Taking the pain out of public speaking

Written by
Samantha Clarke

01 Feb 2017

01 Feb 2017 • by Samantha Clarke

I use my words carefully, because any great speaker knows that you are not there to just ‘speak at’ people for 20-30 mins you are there to move people, spread information, nudge behaviours and provide benefit.

It never used to be like this though. Back in the day when I was in the land of strategy and trends, I used to dread public speaking. I would roll up to my clients trembling, so focused on reeling off information or making the sale that my presentations had no heart. Moving into work that I loved taught me two things about public speaking….one, public speakers must love their content enough to want to change lives (professionally or personally) and two, public skills can be learnt if you care enough about the first. Here are some lessons I’ve learnt the hard way so that you don’t have to!

Make your speech real - relevant emotive animated loaded with visuals


Just because you are an expert doesn’t mean your audience is too. Keep your language simple, relevant and relatable. It’s important to ask yourself ‘What’s in it for them?’. It’s never about you, on that stage you are of service to your audience. Always think about the learnings you want for your audience. Inspiration, ideas are all fabulous but action is where the magic is. Ask them, “What’s the one thing you learnt today that you will put into action tomorrow and why?” “Think of a co-worker or a friend who is having difficulty with X, how could what I’ve taught you today around Y help them?” 

Also don’t be afraid to repeat relevant information. They will often be in their own heads or thinking about dinner. So repeating is the only way to make sure your message gets heard. Create a structure that allows you to repeat and reinforce key points with actionable examples.


Our world is full of stories. We love a story and remember the finer details of quite a few. So it makes sense to think of your talk like a story. 

Good stories always have a beginning, middle and an end. Firstly introduce your ‘story’, what are you going to tell them and why? Then comes the main part of your story  (middle body of your speech) and finally the key learnings/conclusion (end). The magic of storytelling can imprint your talk into someone’s mind on a deeper level. Keep your stories as personal as possible and obviously in line with the audience's’ needs. But if a story is personal to you, you will be able to emote in the right ways, share genuine feelings and create a connection with your audience.


Some of my best talks have been authentically random ones. Rather than clinging to my agenda for how I wanted the talk to look and feel. I freed myself from perfection and threw in some random curveball quotes, facts or questions. It acted as a useful jolt to keep the audience engaged and energy levels up. Be unexpected.

Pausing intentionally helps to vary the pace of a talk. It might look like you’ve forgotten yourself but it also gives your audience time to zone in again.

Find your signature one liners. An old coach told me about the beauty of these for opening impact. For me they have come from personal anecdotes, conversations I’ve overheard in the supermarket, things kids say...whatever. Save them in a google doc and alter or reuse for future talks.

Loaded with visuals

Think of your slides as billboards instead of places for long essays. Your slides need to make their best first impressions and accentuate your point. 

Your audience should be able to scan your slides; if they have to read endless text, you will lose them. Inevitably people at the back can’t see and then the focus shifts from listening to you to making sure they copy down or understand every last word on the slide. Hold your place as the expert and keep the focus on you instead of an overloaded, wordy slide.

To keep confidence levels up, I always do a little run through of what might trip me up when I talk. By covering all bases it doesn’t give room for anxiety to rear it’s head.

•    Not sure about space? - make sure you can view it before you go on or outline what you need beforehand.

•    Projector? What if it fails? Have you rehearsed it enough to do it with slides.

•    Who am I speaking to and what might they ask me at the end? Think about your audience and identify the types of potential responses to questions you might receive. 

•    Awkward audiences? Interruptions? What can you do in advance to make sure you can ‘dance in the moment’ with your speech. What can you leave out/omit or add to make sure you go with the flow of your audience versus just pushing through a script.

Own your space

Failing to own your space as a speaker is the strong indicator of a lack of confidence. Forget clinging to or standing behind the lectern (unless that is the only space available), don’t be afraid to come out in-front of your audience and stand centre stage. They will love you for it. You are the expert, shows them you are a positive force and share what you have to offer. Don’t hide your gift. Before I go on stage I do a lot of power ‘Wonder Woman’ posing (arms on my hips and feet approximately shoulders width apart) in the mirror and deep breathing to boost my confidence and keep me calm. I also place my arms above my head in a V-shape and shout ‘You can do this’, it always gets my energy levels up before I go on stage.

Look for key clusters of people in the audience so you can dot your focus about the room versus just looking at one person or in one direction. 

Pull your shoulders back, hold your stomach in and keep your head up. Imagine you are walking into a comfy cocoon enveloping you with good vibes and believe the audience has no bad intentions.

Lastly do your best to finish on time. Time is a valuable resource for all. Control the pace of your talk and leave some time for questions.