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Ray Gesualdo
A microphone in focus

Moar Gooderer Public Speakingness

March 23, 2024 | 11 Minute Read | Category: Speaking

Yes, you read that title correctly. A while ago, one of the employee resource groups at Salesloft hosted a learning series for those who wanted to improve their public speaking skills. Now I am by no means an expert, but I have spoken dozens of times to groups ranging in size from a handful of people to a few thousand. I have learned many lessons in that time, both through experience and via experts in the field. I was honored to present what I had learned to the group…and couldn’t resist having a little fun with the title. The remainder of this post is a condensed version of that talk in text form.

Setting the stage

Speaking is a craft. While it is true that some have a more natural proclivity for it, anyone can learn it. Like any craft, your public speaking skills can be honed and improved with time and practice. It doesn’t matter what personality type you are either. I’ve heard many misconceptions about public speakers needing to be extroverts or needing to have this personality trait or that. That is false. In fact, one of the most genuine and moving conference talks I ever heard was given by a very introverted individual. And they absolutely nailed it. So regardless of your current skill level or your perceived natural inclination, you can improve your speaking skills. What I’m about to share is a non-exhaustive list of principles and practices that have helped me improve. I hope they are helpful to you as well.

They are broken down into three sections:

  1. You, the presenter
  2. Preparation
  3. Presenting

You, the presenter

Presentations are not given by faceless, emotionless voids. They are given by you, the presenter. These first three points all revolve around who you are.

1. Know yourself

Self-awareness is a powerful and valuable asset. Knowing who you are, how you communicate, what makes you nervous, what makes you thrive, what gives you energy, what drains you, etc. gives you an advantage when speaking. Further, knowing how you communicate to different audiences is key as well. Some people prefer 1:1 scenarios. Others prefer small groups. Still others get their thrill speaking in front of the largest crowd possible. Spend time getting to know who you are so you can more effectively share that with others.

2. Be yourself

Knowing yourself isn’t enough. You must also be yourself. This can be particularly difficult in the early days of public speaking when you’re still trying to figure out what your voice is. But no one else can be you. And your perspective is valuable to the audience. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be listening to you. One of the most interesting talks I ever saw articulated the concept of computers through the lens of automated knitting machines1. Knitting was a hobby of the speaker, they brought that to bear in their talk, and it was infinitely more interesting because of it. Personally, I know I can’t do any stand-up-style comedy in my talks. Some speakers pull it off with astonishing ease. I am not one of those speakers. I know that about myself though so I can lean into other styles that are more fitting for me.

3. The thin line between fear and excitement

Others far more qualified than me have shown that fear and excitement trigger the same chemicals to flow through our bodies. What differs is how our brains – read: us – interpret those signals. When we feel nervous, our heart racing, adrenaline pumping, it’s the same physiological response whether we’re scared out of our minds (having to talk in front of 1,000 people, riding a death-defying rollercoaster) or absolutely thrilled to be doing something so exciting (having to talk in front of 1,000 people, riding a death-defying rollercoaster)2. Our own interpretation of the events frames it for us as either fear or excitement. Telling yourself your excited in those moments, quite literally telling yourself that silently or even out loud, can reframe the experience. I have done this. It works. It sounds bizarre and ridiculous, but try it out next time and get back to me!


This is intentionally the largest section because I have found that one of the best leading indicators for a presentation’s success is how much preparation I put into it.

4. Find a unifying thread or theme

Regardless of the subject matter, there should be one primary idea – a north star – guiding your presentation. Weave that idea through the entire presentation. Make it a part of your visuals, your examples, etc. This unifying theme will make it easier for your audience to follow what your saying and will help them carry that idea far beyond the end of your presentation.

5. Tell a story, preferably yours

I had two very different social studies teachers in high school. The first had us do worksheets day in and day out…and that was about it. There was nothing that connected those rote facts and figures which would inevitably fall out of our brain not long after we had completed the worksheets. The second had us furiously copy down notes to begin class, then they would walk through the notes with us as a narrative, weaving the facts together with stories about the people behind the facts and figures. Two guesses as to which one stuck with us longer. Humans thrive on narrative. Stories are how we think, both individually and communally. Give your audience a story they can hang facts and figures onto. If at all possible, share from your own experiences.

6. Understand your audience

Audiences differ greatly in terms of experience, familiarity with you or your content, attentiveness, and desire to be there. Prepare for this. An audience of experts probably doesn’t needs common industry acronyms explained to them. Conversely, a group new to your topic may need to be walked through the basics more slowly. Understanding where your audience is at allows you to tailor the presentation to them, which it should be to some degree since you want them to take something of value from your presentation. This doesn’t mean rewriting presentations for every event. But it may mean expanding a little bit here or trimming a little bit there depending on who’s listening.

