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  • johnmhardy2018

What Skills Do You Need to Be a Public Speaker

Having been a scientist for more than 30 years, I gained a lot of experience in speaking at workshops, scientific conferences, luncheon, and public education and fashion outreach. Here, I share how to prepare a public talk. Read what skills you need to be a public speaker to make your speech a success (this is a guest post- click here to read it)


Collect the Technical Details for Your Talk

Clarify with the organizer exactly what kind of talk you are to give for which kind of audience. Be very clear about how much time you have and prepare your talk accordingly.


This means one slide per minute. A 15-minute talk is actually 10-12 minutes because of the time required for questions. Plan 45-minutes talking and 15-minutes discussion for a one-hour event.


Inquire about their presentation facilities. Will you need an adapter to connect your laptop with their overhead projector? Do they have a “smart classroom” with video and computer equipment, and only need to bring a jump drive with your talk? How large is the room? Will you need a microphone? If so, is it mounted to the speaker desk or portable? Check which software they use. Can you run videos?



Preparing Your Speech

Start thinking about what you’re going to say as soon as possible.


Create a clear structure of your presentation and have something for your listeners to take home.


Adapt your talk to your audience's pre-knowledge and level of understanding.

Be very clear about your key message(s).

Ensure everything in your presentation is both consistent with, and supportive of your key message.

Articulate the message in a phrase/sentence. Use that phrase/sentence in one of your first slides, and/or one of your last. (If you don't know how to create these, click here for a tutorial)

Slides must support your conclusions.

Technical tip: The second slide should seize the attention of your audience, i.e. Why it is important. This can be the central proposition of your presentation, conventional wisdom that you wish to challenge, a relevant or witty quote from a leader in your field. It can be amusing like funny after dinner speakers, controversial or both.



Slide Content

The talk header should summarize the take-home message of your speech. One-hour talks can have up to three key subjects which each have 3 to 5 slides. Each slide should have a clear heading summarizing the key results shown in the slide. Each slide should normally contain around 25-35 words (Exception: Quotes), and an illustration.


How to Design the Slides for Your Talk

When you speak on behalf of your employer/company use the corporate slide-template.


Seasoned speakers use animations only to convey a point. They rarely use transitions between slides to not distract their audience. If you absolutely want to use them, stay with the same animation/transition for entire presentation. Wipe Left-to-Right is good.


Do your acknowledgements on the first slide.

Don’t starve your audience with an outline.

Let your Summary and Conclusions be the last slide.

Never ever do the acknowledgements or a “Question-slide” as last slide. You want them to remember your conclusions and findings!


Best Fonts, and Size of Fonts

Large conference halls require larger fonts in text and figures, and thicker lines in graphs than seminar rooms.


Use a standard font like Times New Roman, Calibri or Arial.

Go for a larger font for slide headers.

Rule of thumb: Print out your slide and put it on the floor in front of your feet. If you still can read it, you are fine with seminar rooms smaller or equal to 20 m in length. For lecture halls, triple the font size and line thickness. The accompanying diagram gives a sample of font types for how to prepare a public talk.

This slide demonstrates how the wrong font types, too much text, and/or colors can ruin a talk. Shadowed, blush fonts, and script are hard to read.

Best Colors to Use as a Public Speaker

Blue or green are best for backgrounds because they appear to recede away from us. The opposite is true for orange or red. Moreover, the latter are hard to read. Adjacent colors (e.g., green & blue are harmonizing. Contrasting aka complementary colors look balanced.


Best: Blue fonts on white background, yellow fonts on blue or black background.


Tip: Use clashing colors (that are directly opposite,e.g.,. yellow on blue) to catch attention.


Best Use of Diagrams, Colors, Photos, and Images

Avoid yellow because it becomes invisible when projected.

In diagrams, avoid red and green, or green and blue lines/dots, etc. together because some people are red-green or blue-green color-blind.

Use bullet points.

Photos as background are distracting. Use a solid color with stark contrast to the color of your fonts.

Picking the right colors

This diagram illustrates why choosing the right colors for graphs is one of the skills you need to be a public speaker. Yellow becomes almost invisible.

Tip: Substitute (hard-to-read) tables with diagrams, if possible.



What to Wear as a Public Speaker

One of the skills you need to be a public speaker is to pick the right outfit to not intimidate your audience, and to be taken seriously

Rule of thumb: When you give a talk within the framework of an interview, dress for an interview in the conservative field.


In general, solid color separates or suits are best because you can clip the microphone to your collar and the sender-battery part to your waistband.


Wear shoes that are comfortable to stand in. If you need extra height, go for plateau wedges. (Or you can stand on a riser as well if you are a man).


When you speak as a fashion/style blogger wear your style. It’s your branding.




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