Best practices for public speaking

Delivering presentations

July 27, 2022

Public speaking is one of the most powerful ways we communicate. 

Public speaking allows us to share ideas, create connections, influence decisions, and motivate change widely with many people at once.

In this guide, we’ve compiled some of the best lessons for public speaking shared by great orators and shortcuts you can use to power up your next PowerPoint presentation! 💪

Table of contents:

Coming Soon.

Steve Jobs’ rehearsal process

Steve Jobs is a public speaking legend and master storyteller. The late Apple founder introduced us and captivated us with new ways to connect and communicate. To date, his 2005 commencement speech at Stanford University remains the most watched commencement speech of all time.

So, how does Jobs do it?

Ken Kocienda, a tenured Apple designer, worked alongside Jobs for more than 15 years. In Kocienda’s book, Creative Selection, he gives us an insider’s view into how Jobs prepared and rehearsed his mind-blowing presentations. The secret to Jobs’ effective presentations? He viewed each keynote presentation as an actor would for a theatrical performance.

Here are five main takeaways from Steve Jobs’ rehearsal process you should use to prepare for all of your business presentations.

1. Rehearse early

Jobs didn’t wait until the final presentation was complete to begin rehearsing; you shouldn’t either. As you finalize different pieces of your presentation, start rehearsing how you will present them. This will help you build your presentation as a whole and a cohesive storyline.

Says Kocienda, "This was one of Steve's great secrets of success as a presenter. He practiced. A lot. He went over and over the material until he had the presentation honed and he knew it cold."

2. Design every line and refine every gesture

Every single piece of Jobs’ presentation—the words on the screen, the lines of his speech, the movement of his hands—was methodically thought out beforehand and rehearsed to perfection.

Image source

Apple presentations are universally known for their sleek and minimalist design, featuring images and single phrases in place of bulleted lists. While you may not be able to move away from bullet points entirely in your business presentations, you should be thoughtful about what you include in your slides. 

You also want to keep your audience engaged, so don’t bore them with a monotone speech. Be intentional with your actions to ensure they elevate your message, not distract from it. Says Kocienda, "Steve thought about what each line meant to him and what those lines could mean to an audience. He worked on pace, on using his voice, his body, and his gestures to supplement his words."

3. Rehearse out loud

Jobs practiced in full presentation mode every single time. He practiced changing the volume and tone of his voice and used expansive gestures as if he were presenting to a room full of executives. Says Kocienda, “Everything was exactly as if he were presenting to a packed house.”

So, don’t be shy! Practice proudly and out loud. It may feel awkward at first but it’s a helpful way to refine your speech and ensure you’re using your pace, tone, volume, and gestures effectively to captivate your audience.

4. Ask for feedback

During every step of his rehearsal performance, Jobs would stop and ask his executive team for constructive feedback to help improve every slide or phrase.

After rehearsing something over and over, we can often become tone-deaf to our own words. Opening ourselves up to constructive feedback only helps us grow and improve as professionals. Practice in front of your close colleagues and ask for their feedback on how you can improve your presentation and make it stand out.

5. Plan rehearsals in real-life conditions

Jobs would schedule multiple “dress rehearsals” leading up to a keynote presentation, showing up at the venue in his uniform-black mock turtleneck and jeans.

Prep your presentation headspace by simulating the presentation experience while you practice. Rehearse in an empty boardroom as if you’re presenting to executives. Or take it one step further and have your colleagues sit in to provide some inevitable distractions, like coughing or an email notification sound.

You’ve now been granted the wisdom of Steve Jobs. Set forth and give great presentations!

⚡️ Prezent Pro Tip: Level up your public speaking game and bring out your inner thespian with theatre techniques and games all trained professionals use to practice.

Public speaking lessons from World Champions

Since 1938, Toastmasters International has hosted the World Championship of Public Speaking. Each year, thousands of orators representing more than 100 countries battle for the coveted title of World Champion of Public Speaking. This accolade has allowed past champions to become prominent paid speakers who deliver keynotes and speeches across the globe.

