24 Mar 11 Ways To Win At Public Speaking

Whether you are asked to speak at your industry conference, say a few words at a birthday dinner, visit your child’s class to explain your career, or nail a sales presentation, your skills will be on display. Public speaking matters as much for you as it does for the Oscar winners at the podium and the politicians on the Senate floor.

Because I speak so regularly, I have a high comfort level on stage. Yet when it came time to give my first TEDx talk, I knew that the skill set required was a new one. When you give a TED talk, you are expected to memorize your speech in its entirety and then deliver it without notes in a very particular way. In preparation, I asked the experts for help, those who had graced the TED stage before. Nilofer Merchant, who has given two TED talks, suggested that I spend 30 days solely on memorization and rehearsal. I took this to heart. Amelia Showalteradvised me not to wear dangling earrings, which would interfere with the headset. I ended up wearing none at all. By the time I arrived in Vancouver, I thought I had covered all of the possibilities. I had given my talk to taxi drivers, friends, family — anyone who would give me 11 minutes.

Then, game day.

There is a certain kind of hell in memorizing a speech and then having to sit through eight speeches before you give yours. This was something experienced by all but the first speakers of the day. To allay my fear of a scrambled mind, I recited my talk twice in an empty room before it was my turn. I once again felt prepared.

Until the unexpected happened.

Only one minute after taking the stage with gusto and confidence, there was a sudden exploding sound akin to a firecracker. I didn’t want to disappoint the hundreds of people in the audience or ruin the recording of my talk, so I continued as though the incident hadn’t happened. Then two minutes later, many more explosions followed until I could no longer ignore them.

Photo courtesy of Samantha Ettus


The sound system had blown. I stood on stage while the audio engineer worked furiously to rectify the situation. Realizing I could either stand there awkwardly or take control of the moment, I decided to channel my inner Amy Poehler and crack jokes for the audience; perhaps because they needed some relief from the nervous energy in the room, they laughed. A lot. As the audio man stuck the cords down my skirt in front of the crowd, I joked that this was “Behind-the-scenes TED.”

Soon we were back in business and I gave the remainder of my talk. But after proudly walking off the stage in triumph, I was immediately deflated when informed that I would need to give the speech again. To the same audience. Hours later. I always hoped that once I became a TED speaker I would be asked to give multiple talks. I just hadn’t expected my second talk to occur on the same day.

As I took the stage once again, I realized that the audience, so gracious in agreeing to hear my talk twice, would be a bit less engaged and unlikely to laugh at the same jokes. But this was not a time to consider the what ifs. I continued on and was grateful to the conference for insisting on a clean version for the video.

When we returned home, my husband eagerly played the bloopers portion for our three kids as a demonstration of resilience. It was a great reminder that the only thing we can control in the face of the unexpected is our reaction to it. Though TED talking varies from the typical speech, it has made me even more conscious of what makes a talk sing.

Here, 11 tips for public speaking mastery:

1. Dress The Part

When people see you in the crowd, you shouldn’t blend in. Be a touch dressier than the audience. Wear a bright color or at least a bold accessory.

2. Be Aware Of Your Body Language

Stand tall with your shoulders back and take a deep breath. Unclench your fists. A commanding posture exudes confidence. See Amy Cuddy’s talk for more detail.

3. Limit the Thank Yous (And Save Them For The End!)

Only those being thanked will keep listening, so never start with thank yous or you will lose your audience before you capture them.

4. Write Down Your Speech

Spend time writing your speech, editing your speech and performing your speech; don’t wait until the last minute to write it or you will not have enough time to master the performance.

5. Rehearse And Repeat

Even if you use notes, repeat your speech so many times that the notes become a safety net rather than a necessity. I once saw a speaker cry on stage when the slides stopped working. If you are using slides, imagine there being a technology malfunction and practice giving your speech without them.

6. If You Bring Notes, They Must Be On Paper

I am still scarred from seeing a speaker read a speech from her iPhone. The few people listening couldn’t tell if she was checking email or reading.

7. Tell A Story

Consider politicians: They are most engaging when they incorporate anecdotes about themselves or others. Use your own story or those of people you have worked with to personalize your message.

8. Make It Personal

To connect with your audience, throw a splash of yourself in there. Even if you opt to incorporate other people’s stories, add a personal detail to make yourself relatable.

9. If You’re Not Funny, Don’t Tell Jokes

Humor is about delivery as much as the joke itself. If you aren’t a funny person, avoid going for the cheap laugh. It’s a risk with unequal reward.

10. Keep It Short

As with anything, better to leave your audience wanting more than looking at their watches.

11. Remain Upbeat

Even when talking about a heavy subject, keep it positive. A great example is Jennifer Gilbert’s memoir, I Never Promised You a Goody Bag. She tells a harrowing story shrouded in laughter and optimism. You can too.


To read this article on Forbes, please click here.

Samantha Ettus is a bestselling author & corporate speaker. The Pie Life: A Guilt-Free Recipe for Success and Satisfaction will be released in September.