Article Category: Resources for Speakers

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:

  1. Research a topic – Good speakers stick to what they know. Great speakers research what they need to convey their message.
  2. 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.
  3. Organize ideas logically – A well-organized presentation can be absorbed with minimal mental strain. Bridging is key.
  4. Employ quotations, facts, and statistics – Don’t include these for the sake of including them, but do use them appropriately to complement your ideas.
  5. Master metaphors – Metaphors enhance the understandability of the message in a way that direct language often can not.
  6. Tell a story – Everyone loves a story. Points wrapped up in a story are more memorable, too!
  7. 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).
  8. Incorporate humour – Knowing when to use humour is essential. So is developing the comedic timing to deliver it with greatest effect.
  9. Vary vocal pace, tone, and volume – A monotone voice is like fingernails on the chalkboard.
  10. Punctuate words with gestures – Gestures should complement your words in harmony. Tell them how big the fish was, and show them with your arms.
  11. Utilize 3-dimensional space – Chaining yourself to the lectern limits the energy and passion you can exhibit. Lose the notes, and lose the chain.
  12. 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.
  13. Analyze your audienceDeliver the message they want (or need) to hear.
  14. 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.
  15. Interact with the audience – Ask questions (and care about the answers). Solicit volunteers. Make your presentation a dialogue.
  16. 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.
  17. Lead a discussion – Again, not every speaking opportunity affords time for a discussion, but know how to engage the audience productively.
  18. 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.
  19. 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.
  20. Exhibit confidence and poise – These qualities are sometimes difficult for a speaker to attain, but easy for an audience to sense.
  21. Handle unexpected issues smoothly – Maybe the lights will go out. Maybe the projector is dead. Have a plan to handle every situation.
  22. 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.
  23. 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.
  24. Listen critically and analyze other speakers – Study the strengths and weakness of other speakers.
  25. 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:

This is one of many public speaking articles featured on Six Minutes.
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Comments icon59 Comments

  1. Great points on speaking. All worth following!

    Cheers

  2. Andrew, great list. I have enjoyed your blog and look forward to learning from you throughout 2008. I would add the skill of interacting with the crowd before your presentation. This allows the speaker to get a feel of the audience’s mood, learn some names, get some “in the moment” expectations of the program and generally put everyone at ease.

    I would also add teaching others to speak and/or actively mentor another speaker. As you know, it is amazing how much you can improve your craft when you have the opportunity to teach someone else.

    Thanks!

    1. Andrew Dlugan says:

      Thanks for the suggestions, Rhett.

      I agree that both practices you mention are highly valuable skills to hone, but let me ask you this: Which of the 25 skills above would you remove to make room for these? (It isn’t a trick question… it is just a matter of priorities.) Perhaps that means there are more than 25 essential skills for public speakers?

      Re: teaching others and/or actively mentoring another speaker
      Very, very true. I just published the first article in the Speech Analysis Series. Being able to analyze other speakers certainly helps teach/mentor them.

  3. I would say that the audience interaction piece could probably just be an add-on to number 15. Highlight that the interaction needs to start before the presentation.

    I think the mentoring piece could be an add-on to number 24. The mentoring is really just a personal and specific method of doing number 24.

    Again, great list!

  4. A lot of people underestimate the amount of work that is required in putting together a class or presentation. Kudos to all teachers and trainers out there! Nice article, and a good summary of points here, thanks for sharing.

    1. Andrew Dlugan says:

      Keith: Indeed! I have often heard comments like “Oh, you’re lucky. It’s so easy for you to speak in public…” On the contrary, anyone who appears effortless is likely working very hard behind the scenes.

  5. Paul Ellul says:

    Great list, Andrew! This is my first time on your site… I’ll come back.

    My only comment would be to “stay current.” This could probably be added to the description of a more specific speaking skill you’ve already listed, like “research your topic.” It’s important to be “in the know” with the particular group you are speaking to. It’s one thing to research, it’s another to know what new developments are taking place in the industry or organization you are speaking to.

