Public Speaking Tips To Improve Presentation Skills


What’s The Secret?

Let’s face it, presenting in public isn’t easy! Some say people’s fear of public speaking comes second only to their fear of death – so what’s the problem?

Well to some people it comes naturally. They seem to swan in, make people laugh, get their point across, inspire and get rave reviews.

People who are not so confident are immediately plunged in a quagmire of anxiety wondering how on earth they can compete. They fear the exposure and they are frightened of failure.

Well here’s the secret!

Every one of those great speakers rehearses! They think long and hard about what they are going to say and HOW they are going to say it.

They have TECHNIQUE!

I’ve now spoken at well over a hundred conferences, pitches, summits and events. I’ve always been determined to make it look easy and natural, because that way you put the audience at ease. If they are confident in your ability to guide them through your agenda, they can learn and absorb more deeply.

But making it look easy comes at a price. The cost is time, effort and practice!

How many times have you seen presenters who mumble, don’t seem to be aware of what the next slide is going to be, apologise all the time, riddle their PowerPoint with text, turn up late or simply look all at sea?

Here are some tips to help turn you into a wizard public speaker:

Timing – Try and Go First early-bird-cockerel

Try and influence whoever has asked you to speak to let you go on as early in the day as possible. We humans only have a certain attention span and it can wane by the afternoon. If it’s a conference or you’re on a panel with other speakers, going first gives you the opportunity to set the scene and get your thoughts and ideas out before anyone else does.

Very often content will duplicate, so you want to appear to have been the first to have thought about it. Also it helps your brand as subsequent speakers will almost always refer back to you when they speak if they make similar points.

Hearing someone from the competition saying “Just to back up what Mel was saying earlier……” is a beautiful noise! You can’t buy that kind of PR…..unless of course they disagree with you!

The caveat to going on early is if it’s a conference run over a couple of days, you might not want to kick off the second or third day as your audience may be listening to you through an alcoholic, bleary haze garnered from the previous nights partying.  Most people will have recovered by 11am though in order to hang on your every word! :-)

Be Prepared – Get There Early

Never assume the technology will work! I once woke up at 5am before a live demo keynote, panicking that the venue wouldn’t be able to cope with my requirements, even though I’d emailed them in a fortnight before.

Sure enough internet access at the hotel was down, but luckily I’d started writing a back-up presentation at 5.05am that morning.

Get to the venue early, check out the space, meet the sound guy and tap through the presentation on the laptop to make sure there haven’t been any issues with compatibility.

If you turn up late you’ll look unprofessional, the audience will need a lot more convincing and the conference organiser will be looking for an alternative speaker for next year!

The Hook – Your Opening Line

image If you rehearse nothing else, make sure you know exactly how you’re going to start your presentation. Thank your introducer, thank the audience for being there and tell a story or a joke relevant to the subject you’re about to speak about. It might be about your journey to the conference centre, or an anecdote from the welcome cocktail party the night before.

You need a hook to draw people in and want to listen to you. Laughter is a great tension reliever and if you hit the spot your confidence will be at the right level to keep you going through your material.

On no account make any excuses! Delegates have not spent £1000s to hear you bang on about your cold or sore throat. They will be able to hear that you’re not well and will hold you in higher regard if you soldier on and get to the end with no fuss and bother.

If it’s the first time you’ve done the presentation don’t tell them that either. Let them hear it from someone else. They don’t need to feel they’re being practised on!

Be Relevant – Tailor Your Material

Make sure your speech means something to the audience. There’s nothing worse than hearing a speaker jabber on with little or no knowledge or understanding of who he’s talking to or where he is. Make it relevant. Call up the organiser and get filled in on the “local colour!” What are the issues the delegates want addressed? Are there any local considerations? What would they like to hear?

Projection – SPEAK UP!

If you mumble – forget it! You might as well be at the back of the room. If your delivery is loud, confident and enunciated you’ll differentiate yourself from everyone else. Don’t shout and be obnoxious obviously, but be clear and audible so the listeners don’t have to strain to hear you.

Your Deck – Making Power Points

The PowerPoint deck you use should be light on text and large on imagery. Your adoring public have come to see and hear you speak. They do NOT want to read paragraph after paragraph of text off a screen. If they have to read loads of words they’re not listening to you. They’ll get irritated and give up adoring you pretty sharpish. Your audience don’t want to work too hard either. If they like you, they’ll come up after and hand you their  image business card or sign up to your blog or newsletter. Promise to post a more detailed presentation somewhere or record and distribute a 10 minute podcast of the points you were trying to make.

