Public Speaking: 6 Tips, 6 Sins and 1 Golden Rule

September 2, 2022

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I recently attended several in-person energy conferences, where I was able to see the best and worst of public speaking. Perhaps that’s been your experience as well? Recognizing that it’s easier to talk about giving a great speech than it is to deliver one, I have a few thoughts.

I prefer to start at a more strategic level: what to do, and what to avoid, if you want to deliver a great public speech.

An article in Harvard Business Review, “The Kinesthetic Speaker—Putting Words into Action,” has changed my view of public speaking. Maybe you will find it similarly illuminating.


For Better or Worse: Face-to-Face Conferences are Back!

After nearly three years when no one held face-to-face conferences due to COVID, they’re coming back. That’s great news for all sorts of reasons, but today, we’ll focus on how the best conference talks (including, potentially, the one you will be delivering) can magically transport the audience out of their chairs and into a rich, exciting universe where they can experience hope and fear, joy and sadness, winning and losing. In short, what it means to be human.

Or you could put them to sleep, which nearly happened to me at those recent industry conferences I attended. Please don’t be this speaker!


Public Speaking is More than PowerPoint

You don’t need to use PowerPoint to deliver an effective and meaningful conference talk. The video STOP! You’re Killing Me With PowerPoint! has been on the internet for a long time. It should be required viewing before anyone even starts thinking about speaking at a conference.

There’s an important distinction between public speaking and using PowerPoint to deliver a talk. Another article in Harvard Business Review, “How to Give a Killer Presentation,” effectively makes the point that great public speaking need not involve PowerPoint. PowerPoint is a tool. You are the master. Not every job requires the use of every tool.


Communications tip of the month: Regardless of your specific function within your utility, to a large and increasing degree, your professional success will depend on effective verbal communications. And public-speaking tips can easily be used in many other communications settings, such as internal meetings or in your volunteer endeavors outside of the company.

Expertise Means Little Unless You Can Convey It

There is no doubt that the people speaking at the energy conferences I recently attended knew more about their subject matter than I did. But at some point, professional expertise has to take a back seat to the ability to convey that expertise. More than a few speakers at this energy conference utterly failed to convey their expertise in a way that was engaging.

I hope you can use some of these helpful hints for public speaking when it’s your turn to stand at the microphone. I urge you to avoid committing any of the “six deadly sins” of public speaking. And always aspire to achieve the one Golden Rule.

6 Tips for Great Public Speaking
  • Have something meaningful to say
  • Practice delivering your talk verbatim at least three times
  • Create a personal connection with your audience within the first 30 seconds of your talk
  • Tell stories to illuminate problems that are relevant to the audience
  • Check in with your audience from time to time
  • Seek to delight and inform
6 Sins Commonly Committed by Public Speakers
  • Start your speech by apologizing
  • Hide behind the podium
  • Spend your time reading bullet points on PowerPoint slides
  • Try to cover too much, and in too much detail
  • Rely too heavily on facts to tell your story, at the expense of art and anecdotes. Facts will not engage your audience. Emotion will.
  • End your speech without concluding
1 Golden Rule
  • Your talk is an opportunity to take the audience on a journey. Make it count!
Public Speaking Skills Can Make You a More Effective Leader

Do public-speaking skills matter if you are not a regular on the speaking circuit? Yes! Public speaking is just one form of verbal communications. Regardless of your specific function within your utility, to a large and increasing degree, your professional success will depend on effective verbal communications. These public-speaking tips can easily be used in many other communications settings such as leading internal meetings or cross-functional teams, or your volunteer endeavors outside of the company.


Aspire to be the speaker who engages the audience and bring it along with them as they detail their journey and share their secrets. Be like the magnet that draws the audience’s hearts and minds to you.

Great public speakers are rare. I don’t claim to be one. But I aspire to become one. I speak at industry conferences. I coach people that want to improve their public-speaking skills.

I hope you have the same aspirations.

Photo credits: iStock



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