Mark Twain Quote

On his site and in his classes, communication coach Bill Smartt shares some incredibly helpful, and easy to apply tips that’ll help even the most fearful public speakers feel at ease. Here are our favorites:

  • Make eye contact often. When addressing a crowd, make eye contact with different audience members for 3-5 seconds each (when talking to one person 7-10 seconds is ideal). This will make the audience feel more connected to what you’re saying, and will help you feel like you’re having a casual conversation instead of presenting formally.
  • Smile. Even if you’d rather jump out a window than get on stage, smiling (even if it’s fake) before you begin and whenever you can throughout. This will tell both your audience and your brain that you’re happy to be there.
  • Breathe. Replace filler words like “um,” “like,” or “and” with a breath instead. This will also help to slow down your heart rate and keep you feeling grounded.
  • Practice. Try recording your presentation on your phone, practicing in front of a mirror, or rehearsing with a friend. This will help you identify any filler words you gravitate towards, whether you’re talking too fast or too slow, etc. Having these small improvements in mind can also help replace the otherwise looming, “Dear God, this is going to suck” thoughts you might otherwise have.
  • Keep it simple. Breaking your ideas down into small bite-sized thoughts will not only help your audience stay engaged, but it’ll also be easier for you to find a rhythm and not get lost in any tangents. 
  • Heather Physioc

    I’ve found that one of the best times/places to practice my public speaking material is on the drives to and from the office. Once I’ve practiced it with my deck in front of me enough times, it’s time for me to veer off and make sure I can speak eloquently on the subjects without my slides to hold my hand (or trip me up on the big day). It helps me drill on the main points I want to make.

    The last pep talk I give myself right before I take the stage is to remind myself that I KNOW this material – not just that I’ve practiced my speech, but that I’ve researched it, I’ve studied it, I’ve used it, and deep down I KNOW this material, and that even without slides or talking points to back me up, I could talk through this concept with confidence. It helps calm the nerves.

    • jmcaddell

      Excellent advice. I will put it to use next week. Thanks for sharing!

    • JohnAtl

      Sage advice Heather.
      Knowing the material inside and out is crucial. You have to own it.
      Slides should give the audience something to look at besides the speaker – a picture with minimal text.

  • Michael Markowski

    If I’m nervous before speaking to a big crowd, I just tell myself, “well, it’s just part of the gig.” With that in my head, I feel like I take on a bit more of a professional persona, which helps my confidence.

  • Adam

    The one think that works for me is: always learn the first sentence by heart. And by first sentence I mean, of each section your presentation has. Even of each slide you have, if it needs more commentary (I come from scientific field, not business, so generally, our slides really need more commentary 🙂 ).
    In my perspective, this helps me calm down and find the flow, the solid points. It goes like: *click to next slide* – *deep breath* (pause, remembering the sentence) – “As you can see…”
    The second level in this game is, though, learning to make the sentence feel like it’s not learned, but like you actually CAN make this opening “just like that”.

  • Beverly Gallagher

    Good advice. Toastmasters International is a great organization that helps people improve their ability to speak before a group or one-on-one, and become comfortable with preparing and delivering any kind of presentation. Check the internet for a club near you. It’s people helping people with an “issue” most people have.

  • Maria

    Wonderful idea. When I’m in the audience the “UMs” really stick in the air and are horrifically distracting. Never thought of just taking a breath but it’s a simple and effective remedy. Kudos

  • Joann Sondy

    Practice… practice… practice.
    Knowing the material or story up/down/left/right will reduce the “ums” and similar bridge words. Toastmasters has been an incredible learning laboratory so that I can overcome my fear of public speaking, build confidence and improve my leadership skills.
    I credit the tools and techniques learned at TM for the success I’ve had to become a docent with the Chicago Architecture Foundation; especially crafting a passionate story interwoven with dates, names and “color”.

  • Breean E. Miller

    I always forget to breathe and slow down!

  • joseph_cheek

    I had a senior employee who would replace “umm” with “hmm”. Such a simple change made him sound much more intelligent. It replaces “I don’t know” with “I’m deep in thought”. I don’t always remember to do it myself, but it’s something that I believe works well.

  • Strombraaten

    Great advice!

  • Eclecticsage

    As a trained vocalist, before my first significant performance, my first instructor told me, “The day you aren’t even a bit nervous is the day you have no business being on-stage. Today I focus my nervousness prior to singing or speaking to this thought, “Thank you for the opportunity to be with these people. May they discover exactly what they need to from this performance. It is my privilege. “

  • Avi Salmon

    I founds most of key points on public speaking skills. I think for communicative and effective presentation need practice more and more. I am writer on presentation methods and I describe of methods on public speaking.

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