Keep Calm and Carry On:
How to Better Prepare for Public Speaking


Alexandra Khoo | 20/02/2019

What separates a good talk from a mediocre one?

Whether you’re giving a presentation or making a pitch, being an effective public speaker goes a long way.

A while back, She Loves Data teamed up with KeyNote – Asia’s Women Speakers to decode the craft of public speaking, with JustCo as our gracious host. We had the benefit of having professional speakers, Ivana Fertitta, Kaumudi Goda (KG), and Sheila Berman, as our workshop instructors.

Public speaking is hard work but here are five actionable tips I got from the workshop.

1. Know yourself

If you’re uncomfortable speaking in front of an audience, try to understand why. Is it the fear of saying something stupid and losing your credibility? Is your lack of experience troubling you? Once you know what it is that makes you uncomfortable, it will be easier to tackle the problem.

For example, to minimize the chances of saying unintended things, take time to practice and get comfortable with your speaking material. To gain experience, start small. Consider participating in a brown bag lunch or holding a talk among friends.

2. Get to know your audience beforehand

Do as much research as you can on your audience’s needs, expectations, and even how they are likely to dressed—Ivana recommends that you dress like your audience or a little bit more formal.

KG offers some aspects to consider, such as the context of your talk and the profile of the audience. This way you can better establish the kind of talk you are going to deliver, including the level of technicality. Knowing your audience also helps you to anticipate and prepare for possible scenarios or questions they may raise.

3. Be clear on your core message

Once you have your audience’s needs in mind, KG advises to focus on a core message or unifying theme. The body of the talk would then be about supporting points. There are several ways to sequence your talk, be it in a chronological or spatial fashion or going from broad to specific.

Experiment to discover what works best. Consider writing down your points on post-it notes, then arrange or discard the notes as needed to map out your content structure. Remember not to lose sight of your talk’s objective and end with a call to action.

4. Help yourself by having the right frame of mind

Feel your heart beating faster when you are thinking of speaking? Ivana suggests to think of the adrenaline rush as energy that can help you come across as more passionate and convicted in your talk. The trick is to not let the energy morph into full-blown anxiety and overwhelm you. Here are some ways to keep calm:

Before you give your talk, take some time to visualize your success. Imagine a scenario where you are performing well, and take in the details and emotions.

Memorize the first sentence of your talk. This reduces your mental load when you’re likely to be most nervous—at the start of your talk—and a smooth delivery helps with creating a strong first impression.

During your talk, adopt the mountain pose in yoga or Tadasana. This is an active pose for improving posture and keeping a calm focus.

Try to remove any unnecessary source of stress. If the talk is really important, bring an extra set of clothes in case of emergencies.

5. Don’t wait till you begin your talk to engage your audience

Do it before as well. On the day of the talk, especially if you’ll be speaking to people you’ve never met, try to arrive early to get to know some of them. According to Sheila, it’s one thing to be speaking to a crowd of complete strangers, it’s another doing the same to some friendly faces. Find your allies in your audience, the people who are likely to return a smile when you make eye contact instead of a stone-faced expression.

At the start of the talk, help your audience warm up to you by having some interaction. For example, ask a question and invite them to respond by raising their hands. If it feels too intimidating to have direct eye contact, Sheila also suggests to direct your eyes to people’s foreheads, one individual at a time.

After the talk, don’t rely on your internal voice to evaluate how your talk went, ask for feedback. Often times, you can be your own harshest critic and what you experience in your mind can be worse than how others perceive it.

In closing

If you’re interested in public speaking, don’t stop here. Why not let 2019 be the year you break into public speaking or bring your skills to a new level?


Alexandra Khoo

Alexandra Khoo

Alexandra enjoys being at the intersection of data, design, and code whether it goes by the name of data journalism or information visualization. Sometimes she finds it more comfortable to be on a rock wall than the ground.

Share this article: