What is Public Speaking and How to Improve in 5 Steps
Webinar tips and tricks

What is Public Speaking and How to Improve in 5 Steps

Get the answer to “What is public speaking?” and practical tips to give great presentations at online events and in front of live audiences. Start by practicing the secret of public speaking success – preparation.

Traditionally, public speakers would stand in front of an audience to share their thoughts. Modern public speaking is a bit different – speakers have learned how to give presentations in webinars and other digital formats.

Speaking in public is a powerful skill in business. If you cannot communicate your thoughts to colleagues and customers in an exciting way, your career growth may slow or even stall. To understand why this skill matters, let’s start with a definition.

The path to becoming effective at public presentations is simple, but it does require focus and discipline. Before getting into specific tips, you might be wondering why public speaking is important. We’ll cover that point in further detail below.

Public speaking definition: what it means

Public speaking is giving a presentation to a group of people to inspire, drive action or share information. You can speak in public in a room or virtually through a video platform. It is one of the most valuable skills in business especially for sales, marketing, and leadership.

Why is public speaking important?

To answer why public speaking is essential, let’s look at some of the ways speaking in public comes up in the business world.

The first reason public speaking matters is that you need to move projects ahead inside your company. Imagine you have a great idea to improve your company’s products. There’s just one obstacle – you need to convince executives to give you funding to bring the idea to life. There’s a good chance you will be asked to make a presentation to the executives to win support for the project.

Public speaking is also crucially important for sales success. Whether you are in sales, customer support, or another department, you may be asked to present to customers. A strong presentation could make a difference in landing a deal for your company and losing a customer. In addition, you cannot achieve success with webinars, podcasts, YouTube videos, and online conferences without public speaking skills.

Public speaking skills are crucial in getting promoted to leadership positions. Are you interested in being promoted to a management or executive job? The hiring process for these senior positions typically involves giving a presentation to the hiring committee.

Now you know why public speaking is important to your career success, let’s get ready.

Man wearing headphones and yellow shirt making a sales call

Public Speaking Success Step 1: Be prepared

Taking the time to prepare is vital for all public speakers. Use the following tips to get ready for your next public speaking event.

Start by making an effort to research your audience’s needs and desires. Before public speakers say a word, they know their audience. Specifically, find out the size of the audience (i.e. an intimate group of 10 executives or 1000 people in a company-wide meeting) and what your audience is interested in hearing. For instance, if you are presenting to a group of accountants and finance experts, emphasizing numbers and hard facts makes sense.

Once you understand your audience, check your time constraints. There is a big difference between a 10-minute presentation in a large meeting and an hour-long in-depth webinar as a public speaker. Attempting to rush through a long presentation makes it difficult for the audience to understand you.

Research is the next step in the preparation process. The best public speakers in history gathered facts and stories to illustrate their presentations. For example, gathering financial data before making an investment presentation is crucial.

The final step of your presentation is to create visual aids to keep your audience’s interest. When public speakers have the option to use visual aids, they take advantage of the opportunity. Resist the urge to write your entire presentation on slides. The slides are there to reinforce your public presentation, not replace it.

At least a day before your presentation, take the time to practice. You can practice speaking at home in front of your mirror. If possible, it is also helpful to practice your presentation in front of a small audience to get feedback.

Novice public speakers might want to allow for extra time to develop their presentations.

Public Speaking Success Step 2: Learn to tame your webcam

Many of your public presentations today may involve presenting at an online event like a webinar. Use these tips to make sure your webcam and microphone are working.

Running a short technical test of your equipment is step one. Start by testing your webcam and microphone with an online testing tool like https://webcamtests.com/ or https://www.onlinemictest.com/webcam-test/. Assuming these tools work correctly, move on to practice using the equipment.

Verifying your equipment works with a testing app is a good starting point, but practice is even better. Each video and presentation app has slightly different settings. Therefore, it is wise to practice your presentation using the same app. If you are presenting to your audience using Livestorm, set up a practice session with Livestorm with a friend. This will give you the chance to fine-tune audio and video settings.

Getting nervous before a presentation is a common challenge. Fortunately, there are ways you can prevent this problem. Public speakers know that technology can fail suddenly. That’s why it is helpful to have backups available. Consider having a backup set of headphones and a webcam on hand. For less than $100, you can give yourself peace of mind that you have backup equipment on standby.

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Public Speaking Success Step 3: Practice speaking in public

Giving a public speech in an office, conference room and other settings takes some additional practice. To make a good impression during your public speech, use these tips to practice speaking in public.

Checking the room where you will be speaking in advance is smart. When possible, visit the room in advance before you are speaking so that you understand the layout of the seats. You can also find out if what equipment the room has available like projectors, screens and whiteboards.

