Public Speaking: 10 Practical Tips

As you know, financial planning is about two sides of an equation. Income and expenses. Let’s work today on increasing your income. How? If you’re going to be a leader that others look up to, you’ll need to be a great public speaker. Here’s how.

If you’ve seen me, you know I have a face for radio. However, I made a great living off of my ability to speak in front of people. During my advising years, not only did I work in public relations, handling media interviews and questions, but I was a hired gun. Other advisors would pay me to give speeches for them. Why? My results were so good that I could sell people on working with you better than you could sell yourself!

How did I do it? The basics aren’t hard, but they’re surprising to many non-speakers. When you read these tips something should strike you right away: most of them aren’t about the speech…they’re about what most would call peripheral areas of the talk.


Let’s go:


1)   Look the part. I was a financial advisor who was supposed to be trustworthy with your money. I needed to wear a suit that looked clean, freshly pressed and with polished shoes. My hair needed to be groomed. No expensive watches or over-the-top ties. Good money managers aren’t wasteful with other’s money. Ask yourself this: what does your audience want to see?

I practiced neuro-linguistic programming methods made famous by Anthony Robbins but practiced by most of the of top speakers and sales professionals of the world. It’s roots are grounded into hypnotism. Wear the right colors (hunter green and a deep blue are nice “trustworthy” colors. Model your favorite speakers, copying the traits that make them stand out. Watch the audience to see if they’re mimicking your movements slightly (I move left, people lean left). There are many subconscious ways to stack the deck in your favor.

2)   Own the room. If the talk stinks, people aren’t going to blame the people who set up the room. They’ll simply say, “That speaker was horrible!” They won’t analyze the countless things that worked against the advisor. Come early enough to set up the room before you speak. I had a list of criteria I reviewed with the people who hired me to make sure I was able to win.


Here are a few:


–       Set tables up in half-moons so guests can see me without craning their neck.

–       The temperature should be slightly cool when the room is empty. If it feels great empty, people will be sweating when it’s full of breathers.

–       Play soft music before the talk. People feel awkward when the room is silent.

–       Set up the podium or microphone so it’s already at the right height and you don’t have to fiddle with it to begin your talk.

–       Disappear before the show. You’re the main event, not the greeter.


3)   Warm up. Speech writer Peggy Noonan (1000 points of light) made me a believer in this one. In physical education classes or any strenuous activity, people warm up first. Don’t use the first several minutes of your speech to get your blood pumping. I used to do 25 quick jumping jacks about 3 minutes before I took the stage. Find a quiet, out of the way spot (I only got caught once!) and get ready to start your speech with a BANG!

4)   Have someone else introduce you. Work with the person introducing you to make sure they start the speech off correctly. Usually, they’re not used to standing in front of the room. You don’t want to trust whatever comes into their head. It won’t be good. Write an intro for them and tell them “most people just read this as-is. People don’t know that I wrote it for you.”

5)   Stories beat facts. A funny story. One top advisor complained that he created a seminar with brilliance and nobody would buy. Then he started hiring me after he heard how good I was. According to him, “Then Joe comes in and tells a few funny stories, throws in a couple facts everyone already knows, and the whole room signs up to work with us.”

Why? It’s a little technical, but boils down to this: people don’t actually come to a financial seminar to learn. They come because they want to know if the advisor knows what they’re doing and to see if they can glean one or two things. The room is going to have two types of people: amiable people and analytical people. The amiables want to like me. The analyticals want to know if I know what I’m doing. Therefore, I structured me speech (roughly) this way:













See how it’s front loaded? Marriot once performed a study that showed people decide if they like the hotel in the first five minutes. They haven’t even reached the room yet! It’s the same with your speech. Amiables  (most of those in the survey) just want to like you and are going to decide quickly. Therefore, I front load the speech to win those people. I have many, many friends who are engineers. I’ve often joked that if I hadn’t been so naïve in high school and thought that engineers were just train drivers, I would have been one also. People who are analytical know the game, but they also want to know what you know. They’ll wait through a few stories that they could care less about, as long as you bring home the bacon at the end. That’s why it’s fact fact at the end (and usually my best stuff that they didn’t know before coming).

6)   Don’t try to be a comedian. I’m naturally someone who likes to laugh and share jokes. I found that my biggest issue was to make sure that I didn’t come across as “goofy” during my presentations. Humor, sparingly, is good, but unless you’re at Caroline’s Comedy Club, a little goes a long way.

7)   Choreograph your talk. I had three positions when I talked:

–       Knowledge: When I was doling out facts my feet were together, shoulders square, and I used my left hand to point at the facts on my screen (left hand because you want to stand to the audience’s left of the screen, so they subconsciously look at you first and then your data. If you stand on the other side, they’ll spend the whole time focused on the data and then come to you).

–       Story: I’d move toward the audience, feet apart, and move my arms to reflect the story. My face would become more casual.

