How to not suck at public speaking

Photo by Tim Ash –
I was so afraid of speaking publicly that I hid until I had to come out.
Even a meeting with just 5 people gave me the shivers– I’d freeze up and later kick myself on all the clever things that I should have said then.
Fast forward a few years and what used to be anxiety turns to excitement– even in crowds of a couple thousand. I can’t wait to share the latest tips on how to grow your business on Facebook. I want to help and I have only 50 minutes to cram in as much as I can.


Are you scared of driving your car to work?
You probably do it mindlessly, though it’s a complex series of coordinated tasks. But you’ve practiced it. There’s no fear.
When you know your topic forwards and backwards, you can spend your time enjoying the audience as opposed to worrying about making key points or hitting slide transitions.
I’ve spoken at least 500 times on Facebook marketing over the last 6 years via webinars, conferences, and live TV interviews. Double that if you include all forms of PPC going back to the year 2000.
It doesn’t mean that I know everything. But I have devoured everything I can get my hands on and talked to everyone else who is in our niche.
Confidence doesn’t come from speaking tricks such as pretending everyone is in their underwear, giving yourself a pep-talk, or telling a funny joke to break the ice. Gimmicks. Talk about something you truly are passionate about– so nuts about the issue that you want to tell everyone about it.
A friend of mine is passionate about blood hemoglobin types and their ability to carry oxygen. He has a doctorate and presents at medical conferences. Yeah, believe it.


Photo by Tim Ash – Sitetuners.comIn the course of building up your knowledge, you begin to know and be known by everyone in your niche. I like to call out other speakers in my presentation as I notice them– citing their work and expertise.  Sometimes I call them on stage to present with me! This builds your authority, creates interactivity, and makes a receptive crowd.

If this is your first public speaking gig, going off the cuff or doing an hour talk with no slide support might be a reach.  But see if you can talk in 60-second segments.  Got 20 minutes? Budget for 20 slides and 20 tidbits.
Make sure you review who else is speaking. Don’t just read the conference guide, but go deeper. Because you’re a speaker, too, you can connect with them on LinkedIn, ask them for a tidbit to include in your deck (citing them, of course), and hang out in the speakers’ room during the show. You’ll be more comfortable and knowledgeable– and likely be invited to speak at other conferences, if that’s what you like.
The conference scene in your niche is super small. Even folks with horrible presentation skills and outdated knowledge are on the circuit merely because of their friendships.  Most shows do provide speakers with audience feedback– so long as you’re not bottom third, you’re probably okay.


But if you don’t know anyone and need to get your start, make sure you:
  • Know the conference productivity hacks as an attendee first.
  • Know how to prepare during the show.
  • Get with the organizers to be super helpful. You can get anyone’s time with these tricks.
  • Start guest blogging so that these people see your knowledge. Like this.
Takes less time than you think to do this once you get a groove going. This post, for example, took me 12 minutes to write and I referenced other articles I wrote to give them a boost. You can reuse your tidbits for your presentations– recycling is in!
And this reinforces your knowledge, which makes you a better presenter.


  • Don’t read the slides. Tell stories with your slide imagery backing them up.
  • Never pitch your product or service, even if you’re a vendor that has the hottest thing on the market. If you need to generate leads, invite a customer to talk about how they solved a problem– lightly mentioning your tool but focusing more on the issues your client faced.
  • Don’t be the AH MONSTER. Tape yourself and see how many “umms” and “ahhs” you have. You might be surprised. If you’re under 30, watch for “like” and “you know”. Once you see this, you’ll never be able to un-see it among your friends.  Go to ToastMasters, pause between sentences– do anything except eject verbal diarrhea upon your audience.
  • Bring at least 30 business cards. The instant you’re done speaking, if you’ve done a decent job, expect a queue up front.

Photo by Tim Ash –

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