Be Your Own Public Speaking Coach

Whether you’re a veteran public speaker or preparing your first presentation, there’s always room for improvement. Check out these easy tips to coach yourself to improve your presentations. Transform a good speech into a dynamic presentation.

Lisa B. Marshall
5-minute read
Episode #200

Even if you’re a veteran public speaker, there’s always room for improvement. Once you’ve written your speech and created your slides, it’s time to turn into your own public speaking coach. With a few simple tips, you can transform a good speech into a dynamic, engaging presentation.>

The most important step to coaching yourself is to create a checklist. You’ll use this master checklist to review the separate elements of your presentation. For example, you’ll listen to how you sound first, and then go back and watch your expressions and body language. You’ll make improvements to each element and then move on to the next.  

Here are 3 steps to become your own public speaking coach:

Step 1: How Do I Sound?

Start by audio recording yourself, then go back and listen.  (I suggest using Audacity because you can download it for free.) Do you sound conversational, or do you sound like you’re reading? Do you sound excited about what you’re saying?

Be sure to listen for the organization of your speech. Take notes and create an outline from your recording. Your outline should follow the original outline you created pretty closely. If it doesn’t, look at both again and decide which outline makes more sense.

Go back and re-listen to the first 2-5 minutes. Do your opening words grab attention? Have you clearly stated the big picture main idea of your talk directly after your attention-getter? Finally, did you concisely preview each of your main ideas?

Now listen to just the body of your talk. Each main point should be stated clearly and supported with examples, stories, or evidence. Check to make sure you’re mixing up the types of support you give for each point. Listen for what I call brain support and heart support—that is focus some of your examples on logic and facts, and others on stories that invoke emotion.

Time how long you spend in each of your main sections of the talk. You should spend roughly the same amount of time on each main point. For example, one point may use one long small moment story as the support, and another point may use 3 short statistical examples. Just be sure to check if you’ve spent your time unevenly. If not, make changes that will create balance. Check out my episode on How to Time a Presentation for more tips.

Step 2: How Do I Look?

Next, record yourself on video. For this review, focus on body language and other nonverbal cues. For the first round of video review, turn off your sound and just focus on the visuals.

Watch your facial expressions first. Are you smiling naturally? Do you look like you’re enjoying yourself? You want to see a variety of expressions and natural transitions. If there are parts of your speech where you look nervous or stiff, work on relaxing through those areas.

Next, focus on body language. The sound should still be off. You want your gestures to look and feel natural. If you see that you’re standing stiff and not gesturing, work on matching gestures to your words. If you’re gesturing so much that you look out of control, work on making only meaningful gestures. You should “see” the point you’re making, even without the words. Check out my episode on How to Incorporate Gestures into your presentations.

Your body language can display confidence or give away that you’re nervous. Are you behind the podium, hugging the lectern for dear life? If so, step out in front of it. Walk around and make eye contact with confidence, but don’t pace around the room like a caged tiger.  

See also: Does Public Speaking Make You Nervous?

In your final round of video review, turn the sound on and pay careful attention to the feelings you get when you watch it—particularly the feeling you get when something is not quite right. If your gut tells you there’s a weakness in your presentation, pay attention and make changes.  Look for places where your message could be clearer or more precise. Listen and watch to see if your verbal and nonverbal communications are in sync. Are you smiling when you shouldn’t be? Do your gestures emphasize the right words? Your body language should agree with your words, not contradict them.


About the Author

Lisa B. Marshall

Lisa B. Marshall Lisa holds masters with duel degrees in interpersonal/intercultural communication and organizational communication. She’s the author of Smart Talk: The Public Speaker's Guide to Success in Every Situation, as well as Ace Your Interview, Powerful Presenter, and Expert Presenter. Her work has been featured in CBS Money Watch, Ragan.com, Woman's Day, Glamour, Cosmopolitan, and many others. Her institutional clients include Johns Hopkins Medicine, Harvard University, NY Academy of Science, University of Pennsylvania, Genentech, and Roche.