Public Speaking Tips: 10 Keys to an Engaging Speech

October 20th, 2014
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Scudder during the session. Photo by Andrea Gils

by Andrea Gils*

We all get butterflies before performance. The key is to get the butterflies to fly in formation.” – Virgil Scudder, president, Virigil Scudder and Associates, LLC.

Virgil Scudder, public relations veteran and president of Virgil Scudder and Associates shared his 10 keys to succeed in public speaking during his session in the 2014 Public Relations Society of America International Conference, which took place Oct. 12-14 in Washington, D.C.

Glossophobia, or what most of us know as public speaking or stage fright, has been said to trump death as the biggest global fear. According to a 2001 Gallup poll, which asked more than 1,000 Americans what their biggest fear was, public speaking ranked second (40 percent) after fear of snakes (51 percent). Regardless of the ranking, why do people fear public speaking so much? Is it because of the fear of failing or looking ridiculous? Perhaps.

Some of us don’t have any issues talking with a small crowd but once the audience reaches the three or four figures, our legs start shaking. Whichever your audience size is, practice is by far the best way to overcome the fear to speak in public.

Scudder quoted Mark Twain who said there are two types of speakers in the world: the nervous one and the liar. “If you are not a little nervous when you get up to speak, I’m concerned because it usually means it’s going to be very flat,” Scudder said.

He said that content and delivery are equally important. “People will tell you ‘it’s not what you say but how you say it’ and that’s nonsense,” Scudder said. “It’s both. If you have nothing to say, saying it well doesn’t really help much.”

During his session, Scudder shared the big no-nos you want to avoid when delivering a speech and techniques to effectively trap your audience into your story and keep them engaged from beginning to end.

Common mistakes

Scudder and the professionals in the session said that some of the common mistakes speakers make include using jargon; speaking with the wrong tone, pitch and volume; making unconscious gestures; using visuals as crutches instead of as supplements; failing to inform and entertain your audience or worse, not switching to a plan B when you see your audience is no longer engaged.

With our busy lives and increased use of social media and multitasking, our attention span is reduced. Therefore, failing to keep your speech short can hurt your delivery and engagement with the audience.

“Every time you go over 20 minutes, you better have some help with something you are going to demonstrate or show – video, PowerPoint, et cetera,” Scudder said.

As Mark Twain said, “It is an awful death to be talked to death,” so remember this when you draft your speech.

Drafting the speech

Scudder said that when drafting the speech, one should start with an audience analysis and a strategy: what do you want your audience to say, feel or do? “If there’s nothing you can get out of it, don’t do it,” he said. If you can’t connect and share your passion with your audience, you’ll be talking to a wall.


Scudder’s tips on delivery:

Have a punchy line to open and close the speech

With a strong introduction you’ll hook your audience’s attention and with a strong close, they will have a powerful impression of your speech.


Use word pictures

Make your points memorable by thinking, speaking and presenting visually. Choose words that audience can picture in their minds as you speak.


Be energetic

By having ups and downs in pace, pitch and volume you will transfer that energy to the audience and keep listeners interested and awake.


Smile and keep eye contact

Smile when you start unless there is a good reason not to. For eye contact, “look at a tall person, a short one, a man, a woman, someone wearing a bright dress and someone wearing a dark suit and then move it around,” Scudder said.


Use pauses and questions to grab the audience’s attention and slow yourself down

A pause for emphasis or drama will help you keep your audience on the edge of their seats and help you control the speed at which you speak. “When the speaker asks a question, the audience becomes more attentive,” Scudder said.


Let your body speak

Don’t control your hands if that is part of your natural animation.


Use humor

“Humor should be humble and self-deprecating. If you make fun of yourself, no one gets offended,” Scudder said.


Tell a story

A story makes your speech more personable and if you change your tone and make the right pauses, the audience will pay attention to what you are about to say.


Avoid using crutches and clichés

Do not use terms including “you know,” “like,” “um.” Scudder said that when you use these often it becomes a problem and you lose credibility fast.


Organize information

The layout of your talking points, of which you should have no more than three, will play a key role in your ability to follow your speech and have a smooth delivery. This includes font size and using only short sentences and words.


How to nail the Q & A

If you know you will have a question and answer session, you should prepare, practice and repeat. Questions allow you to elaborate or clarify a point of interest and good answers are the key to a solid closure. Do not avoid questions and make sure you are well prepared.

