Category Archives: Public Speaking Tips

Tips and advice for open mic stand up comedy nights

Public speaking tips tick

I’ve spent this afternoon watching strangers attempt stand up routines on YouTube, looking to identify the elements of successful stand up comedy at open mic nights.

It’s obvious that so many of the rules that apply to ‘general’ public speaking apply to doing stand up comedy too – here’s a few I’ve noticed;

– Grab the attention of your audience straight away with an interesting opening

No pressure here, but the acts that appeared most successful opened with a piece of quick wit that got their audience ‘onside’ early.

– Use your body and voice to bring the content to life

The most successful aspiring comedians were those that had personality, animation and life – they bought their humour to life with movement and variations in their volume and tone. Think of the funniest jokes you have heard in the past – I’m sure they were the ones that were told by a passionate and engaging joker?

– Structure your speech clearly

The best open mic ‘sets’ had a good flow of one joke to the next, or a clear story and purpose behind them. This helps the general flow of the set and avoids any pauses as the comedian hurriedly changes topic. A flowing humourous set appears to go down better than 50 unrelated jokes told one after the other!

– Leave your audience with one clear message

The best comedians at the open mic nights that I watched signed off their short open mic spot with their name and a final piece of quick wit – this helped the audience to remember who they were so that they could tell their friends exactly who they had seen and how good they were!

Overcoming fear of failure in public speaking

Public speaking tips tick

I’m currently sat near Heathrow airport watching the planes come in over ahead. I’m estimating it’s one every 45 seconds, if not more.

As a person who hates flying (and loves a bit of drama too) there’s a small part of me that hopes that one of the planes I’ve been watching for the past hour has some sort of difficulty, perhaps a dangerous landing or a bit of a skid.

But overall, I’m extremely glad when each plane lands safely, for the passengers, for my own confidence in air travel and for the fact that I know if I witnessed an air tragedy it would haunt me forever.

Many speakers suffer from nerves because they imagine themselves forgetting their lines, giving a bad performance and their audience laughing or jeering them.

They believe that their audience will actually delight in the tragedy of them failing – that they want to witness a ‘car crash’ of a performance.

These are the speakers that must remember that their audience wants them to succeed and wants them to give a good performance because they want to hear a powerful speaker.

Much like me watching planes, each successful landing or speech is exactly what your audience wants.

REMEMBER – Overall, your audience would be more disappointed if they arrived to hear you speak, only to witness you fail and have left the room no wiser, no better informed or no more inspired.

Remember, your audience is on your side and wants you to make a safe landing – perhaps even more for their own personal benefit than yours!

Using stories to get your point across

Public speaking tips tick

It’s the reason why a parent that tells their child off and explains why what the child has done is wrong will have a more obedient child in future than one that does not.

It’s the reason why we love Jeremy Clarkson’s rants about life in Britain and buy his books.

It’s the reason why X Factor contestants are more likely to get through auditions if they have had a life in which they have had to struggle against adversity.

Stories help us to interpret the world around us more easily, to learn, to understand and develop. We relate to stories, we understand stories and we are conditioned to enjoy stories from childhood.

If you’re having trouble getting your core message across in a speech, try incorporating a story into your speech that demonstrates your point.

It could be a story about what the audience should aspire to, what they should avoid doing or simply just why they should believe your message.

Either way, it could be the difference between your audience understanding, agreeing and actioning your message or just missing your point completely.

Try it next time you have to persuade, influence, educate or inform in your public speaking – we all love a good story!

Public speaking and presenting without notes

Public speaking tips tick

One of the most common misconceptions I come across is that speaking with notes is the sign of a weak public speaker and that we should all strive to speak without notes at all times.

In this article I will look to explain why it is not necessarily a weakness to use notes in your speech or presentation, how to make good speech notes and my top tip to reduce your use of notes going forward so that you can concentrate on engaging your audience.

The main reason that we always want to have our notes or prompter cards by our side when speaking or presenting is so that we don’t forget our speech content, freeze up and ultimately deliver a bad presentation. So many of us believe that having notes shows a sign of weakness and is something that will cause our audience to lose faith in us.

Imagine the alternative. You don’t have notes, you forget your speech and you bomb massively.

Now remember that not only do you not want this to happen, but your audience doesn’t either! They’ve come to be inspired, informed, entertained or persuaded. If you don’t deliver, your audience goes home unfulfilled – which is not what they want.

Never forget that your audience wants you to succeed and if you need notes to do this, then so be it. A successful speaker with notes is better off than an unsuccessful one without them!

Making good speech notes

All of the above must be balanced with giving an engaging presentation and so your use of notes should not be excessive. If you’re constantly gazing down at your notes then your eyes are most definitely not on your audience and certainly not engaging them with eye contact and facial gestures at key points in your speech.

