10 public speaking hacks to use right now

Public speaking is one of the most sought-after employability skills in the modern working world (CBI, 2019). Yet, studies have shown that public speaking is one of the most commonly held fears. According to one survey in the United States, the fear of public speaking came ahead of the fear of death!

As the comic Jerry Seinfeld says, “This means that to the average person if you go to a funeral, you’re better off in the casket than giving the eulogy!”

Everyone has nerves when it comes to public speaking. Your confident colleague giving a marketing report, your line manager at a networking event, even your CEO delivering a keynote address at a conference. 

When we stand up to speak to an audience, we feel the pressure of the spotlight. We fear standing out from the crowd and looking stupid. We fear the risk of social rejection if we make a mistake.

These irrational fears limit our sense of self-worth and hold us back from our true potential. They supress our true feelings and make us worry about supposed inadequacies.

But this doesn’t mean that we can’t overcome them. 


How? Don’t focus on being perfect, focus on learning.

Here, we’ve taken 15 years of combined experience at Hoopla and distilled it into 10 practical ways to improve your public speaking skills. Follow us through the theory behind great public speaking, with practical exercises and ways to apply your learning in your workplace.


  1. Adopt a different mindset 
  2. Choose one central idea to communicate
  3. Give your presentation a clear structure 
  4. Use creative techniques to bring your talk to life
  5. Prepare in advance
  6. Manage your body language
  7. Use the full range of your voice
  8. Show empathy for your audience
  9. Be authentic
  10. Have fun!
  1. Adopt a different mindset

If we want to be more confident when we speak in public, we need to reframe our attitude to both the craft of public speaking itself, and also to our audience. 

Let’s begin with how we see public speaking itself. According to the seminal work of psychologist Caroline Dweck, when it comes to learning any new skill we can either have a ‘fixed mindset’ or a ‘growth mindset.’

Dweck’s theory arose out of her desire to solve the puzzle that, while some students in school are able to overcome challenges, other students are flattened by them. After studying the behaviour of thousands of children, Dweck coined the terms ‘fixed mindset’ and ‘growth mindset’ to explain what happens. Her studies showed that students who thought talent was given at birth and was unchangeable (a fixed mindset) saw failures as a judgement of their innate ability. However, students who saw their talent as changeable with hard work (a growth mindset) viewed their failures simply as a judgement of where they were now


What’s more, whereas students with a fixed mindset were likely to avoid situations where their lack of talent might ‘be exposed’, students with a growth mindset were likely to seek learning opportunities outside of their comfort zone. After all, they had nothing to hide. Failure didn’t mean that they were a failure, it just meant they were ‘not yet’ a success. 

Having a growth mindset allows us to have a much more positive, relaxed and realistic view of our public speaking. We don’t worry so much about our first attempts at public speaking, as we know we’re only just starting out and that we’re going to improve and get better. By changing our mental state, we can change how we react in a situation, accepting any mistakes we may make along the way as part of a personal learning curve.

Secondly, if we want to be more confident when we speak in public we should also change our mindset towards the audience

As speaker and best-selling author, Seth Godin writes on his blog, ‘The members of the audience are interested in themselves. The audience wants to know what they can use, what they can learn, or at the very least, how they can be entertained’. Godin’s point is: the topic of the talk isn’t you, the topic of the talk is the audience. Specifically, how they can use your experience and knowledge to achieve their objectives. By thinking like this we become less self-absorbed. If you realise you are in service of your audience and focus on the value you are giving them (your message), this allows you to manage any nerves you might have. 

Exercise 1

If you get nervous next time you are public speaking, reframe it as a learning opportunity. Remember the goal isn’t to be perfect, it is to communicate, and they aren’t the same thing. 


  1. Choose one central idea to communicate

When preparing the content of your talk you need to focus on the destination: what you want the audience to think, feel and do at the end of it.

We need to make sure that our talk has one clear idea at its core. There needs to be a fundamental reason why we’re getting up in front of other people and talking to them.

Try asking yourself these questions:

  • What do you want to talk about?
  • Why is it important to you?
  • Why do you believe it’s important to the audience?
  • What do you want them walking out of the room thinking?

By trying to answer these questions you can hone in on the central idea behind your talk. Without this clarity, your speech or presentation can become confused. 

Care about your idea

Caring about your idea allows you to present with passion and to come across as genuine. When we care deeply about something it energises our delivery and makes us appear more natural. Audiences engage with this and warm to us.

Reversely, if we don’t really believe in what we’re talking about then audiences will quickly pick up on this and disengage from us. An audience can smell falsity instantly.

If you are presenting something which you think is unexciting, is there a way you can articulate a personal connection with the subject matter in some way?