Scudder emphasized,“You and your client should never get a significant negative question you are not prepared for.”

So before your next speech remember: grab a camera, record yourself, watch the video, make adjustments and repeat.

“Nothing is more persuasive than a live speaker addressing a live audience, and who then nails the Q and A,” Scudder said.

Which techniques do you employ to be an effective communicator and keep your audience awake, engaged and on their seats until the end?


Andrea Gils   is currently PRSA St. Louis Chapter’s Newsletter Editor and social media co-contributor and former PRSSA National Diversity and Ethics Subcommittee member and PRSSA Southeast Chapter Firm Director. She is a public relations and journalism senior at Southeast Missouri State University and you can find her on Twitter @andreagils.



Pitching the Media – The 2014 Edition

October 16th, 2014
Pitching the Media BurrellesLuce Public Relations PR Software Media Monitoring news clipping

L to R: Hammerand, Drew, Putz, Lebens. Schwartz, Ojeda-Zapata and moderator Rachanda Hall. Photo by Debbie Friez

by Debbie Friez*

Your pitch needs to be a great relevant headline in the subject of your email. (“Yes, I know,” I think as I listen to yet another media panel. But, do I always follow this advice?) So, I continue to listen to the panel of six journalists for this combined Minnesota PRSA, NIRI Twin Cities and Business Wire event. The 2014 edition of this annual event turned out to be one of the best media panels I’ve attended.

Let’s get it out there. Do I call, email, tweet, Facebook, Google Plus message or text a journalist? They all agreed, email is the best option. Duchesne Drew, managing editor for operations, Star Tribune, reminded the audience you can usually find reporter’s emails on the publication’s website, and getting to the right reporter will make all the difference.

The follow-up call to see if they received the press release, on the other hand, is usually annoying. (And all PR folks hate that call!) But, several panelists agreed, they are extremely busy with very full email boxes, so reaching out via different means (even a phone call) is not a bad idea if you don’t get a response in a few days. Andy Putz, executive editor at MinnPost, says you can call him, but avoid calling him in the morning. Julio Ojeda-Zapata, a technology writer for the St. Paul Pioneer Press, is actually quite active on Google Plus, and, if you follow him on Twitter, he’ll follow you back, so you can direct message, if needed. Other panelists said it is OK to find them on social media and text (yes, text!) them if you have a relationship and their cell phone number.

As young PR novices, we learned we should take reporters out for an informational coffee to develop a relationship for future stories. It seems the practice is still worthwhile for most reporters working a beat. Jim Hammerand, digital editor at the Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal, says his day is very busy, so he finds breakfasts or happy hours work better for him.

Embargoed releases are fine, if the reporter has agreed to it ahead of time. (Wow! I’m thinking about all the times I’ve seen these go out blindly!) But Ojeda-Zapata says he doesn’t have a problem with embargoes.

The sportscaster of the group, Dave Scwartz, KARE-TV, doesn’t usually use bloggers for sources. In the sports world, he finds most are just big fans. He also assured us that sports guys do wear pants. (I’m not sure we found that information relevant?)

The actual hard deadline is less relevant in the 24/7 newsroom, although some still exist. Hammerand commented on the need to fill the Business Journal’s 3 p.m. daily email and the paper edition needs information one to one-and-a-half weeks in advance. Nancy Lebens, editor for Minnesota Public Radio News, has about 30 newscasts to fill, so she is always looking for stories at all times of the day.

Reminders from the panel for your own organization’s website media room:

  • Include complete contact information (not the generic on their organization’s website.
  • If you don’t want your mobile number on your website, be sure to have it in your voice-mail.
  • Remember to post press releases as you send them out, so they can confirm information.
  • If your company has a product, post easy-to-find and downloadable images and background information.
  • Don’t make your media room password protected, where the reporter is required to sign-in. They may not do it.

Even in this digital age, reporters and PR folks still need each other, and we can continue to learn from each other. Happy pitching!


Debbie Friez serves as tech editor for the Capitol Communicator and is also a consultant. Previously, she worked as Vice President, Major Accounts for BurrellesLuce. She originally joined BurrellesLuce at their Minnesota Clipping Service affiliate.

Friez was a senior account director for West Glen Communications, a broadcast PR services company. While at West Glen Communications, she was a frequent contributor to the DC Communicator newsletter.

