Loud and Clear: 20+ Ways To Improve Your Public Speaking As Leadership Tool

Mastering the skills of public speaking can be an effective leadership tool for all women.Fierce public speaking skills enhance the profile of your organization, mission or agenda— as we have witnessed in the past few weeks at both political conventions. Your effectiveness as a speaker can also alter the larger perception of who you are and broaden your reach in a larger public conversation.Ivanka Trump wowed women everywhere with her inspired, evocative, personal speech at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, even turning her words into a marketing moment for her line of clothing. She was right that women everywhere would not only want to listen to her, but look like her.[bctt tweet=“Your effectiveness as a speaker can broaden your reach in a larger public conversation.”]Hillary Clinton’s acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia was both lauded and criticized, but was assuredly the biggest in her career and a moment in history for women leaders.“Great oratory magnifies the lessons of great writing.” Roy Peter Clark writes in Poynter.  “Written for the ear, memorable speeches tend to use certain rhetorical devices — such as parallelism or emphatic word order — in greater measure than less dramatic forms of communication. The language strategies rise to the surface, so you may not even need a pair of X-ray reading glasses to see them.”While Clark was dissecting Michelle Obama’s speech, his lessons are applicable to all public speakers in every arena. “Unleash the power of three,” Clark advises. “Notice how often the speaker relies upon a pattern of three to make her point. This is one of the oldest tricks in the orator’s book. In literature, three is always the largest number. ‘Of the people, by the people, for the people.’ Four examples or 40 become an inventory. Three encompasses the world, creating the illusion we know everything we need to know.”Politics aside, being a great public speaker is a skill all women leaders need to acquire to be as effective and persuasive as possible. While most of us do not have a speech writer at our disposal, we do have an opportunity every time we step in front of a team, to a podium on a large stage or even before the camera to make a lasting impact. Utilizing these skills can afford many benefits.[bctt tweet=“Public speaking is a skill all women leaders need to acquire to be as effective as possible.”]Public speaking is the top business development strategy, Henry DeVries writes in Forbes.He interviews “Michelle Stansbury, founder and CEO of Little Penguin PR, a strategic public relations company based in San Diego. Stansbury’s background is in public relations, branding, and business development, having worked with Fortune 500 companies to help them build long-term brand value and reach their target audience.”“A successful speech can position you as a thought leader and an expert in your industry,” Stansbury tells DeVries.As a keynote speaker myself before audiences from 50 to 1,500 for the last 25 years, and also director of TEDxNorthwestern in 2014, I have garnered several tips for what makes a great speech. Here are 20 ways to polish your public speaking skills.

