5 common qualities of fantastic public speakers

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Want to be a great public speaker? That’s a worthy goal! Having the ability to speak effectively to many people is a superpower many of us would like to have.

The great news is that it’s an attainable goal. With preparation and practice, you could become someone who can convince, inspire, and delight many people with their speech.

Fantastic speakers share five common qualities that set them apart.

  1. They speak clearly at the right pace

    Great speakers understand the importance of clarity. They ensure that everyone in the audience can understand their message. To do this, they speak at the right pace and enunciate every word clearly. This allows the audience to absorb the information effectively. They also know when to pause. They use silence to make a point feel more important or dramatic.

    Tip: Practice pronouncing words and vary your tone to keep listeners engaged. How do you know if you speak too fast, or too slow? Listen to your normal speech. Record yourself speaking normally or even while rehearsing a presentation. Note how many words you use in each sentence. See if you pause after every point and if you enunciate your words properly.

    A prime example of a speaker who uses the right pace is former US president Barack Obama. Watch some of his best speeches (minus the singing) below.

    President Obama’s best speeches, CNN

  2. They are concise and direct

    Being concise and direct not only keeps the audience’s attention but also ensures that the main message is retained. To do this, avoid unnecessary jargon or filler words. Do you have the tendency of building up to a point? This means you like providing many examples and stories before getting to the main point. This can be a good strategy, especially if your speech has a singular message. But it may not be appropriate for a business presentation or if you have time limit. This also doesn’t work when your audience has a short attention span.

    Tip: Have you heard about the “what, so what, and now what” structure? You can use this guide in spoken as well as written communication. Watch this short video to learn how it’s done:

    How to be clear and concise, Lighthouse Communications

  3. They use compelling, personal stories

    We all like stories. Personal stories make our message relatable and memorable. We can also evoke emotions, which helps the audience empathize with our experiences. When including stories in your talk, make sure that your stories are relevant and concise. It can also help to check if your audience will be able to relate to your experiences. Remember, what is common in your life or culture may not be to others, especially in multicultural Manitoba.

    Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, a renowned author and speaker, is a master storyteller. In her TED Talk, she shares personal narratives to captivate the audience, making her message impactful.

    Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: The danger of the single story | TED

  4. They are authentic

    What does authenticity mean? It means being yourself. Authenticity breeds trust and credibility, making the audience more receptive to your message. For example, it’s okay to speak with your accent, or to make mistakes. This also applies to your message. The idea you’re sharing should be genuine and something that you practice yourself. When you’re being real, you connect with your audience on a human level, allowing them to really relate and believe what you say.

    Tip: Think about the moments when you’re being your most authentic self. Is it at home, with your partner and kids? Or maybe when you’re with your closest friends. Practise your speech as if you’re talking to family or friends. Think about how they will receive your presentation.

    Watch this brilliant TED Talk featuring the novelist Isabel Allende where she shares her vulnerability and authentic self as she talks about aging:

    Isabel Allende: How to live passionately – no matter your age | TED

  5. They are engaging

    Fantastic public speakers actively engage their audience. It’s not a one-way type of communication. They use humor, rhetorical questions, and audience participation to maintain interest and capture attention. They also take into account the context in which they are speaking, and the audiences’ attention span. This is demonstrated in the following talk by Padraig Hyland in his TED Talk:

    How to engage an audience | Padraig Hyland | TEDxTallaght

By honing these qualities—speaking clearly, being concise, incorporating personal stories, embracing authenticity, and engaging your audience—you can inspire, inform, and influence others with your words. Remember, with dedication and practice, you too can master the art of public speaking and leave a lasting impact on your listeners.
Sources: Your speech pace:guide to speeding and slowing down, SpeakerHub, Medium; and The art of being an authentic speaker, Maria Wilhelmsson, Vox Impact. Accessed December 14, 2023.

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