10 professional tips to become a good speaker
It is now very rare that you do not have to present something orally. Most of the time it will be in a professional context (to speak at a conference or other organised occasion or during a work meeting) but it can also be in a personal context (to a group to which you belong as part of your hobbies for example). Whatever the occasion, if you become a good speaker people will listen to you, take you seriously and remember your messages.
I give you here some tips, easy to implement with a little preparation, to improve your performance as a speaker. Some are specific and some more general that you can also use in other contexts.
1 – You speak for your audience
Who decides if you are a good speaker? Your audience, the people who listen to you. Everything you do needs to be focused on your audience, what they expect from you. So the first thing to do is stop thinking about yourself. A major problem for many people is to focus too much on themselves: What if I stammer? And if I forget what I want to say? And if, and that … Is it familiar to you? Instead of thinking of yourself, always think of your audience, and that as soon as you know you are going to give an oral performance.
When I start preparing for an oral performance, I ask myself the following questions:
– Who are the people who will come?
– Why will they be there?
– What do they expect from me?
– What can I bring them that is useful to them?
– What do I know about these people or group?
– What makes them tick, challenges them?
Ask yourself the same questions. Once you have answers, then you can then prepare to give a presentation successfully.
2 – Adapt your style
Once you have answered the previous questions, you can adapt the style of your performance. A good speaker will change his style according to his audience. With more and more experience, a good speaker is not only able to change his style in advance, when he prepares his performance, but also during the performance if he realises that his style does not fit. A common mistake, which leads to a lack of effective communication is to have a single style. My advice is to prepare your performance with several styles. How can you present things differently?
Aspects to be taken into account are (1):
– Formal or informal? In most professional situations, a minimum of formality is often required but this is not necessarily the case. This will depend largely on the culture of your audience.
– Direct or indirect? For example, if you report on your quarterly sales, you want to be straightforward, give the numbers, how you got them, and how they relate to the forecast. On the other hand, if what is important is the relationship with the audience rather than facts, then you will want to choose a less direct language.
– Inductive or deductive? To be deductive is to start by articulating things in the abstract, to form an idea, a hypothesis and then to experiment, to take action to test these ideas. The inductive reasoning is starting with experiences, actions and then formulating general rules. If your audience includes people with an important practical sense, you want to present things in an inductive way. On the other hand, if your audience is more “intellectual”, focusing first on ideas will be more effective.
– The importance of the unspoken. Some people want everything to be explained in detail with no ambiguity and clear instructions. On the other hand, other people prefer to be given a general idea and work on the details themselves.
3 – Be aware of all your messages
Being a good speaker is not just about using the right words. Many people make the mistake of focusing on verbal content and forget all the other messages they send. If these are not consistent with your words, you will lose your audience by sending conflicting messages.
A first example is your outfit. What will be an appropriate attire for the occasion? It is not a question of falling into stereotypes but of having clothes that are in keeping with your speech, for example the level of formality.
Then your movements, your facial expressions communicate a message (2). A good speaker knows how to use movements and expressions to reinforce his message. When you talk about feelings, express them on your face. A good speaker will move during his performance: you are not a child reciting a poem by heart at school. Use especially your arms, the gestures of your hands and then you can also walk to different places.
4 – Captivate your audience
A good speaker knows how to capture and keep the attention of his audience. Remember the question in the first section: What makes your audience tick, challenges your audience? A monotonous and very factual speech will not interest an audience very long. If you must be factual, be brief. On the contrary, try to be figurative. Use metaphors, analogies, images. Summon the feelings of your audience, not just their intellect. Make them laugh, cry, react. Add anecdotes and stories to illustrate your story, to give it a context. If these are personal stories, it’s even better.
Finally, invoke all the senses of your audience, not just hearing what you say but other sounds, sight, smell, touch. That’s why you use images and metaphors because they use different senses.
So when you’re planning a performance, think about the metaphors, pictures, stories you can use. You can have a diary in which you write them down as you go along. This will give you a library to use for the future.
