6 tips to become an excellent speaker
I’ve coached people from all kinds of levels. People who were too nervous to stand in front of an audience, and people who are natural speakers and were apparently born to stand in front of an audience. Even though their levels differ, their question to me is always the same: how can I become the best possible speaker? I’ve bundled together some of the most important pieces of advice I give them.
Here are 6 top tips that will help you stand out as a speaker:
#1 | CREATE YOUR OWN WARMUP ROUTINE
A good warmup routine will help you to be in control of your energy when you stand in front of your audience. That means that you’re not hyperactive or all over the place, but also not so calm that it becomes monotonous and dull.
I always include one part in my warmup routine that will get me energized, one part where I warm up my facial muscles and vocal chords, and one part that will help me calm down and become laser-focused. You can read my personal warmup routine, as well as the logic behind every step in the routine, in this article.
#2 | ATTRACT ATTENTION WITH YOUR BODY LANGUAGE AND VOICE
Have you ever noticed how some people just know exactly how to draw their audience in without even saying a word? It’s because they know how to use their body language and voice to attract their audience’s attention like a magnet.
Public speaking is a performance art, and your body and voice are your most important tools when you stand in front of an audience. In fact, research has shown that people perceive speakers who have great pitch variety and facial expressiveness as more credible and persuasive (Burgoon, Birk, & Pfau, 1990).
I wrote down some tips about using your body and voice in public speaking for you in this article.
#3 | KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE
What does your audience already know? What don’t they know? What do they think they know but they don’t? What do they need to understand first in order to be persuaded by you?
In order to take your audience to a new insight or convince them of something, you have to meet them at where they are right now. It’s therefore important to identify the current knowledge gaps of your audience.
Never underestimate your own bias—what might seem obvious and well-known to you could be completely unfamiliar to your audience. This is also why it’s good to rehearse your presentation in front of someone who has a similar knowledge level as your target audience, because it’s hard to detect your own blind spots.
#4 | AVOID COMPLICATED LANGUAGE AND JARGON
Always—even if you think that your audience will understand it. The less difficult it is to process certain information, the more people will think that that information is true (Lee & Aaker, 2004). The reason is that people subconsciously associate cognitive ease with truth.
Anything you can do to make your audience’s information processing easier will improve your persuasion power. So that means using simple language, but also using little text, simple fonts, and high contrast in your presentation slides (Kahneman, 2011).
Another important reason why you should avoid complicated language is that research has shown that people take using pretentious language (e.g., needlessly long words) as a sign of poor intelligence and low credibility (Oppenheimer, 2006).
To sum it up, the easier it is for your audience to understand you, the more credible and persuasive you will be.
#5 | LESS IS MORE
When you prepare your presentation, ask yourself what the key message is that you want to bring across to your audience. Then, when you actually start building your presentation, be very critical and selective.
Every time you want to include more information, be critical and ask yourself: How does this relate to my key message? Is it absolutely necessary to bring my key message across? Again, keep your audience in mind here. If a certain piece of information is new to them, it’ll take up more mental space than information that’s already well-known. Limit the amount of new information to the things that your audience absolutely needs to know.
If you try to convey too much information, you’re taking away focus on your key message. The less information you include in your presentation, the more room you allow to have a real and lasting impact on your audience.
#6 | KEEP YOUR SLIDES SIMPLE
I can’t repeat this enough: less is more. The more you include on your slides, the less your audience will listen to what you’re saying.
Make sure your slides are easy to read and don’t have any animations, bright colours, or complex images that distract your audience. Don’t use more than two different fonts and two font sizes throughout your slides, only use colour when you want to highlight important information.
Keep in mind that an image is also information. Don’t include images just for the sake of decoration. Everything in your slides should be there for a reason. If there's no reason, then it will only take away attention from what's really important.
I hope you found these tips useful and you now know what to focus on when preparing your next presentation. Good luck!
Burgoon, J. K., Birk, T., & Pfau M. (1990). Nonverbal behaviors, persuasion, and credibility. Human Communication Research, 17, 140-169. doi:10.1111/j.1468-2958.1990.tb00229.x
Kahneman, D. (2011). Thinking, fast and slow. New York, NY: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
Lee, A. Y., & Aaker, J. L. (2004). Bringing the frame into focus: The influence of regulatory fit on processing fluency and persuasion. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 86, 205–218. doi:10.1037/0022-35126.96.36.199
Oppenheimer, D. M. (2006). Consequences of erudite vernacular utilized irrespective of necessity: problems with using long words needlessly. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 20, 139-156. doi:10.1002/acp.1178