Thought I’d veer away from the obvious tips to help weather the recession this week and touch on a subject that presents problems for a lot of people regardless of what the economy is doing.

I recently got one of those “Do you know?” e-mails. Here’s what the writer wanted to determine if I knew:

Surveys and research show that most people would rather die instead of talking in front of a live audience.

Three of every four individuals suffer from speech anxiety.

Up to 5 percent of the world’s population — hundreds of millions of people — experience this kind of social phobia in any given year.

Fear of public speaking has negative effects on careers and influences success in life negatively when you do nothing about it.

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As if the writer somehow knew I wasn’t going to be 100 percent cognizant of all four bullet-points, she included Richard Zeoli’s seven tips for public speaking.

For those of you (like me) who don’t know, Zeoli is the author of the “7 Principles of Public Speaking” and the founder and president of RZC Impact, a communications firm specializing in executive-level communication coaching and strategic messaging. He also is a visiting associate at the Eagleton Institute of Politics at Rutgers University in New Jersey.

So, I’m thinking he probably knows what he’s talking about.

“While it is true that some individuals are definitely born with a gift, the overwhelming majority of people are effective speakers because they train themselves to be so,” he said. “Either they have pursued structured public speaking education or coaching or they have had the opportunity to stand on their feet and deliver speeches on many occasions and have developed these seven public speaking principles over time.”

Perception: Stop trying to be a great public speaker.

The best way to truly connect with an audience is by first understanding that people want to listen to someone who is interesting, relaxed and comfortable. In the routine conversations we have every day, we have no problem being ourselves. Yet too often, when we stand up to give a speech, something changes. We focus on the “public” at the expense of the “speaking.”

In order to become an effective public speaker, you must do just the opposite — focus on the speaking and let go of the “public.” Begin by having a conversation. If you can carry on a relaxed conversation with one or two people, you can give a great speech.

Perfection: When you make a mistake, no one cares but you.

Even the most accomplished public speaker will make mistakes. Yet it is important to remember that the only one who cares about any given mistake is the one doing the speaking.

People’s attention spans constantly wander. In fact, most people only absorb about 20 percent of a speaker’s message. The other 80 percent is internalized visually.

The most important thing a speaker can do after making a mistake is to keep going.

Visualization: If you can see it, you can speak it.

All great winners in life have something thing in common: they practice visualization to achieve their goals. The same is true in public speaking.

If you visualize on a consistent basis, your mind will become used to the prospect of speaking in public, and pretty soon you’ll find that the idea no longer elicits those same feelings of anxiety and fear.

Discipline: Practice makes perfect good.

Our goal is not to be a perfect public speaker. There is no such thing. Our goal is to be an effective public speaker. And like anything else in life, that takes practice.

Remember, even world champion athletes practice their craft on a consistent basis.

Description: Make it personal.

Regardless of the topic, audiences respond best when speakers personalize their communication.

Take every opportunity to put a face on the facts of your presentation. It’s a basic fact of human nature that people like to hear about other people, about the triumphs, tragedies and everyday humorous anecdotes that make up their lives. Capitalize on this.

Inspiration: Speak to serve.

Take the focus off yourself and shift it to your audience. After all, when you think about it, the objective of most speeches is not to benefit the speaker but to benefit the audience.

So, in all of your preparation and presentation, constantly think about how you can help your audience members achieve their goals.

Anticipation: Always leave your audience wanting more.

When it comes to public speaking, less is usually more.

So, surprise your audience. Always make your presentation just a bit shorter than anticipated.

If you’ve followed the first six principles you already have their attention and interest, and it’s better to leave your listeners wishing you had spoken for just a few more minutes than squirming in their seats waiting for your speech finally to end.

Mike Boyd is editor of the Colorado Springs Business Journal. He can be reached at or 329-5206.


  1. I’d like to add to the list “letting go of perfection” – over the years I’ve noticed that my students think they have to “know absolutely everything” and have the answer to every possible question or they’re afraid to get up and speak.

    This is akin to wanting all the traffic signals to be green before you get on the road.

    The reality is that people do expect you to know you’re stuff, but they don’t expect you to be perfect, and in fact, trying to be perfect actually works against you because people want to hear from real human beings, not “perfect super-heroes”.

    David Portney

  2. Great post. Here are a few more tips that might be helpful for folks:

    – Structure your content using a “spoke and wheel” diagram. Your main point or “what you want them to DO” should be the center hub. The surrounding spokes should be the key points that support your main hub. Secondary spokes extending off the “parent” spokes would be your supportive stories, data, case studies, vignettes, quotes, etc.

    – Follow the 80/20 rule. About 80% of your content should be developed and practiced. But don’t get so tied to your outline that you’re unable to “play” with the audience. There’s nothing worse than a speaker who is so tied to their content that they can’t maximize the golden interaction opportunities that crop up from audience members.

    – Be “in fun” unless your topic is dead serious. By that I mean relax and be willing to play a little with folks. They hear so many dull, boring, scripted speakers that it’s quite refreshing to get someone on stage who can relax and go with the flow.

    – Ask questions of your audience. Then give them enough time to process the question and get up the nerve to raise their hand and speak out. Too many speakers rush through a question and don’t give folks enough time to mull it over before they speak out in front of peers.

    – Build in interaction, whether it’s breaking folks down into small groups to address a question, or work through a quick exercise, etc. Make a provocative statement, then ask your group, “Who says ‘yes’? Who says ‘no’?” Then break them into small groups to discuss the pro’s and con’s.

    – Use people in the “peanut gallery” or those who critique you as spur of the moment experts. Rather than try to ignore them, enlist their support. If they’re unusually obnoxious, give the group a break and have a private conversation rather than allow them to hijack your presentation.

    There’s nothing more adventurous and character-building than public speaking. You really learn a lot about who YOU are in the process!

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