How can you become a better public speaker?

How do you feel when you are asked to give a presentation or speech?

A bit shaky or scared perhaps.

Maybe the thought gives you sleepless nights or nightmares.

Do you find yourself sweating profusely?

The good news is you are not alone – many of us have fears about public speaking.

But at some point, you will need to present. And being able to do it well will help you achieve your goals.

How can you put these concerns behind you and become a better public speaker?

This was the subject of our latest masterclass for The Media Team Academy.

You can watch the session again here

Our managing director James White was joined by Susan Bookbinder, who has worked in radio and TV for the past 40 years, presented on stage and regularly delivers our presentation skills training courses.

And Dan Boniface, head of training at The BCF Group, was on hand to share his insight.

Let’s start with those nerves. Fear of public speaking is a common phobia. It even has a name – glossophobia.

And according to a You Gov poll earlier this year, it is the third most common phobia in the UK, coming just behind heights and spiders.

But presentation nerves are good.

“It is ok to be nervous,” Dan said. “It shows we care and want to do well.

“Nerves are the body’s response and give us heightened emotions that can make sure we are prepared for what we are doing. They help us focus.

“If we are not nervous, our mind might be elsewhere.

“I’ve just been training a client around public speaking and helping them reframe it. Instead of thinking, ‘there are lots of people watching me’, ‘I’ve got to get this right’, ‘there’s lots of pressure on me to slip up’, we shifted the focus to think about the positive impact you have on the audience.

“Another good thing to remember is the audience wants you to do well. They are on your side. They don’t want their time wasted.”

While you may feel inside that you don’t want to be there, it is crucial this does not come across to your audience.

Dan introduced Betari’s Box, a simple model that shows how attitude and behaviour are linked.

“This is about how my attitude affects my behaviour, which then impacts your attitude and your behaviour,” he said.

“So, if my attitude is that I’m nervous and don’t want to do a presentation, you will see that in my behaviours. And that will have a knock-on effect on the audience.

“If my attitude is positive and confident, that will come across in how I present myself, and hopefully that motivates and inspires others.”

He introduced another model - called SCARF - that can help us approach presentations and public speaking more positively.

It stands for Status, Certainty, Autonomy, Relatedness and Fairness.

Dan said: “In public speaking, you must remove the status. We’ve all got different job titles. But we are all just humans. Otherwise, you build things up in your mind.

“In terms of certainty, you have to be clear about what you want to do. What are the objectives? What is the message you want to get across?

“Autonomy is about being yourself. Let your character come through. People buy into you as a person. So, deliver your presentation in a way that is right for you. If you prefer presenting from a lectern, do that. Similarly, if you feel happy moving about the stage, that could be the better approach.

“With relatedness, it is about connecting with the audience. Talk to them on their level. Avoid using too much theory, jargon or terminology.

“And, finally, treat people and yourself fairly. Give yourself the preparation time. Give yourself the best opportunity to succeed.”

Preparation is crucial. Prepare properly, and you will remove some of the fears and anxieties. For example, if you are worried about audience questions you are unable to answer, good preparation will help you anticipate likely questions and plan how you would answer them.

Susan offered some additional practical tips. “If you are presenting at a conference, get to the venue at least an hour earlier. Work out with the event organisers where you are sitting.

“If there is a stage, consider whether you will move around it dynamically. Or will you stand still and put your energy into gesture? I stand still and use gesture.”


Content is king

That presentation preparation we just mentioned involves being clear about your audience and what you want to tell them.

What is the main point you want them to take away? How can you make what you say relevant, captivating and memorable?

Our AMEN (Audience, Message, Example and Negatives) model helps you get this right.


Who are you talking to? Who is in the audience that you want to influence? What will be relevant to them? What sort of language should you use?

Susan said: “I learnt an important lesson about the importance of this when I was booed off stage at a golf club. At the time, I was the first woman to read the classified football results on national radio. And I used to get a lot of gigs introducing old footballers. One day, one of the footballers didn’t turn up. I thought I could fill in. But this was a time when people would say things about women not being able to play football, and I hadn’t considered that. I started talking about interviewing Margaret Thatcher and Nelson Mandela coming out of prison. And I was booed because they wanted jokes about football. What I was saying wasn’t relevant to them.”



You need to think about the message you want to get across in your public speaking.

Susan said: “The key here is not to try to explain the whole subject in your message.”

Think about what you want the audience to remember about what you have said, what you want them to do as a result and how you want them to feel.



If you have a good message, you must have evidence or an example to illustrate it. “This will do the heavy lifting for you,” Susan said.

To illustrate this, she showed how Jamie Oliver began a TED Talk in America about childhood obesity.

He said: “Sadly, in the next 18 minutes when I do our chat, four Americans that are alive will be dead through the food that they eat."

Susan said: “He went straight in with a powerful statistic. It gets attention straight away.”



What could the audience bring up in their questions? “You can get ahead of this with a bit of horizon scanning,” Susan said.

