5 Ways To Be A Better Public Speaker

Illustrated by Mallory Heyer.
By Kevin Sandlin

Giving an engaging presentation is hard work. Some people are natural orators, but most of us need practice, feedback, and guidance to improve our skills. I teach the Digital Marketing class at General Assembly’s Atlanta location, run a weekly meet up of entrepreneurs every Friday in Atlanta, and lead several other small groups of people in various other capacities. Over the years, I’ve presented countless times to all types of people — investors, customers, employees, boards, students — and I’ve learned that there are five tactics that, used consistently, will help you keep any audience engaged.

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Illustrated by Mallory Heyer.
1. Ask Questions
Also known as the Socratic method, you teach by asking questions to the audience. Then, you have instant material when you use the audience’s answers in your talk. More importantly, asking questions gives you the ability to shine attention on different people in the room, which thoroughly engages those individuals. People love to tell their own story, so ask them open-ended questions about their experiences.

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Illustrated by Mallory Heyer.
2. Tell A Story
Tell stories that your audience can relate to. This means that you have to know your audience. Knowing your audience is part of your homework for any presentation. It can help you not only with what questions to ask, but also with what kinds of stories you can tell that the audience will completely relate to. I recently led a seminar at GA on blogging for your brand, and introduced myself by telling the audience that I began blogging 10 years ago when my wife and I traveled across the globe to adopt our two children. The response was amazing.
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Illustrated by Mallory Heyer.
3. Use Humor
This does not mean, “tell jokes.” Unless you’re a professional, telling jokes can be risky. Rather, use humor in telling your stories. Bring humor to your own mistakes, and your audience will instantly relate to your experiences.
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Illustrated by Mallory Heyer.
4. Move Around
If you are not behind a podium, move around the floor, so you can look different people in the eye. Eye contact is the first human connection we can have with another person. When you look someone in the eye, you are far more connected to them than if you don’t look. To prove this point, try having a conversation with someone you know and never look them in the eye. They’ll very clearly think that you are hiding something from them. The same concept applies to delivering a great presentation.
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Illustrated by Mallory Heyer.
5. Memorize Your Presentation
Memorize what you’re going to say, which requires practice. When you’re giving any presentation, you’re selling yourself, so you should practice quite a lot before any presentation, big or small. I recommend practicing to the point of memorization. When you stumble on words, your audience notices, whether you’re really good at improvisation or not. When you deliver your words with confidence, no notes, and without looking at your slides (if you’re using any), the audience perception is that you know the material and took the time to prepare. You took time for them.

When you prepare well for a presentation, you’ll be more confident as you move around, look individuals in the eye, ask them questions, and tell humorous stories that the audience can relate to. These five simple tactics can make a huge difference in your ability to present yourself or your company to any audience.

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