How to become a great speaker

4 minute read

Professor MS Rao offers a step-by-step guide to delivering the most persuasive and impactful presentations

MS Rao

Napoleon quote“We rule the world by our words” —Napoleon Bonaparte

Before drafting any presentation you must be very clear about your message. You must introduce with interesting anecdotes or quotes or shocking statistical findings. Include stories or anecdotes or examples to support your speech. Include emotional elements to inspire your audiences. Conclude with a call for action. Any speech must undergo a series of steps and modifications to improve and to add value. When you go for the final modification, edit it ruthlessly to ensure brevity without compromising the essence. Remember, a great speech draft is well sequenced and structured with information to enable the audience to understand and digest the essence.

Most leaders in the world employ a team of people to write their speeches. They don’t speak on the spot. They read, revise and practise their speech to inspire their audiences. It shows the importance given to drafting speeches.

Rehearse your speech

“I spend two-thirds of the time thinking what they want to hear and one-third thinking what I want to say” ―Abraham Lincoln

It is essential to rehearse your speech to deliver it effectively. Most leaders and presenters rehearse a lot from their prepared notes to gain the confidence to deliver their speeches successfully. Inspiring international speakers including Abraham Lincoln and Winston Churchill rehearsed their speeches. Hence, however great the speakers may be, they always believed in preparation and rehearsals. It helped overcome their nerves, tongue twisters and managed their time. Additionally, it helped them deliver speeches with punches. Hence, rehearsal is the key to your successful presentation.

When you rehearse your speech, you hear your voice and develop clarity and acquire more ideas. It is rightly said, “To teach is to learn twice.” Similarly, when you rehearse you understand many aspects including your accent, style, diction, and inhibitions involved in delivering your speech.

The opening of your speech creates an effective impact on your audience. Hence, rehearse your opening speech many times to feel comfortable and gain confidence. After completion of your rehearsal, take feedback from others to improve your draft and presentation. You can also revise your draft by eliminating irrelevant ideas and incorporating better ideas.

Delivering public speaking without slides

When you deliver your presentation with slides, you can deliver it sequentially and the audience will be able to understand it well. When you deliver public speaking without any slides or cue cards, you have to work harder to remember the key ideas and deliver your public speaking to create more visuals in the minds of your audience. Therefore, delivering without any slides or cue cards is more challenging for speakers and presenters as they must work harder to remember the core ideas, and to create visuals by storytelling, examples or anecdotes to ensure takeaways to the audience.

Speaking to a cross-cultural audience

“Americans who travel abroad for the first time are often shocked to discover that, despite all the progress that has been made in the last 30 years, many foreign people still speak in foreign languages” ―Dave Barry

You must be very careful when you speak to a culturally distinct audience. You must go cautiously to understand whether you are connecting with them correctly. You must take feedback from time to time from their body language to assess whether your messages have reached them. You must apply different strokes to different cultures. Hence, you must be culturally intelligent, competent and adaptable to the audience. You must speak slowly and clearly. You must avoid using contractions and flowery language.

Hammer your message home

“Just as the comedian should leave ‘em laughing, the speaker should leave ‘em thinking” —Peter Jeff

You can share your vision in your presentation by emphasizing positive aspects of the dangers involved in not acting. You can also present the negative picture first and then a positive picture of reaping the rewards by accepting your ideas.

To ensure the effectiveness of your presentation, ask your audience what they remember. If they remember the message you intended to convey before your presentation, your presentation is effective and the audience ensured effective takeaways.

The closing speech is the most challenging and toughest one, as it must leave your audience fully energized and inspired. You have invested your best efforts and energies to deliver your presentation with a good opening and body. If the closing is not effective, the entire effort goes unrecognized. In fact, the last words linger in the minds of the audience. Peter Jeff rightly remarked, “Last words crystallize your thoughts, galvanize your message, and mobilize your audience.” When you want to make your speech memorable, you must ensure that the last words are embedded in the hearts of your audience. Hence, you must follow a few strategies before you close your presentation. You must be clear in your mind about the message you want to convey. You must conclude with a call, not a question. You must emphasize your message. You must summarize the key messages sequentially. , Tell them succinctly what you told them. It helps your audience leave the venue with valuable takeaways. You must signpost that you are ready to close your speech. Usually, audiences quietly clap, or nod and leave the venue after completion of your presentation or speech.

To close your speech effectively, you can adopt tools including ‘lists of three’ - emotive language, rhetorical questions, contrast, and repetition depending on your message and audience. To make your audience think, repeat the phrases. For instance, Martin Luther King Jr repeated the phrase "I have a dream" when he campaigned for equal rights for black Americans. He said, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” It helped him connect with his audience and inspire them. To close your speech memorably, use repetition. For instance, former Prime Minister Tony Blair was famous for making a speech that included the phrase "Education, education, education".

To summarize, you have to hammer a message home. To make your audience leave the venue or conference energized, inspired and memorable, you must give a clear call to action. Create visuals to make your call to action inspiring. You may also ask them to repeat the call to action to energize them. Remember, giving a clear and strong message will make your presentation and speech memorable.

This article is an adapted excerpt from Secrets of Successful Public Speaking: How to Become a Great Speaker

Published 31 October 2019
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