2 1/2 Public Speaking Tips for the Theatrically Timid

Public Speaking Tips for the Theatrically TimidLet's face it, fundraising involves speaking. Lots of it.

We speak to individuals. We speak to groups. We speak to volunteers, donors, staff, peers, bosses, everyone. And some of the best exposure we can get for our cause is doing public speaking to larger groups like service organizations, or depending on your cause, even conferences.

Despite this common requirement in fundraising, many of us seem really scared. Sure, there are some that love a stage. They seem energized and confident and able to command the crowd.

But what about the rest of us?

I've been speaking in front of groups large and small all my life. I've recently been coaching a client in growing in confidence as a speaker and I'm realizing that most of the advice I've received about public speaking has been just plain wrong. Here are 2 1/2 tips I find useful. I hope you'll add your own in the comments!

1. Look for friendlies

The bad speaking advice is to look over peoples' heads at the back wall. The theory is people are dumb enough to not notice you're (literally) talking over their heads.

Sorry. That doesn't work. And it makes you look silly.

Instead, try to find a few friendlies early on in your presentation. Friendlies are easy to find. Just look for smiling people that are nodding their head with you. You don't want to talk to them the entire time. But it is amazing how energizing it is to come back to them throughout your talk.

If you're really strategic, look for friendlies in each quadrant of the audience. That does make it feel more like you're talking to every one.

2. Treat people like human beings

Chances are good you wouldn't want anyone imagining you in your underwear, why would you try inflicting that on others?!

Mildly self-deprecating humor is a great way to treat people like humans, even if you're not normally humorous. You can just created a standard joke about how nervous you are. Don't dwell on the nervousness, but be real.

You could even make people feel great by explaining your nervousness is due to this group being so amazing at ________ [fill in the blank]. Don't lie. But look for things that they might be doing that intimidate you.

I'm not advocating being sloppy. You should know your material. There's nothing worse than a presenter that is nervous and clueless. Don't be that guy.

2 1/2. Answer people like humans

One of the scariest things about speaking is that, if you are even the slightest level of interesting, people might have questions. But even if you know there was to know about your cause, you'd still get questions you don't know how to answer.

So treat people like human beings by being authentic. You can start out by acknowledging the person and then you can ask the audience how they would answer it:

"Wow. That's a great question. Does anyone here want to take a crack at it?"

This gives the questioner a bit of an ego boost -- they were praised by the presenter -- and there's usually always someone in the group dying to speak. You're now inviting them to speak while giving yourself time to come up with an answer of your own.

The thing is, as you grow in confidence, you'll realize that your audience is lot smarter than you. So you'll actually turn the question to them because you really want to find out what they think.

Those are my 2 1/2 tips. What would you add?

Tell us in the comments!

About Marc A. Pitman

Marc A. Pitman is the CEO of The Concord Leadership Group, the author of Ask Without Fear! and director of The Nonprofit Academy. A coach to leaders around the world, Marc's expertise and enthusiasm engages audiences and has caught the attention of media organizations as diverse as Al Jazeera and Fox News. Marc’s experience also includes pastoring a Vineyard church, managing a gubernatorial campaign, and teaching internet marketing and fundraising at colleges and universities. He is the husband to his best friend and the father of three amazing kids. And if you drive by him on the road, he’ll be singing 80’s tunes loud enough to embarrass his family! You can connect with him on Google+, on Twitter @marcapitman, and like "Ask Without Fear!" on Facebook.
To get his free ebook on 21 ways to get board members engaged with fundraising, go to https://fundraisingcoach.com/21-ways/


  1. Great suggestions Marc. I've always review any presentation I've given as if I was in the audience (targeted or not) to see "where does it get boring?" I've also enjoyed speakers who give me some piece of information that's applicable outside of the targeted discussion (which allows them to then use that info in other discussions...).

    Humor is good, but tricky. The larger the audience the harder it is to find a common laugh-point.

    Finally, it sounds silly, but "dress becomingly." If you look sharp, you'll feel sharp. Ever seen a speaker who's a little under-dressed? You remember them. If they're over-dressed, you probably didn't make a mental note of it, you just moved passed that aspect. So a little respect to your audience by dressing well helps all involved.

    • Great additions!

      I used to always wear a blazer. Then I'd ask "Have I suitably impressed you? May I take this off now?" 🙂

      'Course, the bowtie covers a multitude of dressing faux pas.

      • True about humor.

        I often get my biggest laughs after asking people 2-3 times about the joke and then just saying, "Or...I simply wasn't funny..." [audience cracks up]

        I don't recommend that as a technique. 🙂

  2. Great tips, Marc and I am honored to be invited to add to your list.

    #21/2 is so important. You need to have a prepared response for questions you aren't prepared to answer. If the question is a bit more detailed or controversial, try something like "That is a good question and a point that I haven't considered. Let me meet with you after the presentation to get your contact information and I will do some research and follow up with you." Of course then you have to follow up, but knowing that it is perfectly acceptable to say you haven't consider that "issue" is a real relief when you are standing in the front of the room.

    I'll also add a point related to technology. More and more public speaking is becoming virtual - webinars, teleconferences, etc. When you are presenting and can't tap into audience feedback, a presentation can be even more challenging. Two tips help me, first, use a speaker phone. Your presentation style will be much more presentation like and less like a phone call. Second, have someone, nearly anyone sit in your office as your audience. You are much less likely to drift and you'll keep up your energy if you have the visual audience with you.

    • Thanks Sherry. Great tips.

      But I couldn't do the speaker phone. Your's must be good. I can't stand the cavern-like sound.

      I choose to stand up and pace. Keeps my energy up!

  3. Hi Marc, I like these tips and the follow-up ones that you gave today. Thanks. Had a question regarding 2 1/2 - what's the best way for the speaker to phrase their response following the audience's response, especially if it disagrees with what an audience member has said?

    • Thanks Linda!

      I usually feel comfortable enough to say I don't agree. Chances are, you're not the only one.

      I sometimes can be harsh. But I am sure to apologize or say something nice after the event (either publicly or one-on-one).

  4. One possible response when you don't agree with something: "That's an interesting point. I haven't heard that before." And move on. Although I like the blunt approach too :-).


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