Communications in its multiple forms pervades today’s business environment. With numerous job interviews, conference calls, meetings, product presentations, workshops, and public events, more and more leaders realise the importance of developing good interpersonal communication skills within their company. Yet majority of executives and employees continue to neglect and overlook the use of public speaking skills, leaving the advancements and better career opportunities for those who take proactive steps to master the art of speaking in public.
Whether your goal is to enhance your professional growth, take your business to the next level, or inspire, persuade and motivate other people to follow your lead, you will have to learn how to convey your ideas in front of a group of people in a clear, structured and captivating manner.
Public speaking in itself is a huge topic and I have written a book on it, however in this post I wanted to highlight 25 essential public speaking skills every public speaker should have. So without keeping you waiting here are the 25 skills!
Every public speaker should be able to:
Research a topic–
Good speakers stick to what they know. Great speakers research what they need to convey their message. So to move from average to good to great you would have to not just become an expert in your field, you would also have to research and come up with ways to convey your message to the audience. The audience here could be just your boss/ colleague or it could be a gathering of 500 people. Want matters is that you research the topic well and convey your message effectively.
Help your audience grasp your message by focusing on your message. For doing so you can use stories, humour, or other “sidebars”, which should connect to the core idea. Anything that doesn’t needs to be edited out. I have seen people lose focus when they are talking in a flow. In fact, I know of a trainer (trainers need to be excellent public speakers) who loses his focus so often that I have to interrupt him and bring him back to the topic we are discussing on. So to be a great public speaker, ensure that you maintain your focus.
However, it is alright to divert a bit here and there to bring in some kind of fun or excitement or interesting fact as long as you are able to bring the discussion back to the topic within a short span of time.
Organise ideas logically–
A organised presentation can be absorbed with minimal mental strain. Bridging is key. So, if you were explaining somebody the process of making an Omelette, you need to ensure that you follow the logical sequence of making omelette, starting with breaking the egg and ending with taking the well done omelette off the pan. If you follow the logical steps, it would become amazingly easy for your audience to understand.
Employ quotations, facts, and statistics–
“Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish” A quotation by Steve jobs has much more impact than the speaker explaining something over 10 minutes with so many words. The quotation is so powerful in itself that it would stay with your audience for a long long time. Same is the case with statistics and facts.
As an example, in one training session I asked the trainees the population of Mauritius and they told me about 1.3 Million. I told them that in Delhi, the Capital of India, there are atleast 13 times more people than the entire population of Mauritius. I gave them a fact and a statistic and they were awed by it. Now I know they would remember that Delhi has more than 17 Million people ( actually it is about 18 Million).
Don’t include these for the sake of including them, but do use them appropriately to complement your ideas.
The dictionary defines a metaphor as an implied comparison between two unlike things (e.g. human body and garage) that actually have something important in common (e.g. storage). “Your body is a garage to park your soul,” writes author Wayne Dyer.
When Kodak invented the camera, the technology was so new and different the camera could only be valued by linking the new technology of a camera to something more familiar. Kodak called its camera a “mirror with a memory.”
Metaphors enhance the understandability of the message, which may not be possible with the use of direct language. It would have been very difficult for Kodak to explain the use of a camera, in those times. With the use of the metaphor, they were able to better explain why they have created this gadget and how it would be used.
Tell a story–
Everyone loves a story. Points wrapped up in a story are more memorable, too!
‘People in Japan are very honest’ is one way of telling a fact.
‘Once in Kyoto, I was going somewhere taking my usual way to the train station. I had my jacket hanging on my bag, since it was pleasant at that time of the day. I didn’t realise, but somehow I dropped my jacket. When I boarded the train I realised it and started cursing myself since it was a 20,000 Yen jacket (10,000 Indian rupees). I had an important meeting so I continued on since it could have helped me win a project. On my way back, I was taking the same road back home and there, hanging neatly on a hanger, by the road, on a wall, was my jacket. I was amazed. I had found my smart and expensive jacket, which I had thought I have lost. That is the reason I say Japanese are very honest people.’
I said the same thing above, however, which of these had a greater impact on you? Yes… the story had a much greater impact than the fact. So telling the facts can also be done using a story.
Start strong and close stronger –
I would rather have you look at this video of Steve Jobs to understand what is a strong start and a strong close. However, when I say start strong and close strong it does not mean that the body of your presentation can be average. The body of your presentation should be strong too, but your audience will remember your first and last words (if, indeed, they remember anything at all).
If you use humour in your speeches, and people laugh, you would at-least know that they are not sleeping
However, don’t start of by saying ‘ Let me tell you a funny story’. Also don’t use the canned jokes that you pick up from that joke-book or website that you visit so often. Also try to be the butt of the joke, it works.
Obviously, knowing when to use humour is essential. So is developing the comedic timing to deliver it with greatest effect. And when you are in a formal presentation, your humour should have a point. And be quick. Think on your feet. If someone says something and you can react to it, that’s often the best use of humour, rather than giving some big, canned speech.
Let it come naturally, and it will be a good time for everyone. If not, don’t worry about it. Just give interesting information.
