Business, Career, Life

Public Speaking Tips to Build Your Small Business

Once you begin to reach a level of success as a business owner you will start to get calls asking you to be a speaker. This can be a great way to get the word out on your business. It can position you as an expert. Think of public speaking as “one to many” networking.  Having said that most people can’t just show up and be an effective speaker. As a matter of fact if you aren’t careful you might hurt your business or at least your personal reputation. As much as I try to avoid it there are times where I find myself sitting in an audience listening to a presentation that is just terrible. This can be due to a number of factors, some that are out of the control of the speaker , but to be honest it’s usually the speaker.

Here are some things I have had speakers do to me as a conference producer:

  • I instructed a speaker to make the presentation interactive. He started his presentation by saying ” Mike told me to make this interactive but there are some things we need to cover first”. The “covering first” part took 83 minutes and the interactive part was seven minutes at the end. Fail!
  • A woman was doing a presentation in a ballroom with a large screen behind her showing her slides. She had the slides in a different order than she thought so she spent the entire presentation with her back to the audience reading the slides. Impact? Fail!
  • I asked for the presentation in advance so we could pre-load it. I never got it so I ask the speaker to bring it on a jump drive so I could load it before we started. They agreed. They showed up with a Mac, in a PC environment, without the connection dongle and decided to connect to the internet and work through an on-line set of activities. So we scrambled and got everything working then the sites they were going to access didn’t work properly and they had no presentation as back-up. Fail!

I’m going to give you nine tips that I think are critical to you succeeding as a speaker. Keep in mind I am not a professional speaker but I have done my share of presentations and have watched a lot of bad presentations.


  • Why you are there ~ Really understand what the meeting sponsor is looking for. Don’t let them off the hook and give you a vague idea of expectations and outcomes. Make them help you deliver a great presentation.
  • Who is the audience ~ It is critical to understand the type of people/businesses that will be there. Use this knowledge to build a presentation that will appeal to this group. When you get to the venue on the day of the presentation ask to look at the registration list. You may know specific people that you can use to taylor your presentation or maybe you will find some people there that will cause you to take out a story or two.
  • What is your message ~ You should have a clear message you are trying to convey. Once you understand this you can build everything else around this message. To many people string together random thoughts that don’t lead the audience anywhere.


  • Slides 
    • Test the audio/visual in advance. If something doesn’t work while you are on stage it will reflect on you regardless of who’s fault it is.
    • During the presentation, don’t make yourself say, “I know this slide is hard to read”. If it is hard to read change it.
    • Don’t use font that is to small. Guy Kawasaki recommends that you take the age of the oldest person in the room, divide it by two and there is your font size. If you don’t know the ages use a minimum 24 point, Arial font.
    • Don’t go into a PowerPoint trance where you are staring at the slides and reading every bullet point. Reading slides, in my opinion, is the biggest sin of public speaking. Slides should support the spoken words. Slides are good to keep you on track and emphasize points but you need to know the people in the audience can probably read so they don’t need you reading to them.
    • Either know/print the slide progression and/or get a confidence monitor so you know what is coming next.
  • Body Parts 
    • Feet: Get a good base and maintain balance. Don’t shift from one foot to the other.
    • Arms: Try to keep your arms relaxed at your side. Don’t cross your arms. If you want to gesture move your whole arm from the shoulder. Don’t karate chop.
    • Hands: Don’t point with your finger. Don’t ring your hands. Don’t put your hands in your pockets. Don’t cross your hands in front of you. Don’t put your hands in a praying position unless you are speaking in church.
    • Eyes: Don’t scan the audience. Try to find a set of eyes, focus on them for five second, move to another set of eyes. Try to reach everyone. If it is a large room try to point your attention to the back of the room at times so you make everyone feel included.
  • Movement ~ Have you ever watched a presentation where the speaker was constantly moving? It is exhausting. Speak from spots. You can go from spot to spot but when you get to the spot stay there for awhile before you move again. Movement can be great for adding variety and emphasis but you have to pick a spot and stop.
  • Speak to all learning styles ~ Understand that there are different types of learning styles. Try to hit each one every five minutes.
    • Visual learners: Want fast pace, pictures, visuals and gestures.
    • Auditory learners: Not a lot of notes, medium pacing, pleasing tone of voice.
    • Kinesthetic learners: They need to connect. Slow your pacing and use slower pacing with small but intense gestures.
  • Stuff 
    • Props: Don’t carry stuff around as a security blanket. Carrying pen, cards, water, etc is distracting unless there is a need for you to have it.
    • Podium: Don’t hide behind the podium. Get out and engage your audience.
    • Stage: If there is a stage use it. Whoever has brought you in to speak has gone to the effort of making sure there is a stage to make you the focal point, let them. I know people like to move amongst the audience but depending on the size of the audience the speaker can get lost.
    • Microphone: Don’t walk out and say “Can everybody hear me without the mic?”. If you are given a microphone there is a reason. Also, many people have hearing problems. I am one of them. I have about 25% hearing in my right ear. So when you get up and don’t use the mic it is hard for me to hear. Just because you ask I may not say anything so you won’t know if everybody can hear you without the mic.

Question and Answers

  • You don’t have to take questions ~ Managing the questions portion is supercritical. First things first, you don’t have to take questions. If your presentation is clear you will answer the questions as you speak. Most questions are not so much tied to the presentation content rather the questions are specific to the person asking. A lot of time those questions are not applicable to most of the audience. When this happens it is easy to go down a rabbit hole that is not applicable, it frustrates other attendees and that reflects on you.
  • Be clear up front how you will take questions ~ If you want to take questions you should be clear how and when you will take questions. Do this up front so that you can get your presentation done on time, on point and meet the goals and objectives of the presentation.
  • Taking questions during the presentation ~ Lead the audience towards questions. One thing that I have done is pass out index cards and ask people to jot questions down as they think of them. You can then collect them and address them either throughout the presentation or at the end. Another idea, if you have a small enough group is to ask for their questions up front, write them down then make sure they are addressed before you are finished.
  • Taking questions at the end of the presentation ~ Most people do Q&A at the end of their presentation. What drives me crazy is when people ask for questions then there are no questions. That makes you look bad. If you have left time for questions make sure you get questions. If that means you have to ask yourself questions don’t just stand up there listening to crickets.

Closing the Presentation

  • Have a closing slide ~ When you are finished your last slide should have your contact information on it. Typically this will be left up after you are finished. Use this to reinforce your brand and provide your contact information.
  • Make yourself available ~ Sometimes this is not possible but making yourself available to the audience following the presentation, and before is important. For business owners speaking at local events being available is the key to networking. This is where you will make your connections. It is really just as important if you are a keynote at a large event. I have put on ten Ohio Growth Summit programs and the keynote presenters and speakers that were a part of the event and not just a speaker were the best. Susan RoAne, Jim Caterucci, and Carrie Wilkerson were so engaged in the event that I think they knew all the attendees names before they left. Chris Brogan sat right in the audience, engaged and spoke to attendees and took what was said before he spoke to customize his presentation to the audience.

There are a lot of other things you need to do or at least keep in mind if you are doing a presentation but these will get a long way. Preparation and connecting your presentation to the audience are the biggest things. Really work to understand what the audience wants and work hard to deliver it. Don’t assume that just because they are there they will connect with what you are saying.

Finally, if you are new to public speaking you need to practice. Consider participating in your local Toastmasters group or some opportunity to get used to being in front of people so you can present your best self to any audience.



Michael Bowers

Michael has worked with entrepreneurs and small business owners for over 25 years. He has a diverse business skill set with experience in banking, private equity, strategic planning, digital media and marketing.

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