The 25 Public Speaking Skills Every Speaker Must Have
Inspired by 25 Skills Every Man Should Know, I pondered a list of the 25 essential skills every public speaker should have. How did I do?
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.
- Focus – Help your audience grasp your message by focusing on your message. Stories, humour, or other “sidebars” should connect to the core idea. Anything that doesn’t needs to be edited out.
- Organize ideas logically – A well-organized presentation can be absorbed with minimal mental strain. Bridging is key.
- Employ quotations, facts, and statistics – Don’t include these for the sake of including them, but do use them appropriately to complement your ideas.
- Master metaphors – Metaphors enhance the understandability of the message in a way that direct language often can not.
- Tell a story – Everyone loves a story. Points wrapped up in a story are more memorable, too!
- Start strong and close stronger – 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).
- Incorporate humour – Knowing when to use humour is essential. So is developing the comedic timing to deliver it with greatest effect.
- Vary vocal pace, tone, and volume – A monotone voice is like fingernails on the chalkboard.
- Punctuate words with gestures – Gestures should complement your words in harmony. Tell them how big the fish was, and show them with your arms.
- Utilize 3-dimensional space – Chaining yourself to the lectern limits the energy and passion you can exhibit. Lose the notes, and lose the chain.
- Complement words with visual aids – Visual aids should aid the message; they should not be the message. Read slide:ology or the Presentation Zen book and adopt the techniques.
- Analyze your audience – Deliver the message they want (or need) to hear.
- Connect with the audience – Eye contact is only the first step. Aim to have the audience conclude “This speaker is just like me!” The sooner, the better.
- Interact with the audience – Ask questions (and care about the answers). Solicit volunteers. Make your presentation a dialogue.
- Conduct a Q&A session – Not every speaking opportunity affords a Q&A session, but understand how to lead one productively. Use the Q&A 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 know how to engage the audience productively.
- Obey time constraints – Maybe you have 2 minutes. Maybe you have 45. Either way, customize your presentation to fit the time allowed, and respect your audience by not going over time.
- Craft an introduction – Set the context and make sure the audience is ready to go, whether the introduction is for you or for someone else.
- Exhibit confidence and poise – These qualities are sometimes difficult for a speaker to attain, but easy for an audience to sense.
- Handle unexpected issues smoothly – Maybe the lights will go out. Maybe the projector is dead. Have a plan to handle every situation.
- Be coherent when speaking off the cuff – Impromptu speaking (before, after, or during a presentation) leaves a lasting impression too. Doing it well tells the audience that you are personable, and that you are an expert who knows their stuff beyond the slides and prepared speech.
- Seek and utilize feedback – Understand that no presentation or presenter (yes, even you!) is perfect. Aim for continuous improvement, and understand that the best way to improve is to solicit candid feedback from as many people as you can.
- Listen critically and analyze other speakers – Study the strengths and weakness of other speakers.
- Act and speak ethically – Since public speaking fears are so common, realize the tremendous power of influence that you hold. Use this power responsibly.
Which skills have I missed? Are all of those on the list essential?
Additional Skills for Professional Speakers
Note that I have not attempted to cover additional skills which professional speakers must have that relate to marketing, advertising, product development, and other aspects of running a professional speaking business. There are other resources which address these, such as: