Primer on Public Speaking


By Chris Sheehy | Sidewalk Branding Company 

rhode island marketing consulting

While not exactly online marketing related, making presentations to groups of people is certainly marketing – so if you find yourself in a setting where you need to speak in public – I hope this is helpful.


I frequently speak to groups of people, and over the years have gotten quite comfortable with it, but that wasn’t always the case – to be honest, it used to freak me out.  But, having had a lot of experience and having received some great advice from others over the years, I have crafted speaking/presenting into a deliberate routine which has enabled me to be so comfortable with public/group speaking and presenting – that I yearn for the next opportunity.
Whether I’m speaking to two or two-hundred; the technique is relatively the same(content aside), I make adjustments based on the environment and audience size – other than that, it’s a choreographed event that doesn’t look at all like its deliberate or planned – and that’s precisely the plan. . . .

Here are some of my personal best best-practices for presenting or talking to a group; I hope you find these helpful for your public speaking engagements…

  • If you find yourself speaking in front of a group of people; it’s because they want to hear what you have to say – just be truthful and say what you know.
  • Start your speech/presentation by asking the people in the back of the room if they can hear you clearly if they can – chances are good the folks in the front can hear you loud and clear too.
  • Let the audience know early what knowledge they will gain from your speech/presentation.
  • Set the expectation that you will periodically ask the room for questions at the end of a topic or at periodic intervals.  This is particularly useful for me as I tend to get distracted when people interrupt my mojo with a comment or a question, but I am completely on-game if it’s done during a scheduled Q/A time.  I think the audience also prefers this to random questions as these Q/A breaks become much more interactive and group participatory.
  • If you’re going to be performing for a while, let your audience know at the start of your performance (and it is a performance) of any scheduled break times.  Take it from me; this is especially appreciated if you’re serving coffee or other liquid refreshments.
  • Provide notepads and pens for everyone (A great branding opportunity) to jot notes during your presentation.
  • I usually get ready for my presentation by writing some key topic notes just before I speak as a way to get myself ready; I find it puts me at ease and on-game.
  • Say your name  s l o w l y  and spell your last name if it’s not common.
  • Pace yourself, not too fast, not too slow.  A good way to rehearse your speech and its timing is to practice in front of a mirror.  I always do a timed mirror run-through before I complete my speech or presentation draft.  I often find myself doing this in a hotel room and will ask for an end room when I book so as not to disturb other guests (I learned this lesson the hard way).
  • Props are great if they are relevant and are not distracting.  That said, I typically stay away from the pass-around props, but if I do have a single example I will make it available at the next break for the audience inspection.
  • If a person in the audience is speaking when they shouldn’t be – simply walk to them and stand behind them for the first offense – that usually works within a couple of seconds.  If they continue to be a chatterbox, simply ask them if they have something to contribute or have a question.  That’s sure to silence them.
  • It’s OK to walk around the room, just not too much.  Some movement will keep your audience alert and focused on you.  It’s important however not to pace – but to walk with purpose, this is an especially a good visual when discussing movement or the passage of time.
  • Hands out of your pockets, and do not keep them clasped in front of or behind you.
  • Speaking of hands, hand gestures are OK if it’s not distracting, but playing with your hands gets an instant penalty point.
  • Make eye contact with people throughout the room and keep eye contact for a second or so with some identifiable key players, it makes the presentation more personal and your connection to these persons add credibility if they are well respected.
  • When a question or comment is made from the audience, acknowledge the questioners name (you may have to ask them for it) then repeat the question to the room before answering.  This assures everyone can hear the question and also ties that willing participant (and likely everyone at their table too) deeper into your presentation.
  • It’s OK not to know all the answers.  For those times when you don’t know the answer tell the room, you will be accepting email addresses after your presentation and will get back to those people as soon as possible with the answer.
  • The big picture view – don’t sweat the small stuff.  I usually feel totally satisfied with my performance as a speaker while at the same time can always find elements of my planned presentation/speech which were not heard because I got off-track or forgot to say them.  No biggie – only you will know!  Don’t sweat it…
  • When wrapping up, don’t forget to announce your website and any social media channels your audience can follow you through (remember the notepads and pens – it should be there too)
  • Relax, be humble, speak from the heart, say what you know & have fun!

About Chris Sheehy

Chris has been helping businesses increase online leads since 1997. Experienced, published, University SEO course instructor, speaker & presenter. Experience pays dividends - more info at
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