How to Be a Better Public Speaker, From a Public Speaking Pro to You

UPDATED: January 30, 2023
PUBLISHED: January 26, 2023
woman speaking in public

Public speaking can be a terrifying experience—it’s certainly something many people have been nervous about at some point in their life. Getting up on that stage, you suddenly have flashbacks to that fifth-grade book report you didn’t prepare for. You can learn how to speak in public and give presentations without fear—it just takes time and these expert tips.

6 Tips for public speaking

Here are my tips to become a better public speaker to get you started:

1. Get the first gig(s).

Getting your first gig can be tricky, but there is one thing I want you to remember when you’re trying to book stuff: You may have to wait for that nice paycheck.

Why? Because you need to show that you can get an audience. The organizers want to make sure they are getting a bang for their buck. Makes sense, right? Maybe it sucks a bit, and this might mean eating crow (getting paid less than you want) until you’ve done a bunch of talks. If you’re not that well known yet, you may have to speak for free.

My first big speaking gig is ultimately what led to my first book, Crush It!, becoming a reality. I did a talk at Web 2.0 in New York on building a personal brand through social media, and it became the basis for the book. Speaking can lead to great opportunities, but you have to be willing to eat crow at first to watch those things happen.

2. Get in the zone.

Prep can be a lot of different things. Maybe you need minimal time to get everything together. Or maybe you need to rehearse your talk a few times with someone. Figure out what makes you feel the most secure in what you are about to say. If you don’t need notes, don’t use them. Just talk. You’ve got this.

And what about those couple minutes just before you get up there? Focus on normal, everyday stuff. Check your email. Joke with a friend. Act like the talk isn’t even going to happen. You might find calm in doing ordinary activities.

It works tremendously for me. I am in the zone and I’m ready, but I’m not going over notes. I’m not mouthing anything to myself. Those last-minute tendencies people have to want to fix or change something are destructive. Push them away. Go with the plan. Don’t psych yourself out—nobody wants to be the cause of their own destruction. Leave it all behind. You’re ready.

3. Do what feels right to you.

The bottom line on preparing is this: You do you. Self-awareness is so enormously important. Sure, before I speak, I need to just focus and not think about anything else for a while. But if you need notes? If you need to do push-ups or some lucky ritual to feel good? Do it. Do whatever is going to get you motivated and comfortable with the fact that you are about to take the stage. I am happy to give my advice and tell you what I do, but in the end, you have to hack away at whatever you have until you figure it out for yourself.

I am a big believer in the fact that listening to gurus won’t actually change your life. I don’t expect everyone to be like me. Not at all. You should be focusing on what works for you. I think people ask successful entrepreneurs questions like, “What does a normal day look like for you?” because they think they might hold some secret to success. Some overarching wisdom that will change everything.

We don’t.

The only public speaking tip I can give you about this aspect is to audit yourself and figure out what makes you work the hardest.

4. Get excited, not scared.

So what happens when you hit the stage? Weird stuff. You might experience this strange combination of seeing the audience as friends but also enemies. There is a strange mix between these two emotions that happens when you really get into a talk.

For me, I love them for being there and supporting me and being interested in what I have to say, but I also really want them to get the message, to leave with a new understanding. And that is a powerful feeling, the pull between those two things.

That is what public speaking is really all about. You want to convey something with nothing but your own voice. You don’t want to seem crazy, but emotion is a good thing. It’s strong. It’s convincing. You’re allowed to get excited about your idea.

5. Be self-aware.

I am a professional public speaker who is afraid to read aloud. Seriously.

I talked about it in an answer on my YouTube show. The gist of it is this: If you give me a piece of paper to read from, or any kind of notes, I freeze up. I can’t do it. It becomes impossible for me to perform. A while back, I had to read a commercial on a radio show before being the guest, and they gave me a piece of paper with everything I had to say. I completely botched it. I kept messing up. Finally, one of the guys on the radio show suggested I lose the paper and just talk.

That did the trick.

To me, that was further proof that you need to know yourself. I am self-aware enough to know I can’t speak under those circumstances. I can’t bring notes on stage. So, like I said above, know yourself. Try every option or idea until you’ve exhausted them and found the one that works for you.

The good thing is, you can afford to mess up a little. But only a little. Why? Because…

6. You’re only as good as your last talk.

So you did it. You did that first gig and it went… fine? Amazing? Not great?

Well, I have good and bad news. The good news is: You’re only as good as your last speaking engagement. The bad news is: You’re only as good as your last speaking engagement.

Even if you’ve had a long career of public speaking, none of that matters. The second you take that stage, you’re basically wiping the slate clean. People only remember your last at-bat—so make it an amazing one.

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This article was published in October 2015 and has been updated. Photo by Jacob Lund/Shutterstock

Gary Vaynerchuk builds businesses. Fresh out of college he took his family wine business and grew it from a $3 million to a $60 million business in just five years. Now he runs VaynerMedia, one of the world's hottest digital agencies. Along the way he became a prolific angel investor and venture capitalist, investing in companies like Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Uber and Birchbox, before eventually co-founding VaynerRSE, a $25 million angel fund.

Gary also currently hosts The #AskGaryVee Show, a way of providing as much value as possible by taking questions about social media, entrepreneurship and family businesses, and giving his answers based on a lifetime of building successful, multimillion-dollar companies.