Thursday Thirteen – Preparing to Speak

My Thursday Thirteen this week is inspired by my upcoming trip to Madrid. I am flying out this Friday for a conference where I’ll be delivering a paper. As I am, perhaps unsurprisingly, a little preoccupied by this, I’ve decided to concentrate on tips for preparing for a speaking engagement. Now some of you reading this may be thinking, “Well, I won’t bother reading any more, as I’m not a public speaker.” But before you click away, bear with me, read number one, and then see if I haven’t managed to persuade you to read on.

  1. Take A (Calculated) Risk: It can be a difficult decision to agree to give a talk. What will you say? What will your audience think of you? What if you freeze? I’d like to suggest that giving a talk can be such a positive experience that it’s worth taking the risk. And, I’d also like to suggest that this is not something which you can only ever expect to crop up in a work situation. Giving talks, lectures, presentations can be related to a hobby or an interest. By putting yourself out there, you are making yourself open to connect with others, and this can be incredibly positive, fulfilling and inspirational. It can be a way to meet new friends, make new contacts, and can lead to opportunities opening up for you.
  2. Choose A Topic: Pick something to talk about that interests you, not what you think will interest your audience. I am by no means suggesting you ignore your audience, only that if you don’t choose something that interests you, you cannot hope to interest others. An audience can tell when the speaker is less than enthusiastic about their subject, and, quite naturally, they follow suit. Choose wisely, but also selfishly.
  3. Right Audience: While giving a talk will involve some risk, you can ensure that this risk is reduced by firstly targeting the right audience for your talk. For example, there is no point giving a lecture about stamp collecting to a photography group, just as there’s no point in offering a speech on the history of photography to a group of philatelists. In fact, this is a recipe for disaster! You need to locate the correct audience for your talk, as they’re already going to be interested in what you’re discussing, and you won’t need to fight for their attention.
  4. Give Yourself Time: I know some people who can deliver a lecture off the cuff, and I know some who write up their lecture the day or two before they are due to deliver it. I am not one of those people. I aspire to that, but I’m still a long way off it! If you are like me, then I would like to suggest that you give yourself plenty of time to plan your speech. That way you can revisit over a number of weeks, and iron out any problems. But…
  5. … Not Too Much Time: You don’t want to have your speech ready to deliver too far in advance, as it could come out sounding too rehearsed. I think a good rule of thumb is to start thinking about the speech a month before, get your prep done and your speech perfected over the next two weeks, giving you a fortnight to polish it. Which brings me to number 6.
  6. Practice: You’ve probably heard the old adage that practice makes perfect, but it can also make you sound over rehearsed. I probably run through my talks 5 or 6 times before I deliver them. At least one of those times will be to a (very) friendly audience, such as my husband, another family member or a willing friend. They may pick up on things that you hadn’t, and they’ll be able to tell you if they thought it was structured/paced/delivered correctly. A couple of times, I have read out my paper to friends, and discovered that I pronounce words in ways that no-one else does. It’s such a minor thing, but correcting them can do wonders for your confidence.
  7. Backup: If you are going to use technology, you have to accept that things may go terribly wrong. However, when the technology goes well, it can be extremely effective and can really help to make an impression. So, what I suggest is that you have plans A, B, C, D etc. I usually give a powerpoint presentation along with my talk: I bring my laptop, my cable for connecting to the digital projector, my usb drive, and a cd rom that I’ve preprepared. On top of this, I have handouts, and I have, on occasion, brought transparencies for an overhead projector. Usually, you will only ever have to go to plan B or, at worst, C. Knowing that you have plans D-G, however, acts as a great reassurance, meaning that your nerves won’t get the better of you, in the lead up to your presentation.
  8. Dress The Part: This is trickier than it needs to be. As long as you are smart, but also casual, you can’t go too far wrong. You want people to focus on your speech, not on what you’re wearing! Something simple and comfortable enough to move around in should be fine. Don’t choose something that you’re constantly going to be adjusting and fussing over. I would also like to suggest that you wear layers, as you never know what the temperature is going to be like in various venues, and there is nothing worse than trying to get your speech out while your teeth chatter.
  9. Friendly Faces: Before you give your speech, make sure you mingle with some of your potential audience. This makes sure that when you are delivering your speech, you have a few people you have already connected with, who are looking back at you with interested, engaged expressions (well, hopefully, anyway!).
  10. Engage Your Audience: People love a good story! They want to be entertained, as much as they want to be informed. If you are planning a speech which contains a lot of facts and figures, make sure that you have some narrative which connects them. Make your audience care about what you’re discussing, by being aware that you are talking to an audience. Not making eye contact, not varying the tone of your voice, and running over time are all disrespectful to your audience, so don’t do them!!
  11. Ask Questions: Don’t be afraid to integrate questions into your talk. Often, when I listen to a speech that is going to be opened up to questions at the end, I am desperately trying to think of something to ask the speaker. By asking questions in your talk, you are stimulating your audience’s response and are ensuring a lively q&a session at the end. Believe me, the last thing you want is no-one to have a question or comment at the end of your paper. I’ve seen this happen and it’s uncomfortable for all involved, speaker and audience.
  12. Don’t Be An Expert: This one may come as a surprise, but I really don’t recommend that you set yourself up as an expert. There will always be someone in the audience who knows more than you do about something. To assume otherwise would be arrogant. By setting yourself up in this way, you are putting yourself in the position to be toppled. Instead I recommend that you…
  13. Be An Enthusiast: When you talk about your subject, let your passion show. Let your enthusiasm carry you through, as I can assure you that enthusiasm is catching; expertise, not necessarily! What I generally find, after I’ve given a talk, is that my audience has caught my passion for the subject, and that they then like to offer their own experiences and their own understandings based on their own fields of expertise. In this way, you can work collaboratively with your audience to make sure that everyone feels engaged and enthused, and no-one feels that you have created an antagonistic you-and-them relationship.

