My top tips for public speaking

Most people who’ve seen me speak in public will realise that I don’t like giving pre-written speeches. There are a number of reasons for this: firstly I still get a little nervous when speaking in public and rehearsed speeches add to the pressure, but chiefly, I feel it’s so much better to speak from the heart.

As somebody who is fortunate enough to be asked to stand onstage every now and then, I am always very conscious of wanting to get across the message without boring everybody to tears.

90 per cent of the time it is better to ad-lib rather than read from contrived speech notes. Even if you forget certain points you wanted to make, the people who are listening always desperately want to hear your passion, not just your theory.

Even if you have been asked to do a serious speech, try to come up with witty lines to make people laugh, especially at the beginning and end. Start making people smile, have a laugh in the middle, be sure to include a bit of serious stuff either side of that, but end on a smile. This is good advice for wedding speeches in particular!

Plus a speech from the heart is more captivating and makes the time fly faster. When will people realise that a short speech is so much better than a long speech? In the same way most business pitches can be done on the back of an envelope, most of what anybody has to say of great note can fit on one side of paper.

I remember following somebody in Japan who droned on for two hours; I just looked around and most people were sound asleep. I'd been asked to do a one and a half hour speech to follow up. When I saw what was happening, I wouldn't do a speech at all; I got on stage and asked the audience to interact with me. After 40 minutes I left on a high, everyone was enjoying it – and was awake! The organisers were looking rather annoyed and ordered me back onstage, but I successfully argued it was better to end on a high note than keep to a time limit.

Now I do Q&A sessions to raise funds for our entrepreneurial foundation Virgin Unite, and try to get people involved. I just take whatever comes, whether it is serious questions, jokes or business pitches. If somebody wants a photo, I invite them up, I have a laugh with them. If somebody tries to pitch something to me, I let the audience judge business ideas.

Do you have a top tip for public speaking? I’d like to hear about it in the comments below. 

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