How to be confident when public speaking

To memorize or not to memorize? That is the question.

If you want to know how to be confident when public speaking, do the work it takes to internalize your speech.


A common question I get from leaders preparing to deliver a keynote speech at either an in-person or virtual event is this:

Should I memorize it?

Recently I helped several members of a C-suite prepare speeches for a national virtual conference. All of them wanted to know more about how to be confident when public speaking.

By far the ones who put in all the hard work ahead of time to internalize their speeches – and did not worry one minute about the need to memorize their speeches – came across much more engaging, authentic and real.

How do we know? Everyone told them so.

What is the difference between internalizing a speech and memorizing it?

And which is better if you are someone who wants to know how to be confident when public speaking?


Let’s go back to school

Think back to grade school when you were in social studies class.

Remember how painful it was to sit down after school and spend hours trying to memorize and repeat (and then memorize and repeat) dozens of different facts and figures about all those wars, battles and skirmishes in world history?


I remember forcing myself to know and spit back to the teacher the dates, places and names of officers and generals, heroes and enemies; recount the twists and turns of every conflict imaginable; and recall the reasons why all these people were fighting each other in the first place.

Sound familiar?

If you crammed for a day or two before the test, you might have been lucky enough to keep everything inside your head just long enough to eke out a passing grade.

For the time being, you might have known all these things.

But you certainly did not understand any of them.

Engineer and inventor Charles F. Kettering of Dayton, Ohio, explained this well when he said:

“There is a great difference between knowing a thing and understanding it. You can know a lot and not really understand anything.”


Engaging your head, heart and gut in the game

I see this phenomenon at play whenever I watch and listen to a leader practice his or her keynote speech for the first time.

The first run-through we do together is always rocky.

On the face of it, the speaker knows what the speech is all about. After all, we’ve worked together on the creative concept, the outline, the content and the script for at least several weeks, if not months together.

But despite that:

I can tell every time during the first run-through that this same speaker does not really understand the speech at all until he or she does the hard work required to internalize it.

Internalizing a speech is best if you want to know the secret behind how to be confident when public speaking.

So how do you internalize a speech?

You say it out loud – time after time after time – until your speech gets embedded in your head, heart and gut.

When it happens, you know it:

  • Inside your head is the structure of your speech: the beginning, middle and end. You know every transition. And as you continue, you know exactly what’s coming next.
  • Inside your heart is every key word, every key phrase, every key line of your speech. You say what you mean and mean what you say, and you do it with the right emotion. So your audience believes you.
  • Inside your gut is the courage to share the story of your speech. You trust yourself. You are excited and unafraid.


Observations about a speaker who internalized her speech

One of those keynote speakers I coached recently ahead of that national virtual conference did an over-the-top job of internalizing her speech.

She was adamant about learning how to be confident when public speaking. So she did a lot of hard work on her own, polished up all the rough edges during our coaching session and ultimately delivered a phenomenal performance.

I studied the recording of her speech. Here’s what I observed:

Her speech was inside her head

  • She paused in all the right places and emphasized all the right words.
  • Phrases and lines flowed comfortably from one to the next. No part of her speech ran together.
  • After introducing a key point, she paused to let it sink in. She did not race on to deliver the next line.
  • She used vocal variety throughout, from start to finish, and never came off like a robot.
  • When she made three points in a row, we could follow. We never got lost.
  • She breathed.
  • Her voice went up when she asked a question, and her voice went down when she was firm with a point.

Her speech was inside her heart

  • She started off bold and nailed her first line with vigor.
  • She smiled as she recounted a long-ago memory.
  • She conveyed empathy to arouse emotion whenever it made sense.
  • When a point she was making was either concerning or frustrating, her voice and her face showed the same.
  • When she repeated a word for emphasis, it worked every time.
  • She spoke with conviction. So she was believable.
  • She articulated every word and enunciated with intention. Nothing she said was inaudible.

Her speech was inside her gut

  • In her opening thumbnail, she was smiling, confident and looking at every member of her virtual audience.
  • Her body language – including head nods and hand gestures, and facial expressions like smiles, eye squints, eye shuts and eyebrow movements – matched every word and every key point exactly.
  • Nothing felt awkward. Everything felt natural.
  • She used conversational language.
  • She never ran out of energy.


This is what it looks like and sounds like when you internalize a speech.

When you put in the hard work to really understand it.

And not just simply know it.


Need help structuring and crafting a speech that you will deliver either virtually or in-person? Would speech coaching improve your performance?
Work with Teresa Zumwald, an award-winning speechwriter and speech coach.
Contact us today!