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How To Build Public Speaking Skills: You Can Do It! 8 Tips For Success.
Tip #1 Write Your Speech
A proper speech is comprised of 3 parts.
- a solid opening
- a middle/body containing facts, data, anecdotes, experience based insights, etc.
- a strong closing statement that reinforces your opening statement
Carefully crafting your speech is of utmost importance. Write a rough draft, then read through it and make corrections, eventually make a final draft. Get the speech just the way you want it. Re-reading and re-writing are the best tools you have for creating an excellent speech. When asked to give a talk you have no need to speak extemporaneously. Thinking on your feet is for amateur night at the Improv. Work on your speech like an artist or sculptor finding just the right words as they find just the right colors and textures. Use proper English and interesting language. Don't be afraid to use a word that might drive your listeners to a dictionary now and then. Carry a pocket thesaurus. View your speech as a special creation personifying, giving life to what is in your heart and mind. The writing process also helps to calm nerves and imbue the speaker with a greater sense of confidence. I believe in the neuro/tactile theory of learning which suggests that greater learning is achieved by handwriting ideas as opposed to using voice recorders and computers. That is not to say the latter two are of no value, but rather placing an emphasis on actually putting your thoughts on paper in ink, manually.
Tip #2 Practice Your Speech
"How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice!" So goes the old joke, but it's true. Perfecting your speech will require practice. Once you've completed the task of writing your speech ask your spouse, friend, or trusted co-worker to give it a listen. I don't recommend asking your children to serve as your trial audience as they tend to giggle and enjoy mom or dad's flubs. Practice in a mirror when by yourself, trying different hand gestures and facial expressions. Personally, I have a bad habit of furrowing my brow when I speak. It's because I'm concentrating, but I look as if I'm angry. I have to work at consciously raising my eyebrows and smiling, mannerisms that put an audience at ease rather than making them think you're upset with them.
Tip#3 Your Audience Wants You To Succeed
The realization that your audience wants you to succeed will help settle your nerves. Whether the audience has gathered to hear instruction or information, they want you to do well. Most of the time an audience is not hostile towards the speaker. Of course there are exceptions, but for the most part people are taking time out of their day to learn something from you, the speaker. They come to learn, not heckle.
Tip #4 Engage Your Audience
If you read my summary you will recall that I said I had already revealed the most important tip for public speaking. Here it is:
Begin by asking your audience a question. This compels, even forces the audience to become engaged in your talk. Asking a question, even here and now in this article, demands an answer. For example, I could ask your age and immediately your age comes to mind. You probably didn't say it out loud just as an audience member wouldn't answer a question out loud. It is a question posed for consideration. Lets say you're giving a talk about angry outbursts. You begin, not by saying "hello" or "thanks for coming," but with an immediate question.
"Have you ever been cut off in traffic? Do you recall how that made you feel?"
The question will have heads nodding and smiles of recognition appearing all over the room. Long, drawn out introductions actually create a sense of tension in the speaker and the audience. The sooner you engage your audience the sooner you will win them over.
Tip #5 Respect Time
Respect the time of your audience. Begin on time, end on time. Don't worry if people are still milling about or shuffling in their seats. If you wait until everyone in an audience is perfectly still and quiet before beginning you'll be waiting a long time. In fact, beginning your speech will cause the audience to settle. This is what you need to do to bring your audience to attentiveness unless you are a judge and have a bailiff to call the room to order. Otherwise, you're on your own.
Make sure you've finished speaking before your audience has finished listening.— Dorothy Sarnoff
Tip #6 Join a Public Speaking Club
The only club of it's kind, dedicated to empowering it's members to become excellent public speakers is Toastmasters International. You will find franchises all over the world. Meetings are held weekly during which time speeches are given (typically 5-10 minutes in duration), techniques for public speaking are discussed, other exercises conducive to learning the arts of speaking, leadership, and communication are taught. Follow the link below for more information.
Toastmasters International: An Organization Dedicated to Helping People Become Excellent Public Speakers
- Toastmasters International -Home
Become the Leader and Speaker you want to be
Toastmasters International Speaking Club Testimonials
Tip #7 Sincerity, Knowledge, Opportunity
Know what you're talking about. Know your information well. Be yourself. Don't use gestures and mannerisms that are unnatural for you. Don't try to impersonate another speaker. Develop the speaker you are to become with practice and making use of every opportunity. If there is a poetry reading at a local coffee house, go and read or recite. Mentor a new employee. Teaching a new person the inner workings of your company is the perfect way to practice becoming a spokesperson for your products and services.
Tip #8 Omit Crutch Words
"Um, uh, ya know..." are all called crutch words or fill in words. They are distracting to the audience and the mark of an amateur. Most everyone uses them and it takes practice and discipline to rid your vocabulary of them. Their absence alone will elevate your status as a quality public speaker.