    Thanks again, Andrew. Looks like I’ll be spending a little bit of time on your site.

    1. Andrew Dlugan says:

      Paul:

      “Staying current” is very important. Your audience can tell if you aren’t on top of your content, and you will lose credibility.

  6. These are 25 great tips and I think it can already serve as a good book outline. Simple but helpful guide to aspiring public speakers.

  7. garmah says:

    hello,

    thank you so much for sharing with us those fabulous tips that is actually will help a lot poeple who are in there first steps to master this skill.

  8. Robert Ward says:

    Hi, I am a motivation speaker to and for those with learning challenges. I have learned a few things that I was not aware of.

  9. Jonathan says:

    #14 Connect with the audience

    Connecting also allows you to know if the audience gets it or not.
    One million dollar speaker putting on a seminar for 50 people noted she offended three in the audience by a comment she made. She quickly apologized and moved on. She would not have known this unless she had maintained a connection with the entire room of 50.

  10. veronica says:

    I think public speakers can talk about something they dont know. Not all publlic speakers have to be exactly on key with every speech/talk that they give. Its very interesting to me that every time someone mentions public speaker they automatically think politics when thats not the case at all. Not all speakers have to be invovled in some type of politics. But i do agree when this article said that a public speaker must be a leader i absolutely believe that. Because in order to lead a crowd you in fact must be a leader of your own estiny and have your priorities striaght before trying to help/lead someone with theirs. Also, the thing i like about this article is that it tells you some very good details. Like listen and analyze the other speakers thats very good advice. But overall i think this was a very good article and keep up the good work.

  11. Hi Andrew,
    You’ve made a pretty solid list. I agree with most points, but see things differently on a few points.

    7. You don’t always need to start strong, but you do need to start appropriately. That is determined by the occasion and the audience. Also, it’s a myth that the audience will remember your opening and closing more than the body of your speech. Each member of the audience will remember the point that is most significant to them.
    If the audience doesn’t remember anything at all, you wasted everyone’s time and didn’t prepare your speech properly.

    10. Use natural gestures. Punctuating words with gestures often looks contrived if it’s not something you would normally do. It’s quite painful to watch. Gestures have their place, but sometimes a simple head twitch is more powerful that the sweeping of the arms.

    Once again, a solid list. Keep up the good work.

  12. Nancy says:

    I love the fact that you are promoting that speakers get away from the talking head approach. That is so important to gesture/moving and breathing.
    Keep up the good work.
    Nancy

  13. Very useful list.

  14. jerry ubochi says:

    Well done! i find your article quite incisive and mind opening. I happen to a lover of public speaking,and I think am quite endowed with proficiency in oracy. I have always liked to know more so i can enhance my skills. I Appreciate it alot!

  15. Richard Johnson says:

    Excellent article and I agree with everything you say. It would be interesting to hear what you thought the top 10 points were in order.
    That could kick off an interesting debate perhaps.
    All the best
    Richard

  16. Add to the list?
    I think that you have covered just about everything.
    If I had to suggest something, it might be add some emotion… sadness, rage, some emotion that makes the audience think.
    Build up to the emotion and then bring your audience back to a safe place.
    Don’t leave them feeling uneasy, perhaps thoughtful but not sad or guilty.

  17. Vaishnavi Ragunathan says:

    The spoken words wields great power.It can stir people to mutinies and rebellions.So preparing for public speaking requires some special communication techniques to ensure your audience hear what you say.This blog really helps in it.

  18. Number 1: Practice, practice, practice. The 5th time you give a speech will be better than the 4th, and much better than the 1st. Thanks for the great blog.

  19. Pete says:

    Spot on! This is one of the more comprehensive lists I have seen. Any good keynote speaker that you see – be they a celebrity speaker or not – will incorporate most or all of these tips and rules into their actions.

    Again, this is a great, great post!

    Thank you

    Pete

  20. TJ Walker says:

    Great concise list–the perfect way for anyone to spend 60 seconds and get better as a speaker.

