By Ed Rigsbee, CSP


While public speaking and professional speaking are very different creatures, my below listed helpful recommendations are gleaned from years of professional speaking before corporate and non-profit audiences of all sizes. Regardless of your situation in being a public speaker or a professional speaker, read on to access insight that will make a positive difference for you.


Audience Engagement

I donated a year of my time to serve on the editorial committee for Speaker Magazine, published by the National Speakers Association. My job was to author a monthly column where I interview people that book professional speakers. A point that frequently is made by these people is that they want a speaker that will ENGAGE their meeting attendees.


Recently, I attended a meeting planner site familiarization trip in Breckenridge , Colorado . After the second day of skiing, rather than to join the “hot tub” group I joined the “bar” group. The entertainers, Swing Crew, a two-piece local group did an amazing job of ENGAGING their audience by bring some folks on stage and enrolling some at their tables. For this group, tips were high following their set. And the important lesson was about engaging an audience through participation. I do not think I have ever seen bar entertainers do such a masterful job of including their audience.


In an hour talk, might you be able to have two or three audience interactions? Not just asking everyone to hold up their hand or to repeat after you, but real interactions? Give it a try.


Crashing Preoccupation Barrier

In order for your presentation to be effective, you first have to first get your audience’s attention. Those folks sitting in the seats in front of you are thinking about their jobs, their friends, and their loved ones-and all the issues that surround them. They are preoccupied, and it is your job to crash through that barrier. Needless to say, it is best to do this at the beginning. Start with your introduction; make it short and it needs to sell you. Your introduction had better give your audience a reason or two that it would be in their best interest to listen to what you have to say.


Then your opening has to build on your introduction. Your opening is more than just what you say; it is also what you do. Check your non-verbal statements. What you wear, how you look, how you stand, your manner in approaching the platform following your introduction, all speaks clearly about you. What are these non-verbal statements saying about you?


While you are waiting to present, take the temperature of the room and determine if your meeting planner gave you the correct information about your audience. This “last chance” to adjust is crucial. I know-who wants to change at the last minute? Any quality presenter, professional or not, is willing to do last minute adjustments to better serve the audience.


The first words out of your mouth are being judged by those in your audience, it is simple human nature. Don’t fight it, go with it. Lean into your strength at the beginning. Truly attempt to “sell yourself” to your audience in the first minutes of a presentation. Your effort will make experience better for all that are in the room, including you.


Use Mind Pictures

One of the stories that I frequently tell from the platform is about the importance of having the needed skills before one tries to implement. It is a story about when I learned to ski. My goal is to create a picture in the minds of my audience members before I start to use my body as the visual. I start the story with, “I wish you could have been there; it was a sunny fall day in Yosemite National Park at the Badger Pass Ski area…” This conjures something in everyone’s mind. Make your presentations more powerful by frequently painting mind pictures for those in your audience.


Deep Personal Inner Exploration

Consider the idea of deep personal inner exploration of your core message, wisdom, and universal truths in preparation for your next presentation. My good friend, the late John Alston, CSP, CPAE, once told me to get rid of the “fat” around my universal truths. He told me that it is that “fat” that diffuses the power of my message.


As we endeavor, I believe, to develop content to share with others, too frequently we abandon what Mark Victor Hansen, CSP, told me is “Your Inner Knower.” Yes, we have to trust ourselves. In presenting our ideas to others there is a monumental need for you to access our inner core beliefs. This is necessary on order to muster up your passion to effectively to influence others. In contrast think about the monotone speaker reading his/her PowerPoint bullet points, one at a time-at an excruciatingly slow pace.


Compare in your mind the vision of the slow monotone speaker to that of a strong, committed and powerful speaker, like John Alston. In order to influence others you must dig deep into your soul to determine your real beliefs on any topic in order to share the subtleties of the topic through your window on the world.


Before every speech, consider spending the time necessary to quiet the static in your head, to explore your beliefs, and determine the core message (about any topic) that you want to share with your audience.


