Article Category: Weekend Reviews

Best Public Speaking Tips and Techniques: Weekend Review [2009-07-04]

Week In ReviewOn Saturdays, we survey the best public speaking articles from throughout the public speaking blogosphere.

This giant-sized review features topics including:

  • public speaking fear;
  • public speaking education;
  • common filler words;
  • commencement speeches by women;
  • vocal variety exercises;
  • gesturing tips;
  • memorizing your speech;
  • PowerPoint makeover;
  • 3D chart advice; and
  • setting fees.

Public Speaking Education

  • Lisa Braithwaite encourages public speaking courses in high school.

If I had my way, public speaking would be mandatory in schools. Because just about every single thing we have to do in our lives involves public speaking. Most people will participate in a job interview (or 50). Most of us will have to speak up in a meeting at some point (or hundreds). Most of us will have to convince, persuade or influence another person one day.

Public speaking is as universally necessary a skill as knowing how to read or multiply. Yet in many cases, public speaking training is seen as a luxury, a frivolous extra.

  • Nancy Duarte shares her experience working with a public speaking coach, Kelly Decker. [Ed: There are valuable insights here about videotaping yourself, repetitive speaking exercises, and seeking constructive feedback.]

Even though I’m an “okay” presenter, it was easy to see right away some areas of development and the power that great delivery has in connecting with the audience and conveying ideas well. I’d never had an objective view of how I communicate and as Kelly recorded my delivery, she had great insights for me.

  • Tim Gordon answersWhat does it take to teach communication skills?

Teaching communications means knowing how to help people see their shortcomings, and gently help them find a better way. It means being always aware of your own shortcomings and continually learning what works and what doesn’t in your own life. It’s something I do all the time; examining my own communication skills and noticing what works and what doesn’t.


  • Chris Witt advises identifying the problem before proposing solutions.

The fatal presentation error is to throw solutions, like stones, at the heads of those who have not yet realized the problem.

  • Ellen Finkelstein lists common filler words to eliminate from your speech.
  • Really: “I really want to say how important this is.”
  • Actually: “I was actually flabbergasted!”
  • Literally: “I literally sank through the floor.” (Don’t you mean “figuratively” which is the opposite?)
  • I mean: “I mean, I think it’s OK to say no.”
  • Definitely: “I’m definitely a supporter of environmental awareness.”
  • Basically: “Basically, I’m fine with that.”
  • Overall: “Overall, I don’t see how we can pay back the debt.”
  • Just: “I’m just so upset about the situation.”
  • Kind of: “I’m kind of (kinda) ambivalent about him.”
  • Sort of: “I’m sort of (sorta) ambivalent about him.”
  • Like: “I, like, don’t know how it’s going to turn out.”
  • Vinca LaFleur lists (and links to!) 10 terrific commencement speeches by women.

So here are ten terrific commencement speeches by women leaders over the years — political figures, CEOs, entertainers, academics, and more:

  1. Meryl Streep, Vassar College, 1983
  2. Barbara Bush, Wellesley College, 1990
  3. Gloria Steinem, Tufts University, 1997
  4. Anna Quindlen, Mount Holyoke College, 1999
  • Craig Valentine provides 3 ways to get your audience to act.
  1. Say “Most People”
  2. Put the process, not the person, on a pedestal
  3. Use the EDGE formula

Delivery Techniques

  • Sarah Gershman gives a vocal variety exercise.
    [Ed.: I wholeheartedly agree.]

Read childrens’ books. It’s a wonderful way to get your voice “out of the box” and experiment with the full range of your vocal ability.

  • Chris Witt weighs the pros and cons for memorizing your speech.

I, myself, often advise my clients against memorizing their speeches. And yet I memorize much, if not most, of every speech I give. And I’d like to suggest you consider doing so yourself.

  • Lisa Braithwaite reminds you to make your gestures and voice “big”.

Both clients are used to “talking with their hands” in regular conversation, but when they give a presentation, their gestures become restrained and tight. They both have strong voices, but when they speak, their voices become whispery and weak. […]

Making yourself small can also make you seem tentative and lacking in confidence — and therefore less persuasive and effective in presenting your message.