She has a broad understanding of the technologies that are transforming the marketing and communications profession. She serves on the advisory board for the Capitol Communicator, the membership committee for the Minnesota chapter of the Public Relations Society of America, the national marketing committee for the Association of Women in Communications, and is a member and past president of Washington Women in Public Relations (WWPR).



The Best Tweets From the PRSA 2014 International Conference

October 15th, 2014

Cooling temperatures and fall foliage mean one thing to public relations pros: the PRSA International Conference. This year’s conference, in case you hadn’t heard, was held in Washington, D.C., and it was definitely one for the history books. In the following weeks we’ll have lots of great session recaps, but since #PRSAICON was trending on Twitter multiple times throughout the conference, first we’re bringing you some of our favorite #PRSAICON tweets.




Cross the Generational App Divide by Discovering Improvement Points

October 13th, 2014
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flickr user Jason Howie under CC BY

It happens all the time: older generations just don’t get the latest gizmos kids these days are using. What doesn’t happen every day is when there’s a conversation about it in an editorial space and the publication makes that conversation public.

That’s what news site Quartz did last week. In talking about payment app Venmo, writers under 30 said they used the app all the time and that they and their friends found it incredibly useful. The response from the over-30 crowd: “Why?!”

Venmo allows users to pay their friends for split checks, rent, whatever. The fact that one of your friends paid another can show up in your feed, like social media, or the payments can remain private. The over-30 participants in the chat remained bewildered as to why under-30s would want such information shared and why they would connect their bank account with an app in the first place.

As an under-30 myself, I’d never heard of Venmo and would probably never use it. But the over-30s in this conversation missed a crucial point, one that is frequently missed when talking to and marketing across generations: It doesn’t matter if you don’t get it, because people use it anyway.

In August The Atlantic published some findings about the most popular apps by generation, and while everyone’s top apps include Facebook and Pandora Radio, there’s a surprising (or not so surprising) difference between age groups. People over 55 play solitaire and use Yahoo! Mail, people 35 to 54 use Viggle and still play Candy Crush, users 25-34 still use Skype and have the highest Netflix usage, and people ages 18 to 24 use Kik Messenger, Snapchat, and Ifunny :).

This makes plain what most people would expect: Just as different generations respond to different words and messaging, they use different apps and interact with their smart phones differently. The Quartz discussion makes clear that for public relations pros and marketers, it’s important not to get caught up in thinking “why would you use that?” but instead to focus on the facets of popular apps that draw in users of specific age groups and leverage that understanding to reach an ever broader audience.

The most important thing to focus on is what does the app improve? Most apps that resonate with users will improve an existing procedure. Kik allows you to message your friends while also browsing news and games. This improves chatting by not forcing users to switch apps all the time. Venmo makes it easy for kids who don’t like to carry cash to easily and immediately pay each other back.

You might not be an app developer, but analyzing app use across generations can help you figure out what users and generations value and then speaking to those values.

Your Guide to Style Guide Apps

October 9th, 2014
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screenshot of The Writer’s style guide app

One of the keys to consistent messaging and brand voice is having an in-house style guide, even if that guide is just plain ol’ AP style. The drawback to style guides is that, frankly, few but the wordsmiths reference them and they’re not always super accessible (who wants to carry around AP Stylebook or wade through docs to find the in-house guide?). Luckily, there are apps for that. In searching, we only found three of them, but they should be able to at least cover your basics. Here’s our mini-roundup of style guide apps.

AP Stylebook 2014

AP style is the stalwart style guide of newsrooms and the jumping-off point for most corporate style guides (at least in my experience). If you don’t want the bulk of the old-school paper version, AP has you covered with their iPhone app, though at $24.99, it costs more than the paper copy.

The app covers all your favorite spelling, grammar, punctuation, usage, and style guidelines and includes audio along with phonetic pronunciation guides.

The Writer’s Style Guide app

This new (and free!) Android and iPhone app puts a lot of your most burning language and usage questions right next to your Facebook app. It’s got plenty of handy entries about hyphens, ampersands, and more, but be aware that it is its own style guide and is British (for example, they prefer the British “per cent” over the American “percent,” and both of them over “%”). But it’s got great information, a section where you can input your own writing for a readability analysis, and even a fun writing trivia quiz.

APA Reference Guide

APA, aka the American Psychological Association, has its own manual of style, and its own app ($2.99) of the manual. OK, this one might not be as immediately helpful to public relations pros, but the style guide is used by a number of scientific and academic journals and textbooks.

Do you have another writing or style guide app you use?