Tweeting in the Back

If you are presenting to an audience where there are a minimum of just a couple people under the age of 40 (perhaps 50?), I can assure you there is someone will be on Twitter and/or Tweeting about your presentation. Visit to see. Twitter is everywhere…something like an instant blog Web Site where persons can post-from their cell phones using the text messaging function. Their friends that follow them receive a notice of the other person’s post. You may not realize it but there can very well be a number of people commenting to one another about your speech-real time, while you are speaking.


What’s a presenter to do? First acknowledge it. Say something early in your speech like, “For those of you Twittering in the back, say something nice about my speech.” This is being proactive. Let them know that you know. Also, if it is possible, leave the podium (the definition of podium is; riser or stage, not lectern) and walk toward the back of the room, you can keep them off guard and they might Twitter less. Of course this is assuming you have a wireless lavaliere microphone.


For years now presenters have been successfully dealing with those RUDE individuals that leave their cell phones on “ring” rather than “vibrate” in a belief that they (the offender) are more important than the entire audience-that it is okay to disturb others trying to glean some important bit of information. Today, presenters are also successfully enduring the second generation of “disturbance through technology.”


The Powerful Close

The members of your audience most likely will remember your opening if it is powerful and the same for your close. Ross Shafer shared his formula at the annual convention of the National Speakers Association: Open with “B” material, do your “C” material, then close with your “A” stuff. Not a bad formula, would you agree?


And, what about that close-consider the following:

  1. Stop talking long before your audience is done listening.
    2. Go out with a huge bang; story, video, or disappearing act.
    3. Give your audience some action to take immediately, or upon returning to home or office.
    4. Give the attendees something insightful, emotionally penetrating, or inspirational to remember.

Be heard, and make a difference to your audience. Regardless of how good you are as a public or professional speaker, you can always get better.



In speech giving, frequently your level of self-confidence will be directly proportionate to the quality of both your speech and its delivery. The two important elements of self-confidence are preparation and practice.


Excellent speech preparation includes: mastery of topic (even if you just did the research), flow of thought and/or persuasion, the quality of your PowerPoint (if you select to use it), planned emotional peeks and valleys, planned emotional releases through humor, and correct length of time. Only amateurs go over their time!


Practice is a whole different issue; defective practice yields defective speeches. While everyone wants their speech to appear to be “fresh” relying on your adlib or improve abilities is surely a mistake. While I would never recommend learning a speech word for word, I do however; recommend that you memorize your outline. Also work in your timing, allowing for audience laughter, which indeed adds minutes to your speech. If you can deliver, in your living room, a great speech to your spouse, significant other, or your children; your speech will be a hit with its intended audience.


Guard the Prime Time

If you were to ask most speakers just before they took the podium, why they were there, the most frequent answers would be:
“I was invited to speak.”
“I don’t know why I was invited to speak.”
“I’ve got some things I want to get off my chest.”
“I was roped into it.”
“I don’t know how I get into messes like this.”


While there are many reasons to stand in front of an audience, always remember this; for you, it’s your prime time. You will be remembered by your words; powerful or not…persuasive, or not…caring, or not. The next time you take to the podium (by the way, look up podium; not something you stand at, but rather on) consider others by recognizing this is your prime time. Guard it well.


Make Every Speech an Event

When you get to the point that you are giving “just another speech,” don’t! Nobody is interested in “just another speech” but very interested in what you have to say that will make their lives better. When you give “just another speech” everyone in the audience knows it, and generally they quickly zone-out and become disruptive.


The solution is to see each speech as an event. One of my early mentors, the late Lee Andree Davis, who I have frequently referred to as a “diamond in a garbage can” would remind me to make all my activities with my children an EVENT. Not that I have always been successful at it, I have kept his words in the back on my mind. As an example, the other day I was driving with my older son, who was home from college for the holidays, on Pacific Coast Highway through Malibu . I suggested stopping for a bite to eat. So I took him to Paradise Cove, a fabulous location, yes in a private cove and right on the beach. It was the perfect Southern California winter day; sunny, warm, no wind and a calm ocean. The perfect day and location made our lunch soirée an EVENT to be remembered.


