9 Public Speaking Tips for Leaders

Public speaking tips are something everyone who speaks in public could use. In general, public speaking scares the life out of most people. If you speak to audiences regularly, you know how much time goes into preparation.

Leaders put in tremendous hours communicating through emails, meetings, and speeches. The responsibility to communicate well creates pressure and frustration among those who “just want to get their work done.”

public speaking tips

However, we must treat public speaking slightly different from emails and conversations. Speaking to a large audience presents unique challenges and opportunities. Most people who speak do so out of a desire to serve or help others. For that, I want to say thank you for those speakers or aspiring speakers reading this post.

I’m thankful for all the effort put in and the impact made by trainers, key note speakers, politicians, salesmen, teachers, pastors, etc. But I also want to encourage you to ask how you can do things better.

In terms of full disclosure, my personal mistakes initiated the need for this post. I found myself making the same mistakes over and over in my public speaking. I thought I was doing okay, but in reality I understood very little.

Anyone who has ever taken a public speaking class, been a communication expert, attended seminary, or gone to a conference on public speaking knows that a huge amount of training centers around preparation of the message. This reality holds true regardless of whether you prepare messages from research, your own thinking, customer data, biblical exegesis (interpretation of the Bible), or some other source. From my perspective, this training is crucial and foundational.

It does seem that public speakers do not get the speaking training they need, or perhaps the evaluation they need, any more. How do we assume that a leader can effectively communicate good ideas or research? Public speaking provides a unique opportunity to impact the world. How many contexts do you have a captive audience to influence hundreds or thousands of people in as little as 15-30 minutes? For those who work in the non-profit or church sector, do you really want your message to be ignored, misinterpreted, or altered because you didn’t invest the time necessary in public speaking? I doubt it.

(It’s important to note that universities, colleges, conferences, and/or seminaries aren’t responsible for all of a public speaker’s training. These institutions and organizations have budgets that are stretched thin and professionals, leaders and pastors have little time for ongoing development. Pressure in academia pushes professors towards emphasizing theory over practice.)

As I’ve attended many conferences, worked with many businesses, and visited many other non-profit civic organizations and churches the past few years, I’ve noticed many areas of public speaking where leaders, like yourself, could make minor improvements and see significant results.

Below we will prepare or reinforce for you the best practices in public speaking for leaders of all backgrounds:

9 Public Speaking Tips for Leaders

1) Use Intentional Gestures (read the full post)

This public speaking tip is a hard one to master for some of us. When you are exhausted after a long week, it is hard to care about gestures. But your gestures can either add, subtract, or completely detract from your message.

Take a risk and analyze a video of a recent sermon. Ask yourself what you attempted to accomplish with each gesture, motion, or movement that you made.

Beware that this process can be very convicting. It’s embarrassing any time I watch myself speak. You will be glad you assessed your gestures (especially if your assessment leads you to make changes).

Ready to be more intentional with your public speaking gestures? Read our 10 tips for using intentional gestures as a public speaker.

2) Clarify Your Message (read the full post)

Before giving a speech, make sure you can articulate your primary message in a sentence or two. It is easy to develop a speech, sermon, or other training material to the point that you lose sight of the core message.

Clarity for the audience depends on clarity in the mind of the speaker. Click To Tweet

I recently heard a message by Andy Stanley that could be summed up in less than 8 words. He spoke for well over 20-30 minutes and yet he boiled the entire message down into a couple very concise and precise phrases.

Can you do that for every message you deliver? Can you do that for every email you send?

Clarity is difficult, but the reward is great. If you can implement this public speaking tip it will help both you and your audience come away with a clear message.

Clarity is difficult, but the reward is great. Click To Tweet

Get the full 10 ways to clarify your message for your audience.

3) Clarify the Intended Result (read the full post)

Content without application may puff up, but it rarely transforms.

Clarifying the intended result forces the speaker to exegete not only the topic or text in question, but also the audience hearing the message. When you study your audience, identify their needs, and clarify what you want them to do, people will experience your message as relevant to them and take action.

Content without application may puff up, but it rarely transforms. Click To Tweet

If you are speaking to an audience in rural Texas and neglect to include agricultural stories or applications, people will perceive a distance between you and them. Likewise, if you are a pastor starting a new church, the bulk of your examples probably shouldn’t come from seminary experiences or theologians.

I’m not saying you should “water-down” your messages or make them overly intellectual. What I do recommend is that you understand who your audience is and articulate what you have to say in a way that connects with them.

Read the complete post for tips on clarifying the intended result for your audience.

4) Start Your Message Immediately (read the full post)

I hate it when speakers start by thanking 10 people, fumbling through their “slides”, complaining about technology, or worse yet apologizing for their lack of preparation.

