3 Quick and Dirty Tips to Better Public Speaking

Today's post is a guest post by my friend and colleague Mike Kim. I strongly recommend you check out his Brand You! marketing podcast, and his blog.

Have you ever found yourself completely enraptured by a public speaker? Or sat amazed at the sheer eloquence, power, and delivery of a gifted orator? Have you ever dreamt of doing the same only to conclude, “No way … I could never do that!” Yeah, same here.

public speech

While growing up, I marveled at great orators: the politicians, lecturers, coaches, and preachers that just seemed like they were “born with it.” Public speaking never came naturally to me, so sharing my ideas in front of people seemed like a pipe dream.

But public speaking — like any other type of communication — can be developed. The problem is we tend to focus on the discourse rather than the delivery. Both are important, so here are a few tips to improve your public speaking … they're so simple you'll feel like you're cheating.

1. Multiply your personality by 3.

Speaking is simply advice mediated through your personality. But what if your personality is quiet or laid back? Take your personality and multiply it by 3. If you’re naturally a laid back person (like me) this will help you communicate passion, confidence, and energy.

In college, I wrote a term paper for a marketing class on professional wrestling. You would be surprised how much you could learn about public speaking from these burly, larger-than-life sports entertainers!

When creating a character or persona, a professional wrestler basically takes a component of their personality … and multiplies it. That’s how they get some of these crazy gimmicks. Bodybuilder? You’re now The Muscle Man. Former accountant? You’re now the wrestler dressed like a tax man. You get the idea.

Don't worry, this isn't just about being louder. Make your low-key remarks 3 times as soft. When combined with your regular tone of voice, this will naturally create more inflection in your speech. This works wonders for podcasting, too. Work that microphone!

2. Get a leg up.

The most “honest” part of the body is waist down. It's the least conscientious and the first to respond to stress. On the flip side, being balanced communicates control and confidence.

Just prior to the first televised presidential debate in 1960, then vice-President Richard Nixon severely bumped his knee. As a result, he favored his leg behind the podium and looked oddly crooked. TV viewers said Nixon lost by a landslide to Senator John F. Kennedy. In the poll for those who only heard the debate on radio, Nixon won by a landslide!

Power is conveyed by occupying physical space, so practice stepping forward at key points in your talk. Space your feet about 6 to 8 inches apart. I'm 6'2″ so I use a wider stance, about 8 to 12 inches apart, or shoulder width. If my feet go any wider, it looks too threatening because of my height. If I place my feet too close to each other, I look like a tree about to topple over.

3. Popsicle sticks.

Law enforcement interrogators are trained to watch the hands of people they are questioning. Hands are that vital to nonverbal communication!

When your hands are all the way down, your energy decreases and you lose expression in your face. Keep your hands to waist level to convey confidence. Bring them to the chest or above and you'll naturally become energetic and animated. If you don't think hands are important, see how awkward it feels to smile big or laugh hysterically with your hands in your pockets.

One trick you might implement is a result of my wife's observations: popsicle sticks. She noted that I had a bad habit of cocking my wrists too much. Consequently, my hands were flailing all over the place.

To firm up my posture, I practiced with popsicle sticks tied over the top of my wrists. This firmed up my hands and forearms, and made me acutely aware of what my hands were doing and at what height I was placing them.

You or I may not be the next Winston Churchill or Pericles, but we can all improve. The ability to speak to an audience (even a virtual one) is quickly become a given for building your influence. Implement these simple tactics and you'll be well on your way to speaking with more confidence and power.

Question: What tips do you have for becoming a better public speaker?

Mike Kim ditched his comfy C-suite marketing job in pursuit of career freedom. His goal is to help leaders like you parlay your past into a profitable personal brand. Start today by getting his free 34-page eBook, The Do-It-Yourself Blog Guide at mikekim.com.

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  • Mike, thank you for writing such a great post. I know this will help a lot of people overcome some of the challenges they have when it comes to speaking in public.

    • Ray, this was one of the highlights of my year. Thank you so much for allowing me to share with your awesome readers. =)

  • Great advice indeed. Appreciate the insights you shared Mike. @Ray_Edwards:disqus is a smart man for allowing you to guest post. 🙂

    • Secret: I just observed your masterful presentation at Podcast Movement, took notes, and turned it into a blog post on public speaking. =)

      • Every day it seems I am reminded how I should have been at Podcast Movement. 🙂

        • Would love to have met you in the flesh @Ray_Edwards:disqus!

      • Ha, well if only that were true. You flatter me @mikekimtv:disqus. 😉

  • Great post Mike. Your physical presence of stage is so important for demanding attention and communicated confidence. I would add to list to tell stories. I alway like to start with a story that relates to me, than I pull the audience into the story and help them find them in the story. After that I relate the story to the principal or point I am trying to make.

    • Thanks, Paul! Stories are a definite plus. One of the most helpful books I’ve read on that is “How To Deliver a Ted Talk” by Jeremy Donovan. I would add that it applies to blog content, too. Most of my most engaged posts have to do with personal stories.

  • Mike, your article is timely for me. I have several speaking opportunities coming this Fall. Of your three points, I probably need to work on number one. I am an even tempered Midwesterner. Thanks for sharing. You do great work.

    • Thanks, Jody. Yeah, I think the three points went successively for me … I started with 1, then “graduated” to 2, and topped off with point 3. =)

  • Chet

    When I was at a writers’ residency in Canada, almost all of us were stressed by the idea of doing a public reading at the end of the program. So the brought in the best voice coach in the country. Here are the best takeaways:
    –Feel your feet on the ground. This literally grounds you, and helps you become fully present and feel strong.
    –Become aware of your mouth, tongue, and lips. This helps you avoid lazy tongue, and improves delivery–fast!
    –Remember to breath, and find a few friendly faces. Speak and move your eyes to each in turn. Improves contact, and anchors you to the audience just enough.
    –Speak slowly. Rushing is a sure sign of anxiety, so slow down, breath, relax.

    Simple stuff goes a long way! 🙂

    • So true, Chet. They say big doors swing on small hinges, right? =)

  • Thanks, John. I can totally identify with what you said in your post. I never would have imagined public speaking would be a part of my life. It’s all in the mind!

    Love your blog.