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QuickBites: The Top 10 Things My Mom Taught Me About Public Speaking

When I started coaching, I realized that many of the things my mother taught me about interacting with others were spot on. 


From her point of view, she was teaching me about respect. However, she couldn’t have known that she was also teaching me about one of the most valuable aspects of presentation skills — engagement. Here are the top 10 things she taught me about public speaking.


#10 Look people in the eye

Making eye contact helps you bond with your audience. It also expresses confidence on your part. But eye contact is a two-way street, so as much as your audience members can glean meaning from your eyes, you can get valuable feedback from theirs. 


#9 Take your hands out of your pockets

Your hands support and foster your message. They also help you connect with your listeners. Having your hands in your pockets (or under a desk or table) prohibit you from the benefits they provide. 


#8 Don’t fold your arms

I can’t remember if my mom thought having your arms folded was disrespectful because it appears defensive or that you aren’t interested in the other person. I guess it really doesn’t matter. In either case, it’s not a good look.


#7 Speak up

People will strain to hear you … for a short time. After that, they’re done trying. If you want a shot at keeping your audience engaged, speak at the appropriate volume. And that brings us to the closely related …


#6 Speak clearly

Being heard is one thing. Being heard clearly so your listeners have the chance to process your message is another. Be sure to enunciate.


#5 Slow down

I don’t think my mother would have ever thought of the idea of pausing, but that’s precisely what she was suggesting. So, whether you’re speaking at a rapid rate or not pausing at the appropriate times, you too should heed this advice. 


#4 Don’t interrupt people when they’re speaking

This is all about respect and simply being polite. Well, it’s also about engagement. If you keep interrupting people, how long are they going to stay engaged? Not long at all. But you can’t be interrupting people while you’re presenting. Right? No true. You certainly can interrupt them. You can interrupt their thinking by continuing to speak directly after asking them a question or making a point they want to ponder.


#3 Listen more than you talk

I’m sure you’re wondering that if you’re delivering a presentation, how can you be listening more than talking. Well, I’m not sure you can. But I’m positive you and your audience can benefit from its intent. This concept is about showing others that you care about them. By focusing your message and its points on your audience, you will have lived up to this principle.


#2 Stand up straight

Standing up straight and its cousin sitting up straight demonstrate confidence and engagement — two essential attributes for a public speaker.


And the #1 thing my mom taught me about public speaking is … Smile! Or, as she would say, “It’s just as easy to smile as it is to frown.”


She was right. But beyond that, think about all the things a smile can do — engage, attract, soothe, disarm, connect, agree, bond, support, confirm, and encourage, to name a few. And it doesn’t have to have a big, toothy grin. Most often, a soft smile that creates a twinkle in your eyes is all that’s necessary.


Thanks, mom. You’ll never know how much your advice (although I considered it nagging at the time) has helped me and, subsequently, my clients.