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Diana Mather is a British etiquette and presentation skills tutor based in Cheshire and London. She is the author of eleven books, including four children’s books.

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Published

5 July 2024

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Would you like to be confident enough to stand up anywhere, anytime and speak to an audience? Would you even like to look forward to speaking in public? Public speaking is something many people dread, but most of us will probably have to do it at some time in our lives, so here are five simple steps to prepare you to deliver an unforgettable speech or presentation.  

Step One: Why are you giving the talk?

Are you giving it to inform, amuse, to sell, motivate, persuade or entertain? We must always have a reason for giving a talk, and knowing your audience is fundamental to give them what they want and need. Decide what you want from it and what you want the audience to do as a result. 

Step Two: Writing the talk

Whatever you write, you are telling a story. Story-telling goes right back to our primeval ancestors when they sat around the fire chatting, entertaining each other and recounting the latest news. They had no technology to help them in those days, it was the words they used and the way they used them that told the story – and that still holds true today. 

Keep the introduction short. For most presentations, keep to three or four clearly defined points or subjects; each point should tell the audience something they need or want to know. Having made a key point, then back it up with sufficient detail to prove it. 

To hold audience attention, it is a good idea to use fascinating facts, sayings, examples, anecdotes or analogies to illustrate your points. Remember, however, if you aren’t sure about the validity of your content, use the editor’s rule ‘if in doubt – leave it out’.  

The conclusion is a very important part of the talk. Summarise the major points and make sure the audience knows when you have finished. If a speaker constantly says ‘and finally’ or ‘to summarise’, the audience will switch off. Don’t end with an apology – make sure the conclusion finishes the talk on a positive note. 

Step Three: Posture and Body Language

You must be enthusiastic and you need to look self-confident, and good posture is vital to portray this. 

  • Stand tall with your head up. 
  • Roll your shoulders round up to your ears and then down until they rest naturally.
  • Pull your stomach in and tighten your buttocks. 
  • Place your feet slightly apart and don’t fidget. 
  • Smile! A smile is important for two reasons – it creates a bond with your audience and relaxes the muscles around the mouth, enabling you to use it properly.

Step Four: Visual Aids

Whether you are using text, graphs, charts, diagrams or PowerPoint/Keynote, simplicity is the secret. A general rule is no more than four bullet points to a page. The visual aid is there to help the audience understand the message, and it should not be used as a prompt for the speaker. 

Step 5: Practice, Practice, Practice!

  • Write your speech or presentation
  • Read it aloud
  • Rewrite where necessary
  • Record it on audio, play back and analyse
  • Record it on video, play back and analyse
  • Repeat until perfect!

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