Professional Communication

Speaking & Presenting

Being able to grab and hold your audience’s attention increases your confidence and effectiveness. In this section you’ll learn how to speak clearly, confidently and successfully.

Why are speaking & skills important?

What you have to say may be fascinating but must be delivered in a way that holds the audience’s interest, and makes the content clear. If you’ve ever watched someone who’s confusing, or who speaks too fast, you know how hard it is to pay attention. It’s the same if they speak in a monotone – your brain wants to shut off.

Speaking clearly and confidently is a huge part of successful communication. You must engage the audience and hold their attention while still being yourself. You have to speak loud enough for the people in the back, and those with hearing challenges. You can vary your volume and speaking pace to add interest, and use pauses for emphasis and anticipation.

The other part of great speaking is well-organized, easy-to-follow content that informs and engages your audience. If you make it easy to follow, and link your key points together well, your audience is more likely to pay attention and agree with your thesis.

3 Simple Tips

Here are some simple tips to looking and sounding professional whether you’re speaking to one person or a group.

Voice & Body Language Skills

These videos show you how to look and sound professional when presenting, even if you’ve never presented before and are very nervous!



Creating Presentations

The easiest way to build a presentation of any length, from elevator speech to keynote, is to outline what you’re going to say. Simply make a point-form list of these 8 items:

Element Description
1 Opening statement An interesting sentence that gets the audience’s attention.
2 Thesis statement 1-2 sentences describing what you’re going to talk about
3 Self-introduction My name is ___. I’m a [your title] and [credentials that connect to your topic]
4 Key Point 1 The first key point and evidence to support it
5 Key Point 2 The second key point and evidence to support it
6 Key Point 3 The third key point and evidence to support it
7 Summary Summarize the most important parts of the 3 Key Points
8 Call to action Describe what you want the listener or viewer to do

Your Outline is Your Notes

Don’t write a script – you’ll sound unnatural and awkward. Use brief notes that are large enough to see at a glance. Just copy each outline item onto a separate cue card, like this:


Shame Waves

Read the article below or listen to the audio

You just gave the best interview ever. You were calm, confident and engaging. The interviewers loved you!

But then you sit down. Flooded with adrenaline, your brain works quickly, evaluating your performance—your dreadful, awful performance. In high resolution, your brain replays the errors, the omissions, the failures. Moments ago you were proud, now you’re embarrassed.

What happened?

You’ve been hit by a Shame Wave. It may feel like you’re drowning in shame, but you can and will survive. Hang on—I’ll get you back to shore and show you how to stay safe.

What’s a Shame Wave?

A Shame Wave is a strong, sudden tidal wave of shame and embarrassment that slams into many people right after they do something in public, whether it’s giving a presentation or speaking up in class. Shame Waves attack beginners and experts alike.

Craving for Community

Humans are social creatures. We crave community. To be part of a community depends on that community accepting us.

Our brains try to protect us from getting kicked out of our community by stopping us from doing things the community may not like. Our brains use embarrassment—the painful shame felt when we stand out for a bad reason—as a tool to keep us acceptable to our community.

Embarrassment keeps us safe, but too much can cause a Shame Wave.


It’s human nature to evaluate our own performance. This helps us learn and improve. But used unskillfully it can generate Shame Waves.

Many of us learn by focusing on the negative. Reviewing our performance, we tend to remember only mistakes and problems. Even if 99% was perfect, our brain focuses on the 1% that wasn’t.

Try this simple perspective trick. Hold your hand at arm’s length. How big is it? Now hold it right in front of your eyes. How big is it? Huge, right? It’s the same with self-evaluation; if we focus on the 1%, it feels like everything was terrible. This feeling can generate Shame Waves.

Why are Shame Waves bad?

Shame Waves are destructive. Not to be confused with useful feedback, Shame Waves are mean. Useful feedback is gentle, timely and appropriate. Shame Waves are violent, inconsiderate and hateful. At best they inhibit learning, at worst they drown your self-esteem.

  • Shame Waves damage your self-confidence.
  • They also damage your learning-confidence—the belief that you can improve at something.
  • Shame Waves can make you give up.

Shame Waves and failure

Although their intentions are good—to protect us—shame waves drown us in powerful negative messages. Shame Waves tell us “for our own good” that:

  • You’re not perfect at this
  • Because you’re not perfect, you’re a failure
  • Failure is bad
  • Winners never fail
  • Failure never leads to success
  • If you fail you should quit immediately

Those messages are evil! Failure is a normal, necessary part of learning. We do very few things perfectly the first time—almost everything you’ve learned in your lifetime took more than one attempt. If you refuse to do things you’re not good at, you won’t learn. And you need to be a lifelong learner to have a great life.

Grab a board and enjoy the ride

We need coping strategies to support ourselves. Good coping strategies are like surfboards that help us ride Shame Waves to safety. Good strategies can decrease the number of waves that hit, and the amount of damage done.

Coping strategies can be simple, like taking a few slow breaths. They can be complex, like retraining our thoughts. Here are some useful coping strategies:

Coping strategies

  1. Plan ahead for Shame Waves. Brace yourself and reduce the impact.
  2. Remind yourself that your brain’s being mean but its intentions are good. Thank your brain and tell it to be nicer.
  3. Expect to be imperfect, and to make mistakes. Focus on what you learned from the experience.
  4. Think about next time: What will you do better next time?
  5. Meditate. Do nothing except sit with the shame. Allow it to wash over you. Don’t try to fix it. Just sit and feel shame’s heat. Let it blaze and rage until it burns itself out.
  6. Breathe. A long, deep, slow breath in through your nose, then out through your mouth. Relax.
  7. Tell someone you trust about your Shame Wave. Talking can help weaken its power. And you’ll probably discover that you’re not alone.
  8. Practice the 10-10-10 rule: How important will this be in 10 hours? 10 weeks? 10 years? Adjust as necessary.

You’ll find that some of these strategies resonate with you and some don’t. That’s fine. Find what works, and make your own surfboard of strategies. Next time a Shame Wave hits, grab your board and ride to the Beach of Success.

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Professional Business Practice Copyright © 2021 by Lucinda Atwood is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.