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public speaking training, andrew mcfarlan sits at a table

Public speaking training: five things you need to know

My childhood was essentially a crash course in public speaking training.

My dad, who founded our business, coached me through great communication (until I was old enough to break all the rules myself).

Clearly, that’s an unusual start.

Most of us only ever receive public speaking training in our adult lives, if at all.

So here are five things I learned young that everyone should know before entering the workplace.

1. Get to the point

public speaking training, get to the point

Ideally in the first sentence.

We’ve all seen the upside-down presentation, starting with context and background.

Methodology. A timeline. A reminder of the history of the process.

Why do we start there?

Likely because we’ve been told presentations have a beginning, a middle and an end.

Instead, your presentation should have a top line, supporting evidence and a call to action.

That top line, the first thing you say, should summarise why the audience should care about what you’re saying:

“Today I’ll be recommending why we should introduce a hybrid working policy…”

“This afternoon I’ll be updating you on the latest with our IT transformation…”

“I’d like to show you how I believe we can attract the best talent in the country…”

Cue immediate engagement.

2. Ditch the slides

ditch the slides, public speaking training, rachael fulton

My first formal presentation was in Chicago in 2008.

I had designed over 60 slides to summarise the fruits of my labour.

I’d spent the last eight weeks interviewing Scottish-Americans on their interest in joining a new Scottish-American society.

Simple stuff.

So why did I use so many slides?

Several reasons:

  • I was unsure how else to lay out my information
  • I thought that’s what was expected of me
  • My preparation began far too late, so I was using them as a crutch

After an hour, my boss leaned over to me and asked:

“Andrew, how many more slides are there?”

It was like a dagger through the heart.

And I knew in that moment it was entirely my fault.

Slides have a place.

But that place should be limited to images, videos, graphs, trends.

Headings, even.

But avoid the text overkill.

By all means, send the fine-print afterwards.

Back yourself to be more interesting than PowerPoint.

Create internal notes to yourself to guide you rather than displaying them on a screen to the audience.

And make sure the slides are the final part of your preparation, rather than the first.

That way you’ll be able to craft the message around the audience, rather than around the graphics you used last week.

3. Stop attempting to sound intelligent

public speaking training, rocket leaves earth

When SpaceX’s Starship rocket failed to launch properly in April, Elon Musk described the event in the following way:

“A rapid unscheduled disassembly.”

That’s an explosion, Mr. Musk.

I’m told the description was designed to poke fun at NASA, who often describe failures to launch in a jargon-heavy way.

The thing is: we know jargon when we see it.

And often we know why the person is using it.

They’re attempting to disguise the truth, or hide their lack of knowledge.

Or sometimes they’re simply attempting to sound clever.

Trust me, your capacity for listening to that kind of language diminishes as you get older and wiser.

Instead, tell it how it is, in words we can all understand.

4. Offer commitment

public speaking training, use commitment

My six-year-old daughter is starting to use the word ‘like’ a lot.

My four-year-old son is now copying her.

Without wanting to dent their confidence, I asked them what they thought the word meant.

To their credit, they told me it didn’t mean anything, so the only explanation is it’s a bad habit they’ve got into.

Like, actually, maybe, kind of, sort of; they can all go.

They’re fillers that add zero and in many cases, take something away.

They replace certainty with doubt.

And then there are the really weak words.

Hopefully. Try. Relatively. Should. Might. Fingers crossed. Touch wood.

Employers will see right through them to the doubt that lies behind.

Of course, there are many things in life we’re unable to commit fully to, as they lie outside of our control.

But we can control our attitude.

So instead of finishing with “hopefully that makes sense” use:

“I trust that made sense.”

Instead of starting with “this should be relatively useful”, use:

“My goal is that you can put this into practice straight away.”

Far stronger.

5. Answer the question honestly

answer the question, rachael fulton interviews in public speaking training session

I feel for the generation that’s grown up with politicians opting out of media scrutiny.

Theresa May deciding not to take part in televised leadership debates in the 2017 General Election.

Boris hiding in a freezer to dodge questions before the 2019 General Election.

Leaders of all parties and governments using parliament to ignore the questions and reiterate their manifesto.

What does that tell us about answering questions in public? That it should be avoided?

I believe the way you answer questions says a lot about your personality.

Embrace them. Listen fully to them. Answer them and move on.

Of course, you can control the conversation from there by preparing a list of things you want to say.

But for goodness’ sake, say yes or no first.

Public speaking training

public speaking training, pink elephant studios in glasgow

They say you only ever learn to drive once you’ve passed your test.

It’s the same with public speaking training.

You can only pick it up and find your groove by doing it.

Use these principles as a starting point.

Keep yourself in check by revisiting them.

Book a refresher session with us to sharpen the practical element.

Especially if anyone ever asks you how many slides are left.


Andrew McFarlan is Managing Director of Pink Elephant Communications.

Read more about him here.

Public speaking training blog written by Andrew McFarlan.
Public speaking training provider blog edited by Colin Stone.
Photos in Public speaking training blog by Pink Elephant and by Pixabay from Pexels.

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