Fact: the most common phobia that Americans have is glossophobia (that is the fear of public speaking, not the fear of lip gloss). Seventy-five percent of all Americans report having a fear of public speaking, beating out fear of spiders, fear of the dark, and even fear of death. We highly doubt that people, if given the choice, would choose death over public speaking, but nonetheless, talking in front of a large group of people will turn most people's legs into jelly. We hate jelly. That's why we're here to help you teach you how to give a good speech.

And we promise that the advice that we offer will be more constructive than "picture the audience naked." Everyone knows that that doesn't actually work. Why is the image of your boss, your teacher, or complete strangers in the buff supposed to put you at ease, anyway? If anything, these images should inspire even more terror.


This is the most important piece of advice we have to offer you about public speaking: never forget who you're talking to. You're not a wall or your mother or your friends (even if all of these are in the crowd). You're speaking to a specific audience. And audiences, by definition, gather together to watch something that's worth their being held hostage in a cramped room for an extensive amount of time.

Feeling scared of them already? Fear not; an audience is much easier to control than separate individuals. In order to woo your audience, you must do two things: find out what they want to hear, and figure out how to get that message across. We must warn you before going further though - we're about to teach you some very powerful mind tricks that should only be administered responsibly. We trust that you won't use the following information to start a cult.

Know what the audience wants to hear
Figure out how to convey that message

Know what the audience wants to hear

Each audience is different. Keeping this earth-shattering revelation in mind, here's how to gear your speech towards a specific audience:

  • Research your audience. Find out what the average audience member will be like. What will the average age be? What about their familiarity with the subject? Will they be fun loving or stodgy? What are they expecting to learn from you? Thinking about these simple elements will set you on the right track.

  • Use appropriate words and body language. A career-day speech in an elementary school classroom is not the place to start pulling out terms like, "software development" when what you really want to say is "I do stuff with computers." But if you're giving a presentation to a group of programming colleagues, you should by all means refer to what you do as "software development" (you might even be able to pull off a dirty joke with "ASCII" -- pronounced ass-key, for all you programming illiterates). The point is, if the audience doesn't understand your words, your speech will completely fly over their heads. If the words you use are too simple, your speech will be drowned out by the snoring.

  • You also have to think about the image you want to convey. When you're speaking to children, you want to smile a lot and look friendly and warm. When delivering a presentation to a group of distinguished colleagues, you still want to be accessible, but you must also maintain an authoritative air.

Ways to convey your message

The whole point of giving a speech is not just to make it through all your index cards, but to also communicate something to your audience. Consider these suggestions to help you out:

  • Treat the audience as a single entity. One trick of the trade is to pretend that the audience is just one person. When there's only one person that you have to worry about, you feel more of a personal connection to him/her. Your speech will take back seat to the fact that you want the person who's listening to you to really understand what you're saying. So imagine that you're delivering your presentation to a fat, multi-headed creature.

  • Make eye contact. Nothing makes an audience more alert than a speaker who can stare down a crowd. Making eye contact means making a connection, and that is your number one goal. So let your eyes wander up from your notes as often and naturally as possible (this will get easier with practice).

  • Consider letting the audience participate. It's not applicable to all speeches, but letting members of the audience participate during your presentation will warm up a crowd. It'll encourage them to pay attention, thus making you easier to understand. Participation can range anywhere from asking for a show of hands to dividing the group into little clusters and giving each cluster a task. However, you should never call on someone who is not prepared to answer, nor should you ever embarrass anybody (even if they deserve it).