their speech verbatim. Not only will it sound dull and canned, but you’ll put your audience to sleep before they’re settled in their seats. Instead, write a short sentence for each topic of discussion on 3″ x 5″ index cards — just enough to jog your memory. This will force you to be more conversational and extemporaneous —crucial elements of a good speech. Strive to have a conversation with your audience and they’re more likely to tune in.

♦ GARNER ATTENTION IMMEDIATELY: Capturing your audience’s  attention at the outset is paramount. No matter how brilliant your speech, if no one is listening, what’s the point? Accomplish this with an attention-getter — opening with an anecdote or experience related to your subject. Select something unique, different or memorable in some way. Avoid beginning with the all-too-common “My name is John Smith and I’m executive director of …..” Save that for AFTER your opening lines.

HOLD ONTO HANDOUTS: If you have informational materials to distribute, hold them until AFTER your speech. Why? If you give them out in advance, people will read them instead of listening to you — defeating the purpose of a live presentation. You want your audience’s full attention, not a fragment. Provide complementary handouts to be read later.

These strategies take on added significance at a time when attention spans are shrinking — in part, due to the explosion of online/mobile messaging and heavy workloads. We’re increasingly becoming an on-demand society in regards to information. When speaking in public, take steps to ensure you’re in demand. It’s worth the effort.


QUESTION TO READERS: What have been your experiences with public speaking, both positive and negative?

One Response

  1. Thanks James! This is a great summary of effective public speaking strategies. I have given a number of presentations on this topic, and find that it’s really true that many people fear public speaking above all else – including dying (i.e., they’d rather be the guy/gal in the casket than the guy/gal delivering the eulogy!).

    Of all the strategies you mention, I’ve found PRACTICING ALOUD to be the most effective. I tell folks to practice aloud THREE TIMES. The first time, you realize it sounds stilted, and you work out the kinks. The second time you begin to get comfortable, work out the rest of the kinks, and begin to realize which key words you can put on the note cards to remind you of your main points. By the third time, you can speak freely and flowingly, only glancing at your note cards.

    I look forward to following your blog.

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