Learn The Clear Path to Confident Public Speaking

Successful public speaking series: Dress the part, don’t be afraid to smile, and think of the audience as your friend

3 Components to successful public speaking

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This post is the third in a three-part series on Successful Public Speaking. The impression you make as a speaker is based on what you say and how you say it.

When clients come to me, they often know their speaking skills need improvement, but they’re not sure where to begin. I help them become aware of the many interrelated components that make up effective communication, and they’re able to improve their public speaking skills.

I say, if your audience can
(1) hear you,
(2) understand you, and
(3) become engaged by you,
you are on your way to being a successful speaker.

In this newsletter, we’ll discuss 3 strategies to engage your audience with your confidence and enthusiasm:

  1. Let your confidence shine: Good posture and eye contact exude confidence and power
  2. Before you even open your mouth: It starts with appearance
  3. Talk to the audience as your friend: Use vocal variety to convey enthusiasm

Engage your audience: Dress the part, don’t be afraid to smile, and think of the audience as your friend

Have you ever received a compliment that you felt wasn’t genuine? Maybe a coworker said, “You got your haircut. It looks good,” in a monotone, without a smile — and you got the sense she didn’t really like it.

But when a friend says, “I like your haircut!” in an exuberant voice with a smile, you know the words are real and she means what she says. It makes you feel good, and you think you look great.

In most cases, you are more likely to trust how a message sounds than what is said. In other words, non-verbals carry more weight than your words. This is true during one-on-one conversations and presentations to an audience.

Be aware of your body language, vocal variety, and appearance and the effect they have on your listener. Practice the techniques below to convey the right message and build trust with your audience.


Let your confidence shine: Good posture and eye contact exude confidence and power

Posture: Nothing conveys confidence more than posture when it comes to non-verbal communication. The person who enters a room standing tall exudes confidence and commands attention. Let that person be you!

Eye contact: Your audience will be more receptive to what you say if you show your interest in them. Engage them with eye contact. Smile. Chances are they will smile back (maybe not right away, but sooner or later) as you convey likability and trustworthiness. You will command their attention and convey power and confidence as a result.

Body language: Have you ever watched a speaker fiddle and twitch? Did you become so absorbed by the motion that you stopped listening? Perhaps you perceived the speaker as less credible? Become aware of your body as you speak.

Body language and movement should be purposeful and should enhance your message. Shifting your weight from side to side, pacing, twirling your hair, or jingling coins in your pocket become a distraction. These actions convey nervousness and lack of confidence.

  • Stand tall, with shoulders back and chin high
  • Make eye contact and don’t be afraid to smile.
  • Maintain an open posture and avoid placing a barrier between you and the listener (such as arms crossed over your chest).
  • Minimize unnecessary movement.
  • Distribute your weight evenly and keep both feet on the ground.
  • Move around the room, if appropriate, but when you stop, regain your confident position with both feet on the ground.
  • Use hand gestures that support your message (for comparisons, numbers, or actions) to be more persuasive and influence your listener.


Before you even open your mouth: It starts with appearance

Before a meeting, an interview, or a networking event, pay attention to your appearance. Your audience, whether 1 person or 100, will see you before they hear you.

Grooming: Pride in one’s personal appearance is nearly always perceived positively. When you pay time and attention to your appearance, you’ll seem more likely to devote time and attention to your customers, your potential clients, and your career.

You never know when opportunity will knock, so resist the urge to roll out of bed and go.

Clothing: Dress should be appropriate for the event you are attending or the position you are applying or striving for. Overdressed is better than underdressed, but you should always be professional. You want the buzz to be about your competence and capability, not about what you were wearing!

  • Pay attention to the details: hair, nails, shaving/facial hair, and cleanliness.
  • Always dress professionally, but err on the side of overdressing for the occasion or the position you want.


Talk to the audience as your friend: Use vocal variety to convey enthusiasm

Vocal variety refers to the musical aspects of speech: pitch, intonation, stress, rate, duration, and loudness.

For most of us vocal variety comes easily and naturally in our daily lives. We use it when we talk to our friends about everything from our car breaking down, to a great sale, to a baby’s first step. We don’t worry about a scripted text; we focus on getting the point of the story across and making our listeners feel as if they shared the experience with us.

  • Think of the audience as your friend.
  • Tell a story and create a shared experience.

Pitch: the high, low and middle tones in speech
Most of what we say is in a neutral pitch, our natural pitch. We lower our pitch to convey anger, fear, or sadness: “I really dread Mondays.” We use a higher pitch to indicate happy, light, or cheerful: “It’s Friday!”

  • Try saying these both three times, using a different pitch each time. Notice how the meaning changes.

Intonation: the rise and fall of pitch when speaking
Falling intonation indicates you are done speaking and conveys certainty. A rising inflection indicates a question or communicates uncertainty.

  • Try saying “Yes” and “No” – once with a rising inflection, once with a falling inflection. Do you hear the difference in what is communicated?

Stress: draws attention to the most important word in a sentence
Indicate word stress by using a louder voice, higher pitch, longer duration of the main vowel.

  • Try saying this sentence several times: “I really want to eat pizza.” Each time, stress a different word.

Duration: the amount of time to say a word
A word can have a longer or shorter duration by the lengthening or shortening of the main vowel. Saying a word slowly, or quickly, can change the importance and meaning of a word.

  • Children have this mastered: “Pleeeeease! Can I? Can I? Pleeeeease!”

Rate: how quickly a word, phrase or sentence is spoken
A quick rate can be dismissive or indicate anger or excitement. A slower rate may imply compassion, concern, shyness or boredom.

  • Listen to how others use rate during your conversations and see if you can guess their emotions.

Loudness: the volume used when speaking
A lower volume can indicate shyness, sadness, or compassion, while a loud volume is perceived as more assertive, certain, or excited. Volume varies with the message, the situation, and the emotion.

  • Don’t be afraid to raise your volume to enhance your message: “You can do it!”

* * *

As always, practice these techniques and try them out during your next presentation or business meeting

When you pay attention to your non-verbals, appearance, and tone of voice, you set yourself up to appear confident and trustworthy to your audience.

Spend some time practicing these techniques before your next presentation. Decide if they worked for you, or if you need a little more practice. Then send me an email to let me know how it went!

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