Shop Talk

Ask the Experts: Give a great speech - even with the jitters

Alan Hoffler
Alan Hoffler

One way to spread the word quickly about you and your business is to stand up in front of a group and talk about it. But not everyone is comfortable moving away from one-on-one into large groups.

According to public speaking expert Alan Hoffler, executive director and principal trainer at MillsWyck Communications in Cary, you can learn to deliver a great presentation even if you never completely shake the jitters.

“One of the things we try to tell people is we don’t care if you’re nervous as much as we care that you do well,” Hoffler said.

Hoffler says the nervousness may come from a lack of confidence.

“Most people have never been trained in how to speak,” Hoffler says. “They learned how to do it when they were a year old, but they have never actually been taught to do it well and they don’t have any faith because they don’t know what to do.”

Here’s Hoffler’s advice on speaking in public:

“Rule No. 1 is it’s not about you,” Hoffler said. “That’s where nervousness comes from. If I’m focused on my feelings and how I feel when I stand up then I am not going to be able to serve the people that the message is intended for.”

Hoffler says that public speaking includes mastering key behaviors such as making eye contact with people in the audience.

“Most people think they look at their audience but what they’re doing is what we call slaying,” Hoffler said. “They don’t ever land their message on a person.”

Hoffler also recommends not starting a speech with a joke or relying on PowerPoint to deliver a great message. Presentations done in the software can be very effective, he said, but it eliminates the ability to influence or persuade the audience. Speakers need to remember that the slides should not be a replacement for a speech.

And above all, evaluate yourself honestly.

“Ask yourself, ‘Am I producing a speech that others want to listen to?’ If no, then something has to change,” Hoffler said.

Carla Turchetti is a small-business writer and journalist. Reach her at