Public Speaking Tips

A survey – presumably by a PR agency acting for a presentation training company – once revealed that people fear public speaking, more than they do death.  A bit dramatic, but the point was made and I am sure that hundreds of people enrolled on the course and made great speeches at their friends’ funerals.

In our industry there’s no doubt that people have to do more than their fair share of presentations and business has been won – and lost – on the quality of the spoken, rather than the written, word.  These public speaking tips need to be passed on to the next generation of PR professionals who have been weaned silently on Texting, Twitter and Facebook.

How you start and how you finish is the most important aspect of any presentation i.e. Firsts and Lasts as magicians call it, or Primacy and Recency as psychologists call it.  (I prefer the former.)  The Great Soprendo said: “As long as you make a good entrance and you go out on a big finish, it almost doesn’t matter what you do in between.”

A little too simplistic for the world of PR but of your audience likes you from the beginning, then it makes the 60 minutes that follow a whole lot easier.  Go a goal behind in the first minute and you may never recover from it.  (Unless, of course, you are Manchester United.)

Bands open with their greatest hit to get the crowd on their side so don’t start with a ‘track from your new album’.  Climb that ‘Stairway to heaven’ straight away before ‘Money’s too tight to mention’.  Michael Caine once said: “The secret of a successful restaurant is great bread and fantastic coffee – the first and last things that you experience.”

I was once told – by my ex-wife, as it happens, who is a radio and TV presenter – to speak twice as slowly as I thought I was.  I think she meant in a professional capacity, rather than at home, and it is sound advice.  No matter how good you think you are you will, and should, get nervous when you present so tend to set off at break neck speed.

And you have two ears and one mouth so use them in that proportion.  Sometimes you need to speak.  Sometimes you need to listen.  And use silence dramatically.  My mate John Clayton, who runs BBC Radio Lancaster, once did an hour long radio programme on silence and how powerful it was.  (Clever bloke is John..).

Finally, avoid ending on questions and answers.  This goes against expectations but as Nick Fitzherbert of the Aziz Corporation explains, you need to end on a high.  The last question could be highly intelligent and allow you to give a fantastic answer or it could be the ‘Columbo’ question that can undo all that has gone before.

“Aim for something along the lines of ‘Before I conclude, what questions do you have?  Answer them and then say ‘To conclude…’ and hit them with your big final pitch.  This avoids leaving things to chance and having the misfit at the back finally having his or her say and that being what is ringing in everyone’s ears as they go on their way.”

And some thoughts for the day so you know you are not alone.


“There are always three speeches, for every one you actually gave. The one you practiced, the one you gave, and the one you wish you gave.”

Dale Carnegie


“It usually takes me more than three weeks to prepare a good impromptu speech.” 

Mark Twain


“The most precious things in speech are the pauses.” 

Sir Ralph Richardson


“They may forget what you said, but they will never forget how you made them feel.” 

Carl W. Buechner


“Speech is power: speech is to persuade, to convert, to compel.” 

Ralph Waldo Emerson


“It’s only words and words are all I have.”

The Bee Gees


By Brian Beech, MD of Havas PR UK (Manchester and Edinburgh)