Becoming a Better Speaker
Becoming a better speaker is a process of continual improvement, striving to become better each year, each month, each speech than you were the one before. Step by step you can greatly improve your speaking skills, as long as you make sure not to stagnate.
Step One: Practice
Not only is it important to prepare each speech, but you must have the opportunity to practice giving different types of speeches. If you are not a Toastmaster, try checking out Toastmaster clubs near you.
For you Toastmasters, ask yourself: how often are you really stretching your abilities? You may want to consider joining an extra club, going to more meetings, or simply volunteering to speak more often.
How often do you want to practice speaking? How often do you?
Step Two: Mentor
Everyone, even the most skilled and experienced speakers, should have a mentor. Whether it is a friend, a fellow Toastmaster or someone else, you should always have at least one person monitoring your progress, motivating you to continually improve, and giving helpful feedback to steer you in the right direction.
Who is your mentor, or who are your mentors? Do they push you to succeed?
Step Three: Goals
Here is the crux of the matter. You could give speeches every day and have a roomful of people shouting advice at you, but it’s very easy to become complacent unless you are focused on specific goals. This happens to everyone, from brand-new speakers to people who have been speaking for decades.
You want to always focus on “what skill will I improve in my next speech?” If you’re trying to focus on a dozen different goals, there is no focus. On the other hand, if you cannot even answer the question, you need to decide. Every time you prepare a speech you should answer this question, and continually update your goals as you improve. This is not a shopping list with items you scratch off until none are left; instead, for each speech you simply ask which one of them you can improve the most on. As the Zen proverb says, “I am always at the beginning,” so never feel you have finished becoming a better speaker!
Here is a partial, abbreviated list of possible speaking goals. There are many goals that may not be on this list, but are good for you to work on; if you have some suggestions of what to add to the list, please contact us.
- Ahs and ums – learn to stop using filler words and sound more professional
- Attention-getting openings – can you have them hanging on your every word within the first eight seconds?
- Audience interaction – don’t just speak at the audience… learn how to read them, or better yet, involve them in the presentation
- Body language – how your gestures can distract the audience or make your speech more effective
- Eye contact – how to best connect and establish rapport with the audience
- Facial expressions – how, without realizing it, your face may strengthen or counteract your message
- Fear – overcoming fear of public speaking and exuding confidence while on stage
- Grammar – making your meaning clear and intelligent-sounding
- Humor – an advanced topic, requiring effective use of many other speaking techniques, such as vocal variety and body language
- Impromptu speaking – not just table topics, but what to do when you have to give a full speech with no notice, or even work changes into a speech while giving it
- Memorable closings – how to leave your audience with a message in their minds all day by ending powerfully. Don’t let them guess whether or not you’re finished speaking!
- Microphones – how to properly use podium, hand-held and clip-on mikes, and when not to use them
- Motivational speaking – how to inspire and encourage an audience
- Organization – laying out your speech in a clear manner so that audience always understands where you’re going
- Projection – filling a room with your voice without shouting
- Pronunciation – crisp, clear and correct syllables, without accents or slurring
- Research – how to support your arguments
- Stuttering – either a physical stutter, or a tendency to repeat words “and-and that’s why I say…”
- Topic selection – how to always know what to talk about next
- Visual aids – how to work with props and PowerPoint effectively… and what not to do.
- Vocal variety – using different voices for different characters, and emotional inflection to convey deeper meaning to the audience
Step Three and a Half: Plan
Don’t just think about this speech. What are your long-term goals, and how can your speech-making effect that? Also, think carefully about what you’ll give your next speech on. Not only will planning ahead give you more opportunity to be more innovative and prepare to the best of your ability, but you may often be asked to produce a speech on short notice!