7 Public Speaking Rules to Live By


It’s easy to assume that all people in positions of authority are naturally good public speakers. After all, they got where they are in large part because of their communication skills. Whether it be a CEO or a PR pro, the belief is that they are most comfortable in the spotlight. Right?

Lauren Lawson-Zilai
Lauren Lawson-Zilai.

Nothing could be further from the truth. The true lover of public speaking is rare. Let’s face it: Few things are more terrifying to most of us than standing in front of a large group of people where all the attention is on you and what you are about to say. Yet there are people who make it look natural and engage us on a number of levels—intellectually, emotionally, even spiritually. How do they do it?

Lauren Lawson-Zilai, director of public relations for Goodwill Industries International, has a few tips that good public speakers follow to look natural and authoritative at the podium. You can follow them, too.

  • Remember that storytelling is a strategy. Storytelling is the most powerful tool in a speaker’s toolkit. Delivering your information in the form of a story will put your audience at ease, it offers you the opportunity to humanize yourself as a speaker, and it will make your message more memorable.
  • Don’t forget to breathe. The best thing you can do for yourself before a speech is to practice deep breathing. Taking 10 to 20 deep breaths before stepping on stage is a good way to help modulate the volume of your voice, the speed at which you speak, and the clarity of your diction.
  • Keep track of the clock. Know ahead of time how long it will take to deliver your remarks and stick to that time frame.
  • Prepare for the unknown. Know your audience and do your best to anticipate questions they may ask. This reduces the likelihood that you will be caught off guard. Also, stay focused on your points and work questions back to those points.
  • Control the Q&A. One technique for keeping the Q&A portion on track is by hooking, or including a statement that begs for a follow-up. Flagging is another. This calls attention back to what you believe is important.
  • Use a question turn-around to deal with loaded questions from the audience. Sometimes an audience member will disagree, perhaps vehemently. Thank them for their question, then ask them a related question of your own.
  • Accept the feedback. If it’s positive, show appreciation and thank them for their thoughts. If the feedback is negative, do not overreact and don’t take it personally.

Follow Lauren Lawson-Zilai: @LaurenLLawson

Follow Richard Brownell: @RickBrownell