Friday, October 28, 2011

10 Habits of Good Public Speakers

(Note: I wrote this for another website that wanted a quick article with this title. I'm sharing it with you, too. There may be a tidbit or two within it for you.

Public speakers can motivate, educate, challenge, and entertain audiences. The best public speakers can do all four at the same time. A good public speaker is flexible and enjoys each audience's diversity. It is an honor to speak with an audience; the best public speakers never forget that.

Always strive for excellence when you are speaking in public. In no particular order, here are 10 behaviors that public speakers should incorporate into their professional conduct.

A great public speaker. . .

1. . . .meets the audience.
When I speak at an event with other presenters on the schedule, I am always amazed that the speakers congregate backstage and away from the audience. While prep time is always needed before an event, make it a point to go out and casually mingle with the audience, listening more than talking. You will meet some great people, and more of the audience will feel like they already know you when it is your turn to speak on stage.

2. . . .knows their subject matter.
Speak about what you know and subjects that capture your energy and focus. You should know your subject well enough that you could spontaneously speak without notes in any situation. Be devoted to the subjects you speak about.

3. . . .uses sound equipment.
While ditching the microphone may seem more casual, I see and hear many speakers in my coaching work who insist they do not need a microphone. Making your audience strain to hear your words is not respectful. Any group gathering that cannot fit around a conference table will require a microphone.

4. . . .dresses comfortably for the audience.
Keep your clothing choices just a step above the casual or formal dress of the group. For example, if you expect an audience filled with blue jeans, you might choose business casual attire.

5. . .listens to other speakers.
Just as you want to meet an audience before events, it is important that speakers participate in those events. In particular, make it a point to hear the speakers before you on the schedule so that you can make good tie-ins with the group's experience.

6. . . .incorporates learning styles.
Not everyone in your audience can learn from a singular presentation style. Mix your presentation with audience activities, slides, stories, and direct input.

7. . .uses good speaking mechanics.
Are you using first-rate nonverbal techniques? Vary your pacing, tone, eye contact, gestures, and movement as your presentation progresses. Be interesting to watch.

8. . .customizes presentations.
It was popular advice a few years ago that you should be a speaker who developed a single presentation and presented that to every audience. In addition to being arrogant, it is rude to your audience and is a way to guarantee you will not be rehired. Tweak your presentations for each audience.

9. . .uses appropriate humor.
While the days of the "start with a joke" are well behind us, it is still good to use your own natural humor- staying away from traditionally sensitive topics such as religion or politics. Rather than try to be funny, simply share things that are funny to you and let the audience decide what they will laugh at.

10. . .shares good stories.
Good stories, used to illustrate your points, can help an audience remember your presentation. Be on the lookout for good stories from your own life and literature that can be used for future presentations. Learn good storytelling techniques to adjust each story for your audience. In my "Storytelling 101" Eworkbook, you can learn how to develop and present stories in a step-by-step manner. 

Use this list as a place to start, but I encourage you to develop your own habits that will make you an excellent speaker.

Sean Buvala is a "hard-core how-to-do-storytelling coach" working and teaching internationally since 1986. He has served various clients with big names down to the smallest one-person business. He is an award-winning storyteller who can help you develop and fine-tune your business speech. To schedule your coaching session with Sean, fill out his contact form on his website at

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