Abundant Optimism

Helping people regain and keep an optimistic outlook in challenging circumstances and improve their creativity, mind, and skills.

Public Speaking Tips

by Tamara Martfeld

I will be the first to admit that I am about adequate at public speaking and avoid it when I can. In other words, I am not an expert. However, I have learned a few things over the years which can make a difference in how a speaker is received by the audience.

Many (maybe most?) people who are asked to speak in front of a group of people are not experts. They have also received little or no training in how to speak in front of others. These tips are aimed at this group of people. Expert speakers may gain something from this article depending on their background; some of these tips come from attending speeches of “experts”.

1. One of the biggest mistakes I hear speakers make is forgetting where the microphone is located or how the microphone works. I say “hear” because that is the problem. Some microphones will pick up a person’s voice from a wide range of distance. However, most microphones need the speaker to be within a few inches and aimed at the microphone. Many speakers stand in front of the microphone and then move their head from side to side to address the audience. This results in the voice being strong when the speaker is facing the microphone and then fading as the speaker moves the head from side-to-side with most microphones.

Instead, find the distance from the microphone that is best for your voice then pretend your lips are tethered to the microphone. As you move to address the audience move around the microphone keeping your mouth the same distance from the microphone as you move. Always have the microphone between your mouth and your audience. If you can lower the microphone so that it is below your chin and still have your voice heard, do so. Many microphones will not allow this luxury. If at all possible, practice with the microphone in advance of your speech.

2. Many manuals and tips for speakers tell speakers to move around as they speak instead of staying in one location or behind a podium. This is great for many situations, however, there are situations in which this is less effective. When a speaker moves into an audience the people at the front need to constantly turn their heads or bodies in order to see the speaker and even then may not be able to adequately see the speaker. Another poor situation for moving too much is when the location of the podium is close to the audience and moving around puts the speaker in the personal space of the audience. Some people need to see the lips of the speaker in order to understand the speaker and sit in front for this reason, or sit in front in case there are graphics needing to be read. The above two situations make it difficult for these people to get anything from the speech when the speaker moves around too much.

Take a good look at your situation before moving around. Walking among the audience might be appropriate in some situations, but I recommend against it in most situations. I suggest defining your space as separate from the audience and then walking around in your own space.

This suggestion comes from my own experience. I have had speakers standing within two feet of me as a speech is given even though the podium is several feet away from my chair, and I have left speeches with a headache from the acrobatics required to keep an eye on the speaker. My thought is if I don’t like it there are probably others who also do not like it. I don’t know what is recommended by “experts”, but I do know that this practice leaves me with a negative feeling about the speaker.

3. Don’t scream into the microphone. Yes, another microphone tip. Many speakers, experts included, scream into the microphone with the result being amplified screaming. If a microphone is set properly it will amplify your normal speaking voice, which is what you want. Your normal speaking voice is your most powerful voice, the voice most likely to get results.

Screaming reminds people of angry parents and unethical business people. Think of how you react to an advertisement where the announcer is screaming at you. I don’t know about you, but I look for the “fine print” of the advertisement. If members of your audience cannot hear you, try to speak from your diaphragm. This will raise the volume of the voice without screaming. Scream only as a last result.

Screaming will leave you with a sore throat. A sore throat after speaking all day usually means you are either screaming or not drinking enough water. Not enough water will leave you with a dry throat which can be sore. Screaming will leave you with a sore throat regardless. Think about it. You are probably speaking most of any given day on the phone, to family, to co-workers, to transact business, etc. Your throat is most likely not sore at the end of every day. It should not be sore just because you gave a speech.

I hope these tips help you to be a more effective speaker. With luck, they will help you improve enough to get that promotion to the job which enables you to assign the speeches to other people!