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David Diana
Jul 27, 2010

The Art of Public Speaking

If you’re looking to improve your public speaking skills try these helpful tips.


One of the best ways to create a powerful first impression is through the use of story. It doesn’t have to be a personal story. Any compelling story related to your topic will do. The first thing that a good story does is identify a theme or common experience that serves as a ‘transferable concept’ for participants. By this I mean that audience members can relate to the story and will be able to identify their own personal experiences as you go through your presentation.


I would also suggest taking the story theme even further and make an effort to begin your presentation as if you were in the middle of your talk. Avoid going through the basic introductions, agenda and overview of what you hope to accomplish. When you get up to begin your talk, pause for a brief moment and launch into your story without any prompting.

This approach will compel the audience to listen as they will be intrigued by your approach and will make a concerted effort to understand how your story will fit into the greater whole of the presentation.


A great alternative to telling a story is to begin your presentation with a powerful and thought-provoking question.

I’ve used this technique quite effectively with some of the graduate school career workshops I offer. This particular question tends to elicit strong emotional responses from the group:

“How many of you right now find yourself thinking about how you’re going to realistically make a living as a mental health professional?”

Sometimes people are compelled to respond, and a dialogue begins. At other times the room stays quiet. Either way I have created a shift in energy within the room by asking a blunt and honest question that everyone can relate to on a personal level. My next step is to follow up this question with important information that will help all mental health professionals be more successful.


Offering useful information is one thing, offering new ideas that participants never thought of before is a whole different ballgame! I attended a workshop not long ago, and left incredibly motivated to change some of the ways I went about doing my business. I was inspired because the presenter offered new ways of approaching my day-to-day activities that I had not thought of before.

Generate ideas and concepts that people can relate to easily so they begin telling themselves, “That’s a great idea, I can apply that to my line of work immediately and it will yield some powerful results. I’m going to give it a try.”


Nothing frustrates me more than the overuse of audience participation. I know people have good intentions. They want to engage the audience as much as possible. However, be careful when you take this approach. Too many questions or attempts to have the audience participate can become patronizing and annoying.

Some of my pet peeves in this area:

(1)Consistently asking obvious questions where everyone knows the answer. Of course no one is answering you. The answer is obvious!

(2)Saying hello to the audience and then pausing because you are waiting for an enthusiastic hello back. Don’t patronize people!

David P. Diana is a counselor, author, and a director for a behavioral healthcare organization. He writes a weekly blog on sales and marketing for counselors (

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