  21. Anonymous says:

    Andrew

    I would find #16 the hardest. I guess thats because your most vulnerable. Do you have any ideas on how to be more prepared for tough questions or how to save face when you may not know the answer?

    1. Andrew Dlugan says:

      Rigorous audience analysis can include brainstorming the types of questions most likely to be asked. Then, you can prepare answers for those questions.

      If you still don’t know the answer, it is best to be honest and admit that you don’t know it. No speaker can know every answer.

  22. David says:

    Thanks Andrew. I’m new to public speaking and gave my inaugural ice-breaker speech at my club’s second meeting. I’ve been asked to enter the club competition in 4 weeks, so discovering this site has been a god-send and sent my passion for speaking through the roof. I’ll keep you posted with the result.

  23. I especially like #24. As I’ve observed excellent speakers I’ve noticed many of the things in your list above. I learn so much from listening to someone who is great. Thanks for this post. Every time I listen to someone speak who isn’t very prepared it reminds me that its so important for all of us to keep improving.

  24. Vicki says:

    Great information and reminders for me. I have a speaking gig tomorrow so the timing is good! I would add one point to #18. Don’t just finish on time, but early. By ending a few minutes early, everyone will be able to hear your powerful close, rather than gathering up their things to leave.

  25. It is also very important to anticipate the reactions of audience while you’re preparing a speech.

    Instead of writing notes, you should give the presentation in front of a friend and encourage him/her to ask questions. Then encourage him/her to retell your speech as they understood it.

    Empathy is essential in public speaking. You need to anticipate and keep in touch with the reactions from the public.

    What do you think ?

    1. Andrew Dlugan says:

      Bogdan:

      All of your suggestions are valid. Audience analysis, seeking feedback, and truly connecting with your audience are all critical.

  26. As i was surfing information about public speaking skills i land upped with this page… valid key skills are brought out…. For sure this kit will be useful for the starters…

  27. Aswini says:

    I think a little bit of drama also helps in sustaining the interest of the audience provided they are used at right timings. What do u think??

    1. Andrew Dlugan says:

      Yes, in many speaking situations, a little bit of drama or suspense can be very effective. You can use this to evoke surprise or curiosity in your audience, and this helps to keep them engaged.

  28. You established some great points in this article. Public speaking is definitely a fear for most people. In essence you have touched based on the basics and the core values of public speaking. These are great tips for those who are trying to master their skills which are highly valuable. The best advice would be is to practice. When you practice something you want to become great at, overtime you will achieve that goal. One thing you mentioned were the Q&A session, when I’ve conducted a Q&A session its seems as though you get better feedback from the audience because like you had mentioned you become an expert on the topic and not just a speaker. The audience can then feel like they are talking to someone who is educated on the subject matter that you are presenting which can make the situation more comfortable for both you and the audience.

  29. U Shah-KSA says:

    Hi Andrew
    You have shared really outstanding with all of us…today & this is my just first time visit on your blog & with thanks I would like to say very appreciatively Your skills & efforts are excellently awesome..
    With Countless best Wishes for your always stop less Success guy.. Take Care.. Bye
    U Shah- Kingdom of Saudi Arabia

  30. Keith Tiemann says:

    As a public speaker in training at the Annandale Campus of NVCC (CST 100-02), I do see many of the skills as very important for success, such as focusing on what your trying to “say”. An issue I always see involves #12, as many people use visual aids to aid themselves more than to aid their speech. They never remembered the speech, so they read off the aid and do not look professional while doing so.

  31. William Zach Roberts says:

    First of all, I am a student in CST 100-02 at the Annandale Campus of Northern Virginia Community College.

    Secondly, I would like to say that i am particularly fond of many of these rules, especially the ones concerning being animated and engaging. Utilizing three dimensional space, and incorporating gestures into your speech is a very useful way to connect to the audience, give them a reason to pay attention to you. Put on a show and they will watch, make what you do engaging, friendly, and open and people will connect. Once a connection is made, the audience actually receiving the information and paying attention to it comes naturally, because you command that attention. No one wants to sit there and listen to some one drone on about a topic, while they simply stand idle behind a lectern, even if that person is the president.

