Stop giving speeches!

Here’s what to do instead

Guest blog by Paul Barton

To be a great business presenter, I have one piece of advice: stop giving speeches. Why? Because speeches make you nervous and they bore your audience.

Giving presentations isn’t part of your daily job description so it’s easy to default to speech mode when you stand up to speak. The next thing you know, you find yourself using phrases like “without further ado” and “so in conclusion” and other hackneyed speech phrases. You might use highfalutin words because you think you’re supposed to when giving a speech. Sometimes, you can’t think fast enough and you find yourself saying a lot of “ums” and “ahs” as filler sounds. Maybe you tried to memorize a carefully written script or you fumble with notecards and end up reading much of your speech.

But there’s an even bigger problem lurking inside your head. Speech mode sends a signal to your brain that you’re performing and that causes performance anxiety, which is the biggest reason for public speaking fear. Performance anxiety explains why you can speak with ease to a small group of colleagues but then fall apart the second you step in front of a large group. It’s not talking that scares you; it’s performing.

As for your audience, speech mode sounds awkward and disingenuous and it makes it difficult for them to connect with you. Reading prepared text dampens your credibility and the audience wonders why a subject matter expert needs a crutch for their own area of expertise. Filler words and nervous body language further erode credibility and you don’t appear to be confident about what you’re saying.

Even if you somehow manage to memorize and deliver a speech word-for-word, you won’t be as effective as you could be. Why? Because today’s audiences value credibility above all else and they expect authenticity. Think about reality TV, YouTube, or any social media platform. The “real” is the appeal. It’s better to be authentic than to be perfect.

I often ask my workshop attendees to raise their hands if they like to listen to speeches. Seldom does a single hand go up. Then I ask, “How many of you like to listen to Ted Talks?” Typically, more than half of the audience raises their hands. Here’s why: speeches are long and boring; Ted Talks are short and interesting. Years ago, speeches were delivered by skilled speakers who developed expert content. That model has flipped. Ted Talks are delivered by content experts who developed speaking skills. They’re credible because they’re subject matter experts and they connect with audiences because they’re authentic and entertaining.

Designed and Structured Conversations
So, how should you deliver a business presentation? The answer: By leading a conversation. But not just any conversation. Lead a conversation that’s designed for your audience and structured for maximum impact. Deliver your presentation in your own words and tailor it to what your audience wants and needs to know.

Preparation is Key
You must know your subject inside and out and, most importantly, discover how to connect with your audience. You can find audience connection points by answering these questions:

What does the audience know about your topic and what are their views about it? What questions will they have? Identify areas to emphasize, areas that need explanation, and areas to avoid.
What matters most to your audience? Understand what they value and what they’re skeptical about.
Where will the presentation be given? Be familiar with the meeting room and any equipment needs, such as how to connect to the projector if you’re using PowerPoint.
How will your audience be dressed? Your attire should be at the same level or a half-step above your audience.

The single biggest determinant of the success of your presentation is how well you prepare.

Structure Your Content
Once you master your content and have gotten inside the heads of your audience, you’ll need to determine a presentation structure to frame your content and keep you on point and on time.

Rather than memorizing an entire speech, memorize a presentation outline. Every presentation should have three main parts: (1) Introduction, (2) Body, and (3) Conclusion. You can switch-out those words with other three-part structures that may suit your needs better. My favorite structure for a persuasive presentation is: (1) What, (2) So What, and (3) What’s Next. In other words, (1) what are we talking about, (2) why does it matter, and (3) what should we do about it. Part 1 sets the stage and ensures everyone is on the same page. Part 2 explains the importance of the topic and may include an illustrative story to make the point. And Part 3 is the call to action or steps needed to move forward.

Other examples of three-part presentation structures include: (1) Issue, (2) Illustration, and (3) Invitation; (1) Problem, (2) Solution, and (3) Benefit; or (1) Past, (2) Present, and (3) Future. Abraham Lincoln’s “Gettysburg Address” and Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech are both organized as (1) Past (where we came from), (2) Present (where we are now), and (3) Future (where we are going).

Of course, there will be sub-level points underneath each of the major sections. For example, I often use this powerful three-part conclusion: (1) Summary, (2) Call to Action, and (3) Outcome.
In outline format, it would look like this:

  • Conclusion
    • Summary
    • Call to Action
    • Outcome

And it might sound like this:

  • Wow, we covered a lot today! We talked about three ways to move this business forward.
  • So, take the plan we’ve outlined here today and operationalize it with your team.
  • When we all implement this plan, we’ll all succeed.

Being a content expert, understanding your audience, and then mastering a simple but powerful presentation structure is how you can present without fear and without notes. Imagine standing confidently and delivering a conversational presentation. It sounds like you’re just talking and yet you hit all the points in a logical order and you end right on time. This is the secret to having an executive presence and wowing your audience.

In today’s highly competitive world, being a good presenter has become an essential business skill. It can mean the difference between getting ahead in your career or going home. So, stop giving boring speeches and start leading engaging conversations.

To learn more about how to give great business presentations that turn heads, win hearts and get real results, connect with Paul Barton and his team at

As the Principal Consultant of Phoenix Public Speaking, Paul Barton works with business professionals who are going places and don’t want public speaking to hold them back. He and his team combine decades of corporate experience and offer public speaking workshops, 1-on-1 coaching packages, and online courses.

Dan Ram ignites the stage as an in-person event and virtual event MC/ Moderator & Speaker at over 100 events a year.  He has shared the stage with international luminaries including President Barack Obama, Sir Richard Branson, Reid Hoffman, Nico Rosberg, and Grammy-winning artists and celebrities.  He has also been recognized as a Top 40 under 40 leader 2020 as well as a Top 100 Yale Alumni in Technology 2021.  Level up your communication skills through his course and mastermind  “Speaking Success”.  His passion is to inspire people with his motto ‘Start Now Start Simple’ in building a future we all want to live in.

3 thoughts on “Stop giving speeches!”

  1. Very true. Rehearsed speeches are not engaging. However, I feel reality versus perfection is a fine line. Preparation is key. I fully agree. I feel the audience deserve a good presentation and that means solid preparation, Thanks for the tips. Very useful.

  2. I love the practical nature of this blog especially the strategy and outline for preparing a presentation. I definitely fall into the camp that leans toward trying to memorize my speech but I hope to try to lean more into the side of me that is a subject matter expert. Thanks for this insightful piece.

  3. Less is always more. Performance anxiety can be seen as a positive: it sharpens our listening/speaking skills and heightens our ability to connect with people. Practice in rapport building with groups of all sizes is valuable!

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.