5 Tips to Master (Public) Speaking

✍️ Michelle Dejno (Executive Vice President)

I vividly remember the first time I spoke at an all-retailers meeting.

It was at the Southdale Shopping Center in Edina, Minnesota. I was nervous as I waited to present to the store managers and corporate executives. The pressure was intense, but it provided me with a significant learning opportunity. 

As I continued speaking in front of large groups, I refined my abilities and learned to prepare by anticipating questions and adapting my message for different audiences. These early experiences were crucial in building my confidence and honing my speaking style.

At General Growth Properties, I was encouraged to attend seminars and conventions hosted by the International Council of Shopping Centers. These events featured some of the best speakers in the industry, and I absorbed all I could.

Watching seasoned speakers handle large crowds with ease and finesse was incredibly inspiring. I took note of their techniques—how they engaged the audience, used stories to illustrate points, and confidently handled questions.  

These observations of other successful speakers became integral to my learning process. I slowly realized that public speaking is an art that can be mastered with the right tools and practice.

Practice is crucial. I rehearsed my presentations repeatedly, ensuring familiarity with the material—a habit I still follow today. Here are five tips for improving your speaking:

1. Know Your Audience 

Before I speak to a group, I research the people who will be there. Understanding their interests, backgrounds, and what matters to them allows me to customize my message to best resonate with them.

This approach makes your message more impactful and shows that you respect and value your audience’s time and attention. 

  • Research: Request an attendance list to see who’s joining—learn about their diverse backgrounds, interests, and demographics.
  • Customize Content: Use examples and case studies directly relevant to the audience’s field or interests. 
  • Adapt: Be prepared to adjust your presentation based on the audience’s reactions and feedback. 

2. Connect with the Four Quadrants 

Imagine the audience is split into four sections. As you speak, your job is to connect with all four quadrants of the room—not just those nodding in agreement.

Focusing on each section creates an inclusive presentation, distributing your energy evenly.

  • Divide and Conquer: Mentally divide the room into four quadrants. 
  • Equal Attention: Make eye contact and direct your speech to each quadrant.
  • Interactive Engagement: Ask questions or seek feedback from each section to keep everyone involved. 

3. Use Personal Stories 

Stories make your message relatable and memorable. I often share personal anecdotes that illustrate my points (as I did to open this article).  

These stories humanize me as a speaker, making the content more engaging and building deeper trust with the audience. It is also likely the part your audience will remember the most.

  • Story Inventory: Create a list of personal stories you can draw from for different presentations. 
  • Relate: Choose stories that directly relate to your key points. 
  • Practice Storytelling: Rehearse your stories to ensure they flow naturally and effectively support your message. 

4. Move Beyond the Podium 

Standing behind a podium for too long can create a barrier between you and your audience.  

Moving around the stage (or room) allows you to connect with different parts of the audience and maintain their interest. Doing this makes your presentation feel more like a conversation.

  • Engage Different Areas: Walk around to different parts of the stage to engage the four quadrants of the audience. 
  • Close the Gap: Move closer to the audience when asking questions or seeking interaction. 
  • Have a Plan: Plan your movements ahead of time to ensure they are purposeful. 

5. Be Intentional with Your Language

The words you choose matter.  

Whether driving a point home or sharing a story, using filler words or phrases dilutes your message (e.g., Um, like, you know). By being intentional with your words, you strengthen your message and ensure it retains clarity.

  • Clear over clever: Use clear and concise language to ensure your message is understood. 
  • Eliminate Fillers: Practice speaking without filler words to make your speech more impactful. 
  • Positive Tone: Use positive language to inspire and motivate your audience. 

Conclusion: Practice!  

Every opportunity to speak is a chance to improve; seek them out. Don’t be shy!

Find ways to speak in front of others and put those five tips into practice. Through feedback (and time), you will improve your ability to communicate and present. Start now so you’ll be ready when you need it. 

And these are only my five tips. There’s so much information on speaking available. Buy a book, take a course, or hire a coach to improve.  

I now fully believe that speaking is an art that can be mastered with practice and feedback. If you want to improve, it’s up to you. 

If you want help in that process, we offer a Speaker Training Program.  

We realize the importance of speaking in successful marketing strategies, whether in a video, donor presentation, or keynote. So, we created a cohort-based model for improving 6-8 individuals at a time, including education, practice, and feedback—the three ingredients you need to improve at speaking. 

We’ve implemented this for corporate teams and are opening a cohort to leaders from different companies and industries. We hope that the participants’ unique backgrounds will amplify their growth.

If you want to improve your individual or team’s speaking ability, contact us at info@oconnorconnective.com, and we will schedule a call to discuss your goals.  

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