Public Speaking Tips – From The Stage To The Podium

public speaking tips

Public speaking skills are an essential key to achieving career advancement and success. ~ Robert Moment (Tweet this)

There are two kinds of risks you may face at the podium in public speaking. The first is when you say something spontaneous, unplanned, and unrehearsed; something that surprises even you. This may work in your favor if you’re lucky, but if it backfires, you’re left there with egg on your face—embarrassed and flustered.

The second is when you take the risk of revealing your true self, not the mask that you are comfortable in; when you purposefully give us a glimpse into your heart; share what matters most to you, and don’t step back from your passion.

Public speaking tips 

Most speakers that I’ve been privileged to work with over the years think they want to keep a certain spontaneity in their speeches. To them that means not practicing, winging it, and seeing what happens.

This may work for a chosen few: those who are old-hands at public speaking; who know their material so well and their audiences so deeply that they can rely on experience to give them a sense of how to improvise and still maintain control. (The fact is that their many years of experience amount to many hours of practice.)

But for most speakers, the first type of improvisation is a crummy idea. There is simply too much at risk if the remark falls flat; if the joke bombs; if you look like a fool and you’ve alienated your audience before you’ve had a chance to engage them.

“I Never Realized…”

My favorite story on this involves a client who had a Ph.D. in economics and was about to serve as an expert witness for the first time. It was a big anti-trust case and there was a lot riding on his analysis and his ability to sway a jury.

We were preparing his testimony, which went on for days, and he was resisting me. The problem was that he didn’t want to sound too prepared. He didn’t want to sound “canned.” He wanted to keep his remarks fresh and was concerned that too much practice would make him feel stale.

I, of course, was familiar with this problem and had done my best to convince him that lack of preparation did not equal spontaneity—it equaled disaster. So we hit a compromise: he practiced much more than he had wished to but a bit less than I had wanted.

The next day, after he had testified for several hours, I saw him crumpled over his desk. I asked how the testimony had gone. He looked up dejectedly, and I’ll never forget his words:

“I never realized how well-prepared you have to be to sound spontaneous!”

And I never forgot his words. Because the fact is, what we mistake for being spontaneous is actually sounding spontaneous. The best speakers are often the most seasoned ones—the ones who can afford to ad-lib because they have done it all before—many, many times before!

The podium is a risky place and that is a good thing

The only kind of risk you want to take at the podium is the risk that may surprise your audience but does not surprise you.  They are the ones who may not have seen something coming . . . but you better have! They are the ones who may be hearing your words for the first time, but never you!

Preparation is the name of the game . . . just as dancers train their bodies for years before getting into a ballet company, or a musician spends years in practice before hitting Carnegie Hall.

When they finally are performing, the musician is not thinking of the notes; the dancer is not thinking of the steps. They have practiced enough that they can go with the interpretation, with the artistry and not get bogged down in technicalities. And most of all, they can spontaneously be in the moment and ride the wave of emotion they share with the audience.

Yes, there is a place for spontaneity in public speaking, but save it for the Question & Answer period. And yes, you want to take risks at the podium. Just make sure they are in the second category listed at the top:

  • Risk being yourself.
  • Risk revealing your heart.
  • Risk speaking from your conviction, not just your notes.
  • Risk connecting, not just talking.

Those are the risks that will reward you many times over and the podium will not feel like such a risky place; it will feel like home.

You can speak well if your tongue can deliver the message of your heart. ~ John Ford (Tweet this)


About the Author

Saskia, known as The Keynote Coach, has been working for over 30 years with Keynote speakers in all professions, from the Arts to Corporate America. She is the Author of "More Than Words Can Say: The Making of Inspired Speakers". More at

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