Karen McCleave Offers 3 Suggestions for Effective Public Speaking


Public speaking can fill many of us with existential dread. Have you found yourself trying to avoid it at all costs?

Learning to be comfortable and confident with public speaking is not an option for successful entrepreneurs. Whether it’s pitching your business plan to investors, explaining a project to employees, or being interviewed on a podcast, entrepreneurs must learn to hone their presentation skills to be more successful in the long-term. 

That’s where Karen McCleave comes in. While McCleave isn’t an entrepreneur, she spent 30 years as a criminal prosecutor, conducting dozens of jury trials, and has been a public speaker at conferences and educational programs for governments, provincial and military police, lawyers, prosecutors, and community organizations throughout Ontario.

McCleave’s depth of experience in career public speaking lends insight as to how to captivate an audience. Here are a few tips on improving your ability to present your ideas:

Create Your Thesis: What’s your point? 

The purpose for your speaking needs to be clear from the outset. Start strong and captivate. Focus is foremost, Karen McCleave suggests. Create your thesis. Is this a business plan you’re presenting to investors? Is it introducing an upcoming project for your employees or management team? 

Are you familiar with “I would have written you a shorter letter, but I did not have the time”? The quote is often attributed to Blaise Pascal, along with many other great thinkers and writers, including Mark Twain and Cicero. It’s a helpful way of thinking about the importance of economy in writing. 

Whatever your goal, write down what you’re trying to present, and then whittle it down to the essentials: That’s your thesis. The more you return to edit, the clearer your message should become. Once you have a clear and concise summary of your presentation, then flesh out the larger structure. 

“Without preparation, it’s easy to tell a story in a convoluted order, be disorganized and ramble,” McCleave said. “We’ve all had the experience of starting an anecdote with friends, only to get lost in the details and end up on a tangent. That’s why professional speakers prepare.”

Human beings respond to storytelling. So think about your presentation in the context of a story. Make sure it has a beginning, a middle and a finale. Lists are often very helpful, McCleave said. If appropriate, add humour.

Write down the most salient points you want to make, then place them into one of the three categories: beginning, middle or end.  

Know Your Audience: How will you captivate them?

What will capture the ears of those listeners? Most of us have probably heard this age-old pearl of wisdom. No matter how much technology may evolve, the importance of understanding your audience remains crucial to a successful presentation. 

If you’re talking to a wealthy investor, you will want to keep your presentation concise and to the point: Their time is money. Use it wisely! In this instance, use business acronyms like AUM (assets under management) or ROI (return on investment) to underscore your expertise in finance with someone who will immediately grasp the language. 

But if you’re speaking on a podcast or being interviewed on YouTube, you may want to be more casual and avoid jargon that many listeners might not understand and which could create a barrier to connection.

“We often focus too much on creating the presentation we want without considering the best way to deliver it based on the audience,” McCleave said. “Put yourself in their shoes. Then frame your language around that.”

Practice and Practice: Good Advocacy is 99% Perspiration and 1% Inspiration!

One of the first things we learn about public speaking is that the greatest orators always practice.

Both Winston Churchill and Martin Luther King, Jr. famously rehearsed their speeches in a mirror, ensuring that they had everything memorized and understood the precise cadence of each sentence. Many well-known entrepreneurs have said they do the same thing. Another advantage to this practice is that you can better gauge the accurate length of the presentation by speaking it aloud, ensuring you don’t run afoul of any time limitation.

Memorization isn’t always necessary, and may not be feasible for every presentation. But for those most important moments, like asking for millions of dollars for your startup, memorization will elevate your presentation and give it extra polish. It will also project a more confident demeanour to help you stand out when you need it most, McCleave said.  

“Lawyers wouldn’t be very effective if they read their closing statements from the page, and entrepreneurs won’t be as successful at selling ideas if they don’t make eye contact and appear to be talking, as opposed to reading, to their audience” McCleave said.

Like anything in life, public speaking takes practice and effort. 

McCleave added: “When done well, it’s extremely powerful, in part because so many of us are afraid of it. We appreciate the skill of an effective presenter. Powerful communication transcends business, affecting and improving every part of your life. Guaranteed.”