Good notes should therefore be the following:

Large – If you have to squint or pull your cards to your nose to read them, you’ll spend too much time looking down and not enough engaging your audience

Brief – stick to key points or headings that will jog your memory – writing out your speech in full for your notes will only encourage you to read it straight from your cards with your head down

Professional – I don’t know about you, but I have more faith in a speaker reading notes from smart cards than one reading notes written on the back of cereal box – be aware how the neatness of your notes and aids impacts on your audience.

If the audience is busy judging your cereal box notes, they are not taking in our amazing words and delivery.

So how best to balance your use of notes as a memory aid (not a crutch) and engaging your audience?

My personal recommendation is to quite literally turn your use of notes 180 degrees.

When you are nervous, it is so tempting to clutch your notes as tightly as possible and even use them as a barrier between you and your audience, holding them against your chest or blocking your face.

You don’t have to speak without your notes at your next speech, but at the same time, you don’t have to have them in your hands. If they are placed before you on a lectern, or to your side on a desk, they are just as accessible should you need a quick reminder on your next point.

Here’s a technique that I used when learning to speak without notes to gradually reduce my reliance on my prompter cards over time. I hope you can use it to good effect too.

On your first speech: Place your notes on a lectern in front of you, use them as necessary.

On your second speech: Move the lectern, or location of your notes 45 degrees to your left. Use your notes as necessary.

On your third speech: Move your notes to a location another 45 degrees (or more) to the left. Your notes may now be behind you and out of sight, but they are not out of mind and are still easily accessible, should you need them.

If you keep using this technique until your notes are directly behind you during a speech, you will quickly find that your reliance on the ‘comfort blanket’ of your prompter cards reduces. Eventually you may even ‘forget’ to use them at all.

If you strategically place your notes in an accessible location before going on stage, you may find that your audience are unaware that you even have notes at all – a bonus!

Use this tip at a pace that suits you. It may be that it takes you lots of attempts to gradually move your notes further away, but have faith that you will get there. It takes all speakers varying amounts of time to get to a point where they are ‘note independent’.

All the while that you are using this technique your notes are always accessible. Nothing as changed – you’re just not hiding behind those prompter cards any more!

Tips on speaking to persuade

Public speaking tips tick

So what should you look to include in a speech designed to persuade your audience or bring them round to your way of thinking? Here are the things I think that you should include – let me know if you have anything to add in the comments section at the bottom of this page.

1. An introduction that gives a history or brief overview of the topic that your speech will be covering.

2. An odd number of sections within the main body of your speech. Each section should cover an argument for or against the topic you are talking on. Ultimately, if you are ‘for’ the topic, the majority of these sections should contain arguments ‘for’ and vice versa if you are ‘against’.

3. A conclusion that defines your opinion on the topic and reiterates the points you have made and why tese points are important and should be adopted as opinion by your audience.

4. Facts and figures – use real examples and statistics to support your arguments and make them more persuasive. A strong example or stat cn stick in the mind of your audience for days, weeks and years after you give your speech.

5. Be strong with your language – use powerful, commited language when talking about your point of view and not weak words such as ‘maybe’, ‘perhaps’ or ‘possibly’. How can your audience believe your point of view if your language suggests that you do not believe it personally?

Tips for technical presentations

Public speaking tips tick

Ok, so here’s what I’ve got on my list as ‘technical presentation best practice’ (if there is such a thing?). I hope it helps you with your technical presentation and if I have missed anything, please do leave your own hints and experiences in the comments at the end of this post.

1. Use a structure that explains and positions the presentation and project at the beginning, gives the detail in the middle, and concludes with a summary of main points and actions going forward

2. Tailor your content and language to your audience. The topic may be technical, but are they?

3. Display complex facts, theories and diagrams in multiple ways. For example as graphs, tables, lists or videos – we all learn and take in information in different ways, so give your audience the best chanc possible to take in your messages!

4. Ask rhetorical questions or gain input from your audience. If your speech is especially long, or without too many highlights, this is a great way to keep your audience engaged and to discover any areas that need covering in more detail.

5. If there is too much to cover, or not enough time for you to go into full details on every area of the project, why not include a slide or handout with additional resources on it? This will help your audience to understand your topic more fully, research it in their own time and will help to keep your speech or presentation at the top of their minds for days to come!

What is the best structure for a speech?

Public speaking thoughts icon

What is the best structure for a speech? – is something I’ve spent quite some time contemplating recently. Is it best to stick to a rigid, tried and tested structure for each speech, with a clear beginning and ending, or should you try and break the mould?

Contemplating this has probably created more questions than it has answered. Questions such as ‘is there really such thing as speaking ‘best practice?’ and ‘is public speaking really just as subjective as art?’.

Such questions could be a whole evening of conversation for a group of keen speakers and might even have some not-so-keen speakers in deep contemplation too – what are your thoughts on this?