–       “So What?” – To make your biggest points, move up toward the audience, lean forward, and slowly move your head from audience member to audience member. Don’t overdo it. This position should be reserved for a couple of major milestones and your call to action ONLY.

8)   Chuck the script. I’ve been to too many speeches where the person reads to me. Just email me that and let me go home. If you’re speaking to me, work from your main points! Don’t think of exact words, think of the actual meaning of your talk. What are you trying to convey? If you start with a script, learn it cold and then work to unlearn it. You’ll find that the most important phrases from the script stick and the rest melts away.

9)   Rehearse your open and close. In the book Lions Don’t Need to Roar, author D.A. Benton talks about the difference between how CEOs and underlings give presentations. While an underling is already speaking as they’re being introduced, the CEO shakes the hand of the person performing the introduction. Slowly strolls to the podium, shifts through their notes, squares their shoulders, and then delivers a powerful opening. Why? It’s all an act to show who’s in charge!

Rehearse your close for another reason. I had a fantastic story at the end of my speech after my two big facts. This created an applause moment. My goal? To walk out of the room with people really applauding hard. I created that by working over and over on milking the last three minutes of my speech.

10)   Less is better. For awhile (when I was a new speaker), I thought I could WOW people with more stuff. Yeah, that’s not the case. People don’t want more. They want better. A speech is poetry. Less words, more choreography, more fun for the audience.

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    • Average Joe says

      I’ve found that the first three minutes of any speech is the hardest part. If I can nail those three minutes, confidence will get you the rest of the way.

    • Average Joe says

      I’ve been to FAR too many speeches where it was tons of facts, and all I could think about in the audience was, “How soon till this is over?”

  1. says

    I use many of your tips in my classroom. i try to keep my lessons short because the learning starts when the students start the projects. My best lessons are when I am most relaxed. Practice helps me relax more. I draw on many years of speaking experience to give me confidence, but a classroom is different.
    krantcents recently posted..I Am a PF Coach and I Should Be Fired!My Profile

    • Average Joe says

      I’ll bet the classroom is a TON different. You all bring in this experience with each other that’s added to the mix.

  2. says

    Great thoughts Joe! Public speaking is not one of my favorite things to do, but have been to enough seminars to know what makes a good speaker. The balance to appeal to both the amiable people analytical people (like me:) ) is a key one to have. If you’re on one end of the spectrum you risk just boring half, if not more, of the room. I think finding that balance can really make a good talk much more enjoyable.
    John S @ Frugal Rules recently posted..Frugal Friday: Blog Posts That Ruled This Week, How Can it Be February Edition?My Profile

    • Average Joe says

      Right on, John. I have found that if I tell too many stories the analytics don’t hire me (and often those are the people who had the most money in the room).

  3. says

    These are great tips Joe! I hate when I am watching someone give a presentation and they are reading verbatim from a script/notes and they barely make eye contact with the audience.

    My dad used to do Toastmasters when I was a kid and he was really good at it. That’s something I’d like to try.
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    • Average Joe says

      I did Toastmasters for awhile when I was on television all the time, just to keep sharpening the sword. I never did very well at Toastmasters events, but I learned a ton.

    • Average Joe says

      And it sounds like you work with mostly analytical people. In that case, the formula I outlined is horrible. You can’t tell stories to a bunch of numbers-based people.

  4. says

    #1 is so important. A friend just got fired in spite of doing her job well because she looked too young for it, and refused to dress smarter. She dealt with worried parents every day at school and seeing what looked like a teenager take care of their kids was not reassuring.
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    • Average Joe says

      I can’t understand why some people don’t pay attention to the way they look. I’m certainly not a snappy dresser, but I think I appear the way people expect me to look.

  5. says

    This is one reason why I have avoided trying to be a RIA. While I understand people wouldn’t want a guy in shorts and a Hawaiian shirt giving them investment advice I still find that “playing the part” is a little ridiculous. I always felt that a person should display their investment knowledge, past performance, and outlook to the future. Maybe playing the part is just how you get your customers in the door, I’m not sure.

    When thinking about taking all the qualifications and starting my own firm I asked a couple friends if they had financial advisors and if they did why they chose them. Unfortunately the overwhelming response was exactly what you stated in the article. They said, he or she was very professional, looked successful, drove a nice car, etc.

    Have you ever felt this way as an investment advisor?

  6. Ornella @ Moneylicious says

    I agree with these tips. Especially the last one. Too much information will overwhelm the audience. Having a few main points you can build on has a greater impact on the audience and easier for them to process. As a speaker, there is a lot of power and control you have over the audience. Stories entertain and drive home your facts.

  7. says

    Good information, Joe. I don’t much care for public speaking, but I’ve gotten (or had to get) better at it, at least to judge by feedback and reactions.
    You’re right about anecdotes. I’ve found a few in this little book on public speaking I picked up at a yard sale for less than a buck. Many of the stories are dated (the book’s from the 40’s), but quite a few tales, if well-told will grab the audience and get them to listen. With engineers though, if the stories (or examples) aren’t tied to data, you could lose them.
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