Tips on Public Speaking

Research has shown that an audience perceives the speaker in three different ways which combine together to form their impression of him or her. The largest impact is made visually – about 55% of the overall perception comes through how you are seen as a speaker. 38% is from how you sound l and only 7% from the words you use. As we have already made clear, any presentation must be logical and well prepared but it is also important that you create the appropriate impression in the eyes of your audience.

Many speakers have mannerisms and make gestures, of which they are rarely aware.  If we can find out about them, we can do something about correcting them so as to present a good, confident and unself-conscious image. So it is very useful to receive feedback from trainers or peers, and videotaping presentations allows you to analyse for yourself the image that you present to your audience. If you notice any mannerisms that you would prefer to avoid, you will be surprised how easy it is to conquer them when you work at it.

Remember that the audience cannot see your palpitating heart nor can they hear the noise of your knees knocking. If you appear confident and composed the audience will assume that this is exactly how you feel.

Let’s look at some of the messages, which our non-verbal behaviour can give to an audience.


Stand tall – you will look and feel much more confident. Raise yourself to your full height – no matter what that height is. It will also help your breathing and allow you to project your voice more effectively.



Stand firmly with your feet slightly apart and with one foot a few inches behind the other. Switch the weight from foot to foot when necessary, but avoid constant shuffling, which can be distracting. Moving backwards and forwards, or walking to and fro like a caged animal, will convey the message that you are nervous and lacking in confidence – you may be, but don’t let the audience know it!


This does not mean that you must stand nailed to one spot throughout the presentation, but it does mean that when you do move, it should be a definite, controlled movement that looks to have been made for a purpose.


The problem of what to do with your hands is one that is faced by almost all speakers. The truth is that nothing you do with them will seem entirely natural as you are in an unnatural situation – standing up in front of a group of people who are looking at everything you do. Aim therefore to find a solution that is comfortable for you, yet does not distract the audience or convey unfavourable non-verbal messages.

It is almost an absolute not to put both hands in your pockets – however pragmatic that might seem! It is perceived as over-casual, unfocused or arrogant. In African countries it is a considerable affront to the audience’s dignity! Even one hand in the pocket might not be received positively except in very informal situations.

Practise clasping your hands lightly together in front of your waist, where it is easy to use them to make the sort of gestures that will bring added life and interest to your presentation.

If you find it more comfortable you may prefer to let your hands rest at your sides or to clasp them behind your back.

Whatever you do remember not to:

  • scratch yourself
  • fiddle with jewellery, pens, pointers or anything else which may come to hand – in fact whatever you pick up to use, put it down again as soon as you have done with it, or it will become an extra appendage that will threaten or otherwise distract the audience
  • fold your arms – this restricts breathing as well as producing a psychological barrier
  • wring your hands in despair
  • jingle coins in your pockets



The reason that eye contact is so important is that it is essential for a speaker to establish a rapport with the audience. You will not be able to do this unless you look at them. But share the eye contact equally with all the audience. Concentrating your gaze on one person will make the recipient uncomfortable or disaffect the remainder who feel excluded – or both!

Even when using PowerPoint or overhead projectors you should give as much eye contact as possible rather than looking just at the screen.

If you find it difficult to look into the eyes of your audience, break yourself in gently – start by looking at their noses or at their foreheads – they will think that you are maintaining eye contact. Once you have overcome the initial awkwardness of looking into their eyes, work to improve the quality of your eye contact. Practise looking at everybody in turn for two to three seconds and you will soon find that eye contact comes naturally to you, just as it does when you are talking informally to a small group of your friends.

Now that you are able to maintain eye contact you must consider what message your facial expression is conveying to them. It is through our eyes and facial expression that we can convey (or betray) our mood, whether it is one of enthusiasm, excitement or boredom. Learn to match your facial expression to the message you wish to convey and work at speaking not only with your mouth but also with all of your facial muscles. Above all, smile! Most people have a pleasant gentle smile around their lips in normal conversation, but in so many cases this disappears and is replaced by an iron mask when making a presentation. Don’t be fooled into thinking that because you smile you will be thought to be less serious about your subject. What you will be doing is looking more natural, more approachable and warmer than if you appear grim faced. It may seem a small point, but it is a vitally important ingredient of the message that your body language conveys.

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