There’s a secret formula you’ll find in almost every winner’s speech. We’ve broken it down into seven key elements:

1. Include personal stories. 📖
It helps capture your audience’s attention. Remember, facts and statistics only will put people to sleep.

2. Use humor early and frequently. 😂
Engage your audience early by telling a joke. People tend to put their guard down once you make them laugh.

3. Move around the entire stage. 🕺
Use your placement on the stage to tell your story by moving forward to show progress, or backward to represent moving back in time.

4. Cater to your audience. 👥
Find something in common between you and the audience and find ways to naturally include this commonality in your presentation.

5. Use callbacks. 🗣
Mention concepts or phrases early in your speech that you’ll bring back up later. They help tie your presentation together and leave your audience with a lasting memory of your speech.

6. Act out situations but don’t overdo it. 🎭
Acting out stories as we’re telling them can help illustrate our point. But be careful not to over-exaggerate as that may distract from your presentation altogether.

7. Make clear transitions. ➡️
Your audience should never be left wondering if you’ve changed topics. The transitions should be clear and easy to spot, like pausing, changing your tone, or transitional words.

The 2022 World Champion is Cyril Junior Dim of Poland with his speech titled, “Ndini.”

You’ll notice in the first two minutes of Din’s speech, he’s opened with a joke, included a callback of Ndini, and shared a personal story.

How many more elements does Din use in his championship speech?

Take this secret formula to spice up your next speech and present like a World Champion of Public Speaking! 🏆

Presenting with shortcuts

Let’s face it—public speaking can be scary. Public speaking—or glossophobia—is one of the most common phobias, believed to affect up to 75% of the population.

There’s enough on your plate when preparing for a public presentation, so don’t let technology add to your stress! Here are some handy Powerpoint shortcuts you should know to help you stay in control and present with ease.

Don’t forget to use these shortcuts the next time you present! For even more PowerPoint shortcuts, click here.

Expert Corner: Public speaking secrets from Scott Sugerman

Scott Sugerman is a Director of Training at Genentech, a founder of the biotechnology industry. He revealed some of the tips he shares with his team to help them present their best in front of an audience.

Less is more

Get to the point. Quickly. 

That’s what Sugerman finds effective in presentations. He drew inspiration on how to do that from Getting a Squirrel to Focus by Dr. Patricia B. Scott. In her book, Dr. Scott lays out a methodology on how to capture audience attention with an acronym she poignantly named “ACORN” after the way a squirrel fixates on an acorn. 🐿

Here’s how to breakdown ACORN and use it to build you next presentation:

  • Audience
    First, identify who your audience is and think about how you can get them to listen.
    Says Sugerman, “It’s not so much about what we say, but what [the audience] hear.”
  • Credibility
    What is your expertise in this field? Let people know why they should be listening to you.
  • Order
    Deliver the point of your presentation up front so your audience has an understanding early on about what they will be learning.
  • Remember me
    Make your presentation memorable by grouping your content in sensible chunks that people can grasp easily.
  • Need to connect
    Your presentation should be more than a transfer of information, it should be an opportunity to connect genuinely with people.

Don’t be afraid to fail

Public speaking can be daunting but your colleagues and upper-management are there to support and create safe environments for you to express your ideas. You may mess up sometimes, and that’s ok! The more you practice speaking in front of others, the easier and less nerve-wracking it becomes.

“Our jobs as managers, leaders, coaches is to, ideally, protect them from what could damage them. So when they fall, they scrape their knees, not break their legs.”

Everything communicates

Sugerman reminds business leaders that everything communicates. While it can be easy to fall back on your slideshow presentation and simply deliver the message—it’s important to remember that your nonverbal cues speak for themselves, too.

Your audience is seeing everything you do, and that includes your eye contact, your movements across stage, your dress and appearance, and more. A key tip from Sugerman: “When you are speaking publicly, it’s a performance.”

Practice makes perfect

When it comes to public speaking, rehearse early, practice often, and don’t let your own fear of failure hold you back from sharing your ideas and talents with others.

So, you've mastered the art of public speaking—but are you presenting confidently?