how to speak confidently

In Part 1 of this article, we discussed ways to overcome negative thinking to build confidence in speaking. Part two is a step-by-step guide focused on the output of your newfound confidence — planning and delivering your presentation.

There is no magic involved, just practical habits you can adopt to turn group presentations into a repeatable, cookie-cutter process that can work for any speaking challenge. The public speaking tips in this two-part guide can help you build inner and outer confidence and drive your message home more effectively.

Preparing and Delivering a Winning Presentation

Even with a perfect outfit, attractive slides, and confident posture, you cannot drive your message home if you have not thoroughly prepared. Conversely, you may be well-versed on your topic but if you do not carry yourself with confidence, dress professionally, and use interesting visuals, it is difficult to reach your full potential.

Step 1: Know Your Audience

Find out about the audience and the expectations of the event coordinators. The answers to the following questions will likely shape your research and preparation:

  • How many people are expected to attend?
  • Who is your audience and what are their motivations for attending?
  • How much time will you be given?
  • Who is speaking before you and what is scheduled to happen after you finish your talk?
  • Will the event have the capability to display visuals? If so, do you understand the technology you will use to present visuals?

On that last point, if you have not already mastered the creation and presentation of slides, learn what you need to know. If necessary, arrange someone who is tech-savvy to help you with the preparation and the mechanics of displaying images during your presentation.

Step 2: Choose Your Topic

Not every topic is right for everybody. Try to find a speaking engagement that aligns with your values and pick a topic you know well.

In some situations, you may not have a choice of topic. While it is not ideal to learn something new and speak about it with authority, the tips in this tutorial can help you speak with confidence in public no matter the subject.

Step 3: Research Your Topic

Confidence comes from competence. Even if you know a lot about your topic, do the research needed to refresh yourself on the details and find changes or recent trends that may affect the way you present the material.

“Research” doesn’t just mean Google searches, you can also read a book, listen to a podcast, or have a discussion with the experts on the subject. Don’t forget to save the sources and the data for graphs and charts to enhance your remarks.

Step 4: Make Videos of Yourself

Getting comfortable on camera by making daily videos will make the stage feel less intimidating later on, and can push you to think about how best to structure your story and deliver it. Overcoming challenges like this will build your confidence in public speaking and help you find your inner strengths. As an added bonus, it can help you manage your presentation time.

When you watch the replay of each video, take note of what you need to improve. Don’t forget to also write down all the things you are doing right!

Step 5: Create Your Outline

Once you’ve gathered your data, it’s time to start organizing it. Whether your research is in a Word document, a spreadsheet, or on physical index cards, arrange it all from most important to least important. Eliminate any information that is unrelated to your topic or that adds tangential information that distracts from your main point.

It is a good idea to narrow the material down using the Rule of Three as a guide. Put simply, identify your core message and choose three points that support it. The result becomes your outline:

  • Catchy Title: Speaker training emphasizes that the title needs to get the audience’s attention while defining your core message.
  • Brief Introduction: Start with a few short sentences explaining what your speech is about.
  • List of main ideas: Try to limit yourself to three supporting points, but adjust the number as needed depending on the complexity of the information.
  • Actionable Conclusion: End your remarks with a few sentences that summarize your speech, re-state your core message, and give the audience ways to apply the information learned.

Step 6: Create Your Visuals

Before you dive into PowerPoint, think about how each visual will enhance your talk. Include graphs, photos, videos, and other visual depictions of complex concepts or tedious detail.

Keep it simple and make each slide meaningful, because a handful of helpful slides is much better than 50 slides that don’t add value to the presentation. Only include information that is important for the audience to understand and remember that unnecessary images can distract and may be interpreted as a substitute for preparation.

Step 7: Create Two Versions of Your Presentation

Think about how you will manage your time properly when you are at the podium. With every edit in your outline or addition of a slide, be consciously aware of how it fits within the time constraints outlined by the event organizers.

There is the possibility that you are asked on short notice to reduce or lengthen your remarks. Prepare a long version and a short version of your presentation so a last-minute change doesn’t throw you for a loop.

Step 8: Make Speaking Slowly a Habit

Audiences interpret fast-talking as a sign of nervousness and a lack of self-confidence. Slow down your speech patterns by trying to breathe longer and speak slower. Try this exercise:

Read a paragraph / in this manner. / First / breathe. / Speak with energetic lips, / breathing / at all the breath marks. / Then, / practice this technique / over and over again. / Do this / with a different paragraph / everyday. / Keep your hand / on your abdomen / or your chest / to make sure it moves out / when you breathe in / and moves in / when you speak.

Step 9: Get Your Whole Body Involved

You have likely noticed that professional public speakers look relaxed and confident and that they talk slowly and make positive body movements during their presentations. They have learned how to speak confidently in public by using a secret weapon from speaker training basics: use body movements to appear more passionate about the topic and keep the audience interested.

Try these moves in front of a mirror, family, or friends:

  • Give a friendly smile
  • Maintain eye contact to engage your audience
  • Use gestures to emphasize points
  • Walk around and use active hand gestures
  • Match facial expressions with what you’re saying
  • Remember to breathe

Step 10: Practice, Practice, Practice!

Practice is the key to speaking with confidence. Using a timer, practice both the long and short versions of your presentation equally so you are comfortable with either without skipping a beat.

