What I’ve Learned About Effective Public Speaking

Each person, at any given point in her life will have the opportunity to speak in public. It may be in a speech class, a presentation at work, or a funeral speech. The person may end up as a politician, TV host, a beauty queen, lawyer, CEO, preacher, or motivational speaker. In all these careers or calling, effective public speaking is required.

Before I share with you some tips, let me share with you first what effective public speaking is about.

An effective public speaker can capture the audience’s attention quickly and can hold it until the end of her talk. She can move her audience’s emotions and stimulate their minds. She is convincing, encouraging, and “impactful”. She can instill change in her audience. People carry with them and remember what she said during her talk. She keeps her audience involved which makes them feel that they are a part of her. She also keeps her audience entertained; there is no dull moment with her. She empathizes with her audience and they feel that they are understood, which makes it easy for them to trust her. She walks her talk and understands her accountability.

The question now is: how do you get to this point in public speaking? How do you develop these skills?

While some are naturally gifted in this area, there are those who are so fearful of it. For those who are fearful, let me encourage you by saying that even the best public speakers get jittery at times.

Being effective in public speaking is more than just how you talk, what you say, the way you move, and your posture. Though all of these are important, they don’t make up the baseline or foundation of effective public speaking. You can practice in front of the mirror for all you want and just have a mental block during your actual speaking engagement. You can have the best speech written and memorized but forget all about it.

Effective public speaking works from the inside-out. It is more of a mental and emotional state than a physical state. The best way to describe this is Out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks (Luke 6:45). The mental and emotional condition of the speaker will always reflect in her talk, and will be the factor that will make or break her being a public speaker.

A person needs empathy to be effective in public speaking. This is the only way she will be able to reach out to her audience. It is only when she knows and cares about where her audience is coming from that she can tailor-fit her speech to suit their needs and interests.

Being people-oriented is a prerequisite to any public speaker who wants to be effective. When I say “people-oriented”, I just don’t mean wanting to be around people or enjoying the company of people, or enjoying the attention from people. The being “people-oriented” that I am talking about here is being genuinely concerned about people. A speaker who has this kind of concern for her audience will be able to move their emotions and stimulate their minds.

Another primary characteristic that is needed in effective public speaking is conviction and passion for the subject matter. I wouldn’t advice any speaker to speak about a topic that she doesn’t have a passion for. Of course you can’t control this when it is an assigned topic in school. Still, you can always manipulate it to gear towards something you are more interested in. When you are talking about something you are very passionate about, there is no way you won’t be carried away. This is what makes speakers very convincing and encouraging.

One thing I can guarantee is this… if a speaker is just all about herself and how good she is in public speaking, she will never be effective in reaching out to her audience. The main objective of public speaking is not only to send your message across but to affect people positively with what you are going to share with them. Effective public speaking is about uplifting spirits, encouraging others, and giving people hope.

It is only when you affect people’s hearts that they will remember what you talked about, even long after your talk is over. This brings me to one of my favorite stories in the New Testament.

It was after Jesus’ death, when the disciples ran to the tomb and didn’t see Jesus’ body there. While they were talking with each other about all the things that occurred, Jesus Himself caught up with them but they didn’t recognize Him. Jesus asked them questions and engaged them in a conversation. When their eyes were finally opened and they recognized Jesus, Jesus vanished. That’s when they said to one another, “Were not our hearts greatly moved and burning within us while He was talking with us on the road?” (Luke 24)

When we touch people’s hearts deeply, they remember.

Another advice I can give is this: Never talk about anything that you haven’t experienced or something you can’t do. As I’ve said earlier, an effective speaker walks her talk and holds herself accountable for everything she says.

When all of these characteristics are in place, everything else will follow easily. As to the physical aspect of effective public speaking, here are more tips to bear in mind.

Look at your audience straight into their eyes. This makes your interaction with them more personal.

Don’t stay in one place. Walk around, but not too much as it may be distracting.

If you are feeling a little bit jittery, hold on to your podium or desk. This will help you establish balance.

Include some actual interaction by asking the audience some questions during your talk or letting them hold something that you are showing as a visual.

Use visuals. This will make your talk more interesting, alive, and interactive.

Practice makes perfect. The more you apply all these principles into your public speaking, the more effective you will be.

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