7. Figure out your preparation process

Not everyone prepares the same way. Some like to start with slides. Others with outlines. Still others by spilling thoughts out loud into the ether to see what works. None of these approaches is bad…unless it doesn’t work for you. Figure out how you best prepare and do that thing. Every time. For instance, I know that I can’t start with slides too early. I will get distracted by the display of my content instead of creating the actual content. Instead, I start with a rough outline and quickly move to a whiteboard where I draw lots of boxes for slides and start storyboarding what will go where (with no regard for the aesthetics). Whiteboarding is usually when I figure out segues, gaps between concepts or points, and how the general flow of the presentation will go. But for you, it will probably be different.

8. Practice, practice, practice…then practice some more

Nothing beats practicing your presentation. Nothing. For my largest and most involved talks, I will practice them on my own start-to-finish 10-20 times before giving it to a live audience. Let me caveat this by saying that not all talks need to be practiced to the same degree. If I’m extremely familiar with the content, or it’s a shorter talk, or it’s in a much more casual setting, my practice may happen only once when developing the outline and/or slides. Contextualize your practice based on the needs of the talk. Know also that practice doesn’t just mean running through it on your own. If you’re giving a talk at a big conference, workshop it at a local meetup or with some coworkers at your job. This practice has a cumulative effect as well. Practicing individual talks builds your skills as a speaker beyond whatever presentation you might be giving.

9. Observe how others do it

The greatest American football players spend countless hours in the film room studying how their opponents play. What are their strengths? How do they move? What rhythms do they have? What is their initial plan? How do they pivot or adjust? Public speaking isn’t a competitive sport of course, but the principle remains the same. Watch how other people present. Find a few speakers you really like – doesn’t matter what industry their in – and study what they do well, things both big and small. I like to do with this stand-up comics. I’ve already noted above that my style doesn’t really mesh with a stand-up comic style. Still, there is much I’ve learned. Timing, segues, intonation, playing to their strengths, reading the room, and using all of their voice are skills every great stand-up comic has honed. I love seeing how each has mastered these skills differently too, just as whichever speakers you study will have mastered their public speaking skills differently. Study great speakers to become a great speaker.


With the preparation complete, the time for presenting is at hand. These points revolve around the mechanics of presenting.

10. Show, don’t tell

”A picture is worth 1,000 words.” There’s a reason this phrase is so often quoted. It’s important to realize we are all multimodal learners. Hearing and seeing are much better than either on its own. If you’re doing a talk on a Rubik’s cube, bring one on stage. If you’re presenting about customer service best practices, perhaps do a role playing exercise. Don’t feel like you need to get too fancy with it though. This can be as simple as turning numbers into a graph or words into a picture. Give your audience visually engaging content to go along with the words you’re speaking and they will retain it to a much higher degree.

11. Speak, don’t read

An instant differentiator for me between a novice and a seasoned speaker is how they treat the content on their slides. Novices read everything on their slides exactly as it is written. Unfortunately, this doesn’t deliver any value to their audience. The audience could have done this on their own. They are there to hear your perspective, experience, or commentary concerning what’s on the slides. Seasoned speakers do just that. In fact, oftentimes the majority of their content is not on their slides. The slides are there as prompts, visual cues, enhancements, illustrations, etc. to augment the presentation as they are speaking.

12. Sloooooooow dooooooooooown

This one is a bit harder to communicate via written word, but when I was giving this presentation in-person I intro-ed this point by saying the phrase “Slow down” and then proceeded to take a full 10 second pause3. I’ll be honest. As a speaker, it felt eternal. But for the audience, they immediately felt the gravity and weight of the point I was making. Pauses give the audience time to think and process through what was just said. The brain gets a chance to breathe. As speakers, providing these breaks at just the right moments is a helpful tool to drive home a particular thought or idea. These pauses aren’t just for major moments in our presentations though. As a rule, we need to take our time when speaking. We as speakers have had hours upon hours with our material. Some in the audience are probably hearing about it for the first time. Slowing down allows everyone to ingest the information without drowning in it.

Go forth and speak

I hope these were helpful. I know they have been to me. Remember that ultimately we as speakers must strive to deliver value to our audience and transfer our passion for our topics to them. Know yourself and how you present. Prepare well, practice, and learn from other great speakers. Show and speak, slowly. I look forward to hearing your next talk!


  1. My deepest apologies to whomever gave this talk. I cannot remember who spoke or even for what event it was. But it left an indelible impression!

  2. Simon Sinek has a great anecdote about this phenomenon.

  3. To be clear, I’m not advocating for 10 second pauses everywhere. Choose the right pause for your presentation. It just so happened that an extremely long pause fully illustrated my point in this case.

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