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Top Ten Skills of a Masterful Speaker

Aspiring and professional speakers, alike, are always interested in honing their speaking expertise. There is always room for improvement and innovation in everything we do. There are so many things that we do as speakers which become second nature over time. But for the newer speaker, sometimes a gentle reminder of what we are supposed to be doing is in order. These ten points will serve as a way to bring back to mind what we should be mindfully aware of as we prepare for and deliver our speeches.

1. Select your topic.

Make sure that your topic is defined well. The more narrow the topic, the easier it will be for the audience to grasp it's essence. When a topic is too broadly defined, it can be more difficult to create succinct talking points that will summarize your speech content. Your speech should be interesting and meaningful to the audience, as well as focused on meeting their needs or expectations.

2. Building blocks for success.

As speakers, we all learned there are three main building blocks which comprise a speech. The first component is the speech introduction where the objective is to capture audience attention. Ask a compelling question, offer a quotation, cite a statistic, or begin with a challenging statement. Follow this up with the main points you intend to convey within the body or content part of the speech. The second building block is the content. This is where you will fill in the details of the key points that you alluded to in your introduction. Each point should be supported with factual data, if appropriate, stories, quotations, or statistics. These details will further reinforce your speaking points, making it easier for the audience to retain information, while at the same time, deepening their learning experience. Finally, the conclusion or closing of your speech is where you will summarize the points that you made during your speech. Draw conclusions from your prior points, relate them back to your introductory remarks, and then close with a strong sentence or two.

3. Analyze your environment.

In order to effectively communicate with your audience, you need to know some things about them. First, you need to know who they are. Understanding who they are will allow you to tailor appropriately your vocabulary, approach, and delivery. Are you speaking to a company or to a professional organization or to a public group? Are you speaking to adults, teenagers, or children? Second, you need to determine the audience expectations. Why are they coming to listen to you? What are they hoping to learn? What do they plan to do with what they learn? This will help you in selecting a speech topic that is focused on solving a problem or fulfilling a need. Third, you need to understand your role. Are you a keynote speaker, a workshop presenter, a speaker invited to provide entertainment? Your role will influence your approach and the visual aids that you use. And, fourth, you need to know where you are presenting, the actual physical environment. Will you be speaking in a small conference room, a large auditorium, in a place of worship, or possibly in an open area at a convention? There are many aspects that influence your speaking environment. The more you know prior to speaking, the easier it will be to deliver a powerful speech.

4. Say it well.

As a speaker, your craft is based on words. There are so many things to remember about speaking well. First, be careful of the words you select. Opt for simple words, rather than complex ones. Instead of using the word 'demonstrate', use the word 'show - ; instead of the word 'numerous', try the word 'many'. Make it easy for your audience to understand you by using words with less syllables. Of course, you must tailor the terminology to your specific audience. The words you use in a speech to the chamber of commerce will be different than the words you will use when speaking to a more specialized group like attorneys or doctors. Second, use short sentences. They have more impact and the audience will retain the content more easily. However, make sure you vary the length of your sentences so your speaking doesn't sound choppy. Third, employ various techniques of vocal variety. Change your voice volume to emphasize certain points. Depending on the subject matter, you might use a regular speaking voice, but in another part of the speech change over to a commanding voice or one with a humorous tone to it. And, by all means, avoid speaking in a monotone voice as it will certainly bore your audience. Obvious as it may seem, practice your speech several times to check your articulation. Make sure you are pronouncing each word fully, beginning to end.

5. Timing is everything.

Suffice it to say, beginning your speech on time is important, but ending it on time is even more important and a hallmark trait of a professional speaker. An audience will stop listening when your speech is scheduled to end. If you don't finish on time, you might be out of luck as your audience has probably stopped listening. Respect your audience, otherwise you might not be invited back to speak again. And, respect the speakers who are scheduled to speak after you. If you have difficulty with timing, you need to practice more and reduce your speech content. Summarize points more succinctly, take out filler words, or even eliminate speaking points which are not vital to the content. When you are presenting your speech, have someone in the audience give you time signals when you want to be alerted to the amount of time left. Or, you can turn your watch so that the face of the watch is on your inside wrist. When you are gesturing, you can casually glance at your watch to gauge your time. Either method will allow you the chance to eliminate material to complete your speech on time.