“Think about what is happening at the moment that could be brought up.”


TRUTH is another acronym we regularly use during our presentation skills training, which will help you develop your presentation content.

“It is a great tool to put your presentation or speech through,” Susan said.

It stands for Topical, Relevant, Unusual, Trouble and Human

Topical – “Don’t tell me about something that happened 30 years’ ago,” Susan said. “The content needs to be topical.”

Relevant – What is in it for the audience? Why should they sit and listen to you? Make sure there is something relevant for them.

Unusual – Don’t tell the audience what they already know. Tell them something unique or unusual.

Trouble – “A good way to get audience buy-in is to address the elephant in the room – the trouble they may be in at the moment,” Susan said. “Address the trouble and offer solutions.”

Human – Put your presentation through a human lens. “Your presentation will not work if you are talking about systems and policies until you bring people into it,” Susan said. “Humans are interested in stories about humans.”



But it is not just about what you say. How you say it is also crucial.

“We impact people with our body language,” Dan said.

“We impact people 55 per cent through our body language, 38 per cent through our tone of voice and only 7 per cent through the words we choose.

“So, the words you choose are not massively important – how many words do you use in an hour-long presentation?

“People won’t remember most of them.

“We still need to think carefully about what we say. But people will remember how you made them feel.”

Susan believes tone of voice is crucial here.

“Tone is what gets you audience buy-in,” she said.

“You can hear a smile – it is crucial you look like you want to talk to your audience.

“Pace is also vital. If you race through your presentation, you will lose the crowd. Slow it down. Think Obama rather than Clinton.

“Eye contact is critical whether you are presenting in person or remotely. If you are on Zoom or Teams, look down the camera and not at the screen.

“If you have a physical audience, draw a W across the room and make eye contact with people in different sections.”



What about those pesky audience questions so many of us worry about with presentations?

Should you leave them to the end of your presentation? Is it best to answer them as you go through? Or have breaks every 15 minutes or so to answer questions.

Susan said: “I’m a fan of getting through the presentation and then inviting questions. The idea of taking them as you go through is nice, but it would take me off track.

“But with this approach, you need an exit strategy rather than saying ‘any more questions?’.

“Tell the audience you have five minutes for questions, spend that time answering then finish by repeating your message.

“That way, you are not finishing with a damp squib or a question you don’t want to answer.” 

Dan uses a ‘park it board’ for questions during his training sessions.

“As the questions come in, I park them on a whiteboard or flipchart. So, I’ve acknowledged it, but I don’t need to stress about answering it immediately.

“Nine times out of 10, it will be covered by your talk. So, they get the answer as you go through. Anything that isn’t answered, you can then address at the end. And you have given yourself time to think about how you will respond.”


How do you recover if you have frozen or gone blank in a presentation?

It is another great concern people have.

The more you worry about it, the more likely it will happen. So, try to keep these thoughts away.

But if it does happen in your presentation, help is at hand.

“Pause,” Susan said. “Be kind and give yourself the chance to check where you are going and pick it back up.

“It is much better than going ‘I’ve lost my place’.

“You are allowed thinking time in a presentation, and no one will notice. Many speakers, like Barack Obama, pause anyway to increase the impact of what they are saying.”

Dan agrees. “If you’re putting hard-hitting messages across, your audience will need thinking time as well,” he said.

“Pausing allows you to compose yourself and them to gather their thoughts.”



Our experts stress reviewing presentations is integral to developing public speaking skills and confidence.

“Most of us look back at our presentation and go ‘it went well’ or ‘it didn’t go well’, Dan said.

“But we don’t analyse it.

“Dig into it and think about why it went well or could have gone better.

“If something didn’t work, try it again in a different way. Comedians do this. They go out on the circuit and try things out in smaller arenas before they go on tour.”


Fancy a place on our new presentations skills open course?

We know sometimes you just want to book a single person on a course. So, we’re giving six people the chance to do just that. We are running a presentation skills training skills open course on Wednesday 11 October. But you’ll have to be quick – we’re only releasing one date, and only four people can attend. Click here to learn more and book your place

During and after the masterclass session, our panel answered several questions from the audience:

Are there any tips for reading from a script?

If you’ve been on one of our presentation skills training courses, you’ll know we stress that people are drawn to speakers who sound impromptu. People want presenters who can create a natural conversational tone rather than something that feels rehearsed, scripted and memorised.

But sometimes you may need to script what you have to say.

“If you are using an autocue, keep practising,” James said.

“And look at how other people use them. If you look at newsreaders, they are not frozen in one position. They move their head, which makes it less obvious they are reading from the autocue.”

How you set the script out is also crucial.

“Set it out like a play,” Susan said. Play scripts have short paragraphs and a lot of space in between each one. It gives you time to think ahead.”

If you don’t have an autocue, avoid reading your presentation or speech aloud. You will lose the attention of the audience.

A better option is to use cue cards or tablets as prompts.