Limit your talk to just one major idea

The best talks are often the simplest. Rather than trying to get across five different ideas it’s better to just focus on one.

Often people worry that their talk doesn’t have enough information for the audience to digest. In actual fact, the real danger is that we overload an audience. An idea is much easier to implant in the mind of an audience if it’s not being crowded out by other ideas.

Try and focus on one core idea with several supporting points. Remove any tangential information in order to showcase this clear message. Everything you say in your presentation must be in service of that core idea.

Exercise 2

Help identify your central idea by writing down the top-line idea for your talk.

If you find this hard to write down, or find you come up with several top-lines, then your talk might be lacking clarity.

Once you’ve drawn up your talk, go through and assess whether each section is in support of this top line. If not, either remove it or re-write it to support the central idea.

  1. Give your presentation a clear structure 

Most TED Talks are only 18 minutes long: enough time to delve into the subject you’re discussing but short enough to hold people’s full attention.

Remember: the goal of your talk is to plant your idea in the minds of an audience.

Don’t waste a minute of time when you’re speaking. Consider the strongest and most concise way to get something across to an audience. 

  • Don’t use five sentences when one will one do.
  • Use simple language, avoid jargon, and get to the point.
  • Keep a good flow with clear links between different sections so the audience can follow it.

Start with a strong opening

We often say that someone makes their mind up about a person within the first thirty seconds of meeting them – and the same can be true of a talk. The best TED Talks have an imaginative and attention-grabbing opening. So, we need to think about the best way to captures the audience’s attention straight off the bat.


  • Can we wow the audience in the first 30 seconds? Or even less?
  • Can we do something with our opening line, before we’ve even introduced ourselves?
  • Can we ask the audience a direct question or engage them with a problem immediately? 


Build a clear structure

Put quite simply – say what you’re going to say, say it, and then say what you’ve said.

Follow a coherent thinking pattern throughout your presentation – at every stage you need to take the audience with you. Constantly ask yourself, “Am I losing anyone along the way?”

Finish with a memorable ending

The end of your talk is the part that an audience will remember the most. So, finish with a strong call to action. Ask yourself, “What do I want my audience to walk out of the room thinking?” – your concluding remarks should hammer that home.

Exercise 3

Next time you are preparing a presentation, experiment with different openings to elicit an emotional response from your audience. For example, you might share a surprising fact, or open with a funny anecdote.


Economist Larry Smith opens with the line, “I want to discuss with you this afternoon, why you’re going to fail to have a great career.”

Games designer Jane McGonigal starts with, “You will live seven and a half minutes longer than you would have otherwise, just because you watched this talk.”

  1. Use creative techniques to bring your talk to life

Make it memorable

Share examples and anecdotes to present your idea in a vibrant and concise way. Employ metaphors and aids to explain complicated concepts in ways that people will be able to get their head around.

Author and broadcaster, Carmine Gallo emphasises former President Barack Obama’s use of the ‘Rule of Three’ as a key component is his rhetorical success. He contends that three is one of the most powerful numbers in communication. ‘We think in threes, we group numbers in threes, we speak in threes’.

Exercise 4

Next time you need to communicate your business’s core mission, try breaking it up into threes. For instance, “We believe in providing high-quality products, an unparalleled level of professionalism and going above and beyond for our clients.”

Build a narrative

“The most powerful person in the world is the storyteller. The storyteller sets the vision, values and agenda of an entire generation that is to come.” — Steve Jobs. 

Storytelling is an art form as old as time and can be found in every part of culture and society. Why? Because stories are universal. They speak in a language that all of us, regardless of dialect or heritage, can understand. We empathise with engaging characters, grieve with them, celebrate with them and follow them on journeys from the kitchen sink to the edge of the galaxy. Stories stimulate imagination and passion and create a sense of community among listeners and tellers alike.

Stories and narrative hooks can be a good way of keeping people engaged in what you’re talking about. Psychologist Shawn Anchor uses a childhood story in his TED Talk ‘The Happy Secret to Better Work’. He dives straight into the story to capture people’s attention: “When I was seven years old and my sister was just five years old, we were playing on top of a bunk bed…”

Exercise 5

Next time you are preparing presentation notes, look out for a point that lacks excitement. Think of a story that could illustrate this point in a more engaging way.  You may find it useful to structure your story around the Hero’s Journey (based on Joseph Cambell’s ‘The Hero with a Thousand Faces’):

  • Once upon a time…
  • And everyday…
  • Until one day…
  • And because of that…
  • And because of that… 
  • etc.
  • Until finally…
  • And ever since then…
  1. Prepare in advance

Prepare notes beforehand

Have everything you want to say written down beforehand:

  • Keep the sentences short and punchy.
  • Underline or bolden the points you really want to land with the audience.
  • Break up your text into short paragraphs and lines. Brevity. Is. Always. Best.
  • Highlight the pause points. These allow you to take a breath and for the audience to digest what you’re saying. Remember: silence can be just as powerful as your words.