You have a chance to catch people’s attention immediately at the beginning. Do so.

Say something powerful. Say it again.

Then wait.

Look at their faces. Give people a chance to let your opening statement sink in.

Then jump into your message preferably with a story that humanizes you and shows your audience that you are one of them. Stories connect. Stories inspire. Stories captivate people and tell them the rest of the message is worth listening to for the next 20 or 30 minutes.

Read the entire post about starting all your speeches with a bang.

5) Practice Beforehand (read the full post)

If you speak frequently, you might be tempted to close this post right now. Wait. This is an important public speaking tip–don’t skip it.

Even if you speak weekly or more frequently, you can’t afford not to practice. I’ve found that I come up with new ideas when I practice in advance.

Practice actually reduces my preparation time.

Imagine yourself with a speech 50-75% done. What if you took the start of your rough draft and practiced it? How would that affect you?

Some of you will find that frustrating, because you prefer to only practice when the message is done. But give it a shot. Practice what you have and think afterwards what you could add, subtract, or change. It may just reduce your preparation time and improve your delivery at the same time.

Read the full post about 7 Steps to Get Yourself Practicing Beforehand as a Public Speaker.

6) Repeat, Repeat, Repeat (read the full post)

Repetition helps all of us to retain information. If you have clarified your primary message in advance, you can easily find ways to repeat it verbatim and in different ways.

Repetition will give your audience hooks for the overall message you are communicating. Repetition will emphasize a particular point and it will break up the monotony of your message.

Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Otherwise they’ll forget, disconnect, and neglect your message.

Repetition also ensures your audience that they didn’t miss the central point of your message.

Read the entire post on 10 Ways to Use Repetition in Public Speaking.

7) Plan for Silence (read the full post)

This public speaking tip may feel awkward, but it is necessary. If your speech doesn’t have pauses, it will be received as a large string of points. Not a cohesive message.

Pauses are pretty much always more awkward for the speaker than the audience.



Then repeat the point you just made. This approach to pausing will reinforce your message and allow people to process what they have heard.

Read the full post on strategically planning for silence in public speaking.

8) Match Your Message to a Mission (Read the full post)

A message detached from a mission may inspire, but it won’t last or transform.

A message detached from a mission may inspire, but it won't last or transform. Click To Tweet

One of the things I used to hate about motivational speakers and Sunday sermons was a disconnect between the message and the mission of the organization. If it’s disconnected it will feel like something in addition to their lives rather than something that helps their lives.

When a speech has clear ties to an organizational mission, the message becomes a tool to help accomplish what people already care about. It will equip rather than overwhelm. It will reduce pressure rather than introduce more work. It will inspire and make the future look possible rather than impossible.

Connect your message to a mission, so that the mission doesn’t usurp your message.

Develop what I call a missional message.

Read the full post on matching your messages to a mission.

9) Evaluate Your Speaking

What gets evaluated is what gets done. Take an hour at least once a quarter or preferably more regularly to evaluate the audio (and video if you have it).

Evaluating your public speaking can’t be avoided. I would argue that this is one of the most important public speaking tips I can offer.

Evaluation provides another context to develop leaders as well. When you ask others to evaluate your message (and to be honest), you allow them to teach you, to better internalize the content, and help others to assess themselves as a public speaker or some other area because you are training them how to evaluate.

In what ways are you currently evaluating your speaking? Who could you invite to help you? What conferences could you attend to get evaluated and learn how to grow?

The best speakers, athletes, writers, etc all get evaluated by others. They realize there is tremendous value to getting feedback and making changes once they’ve identified how to improve. They are always looking for new public speaking tips to improve their ability.

These 9 general public speaking tips could easily be applied over the course of a year or a few years.

Don’t let yourself get stuck in the rut of accepting the past as the pattern for the future. Use these public speaking tips to better your gift.

As public speakers, we often challenge others to take bold steps into the future. If we are going to challenge others, we can also challenge ourselves to make improvements.

If your message matters enough to plan and deliver, it matters enough to be evaluated and improved.

Which of these public speaking tips do you think will be the most helpful? Do you have public speaking tips of your own? Let us know in the comments.


This post is part of a series of posts on Public Speaking. Feel free to check out any post in the series.

1) Public Speaking Tips for Leaders
2) 10 Intentional Public Speaking Gestures
3) 10 Ways to Clarify Your Message As a Public Speaker
4) 5 Tips to Clarify Your Intended Result for Your Audience
5) 7 Ways to Begin Your Public Speech With a Bang
6) 7 Steps to Practice Beforehand as a Public Speaker
7) 10 Ways to Use Repetition in Public Speaking
8) 7 Step Process to Plan for Silence in Your Speaking
9) 5 Ways to Match the Message to a Mission
10) 10 Ways to Evaluate Your Public Speaking