Public speaking tips


I’m no Ronald Reagan, but I feel qualified to address this topic because I have gone from being petrified of speaking in public to actually enjoying it, and from being lousy at it to getting some kudos for it.  I won’t be hitting the professional circuit anytime soon ever, but my views and abilities on the topic are night and day from years ago.  I used to avoid it at all costs.  Now it is more like, “Oooh, look . . . a microphone!”

Just a few years ago I was too nervous to pray in a small Sunday School class, but now I am comfortable giving lay sermons to 500 people.  Of course, I still get a little nervous, but it is more of a positive energy now.  I’ve had opportunities to speak to sizable groups at work and at Internal Audit conferences as well.

It is a “duh” statement to say that practice is important, but where can you practice safely?  One area that helped me was teaching Junior Achievement classes. Executives may discreetly look at their laptops if they are bored by your presentation, but junior high students will give you immediate feedback by going to sleep or talking to friends.  The teachers were good at keeping the kids in line, but I tried to do my part by not speaking for too long at a stretch.  I learned to keep things simple and to speak conversationally with them.

I never, ever just read text.  Never.  I always use outlines.  My goal is to just talk to people, not give them a speech.

I rehearse, but not excessively and not in word-for-word manner.  It is more like having a lot of chunks of sentences in my head that I use when I get to a slide.  Knowing your material well is crucial – not so that you have it memorized, but so that you can talk about it and answer questions.

A little ad-libbing is OK.  A lot is horrible. 

PowerPoint slides are my best friends.  I keep them colorful but simple.  No long sentences – just a few bullet points. 

I never joined Toastmasters but know many people who have.  They would be an excellent organization to learn and practice in.  There is a similar group in the unit where I do some prison ministry and you can tell how much the inmates have learned from it. 

Do you have any fears or specific needs for your public speaking duties?  If I can do it, you can do it.  There is hope!

5 thoughts on “Public speaking tips”

  1. You know me too well – my friend.

    This is me: too nervous to pray in a small Sunday School class”.

    Just this past Sunday I was asked to read some verses for our group. I just sank in my seat.



  2. I preach at the nursing home across the street from our church… makes for some interesting experiences. I’ve also preached at my own church on a thing we do every fifth Sunday night where two guys from the youth group do the preaching. I’ve found it’s not a lot different from acting: you’d better rehearse or at least know your “lines” very well going in. Of course, over at the nursing home, I’ve experimented with merely getting a couple points in my head and expounding on them as they go… it makes it interesting sometimes.

    It annoys me when a speaker reads from a “script” though… whether he’s preaching or something else. You can always tell the difference between a pre-written sentence and one he is speaking, even if he already thought it up.


  3. Hang in there, Edgar – speaking in groups isn’t required!

    Washed – that is very cool that you preach at the nursing home! What a terrific ministry. You should blog about that.


  4. If you have any questions don’t be afraid to ask me next time you need pointers.

    Communication studies major with a public speaking concentration. Three years of law school and time in court. And now a good bit of teaching experience. You should see what my students write me on HA!


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