Do your legs shake, do your hands sweat? 5 public speaking tips

Public speaking and presenting – do you love it, or hate it? Do you relish every opportunity to speak or do everything to avoid it? How much would you like to speak with confidence?


The art of speaking well, of being a good communicator, is likely to prove a great asset professionally; it is invaluable not only in addressing internal staff events and external audiences but, for in-person meetings, online discussions, networking, and building and maintaining relationships.

As a coach and specialist in presentation skills and assertive communication, I find that even those in senior roles and across many professions say that both can present a challenge.

Here are five key tips to help rein in nerves and feel on top of your talk.

1. Be prepared, and practice

One of the most important steps you can take is to prepare thoroughly… and to start early. It is rare for someone to be able to speak ‘off the cuff’, even if it looks that way. Start early, as leaving it until near the day is likely to increase your nerves. You may need to do research and obtain information from others, and this could delay the process.

Leave time to practice your delivery, familiarise yourself with it, pace it, knowing where to pause, where to increase speed and where to slow down to stress certain words or ideas. You can also use this practice to time the parts and the whole.

It takes me at least three weeks to prepare an impromptu speech.

- Mark Twain, author, humourist and lecturer.

2. Know your audience

Find out as much as you can about your audience: how much do they know about the topic, what is likely to be familiar or unfamiliar to them, what is their age range, why are they coming to listen to you, and what is likely to draw their interest? Knowledge of your listeners plays an important role in preparing and delivering your talk, at what level to pitch it to ensure they understand and that it’s neither above their heads nor too simplistic.

It also affects the language you use, for example, if you’re talking on a technical topic or any subject that uses its own abbreviations and terminology, what do you need to spell out? It helps to know that you’re approaching it at the right level. While you’re speaking, keep eyes on the audience. Can they hear you, follow you, are they still awake?

3. Be clear about what you want to achieve

If you don’t know the reason you’re addressing people, neither will they! Write down what you expect from your audience as a result of what you say. Do you want them to buy something, to have an opinion, to come up with creative ideas? Do you want them to understand something better, build their knowledge, learn, or enhance a skill?

Your objectives are vital in shaping what you say, being clear from the start about the aims of your presentation e.g. Today I am going to explain to you our new system for…and the benefits to our company of introducing it… and at the end encouraging them to apply the techniques of this new system e.g. As from tomorrow I’d like you to start implementing this new process, and next week we’ll meet to see how it’s working.

4. Be practical

There are lots of practical ideas to take on board to reduce nerves and avoid the appearance of anxiety. Keep a checklist of everything you need, that you can refer to every time you speak, instead of reinventing the wheel. Knowing you have this, is calming in itself. Arrive early, give yourself time to get organised and, if you’re using visuals or a microphone, check everything is working with the tech person. Then chat to people so that you both lubricate your voice and try to relax rather than standing quietly in a corner on your own.

It’s best not to hold papers, but to put them down and ensure your notes are clear to read, with headings and bullet points. Remember to number your pages in case they get out of order. Remember when Boris Johnson lost his place in his speech notes when addressing the CBI (Confederation of British Industry). He totally lost the plot, embarrassing himself and distinguished delegates with “Hands up if you’ve been to Peppa Pig World!”

5. Help your audience follow your plot

Give your speech, presentation, or contribution to the meeting a great structure, to make it easy on yourself to know the start, middle and conclusion, and hence for your listeners too. Compare it to a train journey – you know the station where you’re getting on, the stops along the route, and where to alight.

Your listeners are reliant on you to follow your thoughts and words – it’s not like reading a book for them where they can turn back a page to see what’s gone before or check what’s coming. You are the pages in the book, so make it a book they can’t put down.

Remember to finish speaking before your audience has finished listening.

- Dorothy Sarnoff, soprano, actress and self-help writer.

Coaching provides a safe place to practise. It can grow your confidence through both constructive feedback and honest guidance and assurance that your content is right for your audience and objectives. It can give you the courage to speak to an audience and contribute at meetings.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Life Coach Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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London, NW11
Written by Lucy Seifert, Life Coach London
London, NW11

Our personal challenges can affect us at home, work and in our relationships. My 25 years of coaching and training experience help you build confidence and design strategies to make positive changes. You’ll find that I have a warm coaching style, with integrity and professionalism. Also, I’ve authored five books about coaching and assertiveness.

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