BUT: On the day don’t just bring full speaker notes. Try and trim the text down, so that you just have prompt words with a basic structure. Having the full script can often be hard to read and we can easily lose our place. We don’t want to be staring down reading all the time – we want to be looking outwards sending that positive energy to our audience.

Use the keywords as prompts and trust that you’ve prepared everything you need to.


Go through your presentation as many times as possible to get fully comfortable with it. You can do this on your own, but also try it out on other people, particularly those who don’t know anything about the subject you’re presenting on.

  • How does it sound to the layperson?
  • Do they grasp the main idea?
  • Do they see the value in what you’re putting forward?
  • Does it follow your natural speech pattern? If not, re-write the text to match what you would say in your own voice

The clearer and more powerful you can make these messages the more effective talk you’ll have. 

Exercise 6

Practise your talk in front of the mirror. Notice your body movements and facial expressions – you want to exude warmth and confidence to our audience.

Then, practise your talk while walking up and around – that can either be in the house or even outdoors! The more you can repeat your talk out loud, the more it will feel like second nature and the more in control you will feel.

Another useful technique is to record your speech on your phone and then listen to it back to see if you want to make any tweaks.

  1. Manage your body language

An audience will make conclusions about you on the basis of our body language. When we feel confident and powerful, we naturally expand our body; when we feel insecure and powerless, we slump. This is also true in the opposite direction: we can achieve greater confidence by deliberately taking up more space with our bodies. This can be done through:

  • Welcoming posture; opening our shoulders out.
  • Strong gait with a straight back.
  • Taking a wider standing stance with firm placing of the feet.
  • Head held high.
  • Warm engaging smile.
  • Try not to fold your arms or cover your body – it closes you off from the audience and reduces your confidence.

Exercise 7

Before public speaking, employ this two-minute ‘power pose’ to help you configure your brain to feeling positive.

Eye contact

Making eye contact is a very simple and very powerful tool for appearing confident. We want to train ourselves to hold people’s gaze.

Remember to play all corners of the room, and make direct eye contact with individuals as much as possible. We want to treat the audience as one single group but also make that personal eye contact with separate people.

Bill Clinton and the art of gesturing

In 2020, two decades after Bill Clinton left the oval office, people are still discussing his communication skills. One of Clinton’s key tools was the art of the gesture. 

As speaker and author, Sam Harrison notes, what Clinton learned to do effectively was to ‘sync his words with his gestures’. 

To guide the audience’s emotion and attention, he extends his hands with palms facing up or out. For example:

 ‘Let me ask you something [palms up]…’ or ‘Folks, this is serious [palms out]…’ 

He’ll also overlap hands in front of his chest to reinforce intimate statements such as, ‘This is personal to me…’.

Coordination between words and gestures can be the simple fix to help engage an audience and improve your speech. But be careful not to overuse hand gestures, they can take attention away from the message you are trying to get across.

Exercise 8

Next time you have a speech or presentation to give, comb through the words and identify areas where the gestures mentioned above could sync with what is on the page. 

Make notes and practice – maybe rope in a colleague or family member to practice with. 

  1. Use the full range of your voice

Voice is so important when appearing confident to an audience. Here are a few simple tips to having a confident sound:

Be careful not to rush
Remember to speak clearly. Often when we’re nervous in public speaking we rush through our words. Instead we want to speak calmly and at a pace we’re in control of.

Vary the tone
We must try to use light and shade in our voice and avoid talking in monotone. Be animated – make sure that energy comes through in our voice. 

We can use silence and pausing
Silence isn’t just the absence of saying anything. Silence gives space around our key points allowing them to land with our audience. Silence and pauses are also powerful tools appearing more confident-they make your audience wait for you. That’s a high-status move!

Ultimately, we are in control of your voice – we can go fast, slow, loud or quiet but we must be in control of it, just like everything else. If the audience feel we are in control then we can appear more confident.

Just as we include body warms-ups before public speaking, we can also use vocal and breathing warm-ups.

Exercise 9

Next time you draft a presentation, organise your notes to indicate where you might add pauses. You could do this by adding line breaks or marking pauses in a different colour.

  1. Show empathy for your audience

The most charismatic speakers reflect the values, aspirations and goals of the people they’re talking to.