My continual challenge for you is to similarly make every one of your speeches an EVENT. Do not allow yourself to fall into the trap of mediocrity. Never just stand in front of a group of people and talk. Honor them, their time, and their intelligence by making your speech an EVENT.


Let the Diamond Show Through

Above, I suggested that you make every speech an event. I mentioned, Lee Andree Davis, who I have frequently referred to as a “diamond in a garbage can.” What I mean by this analogy is that Lee had a heart of gold but wrapped it up in such a coarse package that few were able to see his diamond.


How this relates to every person that steps onto the platform, literally or figuratively, are in relation to authenticity-what many say is the number one element to a great speech. Will you take the risk of authenticity? It is easy to stand upon the platform and be “Speaker Guy or Gal,” however it is difficult to be vulnerable enough to let your authentic diamond show through. This year, more so than in any year past, I’m going to work on letting my diamond show through, perhaps you’d like to do the same?


Love Your Audience

Yes, I know it might sound a bit odd coming from a high-content speaker like me. However, the advice is sound! Think about it, you have the attention of a number of persons waiting to hear what you have to say; they are giving a piece of their lives to you, why not respect that?


While you are waiting to speak, think about the above, it will both relax you and put you in the correct frame of mind. When you start your speech, send “mental” appreciation to your audience. This appreciation will also show up in your voice, facial expression, and body language. It is a great way to start a speech. Try to keep the idea of “loving your audience” in your conscious mind throughout your speech; I assure you, it will make a positive difference. Next, let’s deal with the first roadblock to effective public and/or professional speaking is overcoming your fear.


Stage Fright Cause & Cure

If one had to give Stage Fright an aka, it would be; Stress. While a little bit of stress generally gives one a sharper edge and improves performance, too much will most definitely cause one to become inhibited and ineffective.



  1. Unrealistic expectations of self
  2. Unrealistic expectations of others
  3. Listening to the prophets of doom
  4. Overreaction of your role
  5. Worry and anxiety usually caused from poor preparation
  6. Unnecessary time pressures; real and imagined



  1. Keep your role as a presenter in perspective to the entire event
  2. Don’t amplify your concerns, aka fears
  3. Seek help in developing tactics for pre-presentation relaxation; simple self-hypnosis is excellent as is deep diaphragm breathing
  4. Build self-confidence through all-inclusive presentation preparation
  5. Use PowerPoint as an aid rather than a crutch. PowerPoint should be your notes as opposed to your script
  6. Activity before your speech is more relaxing than standing around thinking about what is to come. Go around and introduce yourself to members of the audience before your presentation. The by-product of this action is that you’ve already made friends in the audience. When you start your speech, focus on your new friends, this will relax you.


Use Mind Pictures

One of the stories that I frequently tell from the platform is about the importance of having the needed skills before one tries to implement. It is a story about when I learned to ski. My goal is to create a picture in the minds of my audience members before I start to use my body as the visual. I start the story with, “I wish you could have been there; it was a sunny fall day in Yosemite National Park at the Badger Pass Ski area…” This conjures something in everyone’s mind. Make your presentations more powerful by frequently painting mind pictures for those in your audience.


Be Careful of Sloppy Stories

Not long ago I was presenting in Birmingham , England for the United Kingdom Professional Speakers Association at their annual convention. A friend, Graham Davies, who is a far better executive presentations coach than I–was in attendance. Since I knew he would never comment on my speaking without my asking, I asked him to tell me one thing that I could do better. His answer was to tighten up my bookends (stories). This is a lesson for us all to consider.


Stories that I have been telling for some time, over time, have gotten a bit sloppy-my bad! As I will be doing over the next couple weeks, working on tightening up my bookend stories-so might you consider the same action? If you too have fallen into the same trap as I, work on making your stories as crisp and tight as possible. Write out your stories to determine if there is any “fat” that can be eliminated. I guarantee your audiences will appreciate your effort.