So has something useful come of my pondering? I hope so – over the next few weeks I will be trying to define what ‘should’ be done in different types of speech. For example, best practice and tips and tricks for technical presentations or good structure practice for an inspiring speech.

Over the next few weeks i’ll post thoughts on what should be included for each type of speech here and I would really appreciate everyone else’s input. I’m sure I couldn’t possibly cover everything and it may be that you have learnt something original about speaking that could really do with sharing with the world – please do share it here!

Look out for tips on technical speeches, tips for inspiring speeches, tips for speaking to persuade others, tips for speaking to inform, tips fo facilitating discusion with your speaking, tips on speaking to entertain, tips on speaking at special occasions and more in the coming weeks!

Wow, I’d better get writing!

Improving speech impact – Kilometres Vs. Miles Per Hour

Public speaking thoughts icon

When I drive in England I do 70mph on the motorway.

When I drive in France I do 130 kilometres per hour on the motorway.

There’s not a lot of difference in my actual speed, but one sounds a lot more impressive!

This is an example of something we can all do in our speeches to improve its impact.

“We entered the dark, daunting, cylindrical cage of the eurotunnel”

adds something more to a speech about your most recent holiday than:

“and then the train went into the channel tunnel”.

Or perhaps:

“The Brie was an explosion of full, fruity flavours in my mouth that set off a multitude of sensory fireworks and brought a huge smile to my face!” (a little over the top, but you get the idea!)

rather than:

“I love Brie and really enjoyed the Brie sandwich”.

Your audience want to be enthused by your story, so tell it well, tell it as it is, but tell it in the best possible terms – those that sound the most impressive!

Practicing a humorous speech

Public speaking tips tick

Ok, so now all that’s left is to practice my chosen humorous speech.

I’m going to try and practice it out loud twice daily and then hundreds of times in between in my head.

I usually find that I know I have a strong opening if it is constantly rattling around in my head so much that it becomes automatic. If I’m nervous, I want to be able to deliver my first few lines perfectly whilst still in autopilot, so this is no bad thing.

If I get through those first few lines and they go well, then I will have nothing to fear going forward and my confidence will build throughout the speech, if it’s not there already.

I’m also imagining myself delivering a successful speech, the buzz I will feel afterwards and the people that I will make smile. Let’s hope it is less of a dream this time next week and more of a premonition!

Writing a humorous speech

Public speaking thoughts icon

Ok, so I’m now down to the slightly harder graft, the speech writing.

Some people find speech writing incredibly easy whilst others can struggle for hours and produce nothing that they feel happy with using.

I’ve found from experience that the way in which we write speeches varies too, depending on who we are and how important we believe our upcoming speech to be.

For example, for a quick 5 minute presentation in a company meeting I may simply write down a list of bullet points I wish to cover and talk around them, relying on my existing speaking skills to fill in the gaps.

For a funeral or best man speech I may take hours and days writing, rehearsing and fine tuning my speech. My first draft of such a speech is likely to be a lengthy document, written word for word.

However, you write, I truly believe that a good speech plan begins long and gets shortened and shortened as you learn its content until the day comes to give the speech and you have either a small list of points on a cue card in your hand, or better still, no notes at all.

Whether you begin writing a speech by writing it out in full, or as a list of bullet points, or somewhere in between, I believe gradually condensing your notes as you learn your speech is key and should be done by all!

So over the next few days I am writing three speeches out in full, word for word, as I would deliver them in a perfect world.

Once I have three speeches I will annotate them with notes about pauses, gestures and movement across the stage that I feel will add to the speech experience for my audience.

If I’m not sure where to use these techniques and which ones I should be using in my speech, I will cross reference it with the judging criteria to see where I can illustrate my knowledge by using these techniques.

Overall, it’s quite long and arduous, but I really do enjoy the piece of art that comes out of the another end. It’s a piece that I hope will demonstrate my speech writing skills and speech delivery skills too – we will see!

Finding a humorous speech topic

Public speaking tips tick

Ok, so now I’m beginning to think about the topic I will speak on in the Toastmaster’s humorous speech contest and my thoughts are being led by the two points I made in my first post on the subject:

  • Humour and what is funny is essentially the choice of your audience
  • This has to be a speech with a story, not just random stand-up comedy

All speeches should be for your audience, not for you.

When writing a speech that will have maximum impact, you have to understand what generates maximum impact with your audience. Who are they, what do they like, what do they feel and what do you want them to feel?

Who are the audience for my humorous speech?

My audience is primarily Toastmasters. These are people from across the UK (and some from beyond too!) that have an active interest in improving their public speaking skills.

Who is a Toastmaster? A Toastmaster can be of any age and sex, but I have found that at my club and district in particular, ages range from 18 to 80. Toastmaster members come from all walks of life. My humour and content is therefore going to have to be all-inclusive!