The “So What?” Factor

Make sure people don’t walk away from your presentation saying “so what?”

You want them to have some “take away” points to think about on the way home. What have you told them that they didn’t already know? What have you told them that they now want to tell other people? What have they learned from you that they can begin to implement in their own lives or businesses?

The End

Make sure your talk builds to a crescendo or a natural ending. Too many presentations end abruptly, very often surprising the presenter themselves! You want those listening to remember your talk like a story with an intriguing beginning, a meaty middle and an actionable end.

Don’t take the wind out of their mental sails by shutting down shop just when it was getting interesting. Warn them you’re starting to wrap up. If their attention has started to drift, you’ll reign them back in to listen to your most important, final points.

Lastly – Enjoy It!

You’ve been asked to speak because someone thinks you’re good at something and have something interesting to say – that’s to be celebrated.

If you look like you’re enjoying yourself then the chances are the audience will enjoy your presentation with you! :-)


  • Joost de Valk

    Good stuff Mel. Think I agree with just about everything you said there, though I do think it comes sort of natural to me.

    Reply Posted 7 years ago
  • Sante

    Nice pointers Mel ! – by the way you remember me ? we met in Iceland in 2006 :)

    Reply Posted 7 years ago
  • Al Carlton

    Great post Mel, would be even more helpful if you could predate it by 7 days or so :)

    Reply Posted 7 years ago
  • MelC

    Joost – It can come naturally to some but this is really aimed at those people who have to do it and may not have been born to it. If you struggle you should try and at least differentiate yourself from the rest.

    Sante – I do remember mate – I wonder how much it is a pint over there these days!

    Al – I’ve been meaning to do this for ages – you were my catalyst!

    Reply Posted 7 years ago
  • Peter Young

    Potentially got my public speaking debut coming up soon, so this post couldnt have been better timed.

    I will agree with the natural comment of Joosts, unfortunately like you said some it comes to better than others – will tell you which one i am soon :)

    Reply Posted 7 years ago
  • MelC

    Goog luck Peter – let us know how you get on!

    Reply Posted 7 years ago
  • Hjortur Smarason

    Excellent points, Mel. One of the things I’ve noticed while speaking is that being passionate about the subject always rubs off on the audience. I really enjoy speaking to a crowd and enlightening them about the subjects I spend all my time on developing, thinking, reading and writing about, and to get their feedback.

    I like to think of my presentation a bit like comics. The slides provide an interesting visual background while I tell stories, stories that include an “Aha! So that’s how it works” moment. I run two day courses on Internet Marketing so this tactic is vital to keep the attention for two days of straight talking.

    Reply Posted 7 years ago
  • Richard Gregory

    Great stuff Mel.

    I’d also add something on audience participation – and I’m not thinking of the Rocky Horror Show.

    I always prefer speakers that throw questions out to the audience and the good old “show of hands” is one of the safest techniques.


    Reply Posted 7 years ago
  • MelC

    @Hjortur – Passion is great – it’s infectious!

    @SmartRich – yep a straw poll is always good for benchmarking understanding especially. I did a presentation on something once which only afterwards I found out noone had even heard of!

    Reply Posted 7 years ago
  • Brian Carter

    One of the best insight I ever got about conference speaking… it would help EVERY SEO/SEM conference speaker- is that the biggest danger of the expert or informative speaker is being BORING.

    I can’t say that’s why I did stand-up comedy, but it sure did help. If they’re bored, they’re not learning.

    It’s tempting to fill your whole presentation to the brim 100% with solid, technical info, tips, and tricks, and you might be concerned about seeming to have too “fluff-filled” of a presentation, but if you can’t keep them awake and stimulated, you can’t get ANY of your points across. The real problem is finding that right balance of entertainment and information.

    Like Mel says, you want them to come away with something- it shouldn’t be just a feeling of overwhelm, or of “that guy/gal was funny” but of “wow he/she was good” because they enjoyed it and learned something they can use.

    Also as Mel says, there’s a big difference between info and actionable info- make sure you’re delivering them something they can use right away.

    Reply Posted 7 years ago
  • Dante Monteverde

    Great post,

    I have attended dozens of conferences and seen hundreds of people give presentations. I often find that the most knowledgeable person speaking at a conference doesn’t always deliver the best presentation. You really have to get your audience into it.

    Great pointers, very indicative of what it takes to make a good presentation.

    Reply Posted 7 years ago
  • Lindsay

    Great post Mel (and well timed I might add), will definitely use these guidelines for my next presentation.

    Reply Posted 7 years ago
  • Todd Mintz

    Nothing about imagining the audience in their underwear? :.) Still, excellent tips and advice.