Use Hot Seats

One of the most effective methods of creating value for attendees is offering “hot seat” slots during your presentation. This is generally less effective in keynotes but can work well in general and concurrent sessions. Several of my colleagues do this “hot seat” process quite well. Examples are Robert Bradford, CSP, Kirstin Carey, CSP, and Ford Saeks. Attendees get value from both, being in the hot seat, and listening. Effectively what the speaker does is deal with the “hot seat” person’s issues as related to your subject matter. Challenge, share, and learn; your presentation attendees surely will.


The more you can do to both use your expertise, while at the same time making yourself comfortable–the better your presentation will be received and utilized.


Speech Preparation

How deeply do you feel your subject? This question could prove to be most crucial. Depending upon the depth of your feelings for a topic, might be the tell tale sign of the energy you devote to preparation.


If the purpose of your speech is beyond simple knowledge transfer, to the area of influencing how others think and act-then you’ll want to contemplate your subject over a reasonable length of time. You will want to know your content cold–be able to wake up in the middle of the night and give your speech.


Today, laying out your bullet points in PowerPoint allows for the elimination of notes. But PowerPoint can also be a devastating crutch, minimizing your passion and…effectiveness.


For your next important speech, read your notes each night before you retire and then again when you arise. This definitive action will keep the topic at the fore of your consciousness, thereby forcing your active brain to search for innovative solutions.


Which Side for Notes?

I attended a community business presentation given by an executive from a local Fortune 50 company. I noticed that the executive kept looking completely away from then audience; I realized that he had put his notes on the wrong side of his computer at the lectern.

Here is the set up; lectern in the front corner of the room and the screen in the center-acceptable so far. The audience was mostly to the LEFT of the speaker. But, he put his notes to the RIGHT of his computer. For the first few minutes, especially since the executive was nervous, he kept looking at his notes to the right, even though the audience was moistly to his left. It was obvious that he had used the company’s standard public PowerPoint presentation because of his reliance on his notes.


This “which side” situation was a simple mistake, but with huge consequence. It took the executive quite a while to recover. Why add stress? At your next speech, if you have some notes along, be sure to set them on the lectern TOWARD the audience rather than AWAY from them.


Easy Listening

My wife of 35+ years, Regina , is from Austria . She is bilingual, and I’m not. I speak a little German, and stress, a little. Over the years, when we have had Austrian visitors who usually spoke little English stay at our home; evening discussions were rarely in English.

I understand more German than I can speak, so I could generally follow the discussion to a reasonable degree. And, at the end of the evening I would always be exhausted! I finally realized just how much energy I was outputting, just to follow along.


What about your audiences? How much energy is required of them just to follow along? In many meeting rooms there are quite a lot of ambient noise distractions; air-conditioners, behind the swinging door kitchen noise, and even outside road noise in some cases.

What can you do to make it easier for your attendees to stay awake, follow along, and not lose interest in what you are saying? SPEAK UP! Having a powerful voice is equally as important as having good stories and great information to share. Oh yes, 95% of those people that say they have a strong voice and do not need a microphone, are sadly mistaken. Do your attendees a favor, speak up.


Story Telling

In your development of stories to punctuate your points of wisdom, consider the following from “The Art of Story Telling” by Julia Darrow Cowles, published by A.C. McClurg & Co., Chicago, 1916:


“Aside from all question of voice, enunciation, ease of manner—which, though important, are more or less matters of personal habit or physical endowment—there are two absolute essentials to successful story-telling: a thorough knowledge of the story, and forgetfulness of self. The best story may be spoiled by the manner of telling.”


The thorough knowledge should be the easier of the two, since the stories you tell need to be from the history and culture of your company or personal experiences. Perhaps you or a mentor lived through the story? The forgetfulness of self is an entirely different matter. To achieve this you must be willing to let go of your erroneous beliefs about how business leaders are to conduct themselves. Try this the next time you tell a story in the business environment—tell it from the perspective of a child and allow yourself to let go and be in the moment of the story—like a child. You will create a much stronger emotional anchor with your audience members.


