The world’s best orators know how to move, motivate, and persuade. Great speeches have been pivotal to changing the world, from Demosthenes’ Third Philippic during the Peloponnesian Wars in 341 BC to Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address in 1863. From Martin Luther King’s famous “I Have A Dream” speech in 1863 to Winston Churchill’s “We Shall Fight on the Beaches” in 1941. From Deepak Chopra to Mike Huckabee, all these fantastic public speakers weren’t just born with talent and oozing with public speaking skills. Still, they spent time practicing and developing their critical thinking and confidence.
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Whether they be cult leaders or celebrities winning an Oscar, public speakers know how to entertain others and sway the world. And they all have several characteristics in common. Here are some public speaking skills the world’s most amazing orators have cultivated.
7 public speaking skills needed to be a great speaker
1. Know your topic and care about it
Before you can convince anyone that there is any value in what you are saying, you need to believe in what you are talking about yourself.
A well-researched presentation that highlights key points you, as a speaker, feel most passionate about goes a long way towards elevating you as a public speaker. Being apathetic and not caring about what you are saying will be judged by the audience and make you come across as a fake. You can only convince the crowd of your own authenticity and genuine understanding of the topic by researching it well and then finding items in your research that you feel passionate about.
By doing the right amount of background work, you will also be able to relax and not feel caught out should a difficult question be posed. This helps stave off public speaking anxiety.
EXAMPLE: Educationalist Sir Ken Robison’s most-watched TED Talk on whether “schools kill creativity” resonated well with audiences. A recognized leader in education, Robinson conversed with the audience rather than presented to them. He involved the audience, using the word “we” and his passion was infectious.
2. Have a vision and a goal to present
Speakers who waffle on forever and meander about nothing much in particular are a bore to watch, and their speeches are genuinely torturous. Even an authority on a subject can fall into the trap of presenting too much information, which is meaningless to an audience.
Before sitting down to compose your speech, think long and hard about who it is for and what you want to get across. Don’t give too much technical information to people who may not have the background or interest to digest it. Instead, identify why these people have come to hear you speak, come up with the points you wish to get across to these listeners, and stick to your vision and goal without going off-topic.
Will the audience be made of experts or novices? Build from that and get people interested by offering analogies to simplify the subject matter and make it more palatable.
EXAMPLE: Harvard psychologist Dan Gilbert makes the brain easier to understand and an approachable topic thanks to the careful selection of research he presents, ensuring that complicated subject matter is enjoyable.
3. Be original and authentic in your pitch
It’s not enough to have a goal. You need to market your speech uniquely so that audiences know that what they are about to hear is original, even if they’ve listened to the same message before.
The best way to do that is breathe new life into your topic by finding a different pitch. Create your own analogies, weave in your own personality, and make sure your message is repackaged with originality and bite. Watch as many speeches as you can on the same topic, but whatever you do – do not plagiarize!
EXAMPLE: U.S. First Lady Melania Trump was criticized for her Republican national convention speech in 2016 for its strong resemblance to an address which former U.S. first lady Michelle Obama had delivered at the Democratic convention in 2008. No sooner was it delivered that television shows got to work, putting the two ladies side by side to show how Ms. Trump’s speech appeared to have been lifted. While Ms. Obama’s speech showcased her public speaking skills, Ms. Trump failed by comparison.
4. Back your points with stats and data
Don’t be vague. Support the main points of your speech with compelling data. Rather than vaguely saying, “Americans are the most obese people in the world,” go to a trusted source to back your point. For instance, you can say, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 36.5 percent of adults in the United States are obese, and an additional 32.5 percent are overweight.”
In your speech, statistics can become a powerful tool, as they provide a persuasive platform on which to back your argument. However, it is essential to ensure that your statistics are relevant to the topic, area, and audience you are addressing and that they come from a reputable source.
EXAMPLE: Swedish climate change activist Greta Thunberg’s impassioned speech before the 2018 United Nations plenary assembly drew global attention to her cause with a provocative “How dare you!” followed by statistics of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Her speech was discussed on current affairs panels, launched countless of memes, and drew plenty of attention to her cause thanks to its angered delivery backed by stats.
5. Create magic by telling a compelling story
People enjoy hearing a good story, whether it is a funny joke or the story of how your business was created from scratch. Be evocative so that people can visualize what you are saying and feel the same emotions they would if they were reading a good book or watching a movie. To do that, you need to paint a picture to ensure that the audience can see, feel, taste, and touch what you are saying.
Make the story relatable to your audience so they can empathize and fill out the details with their own life experiences. Ensure you’re not reading from a script but from the heart.
Most importantly, remember that a good story needs to have a beginning, a middle, and an end, so make sure you reign the story with a satisfying ending that conveys a message or a moral that resonates with the audience members.
Your story can be about how a product or service you’re selling helped a customer, changed the world, or you can tell the story of how you built your business from scratch. Think of the stories which can make your speech more meaningful.
EXAMPLE: Author Elif Shafak’s TED talk, “The Politics of Fiction,” showcased her public speaking skills in presenting her own background. Bringing her story to life with supernatural creatures such as the djinni, symbolisms, and geometrical shapes, she managed to show how our views of other people and the world around us are influenced by identity politics.
6. Elevate public speaking skills with visuals
These days many professional speakers use slide shows and PowerPoint presentations to help enhance a speech. There’s nothing like a chart to help audiences better understand a concept. However, though slide presentations may be better than just watching a person talk on their own, this does not guarantee success.
The best way to make a speech pop using visuals is to surprise audiences with more advanced features. For instance, it would be good to use animations, video recordings, or audio presentations in the middle of the speech. Why not create a survey and have audiences themselves interact with the presentation?
However, even a simple whiteboard can be a useful tool to engage and interact with audiences.
EXAMPLE: British-born American author Simon Sinek claims to be shy. However, his motivational talks are among the most-watched. A visual he enjoys using is the whiteboard to get his point across. By explaining things on a whiteboard, Sinek manages to help people understand the concepts he is promoting.
7. Practice makes perfect
Stage fright is normal, and even people with highly-developed public speaking skills are prone to it. The best way to overcome nervousness is through practice.
The more you rehearse, the easier it will be for the speech to flow so that you can interject your own personality, humor, and feel more relaxed during your delivery. Once you’ve got an idea of what you want to say, you can practice the flow and even allow yourself to be spontaneous.
Here’s how to prepare:
- Watch other speeches on the same topic, but don’t plagiarize.
- Write your speech down, reread it, and rewrite but don’t memorize it word-for-word.
- Practice in front of the mirror, record yourself, get your friends and family to listen and give you feedback.
- Have index cards as security with key points of your speech, but it is best to really know your content.
The more you practice, the more fun you’ll have and be present to enjoy the experience. Let the words become second nature, and their meaning flows through you.
EXAMPLE: Written without a speechmaker, former U.S. President Barack Obama’s speech at the Democratic National Convention in Boston in 2004 was delivered with commitment and came from the heart. His speech told the story of his heritage while also touching on the hearts of a nation, lifting him from an unknown politician to the influential changemaker he would later be remembered as,