To resonate with an audience, we must show they we understand and empathise with them. This may involve doing research in advance, otherwise known as ‘audience profiling’. We can better understand our audience in several ways:

  • Segmentation – We can analyse our audience using a wide range of criteria; age, gender, location, lifestyles, attitudes, self-perceptions and interests. This will allow us to better understand who our audience are.
  • Messaging – We can then shape our messaging more clearly towards our audience, using the interests, attitudes and behaviours that most appeal to them.

One way we can better understand our audience is through an ‘empathy map’

An Empathy map will help us understand our audience’s needs and help us craft an emotional connection towards them. Empathy maps vary in shapes and sizes, but a typical empathy map includes four quadrants:

  • WHO– Who exactly is our audience?
  • Say – What does this audience say about the topic we are speaking on?
  • Think – What do the audience think about the topic?
  • Feel – What sort of emotions do they have about the topic?
  • Do – What are the audiences’ current behaviours within this topic area? What are they trying to achieve? What do they need to do differently to achieve this outcome?

An empathy-map helps us design our speech with the audience in mind throughout, so it is as useful and as engaging for them as possible.

Exercise 10

Create an empathy map for an upcoming public speaking opportunity.

  1. Be authentic

Becoming a charismatic speaker requires total authenticity. This is true of all types of public speaking. Good stand-up comedy, for example, involves the comedian basing what they’re saying in truth – they ‘reveal’ rather than ‘invent’ – which creates a much more impactful impression with the audience.

It also helps us relax. When we’re allowed to be completely ourselves in a social situation, whether it be a house party, a work function, or a family gathering, our anxiety levels completely disappear. We’re much more relaxed and much more confident than if we were worried about saying the wrong thing and appearing the wrong way. The same is true of public speaking.

Michelle Obama is rightly seen as one of the most impressive public speakers in the world and uses authenticity to incredible effect.

At a book launch in front of 19,000 people, she said, “Marriage still ain’t equal, y’all. It’s not always enough to lean in, because that shit doesn’t work”. Immediately, the audience erupted into cheers and laughter. Not only could they see a prominent personality willing to speak what they perceived as the truth, but she did so with humour and authenticity that is rarely seen in public figures. 

One of the smartest things to take from Michelle Obama is to engage with your employees or peer group in a way that helps them relate to you as another human. 

Allow yourself to be vulnerable

Appearing authentic in front of an audience means becoming comfortable with being vulnerable.

The main obstacle to being authentic is putting our guard up. We feel that we’ll be judged if we show too much of our real selves, or that people will reject us. In fact, the opposite is true. When we’re authentic people sit up and take notice. They lean in to hear more from us and are more willing to engage.

Exercise 11

Next time you give a speech, ask yourself:


  • How would I tell my mates this if I was explaining the concept in the pub or at a party?
  • Can I put any true, personal stories into my speech to help create rapport with the audience?
  • Rather than just talking about my successes, can I also talk about my failures too?


  1. Have fun!

Having the opportunity to share something you are passionate about is a really exciting prospect. You are in a position to engage a group of people in an important idea – and you are in the creative driving seat to deliver it in your own unique way. 

Remember – the audience want you to succeed. Even if you make a mistake, they are on your side and willing you to keep going.

The adrenaline buzz we get from public speaking can be incredibly motivating. Its all about visualising success – imagine the sense of achievement you will get from facing human kind’s most commonly-held fear head-on. 

 Most of all, an audience will happily listen to anyone who looks like they are enjoying themselves up there. Don’t forget to smile, keep things playful and remember that at the end of the day, it’s just a speech. It really isn’t life and death.


Now that you’ve read about our 10 hacks for public speaking, you have all the knowledge you need to start elevating your future talks. But this isn’t the end…

To become a great public speaker, you must practise, practise, practise!

If you can, volunteer to speak wherever possible. Whether that be at work, in your local community or at family events. Don’t worry about starting out on a tiny scale. We want to get used to standing up in front of other people and having the attention focused completely on us.

A great way to pack in lots of practice is to take a public speaking course or a public speaking class. 

At Hoopla, our Speaker’s Club is all about providing a fun and safe space for you to pack in lots of speeches and presentations. You’ll get expert coaching, personal feedback and tonnes of encouragement. We guarantee that after six weeks you’ll emerge transformed- having kicked your fear of public speaking forever.

Speaker’s Club helps emerging leaders who want to super-charge their career through the power of public speaking. 

Visit https://www.hooplaimpro.com/public-speaking-courses-london for more.

Max Dickins is author of Improvise! Use the Secrets of Improv to Achieve Extraordinary Results at Work which is out now. He is co-director of improvisation training company Hoopla! Hoopla run improv classesshows and corporate training.

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