10 Tips for Better Speaking Engagements

Blog Series, Good Work, Leadership, Mission-Driven Work

No fear, with a little practice and a few tips, you can make a great impression during your next speaking engagement.

The Getting Smart team presents somewhere every week– keynotes, panels, podcasts, Google Hangouts, webinars, school chats, professional development workshops and media interviews. We keep learning about what works.

Learning to speak well, engage your audience and stay relevant is an on-going process that we focus on regularly to make sure our engagements add value to every audience member we come across. In fact, our team will be spending a morning during a staff retreat this week on speaking engagement prep and providing each other with feedback.

Based on lots of lessons and some good coaching, we’ve compiled 10 tips to be an all-star public speaker in every type of engagement.

1. Be prepared. Spend enough time with your speech material that you are confident but not overly rehearsed. Having an outline of what you want to say and accomplish with the speech is helpful, but avoid writing a full speech unless you will be speaking off camera and only doing a voiceover.

If you’re being interviewed, take a few seconds to prepare an answer to a good question. If you don’t like the question, pivot to one you’d rather answer.

2. Know your audience. One of the main keys to successful public speaking is knowing and understanding your audience. Before any engagement our team always asks for a breakdown of the audience size, roles, knowledge levels and where our speaking engagement fits in the day’s events. You’ll want to tailor your speech based on all those factors to truly engage and empower your listeners.

3. Start with a bang. You only get a few seconds to make a good impression with your audience. If it’s an online presentation they can click away moments into the speech if you are not engaging. Try starting your speech with audience engagement right away, ask questions that will drive the discussion, or tell a personal story that makes you relatable.

4. Be conversational. Avoid standing behind a podium and remember to move around and engage with your audience. Don’t wait until the end of a speech to ask questions and seek audience feedback. Allowing the audience to participate early on will ensure that your engagement adds value to the listeners and answers questions they may have.

Think about your presentation in 8-10 minute sections. Look for ways to incorporate engagement in every 10 minutes segment.

5. Make your visuals matter. Don’t walk the audience through a PowerPoint presentation where you simply read the slides. Only use visuals when they help reinforce a message, connect key points or illustrate your story. Avoid a distracting jumble of fonts and text. Use of high quality images, simple graphics and very little text are the best visuals for any speaking engagement.

6. Cut the fillers, speak clearly. Just like in writing effectively, you should cut down on extra words when you speak. Don’t be afraid to pause, but don’t fill that moment with words like “um, ya” and other typical fillers. You will sound more confident as you make your words concise. Be careful to not speak too fast. If you become nervous, excited or worried about time you may often find yourself speaking at a pace that’s hard to understand. Try taking a deep breath in between points and ask someone to monitor your speed during engagements.

7. Watch your body language. Ask someone to record several of your speaking engagements and watch them back to see what your body language is telling the audience. Are you using your hands to drive home a point? Were you crossing your arms or fidgeting during the engagement? If you enjoyed someone’s speech try to think about how they stood and when they used movements to engage their audience.

If you’re not enthusiastic about your topic, why should your audience be?

8. Strong conclusion. Help your listeners remember what you talked about with a quick recap of key points and leave them with a powerful ending statement. What do you want them to remember about the experience?

9. Ask for feedback. The only way to keep getting better at speaking engagements is to do more and ask for feedback each time. Figuring out where you have room to improve will help make sure your engagements are successful and fun. Watching other speeches and taking notes on what engaged you and what didn’t is another great way to add to your knowledge.

10. Watch good speakers. As you watch these great speakers, think about what you can learn for your next engagement:

Bryan Stevenson: The first time I saw Stevenson was at NSVF Summit in 2014. His keynote was one of the most engaging speeches I’ve ever seen. His ability to storytell and paint a picture for the audience was remarkable.

Brene Brown: From the beginning of her speech, Brown is relatable to her audience. Through stories she illustrates main points to the audience and uses very little visuals. She uses body language to make the speech feel conversational and not overly rehearsed.

For more see:

Caroline Vander Ark

Caroline Vander Ark

Caroline is COO at Getting Smart. Follow Caroline on Twitter, @Cvanderark.


Paul Mungai /

Bryan talk was wonderfully delivered!He moved the crowd and the massage must have been left in their minds for a long time!Am a Speaker and you’ve just made me look for this guy and learn more from!