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Public speaking training: seven steps to success

When we’re public speaking, nerves can do funny things to us.

We’ve been running public speaking training since 1989.

Here are seven steps to success we’ve found work in any country, industry or situation.

So you can reduce the nerves and speak confidently.

1. Open body language

Public speaking training, andrew mcfarlan speaks to room

It’s a public speaking gig. You’re nervous, we get it.

And when you’re nervous, your body wants to close down.

It wants to become smaller.

It’s why you’d be inclined to hide behind the podiums or hunch your back.

Your hands can easily make their way into your pockets, or behind you.

And if they are out in front of you, the nervous energy can make them start to move uncontrollably.

To avoid all of these things happening, we recommend Speaker’s Stance.

Imagine you’re sunk in concrete from the waist down, with your feet stuck to the floor, unable to move.

Now clasp your hands together and place them out in front of you, near your belly button.

And finally, pink your shoulders back so your spine is parallel to the walls in the room.

That’s what we call Speaker’s Stance.

Open your hands up when they make a point and bring them back to that clasped position, out in front of you, when your point’s finished.

2. A confident voice

Public speaking training, maxine montgomery interviews

What does your voice sound like when public speaking?

If it’s anything like mine when I started out, it’ll be quiet, fast and monotonous.

We all have a voice inside our heads, speaking to us through our speeches.

Often is says things like “don’t show off” or “just get this over and done with”.

Those who have had plenty of practice will have learned to turn that critical voice into a coach.

It should start to tell you:

“Slow down. Speak up. Vary your tone.”

Pace is the most difficult to get right.

Specifically, aim for three words per second. You can measure that by timing yourself reading out a passage.

Next, vary your tone.

People will only be enthusiastic about your subject if you are first.

And that critical voice has a habit of telling us we’re going over the top.


I’ve yet to see ‘over the top’ in 14 years of coaching.

Aim for absolutely ridiculous enthusiasm.

And you’ll get closer to where you need to be to get people to do what you’re asking them to do.

3. Get to the point

Stuart Fenwick presents to the room, pink elephant communications

Often we forget to tell an audience how they’ll benefit from our speech.

Why should they listen?

After all, audiences are very good at pretending they’re listening, but internally switching off.

To get them to actually listen, you have ten seconds at that start of the presentation to really grab them.

How will their life improve by listening to you?

Here are some core examples:

“Today I’m going to show you how you can make your workplace safer.”

“I’m here today to save you time.”

“By the end of this presentation, my goal is that you’re better equipped to deal with ABC…”

Your audience cares more about themselves than about you.

By all means, introduce yourself and tell us why you’re the expert.

But do that after you’ve passed the 10-second ‘what’s in it for me’ test.

4. Simple language

Public speaking training, maxine montgomery on a pink elephant course

Any idea what a WS2+1 is?

How about a thermal envelope?

The WHOA lobby?

Or intelligent infrastructure?

You may understand the words, but what do they actually mean in practice?

We all dislike jargon.

That’s because it excludes us from the conversation.

We end up feeling like that time in school when everyone else understood the topic expect us.

As a speaker, your job is to bring everyone along with you.

And you can only do that by ensuring they understand it first.

In short, you need to be the expert communicator.

I like to imagine that in every audience, there’s a 9-year-old child listening along.

And they need to understand everything.

That means using examples, analogies, case studies, pictures, imagery.

“Ever driven from Perth to Inverness?

“We call that road the A9, but internally parts of that road are referred to as a WS2+1 – a wide single carriageway with two lanes on one side and one lane on the other.”

If your audience can see it, they’ll understand it.

5. Confident language

Public speaking training, a pink elephant on a table

Nerves have a way of making us weaken our language.

We spend weeks putting a presentation together with heavily researched data and informed decisions.

We make it light and relevant and succinct.

And then we stand up and say:

“Hopefully you’ll enjoy this and I’ll try to keep it interesting.”

Normally that sentence is unplanned, but it comes out under pressure.

We then give our presentations, full of facts and insights, well delivered, but finish with “I hope that made some sense!”

We fear coming across as arrogant and that voice in our head tells us to weaken the statement.

To turn that around, here are some better phrases to use:

“I firmly believe…”

“I trust…”

“My experience tells me…”

“The evidence clearly shows…”

Authoritative, confident language clearly demonstrates your ability.

And if you’ve told the audience the presentation is about them rather than you, you can clearly express your views in the knowledge they’ll land.#

6. Positive language

storytelling training course, nick sheridan points to the screen

Ever been in a meeting and someone has told you:

“Before we start, this is not about me giving you into trouble…”

Guess what’s about to happen.

How we frame our sentences has a huge impact on how our words are received.

Instead, we should be told what the meeting is about.

We call these Pink Elephants, for the simple reason that if I told you not to think of a Pink Elephant, that’s exactly what you’d think about.

So instead of telling your audience:

“This won’t go on for ever and ever.”

“It’s not going to take all day.”

“It won’t be comprehensive.”.

Tell them:

“This will be brief.”

7. Answering questions

Public speaking training, rachael fulton interviews

It’s the part about public speaking that everyone forgets.

Afterwards, you often need to stand up and answer questions from the audience.

Most people dislike that part because it feels like they’re out of control.

And everything we’ve talked about so far can be compromised.

  • Body language: taking a step backwards (and showing the audience we’re fearful).
  • Voice: speaking quickly to cover the fact we don’t know the answer (when really our body should be helping us slow down and think logically).
  • Getting to the point: forgetting the question (and showing the audience we’re muddled in our thinking).
  • Simple language: retreating into jargon to prove we know our stuff (and alienating the audience).
  • Confident language: weakening our opinions when challenged (and reducing our authority).
  • Positive language: telling everyone that what we’re being accused of is not true, not accurate, not fair.

If any or all of that sounds familiar, you need to plan your A and B Lists.

An ‘A’ List is a list of all the things you want to say before the meeting is over (examples, anecdotes, stats, reminder of your big points from your presentation).

And your ‘B’ List is all the issues you’ll address but only if asked (skeletons in the closet, that issue in the news that has been giving you nightmares).

Only by planning both can you stay fully in control of the situation.

And here’s a short video on answering questions directly how to make sure you do.

And if you get that right, it’s at least as big an opportunity to change people’s minds as your presentation was.

Public speaking training: your next step

So there you go: seven steps to success for public speaking.

If you’d like to practise these in person with me or the team, make sure you email us.

Or if you’d rather buy our e-learning course with just a couple clicks, here’s our Presentation Skills Masterclass.

It’s time to invest in you.


Andrew McFarlan runs Pink Elephant Communications in Glasgow, Scotland.

Read more about him here.


Photos in public speaking training blog by Pink Elephant Communications.
Public speaking training blog written by Andrew McFarlan.
Public speaking training blog edited by Colin Stone.

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