Six Takeaways to be a Better Public Speaker

Public Speaking
Recently I was asked by a journalist how I practiced public speaking.  At this point in my life, getting up in front of an audience is pretty much second nature.  However, it wasn’t always so.  I had to work hard at the skill and had to fail A LOT before I found my schtick and was able to get pretty OK at it.   


Here are the highlights from the interview along with six take-aways to help you be a better public speaker.

How did you work on your public speaking skills?

I took every opportunity I could to speak at as many venues as possible.  I also observed other speakers that did things I admired and, more importantly, did things I thought were cheesy.  As example, starting off a presentation with “Good Morning”, then when the audience doesn’t respond saying “You can do better than that…Good MORRRR-NINGGGGG!”.  The audience then feigns laughter and parrots “Good MORRRR-NINGGGGG!” with an eye-roll.  Sheesh.

Did you speak at local rotaries? Libraries? Conferences?


Yes.  I spoke in front of as many audiences with varying sizes as possible.  When first starting out don’t refuse a gig and don’t worry about getting paid.  It’s great on-the-job training. 

What did you learn and what can you teach the rest of us?

There are six take-aways that I think would best help someone wanting to improve his or her public speaking skills:

1)   Videotape yourself.  Watch how you come across and decide if you are being compelling and entertaining or just coming off like a doofus.

2)   Find a coach who is an accomplished speaker that you admire to give you the honest scoop on your speaking abilities.  It’s not about hearing what you want to hear; it’s about hearing how you can improve and digesting the tough messages.

3)   Establish credibility before using humor.  With a new audience they don’t know whether or not you’re worth listening to.  If you lead with humor before you’ve established credibility you’re going to inject doubt in your audience’s mind.  Start off your presentation with an attention-grabbing story which demonstrates your being an authority on the subject matter.  Then use humor later on after the audience has decided you’re worth listening to.

4)   Use slides as a crutch, don’t read them to your audience. 

5)   Pick out several audience members who are giving you “cues” on your effectiveness; then periodically look at those audience members throughout your presentation to gauge interest, boredom, or some other feedback mechanism.

6)   Have fun.  The audience wants you to do well and wants to know that the next hour is going to be entertaining and insightful.  Let the audience root for you and feed off of it.


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Lonnie Pacelli

Lonnie Pacelli has 35 years' experience including 11 at Accenture, 9 at Microsoft, and 15 as an independent strategy consultant and author. Independent director at Northwest Center, a $60m disability inclusion non-profit that operates 7 businesses that fund services provided to people with disabilities. Held key positions at Microsoft including managing $6b in spend as director of corporate procurement and leading the worldwide corporate planning and budgeting group. Lonnie Pacelli is passionate about helping leaders help themselves. See more at

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