  1. Watch as many TED talks as possible. Take notes on what you like and what works well. Movement, hand gestures, intonations, jokes. Notice that in 18 minutes or less, the speaker conveys a huge amount of information and moves gracefully between the personal, the informative and the universal overview. TED founder Chris Anderson is generous with his advice on what makes a good talk. Heed his advice.
  2. Never speak extemporaneously. You may think it will suffice, but it will likely annoy the audience, making them feel as if you did not value their time enough to make it worthwhile. Prepare mercilessly by asking conference planners about keynoters in the past, exactly what went well or didn’t and what they are looking to achieve and more. Research the organization and be sure to include—accurately—in your talk some reference to their recent achievements.
  3.  Mingle before. If your talk is part of a conference, gather intel at the cocktail party, breakfast or lunch to get a sense of what attendees are talking about. Reference those pieces in your talk. “I was speaking to a group from Iowa earlier today talking about the most important obstacle we face.”
  4. Name your talk with a great title. It should be inviting, inspiring and curious. Likely it will be communicated in press materials in advance, in the program, or on a screen or poster board at the entrance of your talk. So be sure it is one that is provocative, answers a question or is searchable. So keep in mind shareable titles that include: how, why, 7 ways to… , the answer to …or other clever calls to action.
  5. Write your script.  As  you write, employ shifting vantage points as if it is a verbal slideshow. You should hit the close up or personal views. The close up includes your own anecdotes, or personal stories of others by name. The medium shot is facts, data and information. You want to provide evidence by the numbers, avoiding rhetoric and hyperbole. The landscape shot, or overview touches on what this all means in the bigger picture. How do these personal stories and facts connect to make a larger statement?
  6. Have a beginning, middle and end. I suggest a small story at first, an anecdote, to get the audience to like you. Be vulnerable, be accessible. You can be funny or you can be poignant. But be personable. The pace of your entire speech should be building to a crescendo where you have an amazing closing line, or you ask a question that brings the listener back to the beginning. If you start with a question, the last line should recall that question and offer a solution.
  7. Hit a new note every few minutes. Ask a question. Change it up with a quote or introduce a new idea. Do not clump stats together, but integrate all the information as seamlessly as you can.
  8. Be careful and deliberate with language. Your talk should be quotable, so think about using metaphors and comparing this to that. You want people to share excerpts on social media live.
  9. Offer tons of info. Come armed with data, stats, examples, quotes from literature, studies, personal observation. You want your listeners to be awed by your knowledge and to offer them moments of discovery and learning.
  10. Avoid sweeping statements not backed up by evidence. Do not say something akin to, “There’s this thing…” Say what it means. Proclaim why it is important. Make big statements with facts to bolster your credibility.
  11. Create a memorable phrase. Name a movement. Call a trend something. Commit eloquent phrasemaking. If that is difficult, then pepper your speech with marvelous, eloquent quotes from others that are attributed and precise. Acknowledge the author, saying, “When she said…, she summed it up best.”
  12. Use humor if appropriate. Absolutely no jokes that could be considered in bad taste. But tell a funny story or repeat a joke that is G-rated and applies to your content. Be sensitive in your humor and know that any joke at someone’s expense is not OK.
  13. Know your stuff. Practice dozens of times. Practice before friends who can be critical. Prop up your phone to video yourself so you can watch and see where you stumble. If you are giving a one-hour speech, you are not expected to memorize. You can have your speech before you on the lectern, but do not read from it. Glance at it, look around, look into the audience in all directions.
  14. Do not oversell yourself. Avoid repeatedly referencing your books, your company or your brand. There is a fine line here between being a voice of authority and one who is selling herself too hard. Your books and your offerings will be in your bio. Make your speech a soft sell, not a hard infomercial. Audiences resist that. You can sell books or CDs or ask for a sign-up for your seminars afterward; best is to have the person who introduces you to make that announcement.
  15. Dress simply. Bold colors, little jewelry, nothing distracting. No wild patterns. The audience will be looking at you for an hour or more, so you want them to listen and not be distracted by your outfit.
  16. Do your absolute best. But if you make a mistake, or totally skip a page,  do not ever go back and start over. You can be vulnerable, but you want to be polished. If you notice your time is running out, or if the conference is running late, and they have asked you to trim, you can skip large chunks intentionally. Know ahead of time what parts you want to cut for time.
  17. Make your visuals extremely simple. No more than one slide per minute. No complicated graphs, numbers, no long sentences and no more than five to six words on a slide. You want the visual to augment your talk, not distract from it.
  18. Assume the audience likes you. Be friendly, smile. If it is not going well, or if you notice people are not paying attention, perhaps work on your delivery, perhaps speak louder or more slowly.  But never react to negativity and get defensive. Perhaps the audience is simply eager to get to lunch or dinner.
  19. Close with a mic-dropping memorable moment. You do not have to drop the mic, but have an ending line that is powerful and to the point, perhaps a quote. Avoid at all costs what I call “Andy Rooney endings,” that can be trite and clichéd, such as,“And that is what I think about felt-tip pens.” No riding off into the sunset endings, either. No “That’s all, folks,” lines. You can be provocative and intriguing, but it must be a line that delivers impact and a punch. Then, pause and thank the audience briefly.
  20. Promote your talk on social media. If the talk is videotaped, then put the video on your social media sites. But use Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat and Linked In to share key lines from your talk and to thank the conference organizers.

These are my 20 tips, but Alyse Kalsh of The Muse gives more than 30 other useful tips and strategies, as published in Inc.“Even though you may be giving a speech about a topic you just learned about, or to an audience you’re terrified to be in front of, this doesn’t mean you have to pretend to be someone you’re not. Your personality will be what makes your speech unique. And if you try to be someone else, people will notice—because chances are you’re not a great actor,” Kalsh writes.“That being said, your public speaking self won’t be fully who you normally are. Think of your public speaking self like your interview self—you, but a touch more professional.”And yes, we are all agreed, you may be terrified the first time you give a large public speech.“But according to Maura Lipinski, a behavioral health specialist at Cleveland Clinic, there are effective ways to combat your fear of the stage,” according to a release from The Cleveland Clinic.“In the subconscious mind our deep feelings are held, and often there are negative conclusions held there,” she said. “So when we use guided imagery, guided meditation, and use all of our senses to fully engage in that subconscious, we’re able to go to a different place within our mind and release unhealthy emotions.“Lipinski says “techniques such as hypnotherapy, guided imagery, guided meditation and breath therapy can help folks develop the tools they need to take center stage with confidence. These techniques help us create mental images of well-being and incorporate deep breathing which can help us cope with our emotions.”And if you are still deterred from public speaking, yes, there are apps for that. Sonal Mishra writes in Your Story about five digital application solutions.“This is exactly what you can expect from public speaking applications designed to manage your presentations and preparations. This post is a roundup of the most influential and efficient public speaking apps,” Mishra writes. “From taking care of your notes to scheduling your speech time, these apps can save you from embarrassments and goof ups on stage.”