Public speaking

Whether you’ve been asked to perform your first keynote, or you just want to face a fear, speaking in front […]


Whether you’ve been asked to perform your first keynote, or you just want to face a fear, speaking in front of a crowd can be enormously empowering. It can also increase your visibility as a business leader. Fortunately, the speakers’ stage is not reserved for veteran CEOs.

What audiences want

The one demand Australian audiences make of speakers is authenticity, Winterbottom says. They do not just want to hear how successful somebody is, they want to hear about the hard times, about how the person got up after being knocked down.

“In terms of topics, you need to be meeting a need or solving a problem,” Winterbottom says. “In business this can be anything from engaging staff to inspirational leadership.”

Practise is everything, Winterbottom says. She recommends, quite seriously, starting off by drawing a face on a wall and making a presentation to that face over and over again, until you feel the presentation is ready.

How to break into the speaking circuit

Once your presentation is as good as it can get, join a professional body such as the National Speakers Association of Australia, Thought Leaders or Toastmasters in order to find out about events where you can speak in front of a live audience. Many great speakers hone their skills in front of school groups. “If you can keep a room full of teens engaged then you’re most of the way there,” Winterbottom says.

Finally, seek out industry groups, networking groups and the like. From there, speakers who are on the right track will likely be invited to conferences and other industry gatherings as paid speakers, or as unpaid keynote presenters whose businesses will benefit from exposure to the market.

“Before you even begin to share your message you must engage the audience, and this can be through humour, emotion or a story,” Winterbottom says. “You need to earn the audience’s permission to speak.”

“The top speakers’ most powerful tool is silence. It gives audiences the required time to digest the message.”

A few more simple public speaking tips include:

  • Always ask people to turn off their mobile phones.
  • Double-check that your audio-visuals are working before you begin.
  • Ensure somebody else introduces you and sets up your credentials before you walk onto the stage.

For further assistance, upcoming speakers can attend regular seminars hosted by such bodies as the National Speakers Association of Australia, or approach the many speaker agencies, or a specialist speaker management body such as Winterbottom’s O2 Speakers.

Becoming a talented speaker is valuable in so many ways, Winterbottom says. Even if you never get onto a stage, your skills help with pitching in business, communicating ideas, engaging and inspiring others.