    Those are my feelings on skills, make it interesting and people will be interested.

    thanks,

    Z

  32. Jenny K. says:

    student in CST 100-02 at the Annandale Campus of Northern Virginia Community College.
    Number 25, i think helps me the most because i do end to get nervous when i speak in front of the whole class. It is hard to realize the tremendous power that one holds when they are in the front making a speech because one, like myself, will try to make sure things are not forgotten when said but will still forget them anyways even with note cards or “cheat sheets.” I feel like one of these days all my fears would go away with more practice. I guess it would tie in with number 3 by organizing logically but also preparing for a while in what i would say and practice in front of a mirror or my family.

  33. Nicholas Tolisano (student) says:

    I agree mostly with focus and telling a story. You have to keep the audience entertained. You don’t want you audience to stop paying attention because it could hurt the rhythm of your speech.

  34. Nicholas Tolisano says:

    Student at NVCC Annandale. (Fall 2012) CST 100 (002N) – Principles of Public Speaking.

    I agree mostly with focus and telling a story. You have to keep the audience entertained. You don’t want you audience to stop paying attention because it could hurt the rhythm of your speech.

  35. Isis Solorzano says:

    Hello everyone my name is Isis a student in CST 100-02 at the Annandale Campus of Northern Virginia Community College. I just want to say that this Article is very helpful to improve my speach skills.

  36. Isis Solorzano says:

    Hello everyone my name is Isis a student in CST 100-02 at the Annandale Campus of Northern Virginia Community College. I just want to say that this Article is very helpful to improve my speech skills.

  37. Junaid Baig says:

    I am a student at Northern Virginia Community College In Annandale. I am taking CST 100-02. While reading the 25 public speaking skills, it made sense that good public speakers should have that. My favorite thing in the list is the being humorous part. I like adding humor in the speech. It makes the audience enjoy the speech and does not bore them.

  38. Jhabiz nourmohammadi says:

    CST 100-02 at the Annandale Campus of Northern Virginia Community College-
    Analyze the audience
    This excellent article simply outlines the skills that speakers need to keep in mind in order to reach their objectives while they could keep their audience connected throughout an oral presentation. I particularly think that analyzing the audience and identifying the level of their understanding can help in delivering a constructive presentation that could keep them focus and away from any distraction.

  39. Debora Loppies says:

    I am one of CST 100-02 students at Northern Virginia Community college.

    The article is very helpful for me to be success in my public speaking class and also to improve my speaking skill in front of public. Point number one is very crucial. Knowing what you are going to talk will reduce stress while you are talking. I believe that being prepare is a key to have a smooth presentation.

  40. Robert Willis says:

    Great advice. Main focused for a successful deliverence. With its focus on preparation compusure delivery and possible rebuttal
    these tips will help with my public speaking class Cst 100-02 northern va community college annandale

  41. Linda Supo says:

    My name is Linda and I’m a student in CST 100-02 at the Annandale Campus of Northern Virginia Community College.

    I found this list super helpful because I have a really bad fear of speaking infront of a class. The skills I thought are helpful is number 1 and number 23. Number 1 is right to be a good speaker you must research your topic. Whenever I have to speak infront of the class I would prefer to have alittle time to research my topic so I’m not fully stressed out. Number 23 helps me also I’m not the best speaker at all but I know everytime I have to give a presentation I always use feedback from my previous presentation to help me get better.

  42. Jake Ruefer says:

    Hi my name is Jake Ruefer and I am a student in CST 100-02 at the Annandale Campus of Northern Virginia Community College. I think that these are all great and necessary skills for a great public speaker to have but my two favorite are #3 and #7. There is nothing worse than a speech that seems to have no point and was obviously not organized well. A well planned and though out speech on the other hand has the potential to leave the audience with actual ideas and new opinions. In addition, I always think it is necessary to open and close your speech strong. Coming up with a strong closing thought is definitely one of the hardest things for me to do when speaking but every effective speech that I remember has a strong closing idea. Great list!

