Public speaking is the second most common fear among Americans, right behind snakes according to a Gallup poll. This fear can manifest as glossophobia, an extreme fear of public speaking, to lesser yet still stressful states of anxiety.

“90% of how well the talk will go is determined before the speaker steps onto the platform.” – Somers White

When I tell people how much I’ve loved speaking ever since I was kid (just ask my mother who had to listen to my stories), they assume that I am able to deliver a speech without much effort. That assumption is incorrect. I spend hours crafting and practicing my presentations to ensure that they deliver maximum value on topics that range from networking to word of mouth marketing and brand building.

These are the practices I follow as a keynote speaker to ensure high-quality presentations. I hope they prove helpful when you are called upon to speak.

Know the audience

Whenever possible, I like to interview audience members in advance of a speech. I ask the person who hires me as a speaker to recommend individuals whose opinions represent a cross section of audience members (in terms of backgrounds and thoughts about the topic).

I ask people to describe the challenges and opportunities that they face. I seek to deliver content that meets real needs rather than merely what I consider important. Also, I try to include examples and quotes from program participants throughout my presentation. This reinforces my points since people tend to value the experiences of those they know and respect.

Tell stories

Like most professional speakers, I’ve found that interesting stories which illustrate key points are the most memorable parts of a speech. Furthermore, storytelling is a great way to reinforce key message points and keep your audience interested and engaged. I spend a lot of time developing stories that are unique, credible and impactful. After telling a story, I explain how people can draw upon it to resolve issues that they are facing.

Develop keywords

Rather than memorizing an entire speech word for word (a bad idea, in my opinion), I develop a list of keywords for each of my major points and stories. I use a memorization technique in which I associate each keyword with a particular location in my home. While speaking, I go through a mental tour of my house and each point “pops” into mind. Even when I use PowerPoint, I use this technique because it gives me confidence that I can get through any equipment malfunction (and these certainly do happen).

Visualize success

Before I start practicing the delivery of a speech, I sit in a quiet place, close my eyes, and think through the entire act of presenting. This technique mimics what many professional athletes do when they imagine themselves excelling in a game situation.

I focus on two main areas. First, I think about delivery: standing tall, speaking with confidence, pausing to breathe, making good eye contact, and using natural gestures to emphasize my points. Second, I picture the closing minutes of my speech in great detail from what I’ll say to how I’ll feel when I’ve finished. In the words of Napoleon Hill, “Whatever the mind can conceive and believe, it can achieve.”

End strong

I never end a presentation with Q&A. While most people are well-intentioned, their questions often distract from my central message points. I want people to remember my key takeaways and retain an overall impression of a speech that was well-prepared and well-delivered. While I’ll usually ask for questions or comments near the end of my speech, I leave one to three minutes after the final question to wrap up my presentation in an impactful way. I like to tie the central message of the presentation into how I opened the presentation (usually a story).

About the author: Patrick Galvin is the Chief Galvanizer of The Galvanizing Group in Portland, Oregon. He is the past president of the Oregon Chapter of the National Speakers Association and a professional keynote speaker who delivers presentations on the topics of networking, relationship marketing and word of mouth marketing.