Becoming a better public speaker

By: Jim McShea, Account Executive, Leonard & Finco Public Relations

To most people who know me, I’m a good communicator. I can be well spoken, witty, sometimes even erudite. However, if you put me in front of a room full of people to recite a speech or presentation, communicating becomes difficult. I get the jitters, my mouth gets dry, and I start to stutter.
Until recently this wasn’t a problem. In my previous line of work, behind the scenes of a local TV news station, I rarely had to speak in front of a large number of people. Now that I’ve moved into public relations, public speaking is a part of the job, whether it’s a staff meeting, conducting an on-camera interview, or making a public presentation at city hall.
So, what can I do to get better? I’ve done some research in an effort to make sure that I can deliver when I’m called on to make a presentation or deliver a speech. Here are a number of the tips that have helped the most:


  • Preparation is important: be sure to review your notes several times and practice beforehand. Videotaping yourself while practicing is a good idea because you can watch your body language and identify any bad habits and work to correct them. Also, have someone else watch your presentation and offer input.
  • Know your audience: take time to research who you are speaking to and tailor your speech to reach them. Analogies and examples that work for one audience may not work for another. A bad analogy could lead to difficulty getting through to an audience, or even turn them against you.
  • Start Strong: Be sure to grab your audience’s attention. Use a startling fact, a humorous anecdote, or a shocking statistic to get their attention. Also, avoid “Burying the lede” a turn of phrase from my TV days. It means you took too long to get to the focus of your presentation.
  • Speak Slowly: Many people, including myself, tend to speak faster as they get more excited, potentially leading to mumbling. Instead, slow down. Make sure you annunciate every word. It can help your clarity, and prevent mistakes.


There are plenty of other tips and tricks you can use, like maintaining eye contact, dressing properly, and using humor wisely. Ultimately you need to adopt a public speaking style that works for you, and helps you connect with an audience.
Finally, keep in mind that the best way to improve your public speaking skills is to gain experience. The more speeches and presentations you give, the better you get. Eventually, giving a speech or making a presentation will become second nature.