    Reply Posted 7 years ago
  • MelC

    Brian – Boring is no good but why are people boring? Some folks delivery might not be the best but they come across as interesting because they assess the audience right and are articulate enough to force me to listen – for many it’s a balance.

    Dante – Just out of interest does the knowledgeable person run out of the room before you can follow up. I agree there are dull presenters who have so much to offer you want to tap them up for more info after they’ve finished.

    Lindsay – Thanks! Knock ‘em dead!

    Todd – Just don’t imagine them imagining you in your underwear!

    Reply Posted 7 years ago
  • Jonathan Beeston

    Good advice Mel. Let me add one more tip, and that’s mental preparation. This might sound like psychobabble, but I’ve found it really works.

    Before I speak at any event, I mentally rehearse what I want to happen during my talk, e.g. people engaging with me, laughing at the jokes, nodding in appreciation, applauding at the end etc. Always focusing on the positive outcomes and emotions I will experience, rather than a word-by-word rehearsal. I’ll go through this 3-4 times, preferably 5-6.

    When it comes to the actual event, I can be extremely positive and confident because mentally I’ve been through it before and I’m in the right state of mind.

    Most sports psychologists will recommend something similar for professional athletes – always focusing on success.

    Give it a go, it really helps!

    Reply Posted 7 years ago
  • Lee Potts


    All great points to remember, especially the ones about being prepared for things going wrong and getting there early. It’s very hard to give a great presentation if you get to the lectern 10 minutes late, flustered and out of breath after struggling with a projector that won’t project or a laptop that doesn’t have the right version of PowerPoint.

    If you don’t mind, I’d like to point out a blog I recently started that specifically deals with the things that can go wrong while presenting and what can be done to prevent them. It’s called Breaking Murphy’s Law ( I try to focus on using real stories from folks who actually experienced Murphy’s Law while presenting or while providing support for someone else’s presentation.


    Reply Posted 7 years ago
  • David Temple

    Excellent points Mel. Nothing I hate worse is a presentation filled with text and I see it all too often. Haven’t presenters seen this tip? Boring, a picture is worth a thousand words and examples in pictures are easier to remember.

    Reply Posted 7 years ago
  • MelC

    Hello Everyone

    Thanks very much for all the comments. What a nice birthday present!

    Glad this post hit the right spot and I hope it’ll help somebody somewhere deliver a cracking presentation.

    Hopefully one day this’ll rank when ever anyone searches for “public speaking tips!”



    Reply Posted 7 years ago
  • Mary Bowling

    Great tips, Mel! One thing I’d like to add is it’s NOT all about trying to impress your listeners with how smart you are. It’s about making the effort to explain things so that your audience understands them and can put them to good use.

    Reply Posted 7 years ago
  • Mel Carson Happy Birthday

    […] Mel is well known on the speaking circuit these days and a good front man to Microsoft. Check out his public speaking tips. […]

    Posted 7 years ago
  • Peter Bowler

    You can’t over-emphasise the importance of practice. Only by practising and rehearsing your presentation can you be totally familiar with its structure, content and timing. Keep it up!
    Presentation Skills

    Reply Posted 7 years ago
  • Amanda Davie

    One more thing I’d add, Mel. Unless you’re under duress, cut out the sales pitch / creds. The most compelling and memorable speakers are those whose passion, experience, ideas, thought leadership and advice stand on their own two feet.


    Reply Posted 7 years ago
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  • Surya_shridhar

    Its Help me to understand more about public speaking..Thank you

    Reply Posted 5 years ago
  • Steven

    Thanks for the tips Mel. Any suggestions for workshop scenarios where you’re opening up the conversation to the wider team?

    Definately agree with the ‘hook’ – before I listen to someone, I want to know who I’m listening to and why I should care. I want to know practical information, anyone can come up with theory.

    Also – it’s ok to WOW people with some cool facts about your site, but at the end of the day if it feels too much like a sales pitch, people are likely to get turned off.

    Keep up the good work!

    Reply Posted 5 years ago
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  • p.rocco

    Mel, would you agree there is a difference between public ‘speaking’ and public ‘presenting’?

    Your tips are great for the latter.

    Would love to see some more discussion around how to be a better public communicator, i.e., no slides or conference agenda – that’s where leaders are made.

    Reply Posted 3 years ago
  • Mel Carson

    Phil – you’re right this post was more from the POV of a lot of the conferences I speak at where people want actionable take aways. I’ll have a think about the question you ask and will write something soon. Thanks for the idea.

    Reply Posted 3 years ago

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