Course Content
Chapter 3: Writing Mechanics Help
Chapter 12: Teaching Writing
Chapter 23: Teaching Reading
College English Composition: Help and Review
About Lesson

Performing Public Speaking

When you ask a handful of people what they are afraid of, you are guaranteed to get a few common responses- clowns, sharks, ghosts, and public speaking. For whatever reason, the prospect of public speaking can be daunting, even terrifying. This is often especially true for naturally introverted people. But did you know that some of the worlds most respected actors are naturally very quiet and shy? It’s true. The ability to feel comfortable in front of a crowd is not something you have to be born with to be good at. So why are actors able to do what they do so well? Because they learn not just how to speak but how to perform.

Many public speakers, from politicians, to preachers, to teachers, have found that applying the methods of approaches of acting to public speaking changed their entire outlook on getting in front of a crowd. After all, all of life’s a stage.


The first tip to acting, and the first tip to public speaking, is simple- be prepared. Good actors know their lines and are very disciplined in their rehearsal. I’m not saying you have to memorize every line of your presentation, but make sure you know the information. You can also prepare in other ways; run through vocal exercises, warm up your voice, shake out your hands and touch your toes. These little movements get blood flowing and build up energy.

Also, think about your audience. Public speakers are often nervous in front of an audience because they don’t know them but really, you do. You know why they’re here and you can think about what they are hoping to get out of this presentation. Actors think about their audiences like this as well.

Next, visualize yourself doing well. Actors do this to build up conscious awareness of their voice, stage presence, etcetera.

Finally, dress the part. Actors wear costumes to make a statement about the character and in a way, you should too. If you want to be seen as prepared, intelligent, and in charge, dress like someone who is.


Now you can rehearse all you want, but at some point, it’s actually time to present. But don’t just present, perform. Make this not just a performance but your performance. Here are some ways actors do this.

First, use your space. The presentation space is your stage, it doesn’t belong to anybody else, just you. And you can control everything that happens on your stage. So don’t be afraid to move around. Actors don’t stand still while performing do they? Sometimes they get closer to the audience to make a point, sometimes they get further away. Think of your presentation space as performance space and interact with it in ways that help prove your point.

Performing rather than just presenting is really all about stage presence. Actors control stage presence by maintaining good posture, controlling breathing, and using hand gestures appropriately. A good tip to remember with hand gestures is NODS, an acronym that stands for neutral, open, defined, strong. Start your performance with hands by your side at a neutral position. Then start using wide gestures that open you up to the audience. Then use defined, strong gestures throughout the performance to accentuate major points.

This same idea can be applied to the use of props. Yes, props. Let me ask you; how out of place would a prop look on stage if the actor barely interacted with it? When public speaking, we often have slide shows or similar things with us but do we use them like props? Why not? By interacting with these, you make them seem important, necessary, and part of the performance, which in turn helps people remember what you’re talking about.

Finally, it is important to trust yourself. One of the biggest hindrances to public speakers is self-doubt. Let yourself get drawn into your own performance. Be the speaker you want to be and don’t be afraid to mess up. Mistakes are 100% okay and just as actors practice improvisation to roll with mistakes on stage, you can roll with your own mistakes. Make a joke about it, acknowledge it, use it to build up empathy between you and your audience.

Now all of this talk about ‘owning your performance’ does not, for a second, mean you can’t be nervous. Nerves are just a sign that you care, so really, it’s good to be nervous. Actors are taught to never try and bury their nerves but to use them to fuel the performance. In acting, as in public speaking, a performance with any emotion at all is better than a performance with no emotion. Being nervous while presenting is much better than being lifeless, so let yourself feel whatever you feel. Let it in but don’t let it overpower you. This is still your stage, your performance, you are still in control. Today, life may be the stage but you are the star.

Lesson Summary

Public speaking is a daunting prospect to many people but it can help to think of a presentation as a performance and try some techniques used by actors on stage. Let’s start with rehearsing. Preparation is important and this means knowing your material, as well as picturing the audience, visualizing the presentation, and dressing the part.

While actually presenting, use the space. This is your stage and your movement around it can help communicate your point. Also, make things like hand gestures and props, from notes to slideshows, feel intentional. A good tip here is NODS, neutral, open, defined, strong.

Finally, trust yourself. Let yourself feel nervous, let yourself make mistakes. But use these to create an emotional connection between yourself and the audience. Acting techniques are used by many public speakers to improve their presentations. If all of life is a stage, then public speaking is just another performance and you’ve got a chance to steal the show.

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