Taking a few minutes to test your equipment before an event makes for a smoother presentation. Larger rooms might have equipment for public speakers, like a podium or sound system. If these resources are available, consider using them. If there is a technical support team available, introduce yourself and let them know you are giving a presentation.

Most public speakers drink plenty of water. If you are giving a longer presentation, bringing a bottle of water is a simple step to stay comfortable. Add a reminder to your calendar to bring a bottle of water to the presentation so that you don’t forget.

For the most important presentations like major sales calls or executive presentations, make extra time for practice. If the conference room is large, has complex technology, or requires a microphone, practice speaking in the space before the event.

Now you know how to prepare yourself, let’s turn to the other key player in every public speech: the audience.

Public Speaking Success Step 4: Engage your audience

Engaging your audience in a public speech is vital. A bored audience is unlikely to remember what you say or act in your public speech. Practice using the following techniques to keep your audience engaged.

Vary the speed, volume, and style of your speaking style. You can engage your audience by changing your speaking speed, tone, and volume throughout your presentation. You might consider speaking more loudly or repeating a significant point. You might also pause speaking for a few seconds to allow the audience to reflect on crucial points.

Engage your audience by posting questions to them. Directly asking questions to your audience gives them a chance to think through the topic. For example, propose a few potential solutions (e.g. we can build this software internally or purchase it from a provider) and ask the audience to consider which option is the best fit.

In our age of short attention spans, giving your audience physical actions to do is a smart way to keep engagement high. Public speakers who give webinar presentations often ask the audience to write down ideas, send an email or take another quick action. Giving your audience a simple action to perform can keep them engaged. The one rule of thumb is to keep the actions simple and easy.

Explain your points using visuals and graphics. Many successful public presentations include a visual component. To keep the visuals engaging, variety is essential. You might include a few charts to display data and include a cartoon to lighten the mood later. For a fee, you can license a business cartoon to use in your public presentation from Dilbert or Marketoonist.

You don’t have to reinvent the wheel as a public speaker. Instead, you can learn how to create successful presentations by studying successful public speakers. For example, visit TED Talks and look at videos with more than 1 million views such as TED's list of the most popular talks of all time.

The way you end your presentation is vitally important. The end of your public presentation matters a great deal to engagement. What exactly do you want your audience to think, do, or feel at the end? If you want executives to provide funding for a project, ask for funding approval. If you are making a sales presentation, ask for the sale! Without a clear next step, your audience may not do anything after the presentation.

woman speaking in a microphone

Public Speaking Success Step 5: How to be a better public speaker during online events?

Delivering a successful public presentation during online events takes some different techniques. Technology glitches and bandwidth problems can make life challenging for a public speaker at an online event. Fortunately, there are several practical techniques you can use to keep audiences engaged in your virtual presentation.

The first step is technical: test your equipment before the session. When possible, set time aside to test your webcam and microphone before joining the online event. Usually, 10 minutes of testing is all you need.

Next, make use of the engagement tools and features on the platform. With Livestorm, you write on a virtual whiteboard during your presentation. Taking a minute or two to draw charts and diagrams during your presentation can make your presentation more attractive.

Use polls to gather insight from your audience. When you present a larger audience of 50 or more people at a web conference, a poll is a great way to gather more insight into your audience. Your poll questions should be simple and easy to fill out in 60 seconds or less. For example, you could ask the audience if they are familiar with the technology trend you are speaking about.

Refer to the event chat room at least two or three times during your presentation. Most online events include a virtual chat room where attendees can ask questions and share their thoughts. Set a reminder to check the chat room a few times during your presentation. For example, it is helpful to check the chat in the first few minutes of your presentation to verify that attendees can hear you. For longer presentations, ask an assistant to keep track of the questions asked during the session so you can answer them at the end.

Use presentation software to create a visually interesting presentation. Most public speakers know how to create a PowerPoint presentation. To create an impressive public presentation, use additional tools. For example, use Muzzle (Mac OS only) to stop distracting desktop notifications. For more insight on the software, you can use in your presentations and webinars, check out our article on 10 tools to improve your webinar presentations.

Public speaking: final thoughts

A 2014 survey by Prezi found that 70% of employed Americans consider presentation skills critical to their success at work. The answer to the question “what is public speaking” might just be “the key to your career growth.” If you are interested in leadership roles or long-term success in sales and marketing, developing public speaking skills is necessary. Whether you are asked to give a traditional public presentation, speak at a webinar or speak at a community event, public speakers are in high demand. The best part? Public speaking is an evergreen skill you can use throughout your entire career, even as technology evolves.

Molly Hocutt

Molly Hocutt

Molly Hocutt has been a Content Manager at Livestom since 2019. She has more than five years of experience in SaaS content writing and B2B marketing.