Story Heroes

You know the benefit if story telling; catching the attention of audience members and giving them a framework for remembering your points of wisdom. To make your stories even more powerful; who should be the hero of your story?


Gosh, I hope you did not say “me.” You should never be the hero of your own stories because then the story is simply about you. Much better is to have someone else as the hero, even if you really do believe that you are the hero.


By making someone else the hero, your audience members will better relate to you, remember your story, and respond to your efforts to move them from point “A” to point “B.”


Assuming that you have written a good speech—if, before your speech, you are clear on who you are and the value you bring to the platform—and you have prepared and rehearsed properly—any amped your energy just prior—you’ll be unstoppable. Let both your knowledge and your passion help you to be the awesome influence that is within you.


The Mirror

As a presenter, how close can you place the mirror to your audience members? This is a hard one. I personally find that the mirror NEEDS to be placed much closer than most can tolerate. What’s the mirror? It’s showing your audience members their faults, foibles, failures, and inadequacies. And who likes that shoved in their face?


Here is the rub; if you place the mirror too close-up you cause your audience members to close down and not hear a word you say. If you do not adequately address their issues, you really have not served your audience. Yes, it is a conundrum.


Many folks do it well. Here are two examples; Larry Winget, CPAE, a professional speaker uses humor as the buffer, and then gets close. Steve O’Rourke, a corporate lawyer (not a professional speaker) uses Ely, a cartoon character upon which he can load the criticism and not alienate his audience. What ever tool or skill you select for your presentations, be careful how close-up you put the mirror. As a presenter, you must find your own voice and style. Rather than completely adopting my ideas, the smart idea for any public or professional speaker is to adapt new ideas to one’s current style. By adapting verses adopting, your true authenticity will emerge.



There are four basic categories of visuals you can use in presenting your ideas in an effort to influence others: self, props, electronic projection, and audience member. Consider each a tool for influence.


  1. Self; you are your most important visual. Your body position, stance, and language do more than anything else (positive or negative) to affect your audience. Your body movement and facial expressions act as your most powerful tools.


  1. Props; the things you bring along to show your audience can cause a huge effect in the thinking of your audience members. The props can make points, cause humor, sadness, and curiosity.


  1. Electronic Projection; with PowerPoint and Video, you’ve heard it before…make your PowerPoint a benefit, not a boring crutch. If your PowerPoint’s text is too small, the slides are cluttered, or the color is incorrect-the PowerPoint ceases to be of benefit to the audience. The same goes for video footage you might show; the sound has to be good, the video resolution quality has to be high, and it better be interesting.


  1. Audience Member; bringing up an audience member(s) or invite an “expert or celebrity” to join you on the platform can have a powerful effect on your presentation. The only thing to be careful of is that they do not take control of your presentation and that they are interesting. Otherwise they will take away, rather than add to your presentation.


Your Area of Greatest Personal Control
You have the greatest control over self. Props can get lost, misplaced, or might be too small for large venues. Your electronic projections, especially in venues where others control the technology can easily succumb to the neuron gremlins. If you invite a guest to participate, they might not shoe or in using audience members, you had better have some improvisational training because you never know what an audience member will do.


In taking control of what you absolutely can-self-you are greatly increasing your chances of successfully influencing others to take the actions you suggest. Exploring some of the pitfalls of self can be extremely helpful in delivering significant presentations.


Avoid Competing With Yourself
You have most likely experienced this in watching others; the speaker having a nervous habit, or several. And these habits are completely distracting. In fact, you have a hard time concentrating on what the speaker is saying. Some things to consider that will help you avoid competing with yourself the next time you give a presentation:

  • Playing with your eyeglasses
    • Playing with change in your pocket
    • Continual nervously sipping water
    • Over using “you know” and “uhhh”
    • Reading your speech
    • Dis-symmetry in clothing; one coat pocket in and one out, wearing your name badge, or over-sized broach


Hands in Pockets
Think back to the last speaker you listened to that had something really interesting to say but you found yourself having trouble concentrating on his or her talk. What was it that caused your discomfort? I’ll bet it was some sort of nervous habit that the speaker had not yet overcome.