I realise this is a slightly more specific TT than I usually do, which is why I prefaced it with the fact that I am more than a little preoccupied with my own immanent speech. Public speaking can be very intimidating, but it can also be very rewarding. I hope that if you’ve got a speech coming up, then my tips will come in handy. Equally, I hope that if you have never given a speech before, that I may have inspired you to give it a go.

I’ve got a feeling my next TT may have something to do with my Spanish experience, so you can expect a more personal TT then. Apologies to any who didn’t like the temporary deviation! I would love to hear anyone else’s tips on public speaking, and if anyone would like to share their speaking experiences, that would also be very appreciated Oh, and also if you can recommend any restaurants/clubs/cafes etc in Madrid that would be great πŸ™‚

My other TT posts: Rules To Live By, My Life in Scent, My Family, New Habits and Memorable Moments


October 17, 2007. Inspiration.


  1. jennifer replied:

    Great tips and a lovely read.

  2. amypalko replied:

    Thanks, Jennifer! I’m glad you liked it πŸ™‚

  3. Tink replied:

    I’ve started giving talks about my experiences with eating disorders, so thanks for the tips!
    My TT is a slideshow of 13 fungi pictures I made last weekend.

  4. Ellen replied:

    That’s a great list of tips! Speaking in front of groups is my worst nightmare…

  5. amypalko replied:

    Wow, Tink, that sounds like such a worthwhile cuase. I’m glad you found my tips helpful!

    Thanks, Ellen. It doesn’t have to be a nightmare, though. It can be challenging, but I really think that those listening are willing you to do well. If you go into something retaining your positive outlook, what you dread suddenly becomes a lot easier and a lot less daunting.

  6. Chelle Y. replied:

    I wish I had this list when I was in Speech Class. I hate talking in front of people and I was a teacher! πŸ™‚

    Thanks for visiting my TT!

  7. amypalko replied:

    I’m glad you think this list would have helped, Chelle. What did you teach?

  8. Nicholas replied:

    Now that was fascinating. Even experienced speakers can learn from that list. More than once I have sat and listened to talks by people who could just as easily have phoned it in because they hadn’t engaged with the audience and obviously didn’t care. You didn’t mention the subject of your talk. I’m sure it will all go very well.

  9. amypalko replied:

    Thank you so much, Nicholas. I really appreciate your encouraging words! My subject is Stephen King’s The Plant; I’m looking at the relationship between its e-publication and its narrative about a small, failing publishing house. I’ll let you know how it goes when I get back on Tuesday!

  10. Yuriko replied:

    I hate speaking in public…. You’re very brave πŸ™‚

  11. comedyplus replied:

    Excellent points to live by. Have a great TT. πŸ™‚

  12. Yen replied:

    Amy, I always love your write ups:) And this one is no exception! Thanks for sharing:) Have to go through over it again:D

    Happy TT!

  13. jenn replied:

    Even thinking about public speaking makes me tremble. Good luck!

  14. Susan Helene Gottfried replied:

    I love to speak in front of people; I was a DJ for years. Problem with switching from radio to real audiences is that suddenly, people can see you while you’re speaking. Which means that picking your nose is a definite no-no.

    Have a great trip and deliver a great talk!!!

  15. Lori replied:

    Thanks for the info…I cant speak in front of a crowd. It just doesnt work for me and thats funny because I tend to be a real cut-up when Im talking to friends. Happy TT.

  16. SandyCarlson replied:

    Great list. “Don’t be an expert” is my favorite. So true! Nobody goes to a speech or presentation because they want to see the presenter flop. Still, the one who knows a bit more will want to make sure you have his name!

  17. SJ Reidhead replied:

    Have a safe trip and enjoy. Just remember to picture everyone naked, and that will really mess things up for you!

    SJ Reidhead
    The Pink Flamingo

  18. goofy girl replied:

    Good luck, it sounds like you’ve got a great list to help you out. When I have to speak I do my best not to be too nervous!!

  19. Gabriella Hewitt replied:

    Good luck on the speech. Great list. I gave a presentation on writing the other day. Though I prepared it was more a list of the topics to cover and then I flowed with it. It went very well I’m happy to say. I agree that asking questions that engages your audience is a good technique, and recognizing that there are others who might know your topic as well as you do, was useful to point out.

