Etiquette Tips for
Public Speaking

Public Speaking

When I was a high school speech and debate teacher, etiquette was not something that we ever stressed.  However now, as an etiquette educator, I understand how etiquette offers an easy bridge to the subject of speaking when an audience is present.

And this is true whether you are speaking to a large audience, a small group, or sharing your views at a neighborhood get together.

Etiquette-ful Public Speaking

If you've ever taken a class in public speaking, you know there are certain criteria to aim for in order to present yourself as a competent speaker.

Most importantly:

  • Have a purpose in mind - know what you want to accomplish.  Do you want to inform, inspire, persuade?
  • Know who your audience is and their purpose for listening to you.
  • Structure and organize your talk according to your purpose and the audience.
  • Pay attention to the volume and tone of your voice, your body language, and other techniques of delivery.
  • Get and keep your audience’s attention.
  • Practice presenting your material with passion in accordance with your desired effect and as few notes as possible. 

While these criteria are very important in making an effective presentation, etiquette requires more.  When a person is “etiquette-ful” he is mindful first of the other person or persons in the context of a situation. 

Whether giving a talk at a PTA meeting, a motivational speech to a thousand people, a pep talk to your sales group, or presenting an impassioned plea to a group of potential donors, you would know your environment, the reason you are there to speak, and the demands of the occasion. 

  • Politeness and courtesy are always evident in a speaker's attitude.
  • The audience is attending to hear you speak, so treat them with the respect you would treat anyone when you've entered their personal space.
  • Be so familiar with what you're saying that you can be attentive to signals and the "feel" of your audience.
  • Know and be practiced enough to avoid personal habits that distract from your message - little things like touching your hair, scratching, pacing, or losing eye contact with the audience for too long.
  • Avoid talking about your flaws or the flaws of the current situation if they are not relevant to your material.
  • If you make a mistake just move on.  Your audience is rooting for you.

Focus on Confidence

Presenting yourself in a confident manner gives your audience a level of comfort.  They want to know that you are a professional, that you know what you're talking about, and that you want to educate them with your information.

Nearly everyone gets nervous before giving a speech or presentation - that's the nature of the beast of public speaking.  But when you focus on having confidence for the sake of others and providing the comfort they need to like and trust you and the information you are presenting, it helps take the burden of self-consciousness off of yourself.

You can present yourself confidently when you:

  • Remain poised and postured before you ever walk onto the stage, up to the podium, or welcome others to the meeting.
  • If you are introduced, thank the person and wait until he sits or leaves the stage before beginning your talk.
  • Don’t readjust the mic or blow sounds into it. A tap is enough for everyone to know it's working.
  • Remain standing if others are standing.
  • Smile before you begin talking.
  • Speak clearly and slowly out of respect for your listeners.
  • Use language that draws others into your message.  Avoid unkind words and sarcastic phrasings.
  • Be mindful of your gestures.  Avoid pointing and flailing your arms out of exuberance.
  • Always speak the truth.  Even if it is a difficult message, kindness can frame anything.
  • Be concerned with how you come across.

Practiced Makes Presentable

There are people for whom public speaking comes naturally.  But this doesn't necessarily make them effective speakers and presenters.

A practiced speaker not only knows how to talk in front of people, she knows how to talk to people.  She presents her material in a confident, respectful manner.  She makes eye contact with her audience and feeds off their reactions.  During Q&A she listens thoughtfully and answers each question respectfully.

A practiced, etiquette-ful speaker presents herself or himself in a way that draws an audience in.  This is why they are typically better leaders, educators, and entertainers.  Don't you want to be one, too?

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