The C-Level’s Survival Guide: Public Speaking

There are two types of people in this world. Those who are comfortable speaking in front of a crowd, and those that aren’t. But when you’re the CEO or the business owner, you have to be ready to speak in front of a crowd at a moment’s notice.

It doesn’t matter how scary you think it is, it just comes with the territory.

However, getting up on stage doesn’t have to be a nerve-racking experience. Here are a few tips I’ve found that will make it much more pleasant. (And even fun!)


Proper planning can go a long way in making you feel comfortable in front of a large group. You need to own the presentation. That’s why before any speaking engagement you should:

    • Get a good night’s sleep. I know, it’s easier said then done. But you can do it! Start your bedtime routine an hour or so earlier than usual. Unplug from your devices, and just relax. When you disconnect from the outside world, it limits your distractions, making it that much easier to drift off to sleep.
  • Eat a healthy meal. Food fuels your performance. Eat a well-balanced meal before your speech. A light, but filling meal will ensure that you stay full throughout the presentation. A salad, sushi, or fruit, will leave your belly full enough to tide you over, but not heavy enough to make you sleepy.

These foods are rich in protein and vitamins to keep you alert throughout the day. Plus, they’re really tasty!

  • Know your presentation. If you have to depend on your PowerPoint to stay on-point, then you don’t know your presentation. Don’t read your slides. Instead, use a note card with a few key points written on it. Your notes will help you stay on-track, and prevent you from turning away from the audience.
  • Have a back-up plan. Unfortunately, things don’t always go as planned. Things will go wrong, and that’s okay, it’s all about how you handle it. Technology doesn’t always work, or presentations get lost so be prepared and always have a back-up plan. If possible, send your presentation to someone at the venue ahead of time. Also consider bringing a backup flash drive in case your presentation gets lost. And don’t forget to arrive early to test the equipment!

We can’t prevent bad things from happening, but we can be ready to go with the flow.

Don’t Overcrowd Your Slides

When it comes to your slides, remember less is more. If you’re using PowerPoint, don’t overcrowd your slides with paragraphs of text. Instead, condense text into bulleted points. These points should be no longer than a sentence or two. You want the audience to be engaged with you, not with the words on the screen.

Pro tip: A picture is worth a thousand words. Try swapping paragraphs of text with infographics and pictures.

Practice Makes Perfect

It’s true; practice does make perfect. Run through your presentation every night for a week before your speech. First, practice in front of the mirror, then start practicing in front of a family member or a friend. The more you practice, the more confident you’ll be.

In addition to rehearsing your presentation, practice how you’re going to act on-stage. Here’s a few tips on what you should do:

    • Don’t fidget. This makes you appear nervous and unprepared.
    • Be loud and clear. You need to be loud enough for the audience to hear and understand.
    • Make eye contact. This makes your audience feel like you’re making a connection with them. Pro tip: Don’t stare. Shift your gaze from person to person, and around the room.
    • Strike A Pose! When all else fails, strike a “power pose.” Your body language doesn’t just affect others’ perception of us, but it may also affect the way we see ourselves. Stand tall and proud. This confident pose can “affect testosterone and cortisol levels in the brain. It might even have an impact on our chances for success.”

If You Look Good, You Feel Good

True story, and my life motto. That’s why you feel like a million bucks when you get a great new hair cut or a cool outfit. It’s an instant boost to your self-esteem. So don’t be afraid to dress the part. But consider the venue and your audience and dress in a manner that makes you look and feel like one of them.


    • Wearing sensible shoes. Planning on working the crowd? Sorry ladies, but a slippery stage is not the ideal setting to try out that new pair of Louboutin pumps. You wouldn’t want to trip and fall, would you? That can lead to more embarrassing moments, not to mention an injury. Opt for some sensible, but stylish, flats instead.
    • Dressing in layers. It can get hot under those stage lights, and you don’t want to get caught looking like a sweaty mess. That’s when layering comes in handy. If you feel yourself getting too hot, you can easily remove a sweater or jacket.
    • Using everything to your advantage. If you wake up on the morning of your presentation with a head cold or allergies, don’t let it slow you down. Work it into your presentation. If you’ve got the sniffles, acknowledge that it’s annoying – but so is whatever issue you’re there to solve.


Don’t talk at the crowd, have a conversation with them. No one wants to be lectured. If you make your presentation fun to listen to then you’ll engage your audience.

And here’s a secret. Public speaking is a lot easier if you get the audience to do most of the work for you. So get the conversation going! Ask the audience questions and this will keep them interested in what you have to say. But make sure you ask questions with enthusiasm and energy because there’s nothing worse than a monotone speaker!

If it’s not the appropriate venue to engage your audience, or you choose not to, you can still keep their attention on you. Keep eye contact with the crowd and be passionate about your topic. An eager speaker can be engaging all on his own, without any tricks.

Act Natural

You don’t have to try to be something you aren’t. You’re up there for a reason, and that reason is you know what you’re talking about. So be yourself. I’ll share a few tricks that have always helped me ‘keep it real’ when it comes to public speaking.

  • Give yourself a pep-talk. Take a deep breath and relax. Try to take slow, deep breaths for several minutes before getting on stage. Maybe even sing yourself a psych up song, like Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger.” Then, reassure yourself that you’ve got this, and that you’ll be fine.
  • Don’t try to be funny. Don’t feel pressured to use a joke as an icebreaker. Humor is a fickle beast, and not everyone shares your brand of humor. If your joke bombs, it’s going to throw you off for the rest of your presentation. And this will make you even more nervous. Play it safe and don’t do it.
  • Be yourself! Talk to the crowd like you’re having a conversation with a colleague. Keep conversation relaxed, but professional. Simply put, don’t do or say anything that you wouldn’t want your boss to find out about.

One last thing: Don’t forget to have fun! This doesn’t have to be the worst experience of your life. If you use these tips, there’s no way you won’t rock the audience like a hurricane!