6. I can see clearly now.

Visual aids are great to use when speaking, except when the audience can't see them, or they detract from the presentation. Visual aids can help the audience to understand complex points with more ease. Visuals are easier to recall than words, they provide variety to your presentation, and are a wonderful tool to prompt you through the key points of your speech. When preparing visual aids, use black or dark blue lettering on a white background to provide the highest contrast. Avoid using bright colors, even against a white background as the eye has trouble distinguishing them. You can utilize a variety of visual aids from PowerPoint slides, to flip charts, to overhead transparencies, to written handouts which allow for participant note taking. Refer back to analyzing your environment, to determine which type of visual aids, if any, would be most appropriate for a particular audience.

7. Dress for success.

Make sure that you dress appropriately for the venue. If you're speaking to business people, dress in business attire. If you're speaking at a more casual event, it lends to your credibility and professionalism that you dress one cut above your audience. To help attendees distinguish you from other guests during the networking part of the program, wear a special name tag or a red ribbon on your lapel so that they can tell that you are the speaker or presenter.

8. Express yourself -- literally.

Using gestures is a great way to to add variety to your speech. You can use several techniques with your hands including clenching your fist to illustrate power or force, putting your hands together in prayer to illustrate contemplation or meditation, holding out both of your hands to indicate offering or contributing something, pointing in different directions to indicate past or future or to refer to yourself, or placing a hand on your chest to indicate heartfelt emotions. Keep in mind that your hand gestures, for the most part, should be below the neck area. Hands near the face can subconsciously indicate lying or hiding something. Also, involve other parts of your body when you speak. Your eyes, for example, should focus, periodically, on different audience members to maintain their attention. Both your eyes and your mouth can communicate any number of emotions from happiness to anger so use them to support your speech content. Also, showing your teeth as you smile will warm the audience to your message. Finally, you can move to different areas of the stage, if appropriate, but don't pace. Using movements like these will help engage your listeners and, at the same time, help you dissipate some of your nervous energy. Use them judiciously as their overuse can be distracting.

9. Me? I'm not nervous.

Every speaker, no matter how experienced will feel some sort of nervousness around speaking. Knowing that nervousness is something you will need to confront time and again, create a conscious strategy to confront it. By focusing on three main areas, you'll put yourself in the best position for converting your nervous energy into speaking energy to invigorate your audience. First, you need to know your topic inside and out. The more familiarity with it, the easier it will be for you to speak naturally and comfortably about it. It's amazing how a couple of hours of study can have you sounding like a veritable expert. Second, know your audience. You need to know who they are and why they are there. Walk around meeting and greeting attendees before you give your speech. That way you can develop some familiarity with the audience, significantly increasing your comfort level when you recognize their faces when you're speaking. Third, you need to know your environment. If possible, try to visit the speaking venue ahead of time. Walk around the room, stand up at the front to view how the audience will appear, practice with the equipment (yours and any that is provided) to ensure that everything is in working condition. Note how you will approach the front of the room and how you will gracefully take your seat once you're finished speaking. This dress rehearsal will greatly decrease any nervousness that you might have around speaking. Knowing your topic well, understanding your audience, and developing a familiarity with your speaking environment will probably reduce your speaking anxiety by 90% or more. Funnel the rest of your energy into delivering a dynamic speech.

10. Practice, practice, and more practice.

The path to being a masterful speaker is paved with practice and lots of it. Each speech you do presents an opportunity to refine your speaking techniques and skills. The more you do, the better you will get, guaranteed!

Copyright 2004 by Tara Kachaturoff.

About the Author

Tara Alexandra Kachaturoff is an executive coach, trainer, consultant and professional speaker with over 15 years of corporate experience. She coaches executives, professionals, and entrepreneurs on leadership, business and lifestyle issues and has been featured in radio, print, and television. She is the owner of CoachPoint',,and


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