    Thanks

  43. Shanice Jackson says:

    I am a student in CST 100-02 at the Annandale Campus of Northern Virginia Community College. I think this article is very insiteful, my favorite part was 6.Tell a story. I personally think that this is an important and key facter in a great speaker. You tell a story everyone has to know what happen nexted and after that you have them. start or end with a good story and you cant go wrong.

  44. Astrid says:

    #14 – I think this is probably one of the hardest things to do, at least for me, if speaking in public is not your forte. I try to look at an object in the back of the room and not look at my audience because I get nervous, but when I am the one in the audience’s place I liked to be looked at in the eyes because I feel like I can connect with the speaker. This is an important fear to overcome because the results can be so much more effective.

    CST 100-02 at the Annandale Campus of Northern Virginia Community College

  45. Hugo Contreras Argeuta says:

    My name is Hugo Contreras Argueta and I attend Principles of Public Speaking – 002N at NVVC Annandale.

    I believe Andrew Dlugan did an excellent job in creating this list. All 25 skills are essential in becoming a great public speaker. Three I find to be the most important or stand out more than the rest are researching a topic, telling a story, and exhibiting confidence. Great speakers do their homework and research their topic well in advance so they can present their audience with facts, interesting statistics and useful information. Telling a great story is a great way to keep your audience entertained throughout your speech if done right. Last is the mindset your in when you give your speech. All great speakers have an aura of confidence that just captivates audiences for hours and can be felt throughout the room through body language and vocal tone. I believe if you look at every great public speaker you can find a lot of these skills in them. Great read and list Andrew Dlugan!

  46. Ilona V says:

    Hi, I am a Student at the Annandale Campus of Northern Virginia Community College (CST 100-02 Principles of Public Speaking)

    Number one, in my opinion, is the most important, obviously, and the most “forgotten” point as most people do not know what they are talking about or simply read from somewhere. I totally agree with number six: “everyone loves a story”, it makes a Speech more personal and one can identify and picture the words very easily.

  47. Andrew Dlugan says:

    Hello to all the students from the CST 100-02 course in Annandale.

    I appreciate the feedback on which skills you value the most at this point in your speaking career.

  48. Anahita Charmsaz says:

    # 7 is the one that I’ve experienced most of the time as a student in CST 100-02 at NOVA . When a speaker starts to speak audience are enthusiastic to listen to the speech and at the end they want to know what is the result.

  49. Marcelo Beltran says:

    Student at NVCC Annandale. (Fall 2012) CST 100 (002N) – Principles of Public Speaking.

    You should always stick with your topic and focus to have your audience attention

  50. ESELE PAUL ODEKE says:

    I would like to run for the post of Guild Council Representative at Makerere University Medical School for the year 2013/2014.
    I greatly do appreciate the guidance i have gained from this text.Thanks.

  51. Hello, Andrew ~
    I just happened upon your website and the article you wrote in 2007 entitled “25 Skills Every Public Speaker Should Have.” It’s a timeless article and from my standpoint, you covered all the basics. I work with speakers and plan to use this article in my next newsletter. Of course, I will follow your publishing guidelines and include a link back to the article. I appreciate the opportunity to share this message with my readers.
    Thank you,
    Karen Brockman

  52. Laura says:

    Hello Andrew,
    I found your 25 Public Speaking Skills list very helpful: thank you for your generosity!

  53. Emma Olmedo says:

    20. Exhibit confidence and poise – These qualities are sometimes difficult for a speaker to attain, but easy for an audience to sense.

    Having confidence and poise is key while speaking. You can have a powerful message to present to your audience but if you lack the confidence and poise, the audience can quickly sense this. The message may not come across as strongly as you would like. Its common to get nervous in front of a large audience, with rehearsal and aggressive practice one can increase ones confidence by reducing your nerves. The audience will not know you are nervous unless you show them.

    CST 100-37

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