Ok, I know who I’m talking to, but how do I find a humorous speech topic?

I began by making a mind map (a sketched diagram on a piece of paper of related areas, topics and thoughts) about Toastmasters. I followed this with mind maps on public speaking in general as well as some key themes such as ‘voice’ ‘presence’ and ‘content’.

It quickly became apparent to me that the one thing that separated my audience of Toastmasters from any other audience was our shared experiences. Our shared experiences are of Toastmaster’s meetings and the format, techniques and dare I say ‘rituals’ a meeting entails.

This was my ‘AHA’ moment. This is where I would find my humour.

As such, I now have 3-5 ideas for topics of speeches and will be trying to fill these out into full 5 minute oratories over the next few days…

Judging a humorous speech

Speech analysis icon

Ok, so since yesterday I’ve had a few people ask what criteria the humorous speeches are judged on. Here’s the humorous speech judging criteria:

CONTENT 55% of the total :

Speech Development [ Structure, opening, body, support material] 15%
Effectiveness [Excitement created, suspense, the unexpected twist, surprise, connection of humorous events, achievement of purpose] yup only 10%
Speech Value [ideas, logic, original thought] 15%
Audience Response [ attentiveness, laughter, interest, reception] 15%

DELIVERY 30% of the total :

Physical [appearance, body language] 10%…….yup the same score as all the things you think about should be in a humorous speech under effectiveness!
Voice [ flexibility, volume] 10%
Manner [directness, assurance, enthusiasm] 10%

LANGUAGE 15% of the total

Appropriateness [ to speech purpose and audience] 10%
Correctness [ grammar, pronunciation, word selection] 5%

I’ll be judging the speech(es) I write against this criteria to help me improve them and decide which one to use!

Preparing for the Toastmaster’s Humorous Speech Contest…

Public speaking thoughts icon

By the time you read this I should be led on a sunny beach in the South of France. If all goes to plan, I should also be thinking about and writing a humorous speech for the Toastmaster’s UK humorous speech contest which begins in September.

Apparently I have a natural humour with my public speaking but this doesn’t seem to make the speech writing process any easier. Humour is after all extremely subjective and the nature of humour has been written about extensively by much greater, more informed writers than myself.

So, for my own piece of mind and hopefully for the information of others, I am going to document my experiences in preparing for and delivering my humorous speech. This will most likely be over a series of posts, so watch this space for updates!

Where to start with writing a humorous speech?

Well I began thinking about this when the competition date was announced several months ago. At this point I began researching past humorous speeches on Google and YouTube and found some great speeches and some truly awful ones too.

A lot of the humorous speech examples you will find on YouTube are from American clubs and there is no real indicator other than one’s own judgement as to the quality of these speeches. Watching them was an interesting experience none the less.

I also did some research into the winning humorous speeches from past years. What made these speeches great, what made them stand out and most importantly, what made them funny?

All of this and my past experience (I took part in the competition last year and was soundly beaten) combined to bring me to the following conclusions:

  • Humour and what is funny is essentially the choice of your audience
  • This has to be a speech with a story, not just random stand-up comedy
  • Rocky-style training and practice will be required to perfect delivery, timing and ‘the funny’
  • This ain’t gonna be easy…

Starting a speech

Public speaking tips tick

Whether you are a nervous public speaker or an accomplished orator, the opening of your speech is still the most important part.

A weak or incorrect opening can knock the confidence of a nervous speaker and destroy the faith of an expectant audience. If you can’t deliver your opening line, how interesting will the rest of your speech be?!

A strong opening to a speech does three key things:

–         Grabs the interest of your audience

–         Reflects your confidence in what you have to say

–         Leads perfectly in to, and justifies, the rest of your speech.

Therefore your opening line should pique curiosity, be delivered powerfully and accurately and be relevant to your speech topic and objectives!

Always ask yourself if your opening line does these three things – if not, there is most likely a stronger opening to your speech waiting to be written.

What next? Learn that opening line.

When does your performance start?

Public speaking thoughts icon

When does your speech start? When do you begin giving the message that you are trying to convey to your audience?

It’s unlikely that much of the public speaking you do begins with you appearing from behind a curtain and so the impression you give begins from when your audience first sees or hears you.

This could be when you first walk into the room, it could be that first phone call when you accept the public speaking engagement, it could be when you’re mingling with your audience before your speech.

Your performance isn’t just limited to your time on stage. It’s common knowledge that first impressions count and so if your first impression isn’t positive, how will this effect how your message (the speech) is accepted?

What your audience knows about you before you start speaking can make or break your speech.

We all focus so much on the speech (in the box) but so often forget the simple ‘human’ factors such as first impressions that can make an audience open up to you (the outside of the box factors).

Time to start thinking outside of the box?