If you’re a successful business person, at some point in your life you’ll be asked to speak in front of a group of people. The very thought may cause you to break out in a cold sweat. Even experienced public speakers are likely to get butterflies in their stomach before they go on stage.

However, it may ease your mind if you know that you’re prepared and that your speech will be interesting as well as informative. Here are some suggestions to help you prepare.

A successful speech doesn’t just happen

Start preparing well in advance of the speaking engagement. When you’re the professional speaking to peers, you’re the thought leader. So, give your audience something to think about – and not from a canned speech you give at “all these kinds of things.” To fully engage your audience, keep it relevant, helpful, and as short as possible to do the job.

  • Write and rewrite the speech. Make sure it flows smoothly.
  • Practice, practice, then practice some more in front of a mirror. Focus on breath control and posture, and on avoiding filler words like “um” and “you know”, which have been known to drive audiences crazy.
  • Reading your speech from a paper or screen can make you sound boring. To keep yourself on track, use index cards to provide prompts.

Planning your content

When deciding on a subject for your speech, remember to talk to your audience about what’s important to them. How will your topic affect them or their business?

Take into account your audience’s level of expertise. Don’t use technical jargon that will go over their heads, but don’t “dumb it down” too much by explaining things they already know.

Prepare the content architecture for your speech. Tell your listeners what you’re about to tell them, then tell them, then add emphasis by recapping key points.

Work on the beginning of the speech. Grab attention at the very start with a rhetorical question, an anecdote from your professional experience, or a shocking statistic. It’s critical to pull in listeners early to keep them around long enough to get the key point.  

Write like you talk. You have a certain natural rhythm to your speech. To keep it sounding natural (uncanned), talk to the audience the way you’d talk to a single person. Your speech should sound like you, not like a stiff cardboard replica of you.

Use diagrams to convey lots of information in a simpler format. You can spend 10 minutes explaining the project cost break-out, or display a pie chart showing quickly and easily where the money went. Pie charts, lists of key points, graphs – when the information is dense and/or complex, speak slowly and use visuals to clarify or enhance your key points.

Delivering your message

Be conversational and relaxed to make your audience comfortable before you get to the “meat” of the meeting. It takes a minute or two to change focus from what audience members were doing when you took the podium, so give the audience time to adjust their thinking and change their focus to you.

Use eye contact. Pick a few friendly faces in the audience and focus on them.

Never lose your cool. If you drop your index cards, shrug your shoulders and wing it. The audience is on your side. Laugh about your mistakes to avoid losing patience. Always remember, the audience wants the speech to go well.

Leave time for questions, and make sure to repeat all questions so the entire audience knows what you’re talking about. It’s frustrating to hear your insightful opinion when we don’t know what question you’re answering: “The question is: ‘What will happen to local taxes?’” That way, listeners who didn’t hear the question have context.

Always make yourself available to listeners who may have been reluctant to ask a question in a public forum. If appropriate, provide a business card to those audience members who seek out your knowledge.

Know when it’s time to get off stage. Your audience will give you all the clues you need. Rustling, stifled yawns, checking watches, gazing wistfully out the window – time to wrap it up.

Finally, give out takeaways or post a link to a site with more information that people can reference later.


The information provided is presented for general informational purposes only and does not constitute tax, legal or business advice. Any views expressed in this article may not necessarily be those of Nevada State Bank. Nevada State Bank is a division of Zions Bancorporation, N.A. Member FDIC