How to Win at Public Speaking: Proven Practice Skills

How to win at public speaking: Good Sophists guide to mastering practice for oratorical skills

Are the best speakers born, made, or both? The answer is (potentially) all of the above. Whether you are a natural speaker or someone who has to work at it, practice will push you to the next level. This short guide outlines the best practices for gaining mastery of public speaking. I based it on years of experimenting with various techniques to find the most effective and efficient path to mastery. Regardless if you are an educator or teaching yourself, there is something here for you.

1.Doing is better than not doing.

You can read every “Five hacks to max out your public speaking skills!” on the Internet. And there are a lot of them. But ultimately, the only way to improve is by standing up in front of people and performing. Think about this: if you were to read every book on martial arts in your local library, would that translate to a black belt? