5 Easy Ways to Become a Public Speaking Star by Alex Comfort, CFRE

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I’m pretty humble about a lot of things, but not about my public speaking.  I have few peers.  Some of that is because I’m a natural ham, I have always loved public speaking, and I have done as much of it as I can over my 69 years.  But I have also been confronted several times in my career about my speaking style, and I listened and learned. 

When I teach my Fundraising Boot Camp, I now include a section on public speaking.  It is very important in any business you are in.  How you present yourself is absolutely critical, so do it correctly.  Here are my top five tips:

  1. Stop the “ummm.” Called a “schwaa” by public speaking teachers, this is the ultimate bad habit. For many people it is hard to break.  I recommend you practice with a trusted friend by speaking about your favorite activity.  Learn your cadence and just pause if you need to – but learn to drop the “ummm.”
  2. Use some humor. No, do not start with a joke.  Just inject some humor here and there as you go through as if you are talking to close friends.  You may have been taught not to use humor.  Forget that.  But as you practice slipping in humor, check with people to see how it came across.  Theirs is the opinion that matters.  A good first topic is to find a way to laugh at yourself.  People love that.
  3. Eliminate your script. This is the killer.  People who use a script need to just get over it.  Nothing is duller, no matter how perfect your articulation.  Instead, make bullets of your main points, no more than 6 to 8.  Go over what you want to say, get it close to memorized, and only use the bullets.  If you need to write it out and then convert it to bullets, do it that way.  This will improve your presentation so much that people will start asking how you got so much better.  Really, they will!
  4. Powerpoint is a wonderful tool. If you use it correctly.  Which almost no one does.  Powerpoint is there to AMPLIFY WHAT YOU SAY, not be an outline or, worse yet, your script.  Use it for diagrams and charts, funny pictures, vivid illustrations.  “Death by Powerpoint” has been accepted as a medical cause of demise.
  5. Look at people. Most of us were taught to look just over the audience’s head.  Here’s a truly amazing trick I was taught in 1989 by one of the top New York advertising firms:  using your first bullet, focus on one individual in the audience and look at him/her for 20 seconds.  Then move to the other side of the room and do the same for 20 seconds.  Then, move to someone in the middle front, and so on.  Rove throughout the audience, looking at one person right in the face for at least 20 seconds, then move to a different part of the audience, etc., moving all over the audience.


The audience will never look away from you, never look at their cell phones, never lose their concentration.  You simply have to try this.  For some people, of course, it is hard to hold on to one person for that long, but keep trying until you have it. 

Do these five things and build yourself an amazing reputation as a speaker.  The 5 tips above will transform your public speaking and make your audience carry home three times as much of your message.

Alex Comfort, CFRE

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