Whether you’re a seasoned public speaker or preparing for your first presentation, taking the time to recognize and develop your strengths can help you become a more confident and successful speaker.
In this article, we’ll outline the qualities that make a good public speaker, walk you through how to identify your strengths (and weaknesses!) as a speaker, and offer some tips on how you can improve.
Ready? Let’s get started.
What makes a good public speaker?
Effective speakers are those who can capture and maintain an audience’s attention — they have the confidence and charisma needed to make a lasting impression on their listeners. Strong public speakers tend to be well-prepared and make effective use of body language, intonation, facial expressions, and hand gestures to emphasize their points as they speak. They’re able to think on their feet, answer any questions that may arise from the audience, and may make appropriate use of humor to keep the topic lighthearted and engaging.
We can summarize these characteristics of a good public speaker as:
- Audience awareness
- The ability to tell a story
Next, we’ll consider how to identify, improve, and apply these characteristics to your public speaking.
How to identify (and improve) your strengths as a speaker
In this section, we’ll guide you through assessing and improving your capabilities in all 6 of the characteristics of a good public speaker that we outlined above.
Identify your strengths and weaknesses as a speaker
What is a strength?
Strengths are the unique combination of talent, knowledge, and skill.
While the natural ability that you might have (or not have) for public speaking is largely fixed, the good news is that both knowledge acquisition and skill development are areas that can be improved upon.
Identifying your current strengths and weaknesses allows you to pinpoint the best areas to work on increasing your knowledge and developing your skills. As you assess your starting point, you might want to ask yourself the following questions:
- What am I good at?
- Which parts of public speaking do I find easy?
- Are there elements of public speaking that I dread?
- What does my speaking look like on a good day? An okay day? A hard day?
- Have I received compliments on my public speaking?
- Have I received any feedback on my public speaking?
Whether you’re able to speak with confidence but tend to wander off-topic, or can craft a compelling story but lack the conviction to narrate it to an audience, identifying a clear baseline will help you to effectively target your public speaking weaknesses and improve the overall strength of your public speaking.
Let’s address each characteristic of a strong public speaker in turn.
Confidence allows a speaker to connect with their audience, demonstrate their expertise, and engage listeners in meaningful dialogue. Confidence also helps the speaker stay focused and deliver a message that is clear and concise.
To build the strength of confidence and communicate that confidence in your presentation, aim to:
- Develop a comprehensive understanding of your topic
- Practice your presentation beforehand
- Use positive body language
- Make eye contact with your audience
- Schedule 5 minutes to yourself before you speak (you might want to use this time to review your notes, collect yourself, or take a couple of deep breaths).
The enthusiasm of a speaker indicates a crucial message to the audience: this is a topic worth caring about.
Enthusiasm can capture the attention of even the sleepiest audience, cultivate curiosity about a topic, and motivate and persuade towards a goal.
To build the strength of enthusiasm and express enthusiasm while speaking, you can:
- Find a way to generate genuine interest in the subject
- Be animated! Add meaningful gestures to emphasize key points
- Incorporate humor or a short anecdote into your delivery
- Meet the audience where they’re at: why should they care about this topic?
- Create a dialogue by posing questions throughout your presentation.
Authenticity can be defined as the coherence between your internal reality and external expression. Speaking authentically allows a speaker to build trust with their audience, which is more likely to view them as genuine, personable, and consistent. Authenticity can be a powerful tool in breaking down the audience-speaker divide and can be put at risk by overly “performative” public speaking.
To bring the strength of authenticity to your public speaking, you can:
- Be conscious of your target audience as you prepare
- Speak in a conversational tone
- Relate to your audience and cultivate a connection throughout the presentation
- Link back to earlier points or materials, especially if they provoked a response
- Come prepared, but be willing to adapt if necessary
- Smile or add appropriate expressions – remind your audience you’re human!
- Allow yourself time to pause if needed.
Nerves can be a key obstacle to communicating clearly and concisely, especially during high-stakes communications or when there is a large volume of information to convey in a short amount of time.
Concise public speaking not only helps maximize the amount of information conveyed but improves the chances of comprehension, allowing speakers to maximize their impact and ensure that all key points are communicated.
To improve the conciseness of your public speaking, you can:
- Use clear and concise language
- Avoid filler words such as "um" or "like"
- Organize your thoughts into a script or succinct notes
- Use a virtual teleprompter to stay on track when presenting online
- Avoid over-explaining a single point or providing excessive detail
- Practice delivering your speech multiple times to identify and remove superfluous content.
Audience awareness & adaptability
As a public speaker, it’s essential to be aware of your audience’s needs, interests, and level of understanding.
Adapting to feedback from your audience – whether directly in the form of questions or indirectly in the form of puzzled looks! – allows you to tailor your message appropriately. Adapting to your audience can also help make your presentation more engaging, relevant, and even interactive.
To bring the strengths of audience awareness and adaptability to your public speaking, you can:
- Observe the body language of attendees during your presentation
- Ask questions to gauge interest and understanding
- Be prepared to expand on material as needed
- Use real-life examples to illustrate key points
- Invite comments/questions at the end of the presentation
- Incorporate visuals into the presentation
- Use appropriate terminology/vocabulary
The ability to tell a story
As humans, we learn through stories.
Incorporating storytelling into a presentation has the ability to uniquely engage and captivate an audience by adding depth and emotion to your message. This makes storytelling a fantastic strategy for making complex ideas easier to understand – as stories provide context and help listeners visualize the concept being discussed.
Storytelling not only helps to keep your audience engaged in what you have to say but has been found to increase your audience’s retention of information.
Suggestions for improving your ability to tell a story in public speaking:
- Tell a personal anecdote from your own life
- Tell the story of a friend, historical figure, or fictional character
- Draw upon relatable, everyday experiences for your story
- Practice telling your story multiple times before presenting it
- Incorporate sensory details into your story to make it more vivid
- Make sure that the message or moral of your story is clear
Take your public speaking to the next level with VODIUM
Founded at the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic, VODIUM is a seamless and intuitive virtual communication tool designed specifically for the world of hybrid work.
VODIUM’s virtual teleprompter app is the perfect way to transfer your strengths as a speaker to your remote or hybrid work environment. Compatible with all major video conferencing platforms including Zoom, Microsoft Teams, and Google Meets, VODIUM sits neatly below your camera and displays your notes in real time.
To find out more about VODIUM’s unique features or to explore thought leadership on remote communication that counts, reach out to VODIUM today.