Speaking Styles of Our Presidents
I have selected three US presidents as examples of speaking styles. The presidents, in order, are as follows:
- President Barack H. Obama -44th
- President George W. Bush - 43rd
- President Ronald W. Reagan - 40th
Our 44th president has a reputation of being an excellent orator. Critics scoff at that tribute because of his preference for using teleprompters. "A real orator," they say, "speaks directly to the people. A real orator has no need of a teleprompter." I disagree with that analysis. President Obama used teleprompters as a preferred method of speaking because he believed it allowed him to better connect with the audience. It freed him from looking down at notes and made his presentation look passionate and personalized. Remember, when he was looking at a teleprompter, no one in the audience really knew it. An audience member would only see the speakers eyes moving across the room/arena. They would see the eyes of the speaker lighting on listeners occasionally, and perhaps even make eye contact with the speaker themselves. It is a style that creates the illusion that the speaker is more intimately connected to the audience. For this president, making that connection was as important, if not more important, than the content of the speech itself. Obama was personable, engaging, and charismatic. He knew what worked for him. There is little doubt that he received coaching and grooming in regards to his oratory. No one is naturally that good. You may recall from my bio statement, "Great speakers are not born, they are trained." The axiom most certainly applies to our 44th Commander-in-Chief.
President G.W. Bush
I have placed the order of the presidents as such for the sake of contrast and comparison.
Number 43, in contrast to number 44, was not considered a great orator. That doesn't mean he was a poor communicator. While President G.W. Bush did not possess personality type that makes us think of the great dialogues, he did have a peculiar charm that people found likeable. He was less formal than Obama, more easy going, the type of man who preferred being seen with a chainsaw in his hand rather than a golf club. This casual persona, one he was well aware of, came through in his style of public address.
I saw this president speak in person on two separate occasions and I took special note of the folder he used to contain his speech. In fact, I purchased one similar to it. The pages are encased in laminated sheaths and are weighted to prevent pages from flipping at inopportune times. Bush knew his limitations when it came to public speaking, and he acted accordingly. For him an intimate connection with the audience was less important than the transmission of information. Listen to old speeches by President Eisenhower and you will hear the same cadence and flow of speech; not particularly riveting or spellbinding, but clear. Again, in contrast to President Obama, for whom a listener was likely to come away saying, "I'm not exactly sure what he said, but I sure like the way he said it," for Bush, people tended to be more entertained by his verbal stumbles. Comedian Drew Carey cleverly pointed out during a White House press dinner, "watching President Bush give a speech is like watching a tight rope walker. You hope he isn't going to fall, but then he comes up on a word with more than two syllables and you're on the edge of your seat." President Bush may not have been as visually appealing while giving a speech, but he knew his limitations. As I said, he used a folder to hold his speech in place, he mispronounced words and even invented some, but because he knew his limitations, even knew how to capitalize on them- his speeches were effective and clear.
Bush was a great "off the cuff" speaker. Call to mind the picture of him standing on the rubble in New York days after 9/11. He was using a bull horn to speak to the crowd. He took an elderly man in a fireman's coat by the arm and helped him up to the top of the rubble saying, "you're with me, buddy." As he was addressing the crowd you can clearly hear a man's voice yelling in the background "We can't hear you! We can't hear you!" Instantly Bush responded, "But I hear you, and the world hears you, and pretty soon our enemies are gonna hear you!" The crowd erupted in cheers. Though not a master of speaking skills in general, on that occasion he hit a home run.
In short, President Bush's skill lay in spur of the moment, extemporaneous speech.
Though Reagan preceded both president's Bush and Obama, I saved him for last because I find his speaking history, and style, to be the most interesting.
Having appeared in some 57 motion pictures imbued President Reagan with an undeniable stage presence. In appearance, he was all but flawless. He had the hair of a 25 year old well into his 80's, a charming and disarming smile, and a gentle yet firm resolution to his voice. He was even honed for this. From 1932-1937 he worked at several radio stations as a sportscaster. His voice would ever retain that textured, professional tone.
All those years of training, acting, and speaking truly earned him the title of "the great communicator." When a person takes on the task of improving their public speaking skills they not only learn how to speak, they also learn about people; the way they need to be spoken to. This is where Reagan excelled to the point of leaving all other contenders in the dust. He knew, not just how to speak, but how to speak to people in the way they needed to hear. This skill enables the listener to accept your ideas. Once you've achieved that, you can build a consensus and get things done. That's one reason for Reagan was able to achieve so much during his presidency.
That's all well and good, but we can't all be like him, can we? "Well...," perhaps not, but you will be surprised at just how quickly you can improve your speaking skills once you have the proper tools at your disposal.
President Reagan is really an amalgam of Bush and Obama as far as speaking styles go. Like Obama, it was important for him to make that oh so important close connection with the audience, and yet you never see Reagan making the same sweeping gestures, or looking off in the distance at some imagined utopian horizon. One way Reagan made the connection with his audience was the practice of direct eye contact. In fact, he didn't like to wear glasses because he thought it obscured the face and people need to see the face. He did wear contact lenses, but when he spoke to an audience he only wore one. This was so he could read his speech in glances and yet still look out into a sea of faces and single people out with his eyes making that connection. We may not all be as affable, charming, and funny as he was, but we can take a lesson from the man known as "the great communicator."
The Presidents as Speakers
Who do You Think was the Best Speaker?
You Can Do It!
Public speaking is a skill that can be learned just like juggling or playing the piano. Sure, there will be those who have more of a natural talent for speaking than others, but we can endeavor to be the best speakers WE can be. Don't compare yourself to others. Work at it, practice, take those speaking opportunities even if it's just giving announcements in your local place of worship, family reunions, etc. You've read this article. You must have some inclination towards public speaking, and inclination is indicative of natural talent. Go. Develop that talent into the best you, you can be!