Record a video of your practice sessions and get a trusted friend to give feedback. Make adjustments and improvements, and take note of your progress with each recording.

Step 11: Technical Prep on Presentation Day

Speaking with confidence is not difficult if you are well-prepared. Include physical and technical preparations in the hours before you present.

Visit the venue before your scheduled speaking time so you can familiarize yourself with the surroundings and minimize surprises. This gives you time to identify and work out any kinks that may arise by:

  • Meeting with venue staff and sizing up the room where you’ll be presenting
  • Making sure your equipment is in good working order 
  • Having a backup copy of your visuals you can access without your laptop
  • Checking the electronic infrastructure to be sure you can show your visuals
  • Dressing professionally in an outfit that makes you feel good about yourself
  • Arriving early for your speech and relaxing

Step 12: Control the Anxiety

It is an ancient human survival instinct to experience fear when we feel we’re being watched, so it is completely natural to see an audience as a threatening predator. Our bodies automatically mount a comparable physiologic response to get us ready for a fight to the death.

All speakers, including experts at how to speak confidently in public, feel some of these physical reactions like sweating, a pounding heart, and trembling hands before they speak. Some nerves are good because the adrenaline rush that makes you sweat also makes you more alert and ready to give your best performance. But you need to control any anxiety that threatens to overwhelm you.

The best way to overcome anxiety is to prepare, prepare, and prepare some more. Do a final run-through in front of a mirror, remembering the following:

  • Avoid consuming too much caffeine; stimulants can magnify nervousness and shakiness
  • Breathe!
  • Speak slowly
  • Use the body language tools you learned during your practice sessions
  • When you are ready, sit back, listen to your favorite music, and practice controlled breathing. This should calm you down so you can get in the flow.

Step 13: Refocus Your Mind

Just as you are about to take the stage, it is normal to be a little nervous and for your brain to be focused on one thought: “Everyone is judging me. What if I fail?” 

That is the exact moment that you should refocus your brain. By practicing this proven strategy your brain will begin to surrender to your truths and you will become less nervous:

  • Reconnect with your inner strength and determination
  • Be firm with your brain
  • Remind yourself that this presentation is not about you
  • You are here to help your audience
  • Focus on the goals for your talk
  • Keep breathing

Step 14: Connect with the Audience from the Beginning

As the saying goes, you only have one chance at a first impression. The first five minutes are critical to engage the audience, help them relate to you, and get them to listen to you, which will bolster your confidence for the rest of your presentation.

Public speaking training includes the use of ice-breakers in your opening sentence. They can be attention-grabbing statements or questions that get the audience physically involved:

  • Tell a short, interesting story
  • Crack a joke related to your topic
  • Share news: “I saw this really interesting article in the paper today…” or, “Something really strange happened to me today…”
  • Ask a positive, hand-raising question such as, “Raise your hand if your dream is to give a TED talk someday.”
  • Assign the audience a simple task like saying, “I’m so happy you’re here today” to the person next to them

Step 15: Getting to the Heart of Your Message

Confidence in public speaking is rooted in your outline or the document that contains all the necessary information about your presentation. This helps you stay on track by keeping you focused on the core message and supporting points.

Understand that if you get lost in bullet points and text-heavy slides, your audience will suffer information overload—the demise of any presentation. Here is a good approach:

  • Display complex information if it is important, but stick to a one- or two-sentence summary of the data it contains
  • Do not read an entire slide aloud!
  • Tie the data on each slide to a supporting point for your core message

Step 16: Just Enjoy the Experience

This is the most important tip on how to talk confidently: Have fun with the crowd! Enjoy experimenting on different human behaviors and you will see that public speaking is not that scary after all.

Step 17: Keep Improving Your Stage Branding Persona

The most important thing you can do to build confidence in speaking is Monday morning quarterbacking, especially as you get more speaking engagements under your belt. Strengthen your “confident stage persona” by reviewing every public presentation you give and asking yourself a couple of questions.

  • What are my best characteristics as a speaker? Empathy, humor, or?
  • What are my best features as a speaker? Do I gesticulate a lot? Am I energetic? Do I stick to the script or do I improvise? Or?

What Have We Learned?

There is no magic bullet for how to talk confidently. The public speaking tips in Part 1 and Part 2 of this guide describe a process that can be hard work, but it will pay off when you take the stage.

90% Preparation, 10% Speaking

Successful public speaking is all about thorough preparation, and laying the groundwork is the most important part of the ritual of getting ready to speak. Know your subject intimately, have a well-thought-through outline, and be sure you can complete your presentation in the time allotted. 

You will be amazed at how relatively simple it is to stand before a crowd and repeat the speaking points you have diligently researched and practiced!

Find a Public Speaking Masterclass

Are you serious about escalating your skills and career? Learn from those who have conquered the challenge and find the public speaking masterclass that suits your needs.

How Adam Markel Speaker Training Can Improve Your Public Speaking

No matter where you start, you can build the confidence to host webinars, give a winning pitch, become a keynote speaker, or get on the TEDx stage. Our Get Ready Speaker Masterclass is the perfect way to learn how to speak confidently.

These live, virtual, public speaking training classes are led by Adam Markel, a seasoned TEDx speaker, with the support of his remarkable team. Register today — you even have the option of scheduling an in-person filming session!