Do you dream of public speaking or is it your worst nightmare?

Warning: I’m about to make what could be a career-limiting public announcement. I don’t like presenting or public speaking. I’m not great at it. There, it’s out there. And I’m not alone. Glossophobia, or a fear of public speaking, is said to affect around 75% of people. In fact, it’s such a big deal that it’s listed number 13 in The Top 100 phobia list from, just after Thanatophobia, the fear of death!

Giving speeches and presentations, and coaching those delivering them, are an important part of the internal communicator’s toolkit. You may never have to speak publicly or make a presentation at work, but if you’re an internal communications professional, chances are this isn’t the case.

In her brilliant book ‘How to Own the Room‘ Viv Groskop says, “You can’t get around fear. You can only go through it. And the only way to go through it is to speak in public and get used to it”. So, wherever you are on the fear spectrum, these hints, tips and inspiration will hopefully help you shine next time you’re in the spotlight and help you enjoy the moment.

A great speech needs a great story

On August 28 1963, Martin Luther King Jr delivered his famous ‘I have a dream’ speech before a crowd of 250,000 people at the Lincoln Memorial, Washington DC.  This speech is regularly featured in searches for the top five greatest speeches of the 20th century, alongside Winston Churchill, Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Ghandi, and John F Kennedy. But what makes a great speech? In a blog for Forbes, Jacquelyn Smith says we should forget fancy PowerPoint presentations and loads of data, instead focusing on keeping the speech simple, with a clear, relevant message and a few great stories.

Maggie Lawrie, a presentation and executive coach to CEOs, leaders and entrepreneurs around the world, has studied speakers and audience reactions for over 25 years.  I was lucky enough to work with Maggie on a speech I made at the Skyloft in London, so was interested to hear her top three tips for creating the right story for the best outcome.

  1. What are your audience really thinking?

When preparing your presentation, go and sit in a different chair to the one you’re sitting in right now and imagine you’re a member of your audience. How are you feeling? What are you thinking about the presenter? What one thing do you want to get from listening to this talk more than anything else?

Doing this gives you invaluable insights into what your audience need to hear from you.

It could be that they are anxious about the information they are about to hear. Are things changing perhaps? So choose a relatable story that shows you understand how they feel. For example, if change is on the agenda, then one relatable example would be about moving house, as most people have done this at some time in our lives. Tell them about your last house move, how in the beginning it was exciting, then daunting and maybe overwhelming, and how in the end it was a great decision to move. Bring it to life by sharing not only how you felt but anecdotes about the move that really make the point. All change seems daunting at times, but keep going forward and the results are great. Your audience will relate and remember your points way more than they would if you showed them a slide on a screen.

2. Energy

Energy and passion are what most audiences really want from their speaker. Choose stories that make you feel energised as you tell them. Make sure the stories relate to something you’re passionate about. Run it by a friend and see if they feel inspired after hearing it.

Also, before you arrive at the venue and start to share your stories and your presentation, try one of the many exercises that help get rid of nerves and energise you.

Here’s one example of how to quickly increase your energy. Stand with your feet parallel, reach your arms above your head, tilt your head back slightly and smile, breathe in and as you bring your arms down fast shout ‘yes’ at the top of your voice. Do this three times and you’ll notice your energy is now fizzing and more importantly, your audience will feel it too.

3. Include word pictures and comparisons

Depending on your audience, there’s no need to make the story too long and also remember word pictures are very effective.

For example, I was asked to meet a client in Istanbul recently for his coaching session. Having never been to Istanbul, I said yes of course. On the way to the meeting I asked the taxi driver why there were so many people about, was there a special event on? He told me it was just that Istanbul has a huge population for the area. I looked it up to find it is twice the population of London in a much smaller area. I created a relatable comparison with the basic information and immediately I understood the city better. Relatable comparisons work well.

Stories are relatable, memorable and told in the right way, they can have a huge impact on your audience.

Your story helps you stand out from the crowd

Sharing your story at conferences and internal events is a great way to build your personal brand and market your skills to existing and potential employers or to prospective clients. But how do you stand out from the ever-increasing competition at work and in the internal communications profession?

Lucy Eckley of Build Your Brand Story is a regular speaker on the subjects of personal brand and brand story. This is Lucy’s advice on how to make sure you nail your next corporate presentation.



