A Good Speaker Getting Better

Many of you are experienced and effective speakers. But as with any other skill, you either keep getting better or you begin to lose your edge. Here are some suggestions for the good speaker to become even more effective.

Stories: Memorize your stories and practice so they don’t sound memorized. Write out your story and edit it carefully. Writing the story insures excellent word choice and conciseness in the telling. Practicing the story using gestures and movement to complement the content will make you an even more powerful storyteller. Practice the story in conversation with friends at dinner or having a cup of coffee so you can get audience feedback. Practice also tells you how long the story will take to tell.

Nonverbal: Turn the sound down on the television and watch the gestures and body movement of Stephen Colbert, Seth Meyers, or Amber Ruffin as they give their monologues. Concentrate on their nonverbal communication. This can give you ideas on improving your own delivery style. Notice the specific gestures they use. Look at their facial expressions as they speak. Observe how they utilize the stage. Watch posture. Take note of how often they take steps. Consider how they connect with the audience through the nonverbal.

Recording: Record part or all of your next presentation and watch it in private. Punch the pause button two or three times to observe in more detail your delivery. You can easily correct any minor mannerisms that inhibit your overall effectiveness.

Vocabulary: Improve your speaking vocabulary, incorporating words that paint pictures vividly. Find synonyms which express your ideas more succinctly or more positively. For example, “challenge” for “problem,” “shuffled” for “walked.” Use words that are easily understood but not as common, such as “diligence” rather than “hard work.” Even in conversation, use more specific and interesting words to make it a good habit.

Read Aloud: Read aloud to anyone who will listen. Read children’s books, poetry, or description and dialogue from a current novel. You can enhance clear articulation of words as well as increasing your vocal variety. Small children are captivated by adults reading with animation their favorite stories. Punctuation will remind you to use your voice as punctuation when you are speaking.

Watch Actors: Watch movies that have speeches in them. Classics are Gregory Peck in “To Kill a Mockingbird” and Colin Firth in “The King’s Speech.” The movie context imitates the reality of a speaking situation and speakers can pick up on nuances from the actors to incorporate in their own speaking.

Make Note of Responses: Be especially sensitive to audience response to your content. Identify the specific parts of your speeches that continually demand excellent attention or receive chuckles; notice when facial expressions show that the “light bulb” has come on in the minds of your listeners. After each speech, note on your outline what went really well and what did not. Keep track over time. Remember the adage, “If you’re not keeping score, then you’re just practicing.”

Get Peer Feedback: Ask a colleague to observe and give feedback on a presentation you deliver, perhaps even with specific parts to respond to. Often people who know you well in informal situations can provide input on how you can use certain speaking techniques more effectively.

The effective speaker wants to keep improving and moving to the next level of expertise. These suggestions can help you to continue to be a careful student of speaking and a constantly better speaker.

The really good experienced presenters are never satisfied with their skill level but are always seeking ways to improve. To the dedicated speaker, the best speech is always the next one! These suggestions can help you advance to your next level of expertise.

Steve Boyd
Steve Boyd
Stephen D. Boyd, Ph.D., CSP, is Professor Emeritus of Speech Communication, College of Informatics, Northern Kentucky University, near Cincinnati. Steve won the Toastmasters International Speech Contest in 1970 and was chosen Outstanding Professor of the Year at NKU in 1984, among other awards and honors. Since retiring, he volunteers with nonprofits, spends time with family, travels, preaches occasionally, and enjoys reading and writing. Contact Steve at (859) 866-5693 or at steveboyd111@gmail.com.

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