    Happy TT

  20. L-Squared replied:

    These are all wonderful tips. Good luck with your speech and hope you have a nice trip. Happy TT!

  21. No Nonsense girl replied:

    Wanna come here and do a conference? You rock!!! I’m sure it’ll go well!!!

    My TT is up!!!

  22. Wolfie replied:

    Hello..great list..thanks for the tips..

  23. Coco replied:

    Wow. What a list! I’ve taken public speaking classes before and if only I had your list I would never needed them πŸ˜‰

    Have fun in Spain! πŸ™‚

  24. amypalko replied:

    I do try to be brave, Yuriko, but every now and then my fear overtakes. I think the key is to push on regardless!

    Thanks, Comedyplus! Wishing you a happy TT, too.

    I so appreciate your kind words, Yen. Thank you!

    Jenn, it sometimes makes me tremble too. The trick is not to let anyone see your trembles πŸ˜‰

    Wow, Susan, it’s not often that you come across someone who loves to speak in public! I can see how the shift to being visible while speaking could be difficult, but you obviously coped with it just fine!

    I find, Lori, that the more often I speak in public, the better and more relaxed I become. Maybe you could give it another go?

    SandyCarlson, your words are so true! There is always that one who wants to demonstrate that they’ve read more widely that you. Best thing to say is,”What a wonderful suggestion – I’ll just make a note of it.” It satisfies their need to be an expert, and can often give you really good leads on your on research.

    Thanks for that, SJ! Now when I’m up there, in front of everyone, it’ll be like I wandered into a nudist colony πŸ˜‰

    Thanks, Goofy Girl, for your best wishes. As much planning and preparation I do in advance, I still need some luck on the day!

    Ah, Gabriella, you are clearly one of those that I am extremely envious of. I still need to have everything written out, but I’m hoping that ultimately I’ll get to the point where I can relax and just talk around a few points. Thank you so much for taking the time to comment πŸ™‚

    Thanks, L-Squared! When I get back on Tuesday, I’ll be doing a follow-up post, so if you pop back then, you can find out how it all went.

    I travel quite extensively for conferences, No Nonsense Girl, so you never know! Thank you so much for your support. It really means a lot to me πŸ™‚

    Thanks, Wolfie!

    I’m so glad you find the tips useful, Coco! I most certainly will have a great time in Spain. I’m really excited about it!

  25. Sue replied:

    I hate public speaking, but usually find it is not that bad as I thought it would be when I’ve finished. Great list! Happy TT, and thanks so much for stopping by!

  26. marcia replied:

    I do a lot of speaking so these are good tips

  27. Michelle Davis Petelinz replied:

    Great list!
    When I have to speak, I always remember what my dad used to say: “You know more about your subject than they do, so: Go for it!” Now that I’ve done it, I add: “And even if you don’t, fake it!”

    Happy TT!
    Mine’s here:

  28. amypalko replied:

    That’s often the case, isn’t it, Sue. getting yourself up onto the stage is often the biggest hurdle!

    I’m glad you like the tips, Marcia.

    Sounds like your Dad gives good advice, Michelle πŸ™‚

  29. Leeann replied:

    Great tips….but I still won’t do it! Too scared!

  30. Samantha Lucas replied:

    I used to speak at home schooling conferences and those are marvelous tips. πŸ™‚

  31. amypalko replied:

    Oh go on, Leeann! Sometimes doing something that scares you can be a good thing πŸ™‚

    I didn’t realise you home schooled, Samantha. So do I! I’ve never spoken at home ed conference though. It’s mostly academic conferences that I speak at. I’m glad you like the tips!

  32. soleil replied:

    i think this was a great list.

  33. A Short Break « Lives Less Ordinary replied:

    […] « You Make Me Smile – Meme A Short Break October 18th, 2007 If you read my Thursday Thirteen post today, then you’ll probably know that I’m off to Madrid tomorrow.Β  This means […]

  34. Christine replied:

    Thanks for stopping by! This post certainly contains some great advice on public speaking. Have a great weekend, XINE

  35. Thursday Thirteen - What I Found in Madrid « Lives Less Ordinary replied:

    […] – What I Found in Madrid October 25th, 2007 Last week, my Thursday Thirteen was all about how I prepare to give a paper, as I was traveling to Madrid to deliver a paper at a conference at the weekend. This is my first […]

  36. amypalko replied:

    I’m glad you think so, Xine. The weekend was fabulous! I’ve just written my TT for this week all about it.

  37. Public Speaking Courses Australia replied:

    I like your first point – take a calculated risk.

    All too often, speaking coaches say that you should stick to the safest thing you can think of. Well done for stepping out of the mould!


    Darren Fleming
    Australia’s Public Speaking Coach

  38. amypalko replied:

    Thanks, Darren! I’ve just checked out your blog, btw, and it looks great. Really helpful! In fact, I’ve just subscribed πŸ™‚

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