5 Public Speaking Tips for Business Pros

We’ve all heard the old line about more people fearing public speaking than death. I feel very fortunate that I learned about public speaking early in life. One of my first jobs was being a tour guide at an aquatic marine life theme park that has an Orcinus orca as their mascot (I’ll let you guess which one!).

While I didn’t realize it at the time, the experience was priceless.

speaking, public speaking, presentations, business, professional, introductions, podium

After attending some events lately, I wanted to share a few things I’ve learned along the way about public speaking. As business professionals, we must learn how to speak in front of groups. It’s part of our job. Even if we don’t do it every day. Let me share a couple of examples that might illustrate my point:

I once worked with a software company that held an annual users conference. During the event, their programmers (i.e. the subject matter experts) would conduct the sessions. The programmers had to not only work on their sessions but presentation skills.

At conferences, major sponsors might get invited to speak about their company at the podium. Or a volunteer leader is asked to introduce a speaker.

So don’t say “I’m not a professional speaker.” Or “I don’t need to learn public speaking.” Because someday you might need to do an introduction, a short talk about your company, or a presentation. The next time you’re invited to do any kind of public speaking, here are 5 tips to help you:

  1. Arrive early and stand in front of the room. And I don’t mean stand there for 30 seconds. Stand there long enough to get comfortable with the surroundings. If the room has a podium, stand behind it for a couple minutes to see how it feels. If the podium is on a riser, stand on it so you know what it feels like to walk up the steps and be on a raised platform. The more comfortable you are, the more you can focus on the content you are sharing.
  2. Test the microphone. Don’t use “Test one, two, three…” When I test a microphone, I try to use a couple of sentences that allows me to get used to the sound of my amplified voice. For instance, “I have a Dalmatian. She likes to eat Pop-Tarts.” I like the sentence because it has a “P” word in it – and I can hear how it sounds. The room has a microphone for a reason. People may think their voice will project – it doesn’t. When you are supposed to use a microphone and you don’t, you give the audience a reason to stop paying attention to you.
  3. Don’t say your content is boring. This might seem like a no-brainer. But I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard someone refer to their material as boring. And it’s only because it might be technical. If you say it, then people will believe it. You’re the expert and what you have to say is important. ‘Nuf said.
  4. Get a photo. This is a biggie! If there’s an event photographer, find out if you will be photographed and if you can get a copy of the photo. As a business person, a photograph of you standing behind a podium is gold. If there’s no event photographer, ask someone in the front row if they will take a couple photos of you while you’re speaking. Give them your smart phone. Buy a $5 gift card to Starbucks or Amazon before the event and thank them with it.
  5. Take your name badge off. Why? See reason number 4.

This is just a starter list of public speaking tips. Being comfortable with the room can play such a big role in the outcome. Got any public speaking tips or tricks? Let us know in the comments!

Image courtesy of Mugsy Clicks


  1. says

    Great reminder Sharlyn – thanks – especially for those of us who train frequently in small & large groups to familar faces; this serves as a primer for those special occasions where we do need to project & shine!

  2. says

    Mary – Thanks for the comment. Years ago, I was involved in planning an event where we had a professional photographer. He would take photos of everyone speaking. The speakers were so appreciative.

    Thanks James! Photos from training sessions are gold. I once saw a conference presentation where the speaker used photos from his training sessions as a watermark background on his PowerPoint. Very subtle reminder of what he does.

  3. says

    Excellent article, Sharlyn. Another tip is to consider participating in a Toastmasters group. (http://www.toastmasters.org) Toastmasters clubs are designed to help individuals hone their public speaking skills. Toastmasters clubs can teach you how to prepare a speech and provide ample opportunities to practice in front of a supportive audience. At the end of each speech, you’re given feedback to reinforce the things you do well and suggestions for things to work on. Membership is around $120 per year.

  4. says

    I agree with Don R. Crawley. As a Toastmaster a person can not only learn to become comfortable behind the lectern or atop a podium, but, they can develop valuable leadership skills. Toastmasters tagline is “where leaders are made.”

    Circe Denyer, PRO, District 52, Toastmasters International.

  5. says

    @Geoff – Thanks for the comment and kind words. You’ve made my day!

    @Don – Excellent point about learning how to develop a succinct presentation. Thanks for sharing.

    @Circe – Thanks for the comment! I have several friends who are active in Toastmasters and really enjoy the experience.

  6. says

    Great tips, except for the last one, number 5. Instead, go to service firm and have a nice, permanent personal branding name plate made that you will be proud have photographed. Tell the service firm to add a matte finish to eliminate flash glare. Never again besmirch your image, in person or in photos, with those tacky paper stick-ons or flimsy plastic throw-aways. Get a nice name plate and wear it proudly! You will find your name plate will be one of your least expensive and most effective personal branding elements.
    Kevin Hoult recently posted..Your tax dollars at work

  7. says

    Hi Kevin. Having worn a name tag my entire corporate career, I agree a well-made one can be an asset when it comes to networking. Not sure I see the value from a photography standpoint. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  8. says

    My challenge is I am a “ham” and love to speak in public after a wobbly start. See above website. One or three “crutches” I use to feel at home “up front” is to avoid the podium like the plague, arrive early so I can meet and greet one-on-one as many prospective listeners as possible and get their early smiling support. Upon being introduced (very, very briefly, please) I step lively to the front and say, “Yes.” and then I say, “The reason I rushed up here is I am anxious to hear what I am going to say.”
    Stephen “Steve” Q Shannon recently posted..Meeting President Obama? updated Tue May 11 2010 1:13 pm EDT

  9. says

    Hi Steve! Thanks for sharing. You bring up a good point about podiums. I like to wander but I also have to be conscious of my audience. The size of the room might dictate whether I stand behind the podium or not. Or if I’m being video-taped, the organizers might prefer I not walk around as much.

  10. says

    6. Check the lectern height, mic and light on your text (if you have one)
    7. Best to not use lectern and use the full space available to connect with the group
    8. Look at the stage/ front of the room from the audience and think about any barriers to your presentation
    9) Check the color of the backdrop (drapes, etc) and avoid clothing that blends in.
    10) Understand how and where any AV support works and meet the person who is responsible for running it.
    Lane Bailey recently posted..Former Citi CEO Calls for Return of Glass-Steagall; Split-up of Big Banks

  11. says

    Thanks Lane and Steve for keeping the conversation going! Totally agree that clothing is important – especially if you’re being video-taped or photographed.