One of the worst nervous habits exhibited by speakers, especially with men, is putting their hands in their pockets. Why is this? It is because they either don’t know how to use their hands to further their presentation or because they are self-conscious. Either way, the result usually is a jangling coins or keys that truly distract the attention of those trying to listen to the talk.


Here is a tip for you to try the next time you present: Take EVERYTHING out of your pockets. This way you’ll be less inclined to play with items when you do slip and put your hands in your pocket.


A bit of a twist to this idea is to put only a $10 bill in each front pocket. The first time you put your hand in your pocket, pull that first $10 bill out and hand it to the attendee closest to you at that exact moment. Tell your attendees, like them, you are always trying to improve and explain the hand in the pocket habit you are trying to break. Then continue with your talk. The next time you put your hand in either pocket, give the other $10 bill away.


Then, at your next speech, give two $20 bills away, then at the next, two $50 bills. By the time you’ve given two $100 bills away at a speech, you’ll be well on your way to breaking the habit.


Posture by Design
For every presentation you give you can select either casual or authority posture, or just let your natural style decide for you. Posture by design connotes you selecting, rather than a choice by any other than your conscious mind.


The challenge for a person that might naturally have an authoritative posture is in selling any kind of relationship or trust idea. Conversely, the person with a more casual or relaxed posture might have trouble selling organizational policy or directives.


If you keep your feet planted, that is authority posture. Put your hands in your pocket, that’s casual posture. Body erect is authority while slightly leaning against a table or lectern is casual. Correctly selecting the right posture for selling a specific issue is crucial. Select your posture by design rather than simply take a chance.


Speaking in an Open Position
Have you ever been at a presentation in which a very short person is speaking from behind a lectern? What did you see? Most likely only part of them that you saw was the top of their face. Speaking from behind something is speaking in a “protected” position. This protected position can be perceived by many as the speaker is in fear or is hiding something. The very best position on the podium (riser or stage) is front and center, with nothing between you and your audience. This is an open position. And this still holds true, even if you have to hold your notes.


Standing Proud
Good posture is one of your secrets to speaking success. I’m not talking about a military style rigid “at attention” posture, but rather a relaxed upright posture. Slouching is not the best way to endear yourself to your listening audience because you look sloppy and untrustworthy. Don’t fool yourself into believing it makes you look casual and approachable. And, slouching interferes with your diaphragm-the area of your body from where your deeper voice emanates.


Stand up straight, relax your neck and shoulder muscles, look at your audience members one at a time, and take slow deep breaths. This will allow you to start off with something meaningful rather than wasting 10 minutes getting warmed up. Start with something powerfully important and you find it easier to hold your audience.


While there is always the possibility of “equipment malfunction” with props, electronic projection, and audience members; if you have done the necessary work to educate, prepare, and rehearse self, your success is nearly assured.



Copyright © 2011 Ed Rigsbee


Ed Rigsbee, CSP, for over two decades has frequently been referred to as the Renaissance Man. He helps business individuals and organizations of all sizes to grow their market through smart alliance relationships. He is the founder and executive director of a non-profit public charity. He frequently publishes articles and blogs on personal relationship development. He administers an influential Linkedin group; Member ROI for Associations & Societies.

Ed has served as adjunct professor for two California universities and is the author of Developing Strategic Alliances, PartnerShift-How to Profit from the Partnering Trend, and The Art of Partnering. He has over 2,000 hard-copy published articles to his credit and is a regular keynote speaker at corporate and trade association conferences teaching North America how to access their Collaborative Advantage.

He shares his proprietary Member ROI Valuation Process globally with trade associations and professional societies-the corner stone for grass roots member recruitment and retention campaigns.

Ed has been a professional member of the National Speakers Association since 1988 and received the coveted Certified Speaking Professional designation in 2000. He also holds membership at the American Society of Association Executives. For additional resources that will assist you, visit