Vary vocal pace, tone, and volume–
A monotone voice is like fingernails on the chalkboard. Don’t believe me, check out the video below and let me know what do you think.
Gestures should complement your words in harmony. When you are telling them how big the fish was, show them with your arms and you would have a great effect on them.
Use of hands, which means gestures, is great to emphasise your point of view. However, there is a fine line between great use of gestures and over use of gestures. So I would suggest that you should err on the side of less use of gestures that over use.
Utilise 3-dimensional space–
Chaining yourself to the lectern limits the energy and passion you can exhibit. Have you ever seen great speakers utilising the entire space available to them. A great example is Tony Robbins. Try to check a video if Tony on youtube where he is speaking for a big garthering and you would see him not only utilising the space available on the stage, but he would also get down and get into the audience.
You should see the kind of energy he generates. So lose the notes, and lose the chain.
Complement words with visual aids–
Visual aids should aid the message; they should not be the message. I have seen trainers who are so bloody dependent on the visual aids that I could have asked one of the trainees to get up and become the trainer, and he would have done a better job, perhaps. Using visual aids is good. It helps you get the message across but you should not be entirely dependent on them. Your powerpoint presentations is just an aid and let it remain that ways.
Analyse your audience–
Deliver the message they want (or need) to hear. I have partnered with an International organisation and deliver trainings in different countries. Mostly the content of our trainings is the same however, I make sure that I analyse my audience in the first hour so that I am able to deliver as per their expectation.
Connect with the audience–
You must have heard may people telling you to have eye contact with your audience. Eye contact is only the first step. Your aim should be to have the audience conclude “This speaker is just like me!”. Get the audience to feel comfortable with you, with your actions as well as focusing on the next point. The sooner you are able to do that, the better.
Interact with the audience–
It should not be a monologue. If it is, you are going to loose the interest your audience pretty soon. Ask questions (and make sure you sure you answer them, either on the spot or tell them that you would get back to them with the answer, if you don’t have one at that point in time). Solicit volunteers, this would generate interest of not only the people who are speaking but also the others. Make your presentation a dialogue.
Conduct a Q&A session–
Not in every speaking opportunity would there be an opportunity of a Q&A session, but you should have an understanding how to lead one productively. Q&A sessions is a great way to solidify the impression that you are an expert, not (just) a speaker.
Lead a discussion–
Again, not every speaking opportunity affords time for a discussion, but as a great speaker you should know how to engage the audience productively. When you do get a chance to lead a discussion, you should be able to take it into the right direction and moderate it as a pro.
Stay within time constraints–
Maybe you have 5 minutes. Maybe you have 40. Either way, you should customise your presentation to fit the time allowed, and respect your audience by not going over time. In my early days as a professional and a speaker, I had this problem of exceeding the time limit. Thanks to one of my mentors, I was able to overcome the issue. I would suggest you to be specific when there is a time constraint.
Craft an introduction–
Set the context and make sure the audience is ready to go. Let the audience know what to expect in the time that you are going to be speaking. That would set their expectations and then it would be up to you to meet their expectations.
Exhibit confidence and poise–
It is something that would come with time. These qualities are not very easy to attain when you have to speak in front of an audience, but it seems to be very easy for an audience to sense if you are confident or not. I remember my days when I started teaching management students, it was difficult for me to reach the point where I exhibited confidence. Still you would have to make an effort initially and with time it would come naturally to you.
Handle unexpected issues smoothly–
If things could go wrong, they will. There is no way you would be able to stop them from going wrong. Maybe the lights will go out all of a sudden or the projector just stops working. Plan to handle such situations. The very first thing would be to stay calm and maybe crack a joke. That would ease you and everybody around.
Be Articulate when speaking off the cuff–
Impromptu speaking (anytime during a presentation – before, between or after) leaves a lasting impression on your audience. If you are able to do it well the audience would know that you are amiable, and an expert who knows their stuff beyond the slides and prepared speech. I do a lot of impromptu stuff in my presentations ad trainings. In fact, I keep aside some time for it since I know I would invariably do it.
Seek and utilise feedback–
The sooner you understand that no presentation or presenter (yes, even you and I!) is perfect, the better it is for you and your audience. I always aim for continuous improvement, and understand that the best way to improve is to solicit candid feedback from as many people as I can. I would suggest that you should also make it a habit to do that. When I say feedback, I don’t mean the feedback form that the trainers give at the end of a training. That, I believe, would not really give the correct feedback. If you really want good feedback, go face to face with people who were your audience and then take a feedback.
Listen critically and analyse other speakers–
Study the strengths and weakness of other speakers. I recommend this because I do it a lot and I have experienced changes in myself because I have improved myself after studying them.
Act and speak ethically–
When you are doing public speaking, there is a great chance that you are influencing people, even if it is just one. Realise the tremendous power of influence that you hold. You have to use this power responsibly. Ethics should be at the core of whatever you speak or do, because people would look at you and there may be some who would follow you.
So these were the skills that I believe are essential for a public speaker. Have I missed any skill that you feel should be part of this list? Or is there anything on the list that you believe can be avoided? Let me know. Leave a comment.
In the end, I recommend you to watch this video to understand what a great speech is.