1. Even if you are not a professional speaker, you can use some simple techniques to make your presentation smoother and easier to watch. Just keeping these basics in mind can squash that nervous energy that gives you away as a novice. Remember, if you don’t tell us you’re anxious, we will never know.

    Remember, your body can speak volumes without you saying a word. Put down the pen, take your hands out of your pockets, and unclench your fists. Take a deep breath and own the stage.

    Eye contact

    The most important thing you can do as you speak is to make eye contact with your audience. This is as true for one-on-one job interviews as it is for keynotes in giant arenas. What you will find interesting is that making eye contact actually allays the nervousness you may be feeling. Connecting with others will calm you.

    First, some do’s and don’ts:

    • Don’t sweep your eyes back and forth, stare at people’s foreheads, or stare at a dot on the back wall – the audience will catch on right away.
    • Don’t imagine anyone naked, ever. It makes it all worse.
    • Do imagine that every member of the audience is on your side – because they are.
    • Do smile; it calms both you and your audience.

    In a small venue, it’s easy to engage with a few people. If you speak to a particular person as you deliver an idea, the whole audience will still feel that you are talking to them, too. Don’t spend too long with one person, but don’t spend too little. Give that person your attention for a whole thought, and then pick another person for the next thought.

    In larger venues, you may not be able to see anyone’s eyes in the audience. Keep in mind, the audience doesn’t know that. You may have to employ some of your latent acting abilities by pretending that you are, in fact, having a conversation with a few people. If you are on a stage that is above them, look out towards where you imagine them to be. It’s always a good idea to visit your stage before the event begins so that you can get a feel for the room and placement of chairs before the house lights are turned down. Then you envision where your audience members are sitting, and look in those directions. In a large arena, close is good enough.

    Dancing or pacing

    If you shift from foot to foot or sway or have nervous knees, you give the impression of uncertainty. You’re not Elvis – turn off those hips! Until you are more confident, plant your feet at center stage and only animate from the waist up. You will appear much more confident, and still have enough movement to hold your audience.

    Likewise, pacing (also known as the Caged Tiger Effect) makes you look as if you do not want to be there. The important thing to keep in mind about nervous energy is that you have the power to make everyone else in the room nervous with you. If you look like you want to flee the room, they will want to flee with you.

    While using the entire stage is an advanced technique, there are ways to do it without looking like you’re trying to find a way out of the building.

    Forward and backward

    Something as simple as leaning or taking a step into or away from the audience can convey very different meanings from your intended message. Be aware of the following:

    Stepping or leaning forward will drive a point home or show that you really believe in what you are saying. Lean in towards your audience to make a point with certainty. This is particularly useful in a persuasive speech.

    Conversely, stepping back or away from your audience as you speak is a technique you would use to downplay a point or to deliver negative information. Moving away creates the feeling that you may not believe in what you are saying or that what you are relaying is malevolent. Use this sparingly, you don’t want to lead your audience to distrust you.  


    Professional and competitive speakers employ similar methods as those of stage actors for their movement. Called “blocking” – it simply means that each movement about the stage should have a purpose. Divide the stage into sections, and then use those sections for certain points of reference. You may casually move to these areas as you discuss them, point to them if you are referring to them elsewhere in your speech, or even use them to set up characters that come into your speech. A common example is using stage right as the past, stage left as the future, and center stage as the present. The 2012 World Champion of Public Speaking, Jock Elliot, did this in his winning speech.


    Of course, you want to look as natural as possible – but you must be very careful about using some gestures. Have you ever watched the flight attendants during pre-flight instructions? What do they never do? They never point. Pointing is rude in many, many cultures. Even when using the pronoun “you” – don’t ever point to a specific person. Use your whole open hand, palm up, preferably in a nonthreatening sweeping motion.

    While we’re talking about fingers, make sure when you use them to number points or ideas that the number of fingers always matches the number of items.  You don’t want to turn your important third point into a comedy sketch by holding up four fingers.

    Keep these few techniques in mind and they will ease you out of nervousness and onto the stage. Remember, we – your audience – all want to see you succeed!

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