  • Frank Damelio offers tips for gestures, including:

Avoid the T-REX position with your arms.  So many speakers only extend their forearms throughout their entire presentation – keeping their upper arms glued to the sides.  After a while it looks funny, like a T-REX.  They subconsciously do this because of the cartoon factor.

Visual Aids

  • Jonathan Thomas urges you to separate Powerpoint from the presentation.

Let’s collectively take a step back from our slide software and say it together, “My slides are my backdrop, and I am the presentation.  I will use my slides for good, to engage viewers and amplify my message.  My audience members should read less and listen more.”

  • Mike Pulsifer delivers another educational slidedeck makeover.

[…] the deck shrank in half from 22 slides to 11.  Much of the content on the slides were details that didn’t need to be on slides.  Even coming up with visual metaphors for each slide or each chunk of content on the slides would have been too much.  The presentation is what she was up in front saying to us in the audience, not her slides.  I’ll address each of the new slides and what I did and why I did it. […]

  • Brent Dykes highlights how 3D charts can be deceptively misleading.

In hopes of making a chart more stylish or impactful, presenters may add a 3D perspective to their charts. Using 2D charts all the time can be repetitive and maybe even boring…
[Y]ou can see how the 2D pie chart on the right more clearly reveals the true size differences between the various data points.



Speaker Habits

  • Nick Morgan asserts the most important rule for success in speaking is having fun.

I’m often asked what is the single most essential thing to remember in order to give a good speech.  My first instinct is to respond, “it’s a complex process, an art form, and it involves lots of moving parts.  So there’s no one single thing.”  But if I’m pressed for one rule only, it would be this:  have fun.

  • Frank Damelio encourages you to use names of audience members.

When you are performing an interactive presentation, you have an opportunity to impress by calling on audience members by name.  Very few things will wow an audience more.  […] This makes you appear different […] and more sincere.

Public Speaking Fear

Fear of public speaking is the most significant social fear for residents of the U.S. Fear of speaking up in a meeting or class is a very close second. Both affect about 1 in 5 Americans.

  • Jerry Weissman highlights a September 1990 study about the sources of public speaking fear?

In his study, Dr. Flax polled 12,000 people, asking “What are your biggest fears about speaking to a group of people?” Number one-as chosen by eighty-one percent of the respondents-was “Fear of making embarrassing mistakes.” Interestingly, number two was “Fear of damaging your career or reputation,” with seventy-seven percent of the respondents listing it; interesting because number two may be perceived as a direct result of number one!

Professionally Speaking

  • Jane Atkinson advises how to set fees you are comfortable with.

Now she’s earning $2500 per engagement but her local bureau wants to list her at $4000. (Cause she’s good.)

But here’s the rub, if a client called her directly she would not feel comfortable quoting $4K. She’s just not $4K confident yet. So what does she do?

Wisdom and Lines

And to close…

For speech inspiration, here’s an index card gem from Jessica Hagy.

This is a clever comparison between the wisdom contained in the lines of faces and great books.

In a speech where your topic is gaining wisdom through experience, you might include this a line such as “What do faces and great books have in common? Wisdom is proportional to the number of lines.” [Personally, I’d like to have the wisdom of War and Peace… a great book with many lines.]

This would be particularly effective if your audience were a group of authors, librarians, teachers, or some other group who is likely to appreciate a reference to great literature.

Jessica’s book Indexed is an inexpensive, but rich source of speech inspiration. I often find myself looking at her drawings and thinking how I can incorporate a similar concept into a speech.

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Find more helpful public speaking articles in previous weekend reviews which are published regularly on Six Minutes.
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Comments icon3 Comments

  1. Amity says:

    thank you for the common filler words. I’ll make sure I replace them with something more sensible. Also I hope public speaking becomes mandatory in schools.
    Keep up the good job!

  2. What a terrific resource for speakers. I wish I had known about your site years ago. You do us all a great service in providing such a comprehensive overview of available resources. It’s going to take me some time to filter through it all but I’m looking forward to it. For anyone who is a student of public speaking and presentations I would consider this a must-bookmark site.

  3. Allyncia says:

    I especially enjoyed the article regarding the fear of public speaking!

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