What should you do if someone in the audience looks bored?

“There is a difference between someone looking bored and being bored,” Dan said.

“It might be their concentration face. They are tuned into what you are talking about and are not thinking about their facial expressions.”

What about if they are bored?

Dan said: “I think we need to revisit Betari’s Box. It always starts with you. Are you being engaging enough? Are you standing in one spot and becoming a robot? Is your personality coming through?”

James added: “You won’t necessarily be able to engage everybody. There will be others in the room engaged with what you are saying.”


How can you be an effective chair during a panel discussion?

Dan said: “Often in this position, we need to be assertive and authoritative and unafraid to cut people off when the time is right.

“It is our role to keep the conversation flowing and on course to meet the objectives. We must ensure we meet the key messages and the conversation does not go off on a tangent.

“We need to recognise when others have valuable input and are waiting to speak up and invite them into the conversation and ask coaching style questions which evoke lots of information.”


How do you best respond to aggressive or personal attacks, for example when members of the audience do not like the message being shared?

 “I would acknowledge the person is feeling frustrated or angry and show some compassion and empathy towards them,” Dan said.

“It may be that you use a phrase such as ‘I understand where you're coming from’ or ‘I hear what you are saying’.

“But we have a role to play and a message to put across, and we know not everyone will like.

“We also must show some resilience and understand this may not be a personal attack.”


Should gestures be timed or planned with certain points or should you let it flow and be natural - like dancing?

Susan said: “As Mark Twain says, it takes about three weeks to write a natural impromptu speech.

“While we all want to be natural and authentic, it is vital you ensure your performance reflects the work you have put into the content.

“That can only come with practice and planning.”


Are there any obvious things to avoid when addressing a hostile audience or one that doesn't know you?

Dan said: “Stick to the facts and the figures and to be objective. When we start bringing in our emotions and feelings, that can evoke hostility from others.

“It is best to concentrate on the evidence which is visible and proven.

“It is also important to build trust with an audience which does not know you - speaking with confidence and authority, while adding compassion will allow you to do this.”


How to remember key points? I often forget one or two points when addressing a large group.

 “The trick here is to create a story to your message and develop a flow to the way you tell it,” Dan said.

“For example, having start, middle and end points allow us to do this.

“Media First has some excellent tips and tricks to overcome this, and it focuses on making your point first, then giving the detail, and finishing by making your point again.

“Also, keep your public speaking simple and to the point. Try to stick to two to three key messages and create a story and connection between them.

“Much more than this, and you may lose your way. And crucially it may become more difficult for the audience to remember your key message.

“Most of us have experienced a speech and walked away wondering what the message was. It creates confusion, not clarity.

“Preparation and practice are also crucial. And remember, there is also nothing wrong with having cue cards with the key points.”


Any pointers on how to be an amazing facilitator for meetings to help reinforce the presenters' messages?

Dan said: “Facilitation is about allowing ideas to flow while ensuring conversation stays within the parameters of the subject, and everybody in the group has the opportunity speak.

“Consider that some people may be more introverted or more reflective than others and need to be encouraged to speak freely. It is vital you encourage them to speak - their views and ideas are just as valid as anyone else.

“At times, we need to be assertive and authoritative to ensure the conversation moves forward.

“Often, when I am facilitating within an organisation, the conversation moves from the objectives on to other areas of the business. When this happens, you must remind the group what the objectives are and bring their focus back to that point.

“A good tip is to write the key objectives on the whiteboard so everyone can see them.

“Using questioning techniques ensures we keep the conversation on track. This includes using open questions that start with ‘what’ and guiding, leading or probing ones, which point people in the right direction, such as “what are your thoughts about the time scale the presenter gave for this project?”.


How can you involve and engage with participants when presenting to large groups?

Dan said: “Using the W technique is brilliant advice as it allows you to ensure you look towards each audience member.

“Start in the back left-hand corner of the room, and with your eye line you draw a W shape to end up at the back right-hand corner of the room. It means every member of the audience feels connected to you.

“Eye contact is also important as it allows connection between humans.

“If you are taking questions from the audience, ask for the person's name, and use it within your response.

“Adding energy and passion to your speech also connects with the audience. As does showing genuine compassion and empathy if you have a challenging message.

“And don't be afraid to use the power of silence - it gives you and the audience thinking time.

 “Sometimes a softer and lower tone of voice makes your audience tune in to what you are saying and listen more intently while you are making an important announcement. So, pay attention to tone of voice.”


Why do women seem to struggle with public speaking more than men?

Susan said: “I’m sorry to say that I think it is for all the reasons we know that we live in a patriarchal society where women still face huge barriers to success in business, government and industry.

“I take inspiration from the Lionesses that women can overcome and succeed.”

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Media First are media and communications training specialists with more than 35 years of experience. We have a team of trainers, each with decades of experience working as journalists, presenters, communications coaches and media trainers. 

Click here to find out more about our presentation skills training courses.

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