5 – Be yourself
Being a speaker is not being an actor. You do not play a role. A good speaker is sincere, natural, shows his true personality. My advice here is not to force yourself to do things that are not natural in your behaviour. Adapt the performance to your audience but stay in your comfort zone for most of the time. Of course, to learn, you have to get out of this comfort zone but do it gently. Do not change many things at once (for example, the way you dress and the tone of your voice). Gradually expanding your panoply is an integral part of becoming a good speaker. For example, mine started with courses given to students, and then presentations in conferences, general workshops, training and finally coaching. All this gave me more and more tools that I can use. Do the same thing with your different benefits.
6 – Prepare and repeat
This is a step that cannot be underestimated. No speaker really improvises. A person can seem extremely natural, relax and completely mastering his subject. What you see is the culmination of years of practice and experience. So you have to prepare and repeat. My advice is to do this even if you are not going to give an oral performance. Choose a subject and prepare a performance. It does not need to be long; a few minutes are enough. The more you practice, the better you will become, so do not wait for real opportunities.
Repeating is an essential part. So once again, when you have a few minutes, why not decide to speak to yourself. Use different styles, accentuate your gestures, the intonation of your voice. Now it has become very easy to record a video, so record yourself and analyse the videos: what are you doing right? Be sure to use that. What can you improve? Prepare an action plan to work on these areas for improvement.
7 – Not only your presentation: answer your audience
You think you have prepared everything but suddenly, a question arrives and you are destabilised? Responding to your audience is also an integral part of your performance. You are not an actor playing his role and disappearing at the end of the performance. In most cases, you will stay with the group (during a meeting for example) and this of course gives the opportunity to ask questions. Any advice given in the other sections also applies when it comes to answering questions.
Here are some tips to make sure things are going well:
– Answer the question asked. Do not talk about things that have nothing to do with the question.
– Sometimes a yes or no is enough to answer a question.
– There is no harm in not understanding a question. Reformulate the question as you understand it and ask if it is correct.
– There is no harm in not knowing the answer to a question. Admit it and offer to get the answer. Never invent an answer to a question. People will appreciate you better for your honesty than for an answer they will discover is incorrect.
8 – Imagine your success
An important part of achieving success is to imagine it. Athletes will mentally repeat the movement, the right technique. They will imagine a race with the most precise details. You must also do this with your oral performance. Imagine the ideal speech and live it with all the details: what do you see, listen, smell and feel? How do other people react? What are they doing? What are they saying? Living your ideal performance will allow you to call the positive feelings you want to feel during the performance, will allow you to refine it to align with what you feel most positively.
These visualisation exercises are based on the fact that the brain does not differentiate imagination and experience. When you imagine something, your brain creates the same neural connections as if the situation were real.
9 – Listen to speakers and copy them
There are so many videos available on the internet so do not hesitate to watch videos of speakers you like and take and copy what you like and what you feel able to implement in a natural way. If you do not have people in mind, choose a topic that interests you and do an internet search.
When you look at a speaker you like, what do you notice? Analyse what attracts you. Is it the gesture? So try to copy some of the movements. Is this the way the speaker uses facial expressions? Try in front of a mirror and decide what you are comfortable with. Copy images, metaphors, and analogies that you like. Analyse the structure of the story and follow a similar structure for your oral presentations.
10 – Sleep
It will surprise you but it is probably the most useful advice. Sleep is the best medicine evolution has found. Our modern medicine does not do better. How sleep can help you with your speaking skills? Sleep increases your ability to learn, improves your memory and your creativity. It also has positive effects on your overall health and your energy. All these activities are necessary for a good speaker.
I do not speak here only of a good night’s sleep before your performance but to have enough sleep (at least 7 hours apparently) every night. So make sure you go to bed early enough to get enough sleep, avoid phone and computer screens, intense exercise, caffeine and alcohol in the evening.
You now have 10 tips to help you improve your speaking skills. Start applying them now and see the difference. Write down your progress in a notebook. It’s easy to forget the improvements, so write them down and celebrate them.
Rosinski P. (2003) Coaching Across Cultures: New Tools for Leveraging National, Corporate and Professional Differences. Nicholas Brealey International.
Sulger F. (1991) Les gestes vérité. Sand
Walker M. (2018) Why we sleep: The new science of sleep and dreams. Penguin