Check the logistics

  • How long are you expected to speak for?
  • What’s the format? Are you expected to have slides? If so, are they required by a specific date or for a pre-read pack?
  • What room will you be in? Can you check it out in advance so you can visualise where you’ll be speaking?

Keep it simple 

  • No one was ever criticised for being too succinct or too easy to understand.
  • Less is more when it comes to slides. Use images and headlines to support your key points.
  • Don’t be tempted to put too many words on your slides. You want your audience to be listening to you, not reading!
  • Don’t be afraid to be different. Everyone else might have slides but maybe one infographic could be more powerful.

Practise, practise, practise 

  • Get familiar with your content.
  • Learning it word for word can sound unnatural and you can come unstuck if your mind suddenly goes blank.
  • Do learn your opening and closing sentences so you make a strong start and conclusion.

Putting power into your presentations

How can you make presentations more interesting, more engaging and crucially, more interactive and inclusive? Here are a couple of great solutions from Carly Murray, Internal Communications Director at The Surgery.

We’ve all had that cringe-worthy moment when you ask for post-presentation questions, and nothing comes back. To get the ball rolling, give Slido a go. It allows delegates to ask a question through their phone. They go to and enter an event ID before inputting their question. Everyone gets to see all the questions asked and can vote for the ones they want answered.


Top tips:

·         Make sure you answer the most voted for questions

·         Give your Q&A panel a time limit so you can answer as many questions as possible


Live streaming events on social networks like Workplace by Facebook can keep remote workers in the loop. But even then, they can feel a bit, well, remote. Ditch the traditional face-to-face and go 100% online. Presenters looking straight at a camera can make it feel more inclusive for everyone, whether you’re sat at a desk or you’re out on the road. With live questions and comments coming in online it feels more transparent too.


Top tips:

·         Use a moderator to pose online questions to your speakers

·         Make it two-way by asking your audience questions

Love what you do

It’s been said that, if you do what you love you’ll never work a day in your life.  Julia Porter-Robertson, Global Recruitment Brand Creative Leader at EY, is a perfect example of this.

Julia loves public speaking and, throughout her career, has presented at quite a few big conferences, such as the CIPD. But the invitation to speech at a TedX Talk in 2017 was not on her radar. Never in a million years did Julia expect to have that opportunity, or to share the stage with Andy Weber, former Secretary of Defence to President Obama’s Assistant. Julia not only delivered a 10-minute speech on ‘Why you should never suppress your authentic self’, she then went on to play Prelude by Rachmaninoff on a grand piano, in front of an audience of around 1,000. She describes the occasion as “a bit overwhelming and surreal.” 

Here’s some advice from Julia on how to prepare for speaking opportunities and give your best performance.

Believe in your subject matter

Public speaking is a performance. It’s about authentic story-telling. Audiences want to see speakers give it their all, being passionate about sharing their story. If you’re not passionate, people will see straight through it.

Talk about something you care and know about and the rest is easy. If it’s not something you’d put on your LinkedIn profile, you probably shouldn’t be on stage talking about it.

What’s the gig? 

Do your research well in advance. Find out whether you’re required to stick to a script. This type of speaking is not for me as I’m pretty spontaneous, but other speakers find great comfort in a script and an auto cue.

Done well, public speaking is a brilliant way to build your personal brand and raise your profile, but you need to be very clear about the outcome you want from your public speaking engagement. Is it approval? A business deal? New business contacts?

Only use slides when necessary, such as for smaller corporate meetings when you need to share visual context and high level details.

Up your game

There’s no magic or secret formula. Great results are based on hard graft and raising your game.

It’s natural to feel a bit anxious about making a mistake at a big event, losing your thread or freezing on stage. So work on it. Seek out self-help guides, watch and learn from other speakers.

I never stop learning from other speakers and am an avid follower of Ted Talks. They’re a rich source of inspiration and guidance on how to be a great story-teller. Use these examples to help you find your own style and practise as much as you possibly can.

Looking for an opportunity to share your IC knowledge?

The IABC is looking for outstanding presenters for their World Conference on 14-17 June at the 2020in Chicago. Here’s how to apply.

Resources and useful information


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