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Public Speaking

January 8, 2014 by Dr. Jon Warner in Presentation Skills

Public Speaking

Speaking in public on behalf of an organization (when it is not your professional job) can take place in a number of situations. This might include:

  • giving a speech (to a large group of people external to the organization)
  • delivering a presentation (about new products/services in the pipeline for instance)
  • giving a phone interview (to a journalist from a newspaper or radio station for example)
  • giving a television studio interview (live to an interviewer-presenter, for instance)
  • giving a briefing (to union members about new safety regulations for example)

Research suggests that very few individuals like speaking in public settings, but managers in particular are faced with having to do it more often than ever. In such circumstances the more a person prepares and practices, the less stressful the experience will be.

One quick and easy way to start to prepare and get better at presenting in public is to audio or video-tape your efforts (these days made much easier with smart phones and tablet computers that make quick set up and play back easy), and to carefully analyze what you see and hear. Most of us are completely unaware of just how we come across to others, and recording the experience can give you invaluable feedback on your performance. A common finding for many is that a speech can sound ponderous and monotonous when it is played back. It is therefore important to ensure that there is clear enunciation and some variety in your voice. What can sound low-key and professionally detached to a few like-minded professional peers can sound dull and boring in a public speaking situation.

In all public speeches time is often short or constrained (sometimes to just a few minutes or even seconds if it is a media interview for example) and there is consequently a great need to get your message across without waffle or too much technical detail. Broadcast journalists sometimes speak of “grabs” – short, succinct phrases that an editor can “grab” or easily identify and select from an interview recording. So, In essence, good speeches give good grabs. Bad speeches drone on, often pacing themselves as if a rather ponderous 90 minute speech were being given or the person has all the time in the world.

A good grab is characterized by:

  • short sentences
  • fairly short and commonly used words
  • colorful, imaginative language, including perhaps an analogy or metaphor or figure of speech or even slang or humor
  • personal perspectives
  • expressions which help to summarize a complex situation
  • variety of pitch and tone (is not monotonous)

Anyone involved in public speaking needs to realize that even in extended interview situation, you will not have time to get across all of the points you want to get across. A speaker therefore should quickly reconcile him or herself to the brutal reality that, in an interview lasting a few minutes, you will be lucky to get three brief major points across, even though in your planning you have identified ten or fifteen major points, a number of which will require considerable technical explanation and amplification. In other words, in media interviews in particular, if you don’t learn to edit yourself, then you will end up being so severely edited that you may not recognize your speech when others quote it back to you. This is why preparation is all important.

In general networking and relationship-building we are often encouraged to prepare what is called an “elevator speech.” An elevator speech is a single sentence or at most a short paragraph which (at least in theory) you could trot-out when you are in an elevator with another person who asks you who you are and what you do. Of course, in a short elevator ride you will only have that person as a captive audience for thirty seconds at the most (and probably more like fifteen). Elevator speeches are very similar to speaking in grabs (or making one pithy major point at a time) and we can therefore use it to develop the few points we want to get across in a speech-whether it is just a one minute interview or a fifteen minute presentation.

Another way to prepare to make a public speech of any kind is to determine what you absolutely must say, what you would like to say (if there is time), and what can be said additionally (if there is time but also by giving an audience a hand-out for example). But don’t forget, in the final analysis, this is always a priority-setting exercise. You rarely get the chance to get all of the information you would ideally like to share in a 30 minute presentation, let alone a fifteen second grab on a radio bulletin, or a thirty second grab on the evening news, or a fifty-word direct quote or paraphrase in an article that is due to appear in tomorrow’s newspaper. An individual therefore needs to know what is his or her first priority, or his/her one, two or three “must-says” (all expressed as well-crafted “grabs” of course).

Don’t forget, any public speaking will only work with as much preparation and practice as you can do – even if you have to do it to the mirror until you have to do it for real.

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About Dr. Jon Warner

Dr. Jon Warner is a prolific author, management consultant and executive coach with over 25 years experience. He has an MBA and a PhD in Organizational Psychology. Jon can be reached at

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About the Editor and Primary Author

Jon Warner

Jon Warner is an executive coach and management consultant and in the past has been a CEO in three very different companies. Read more

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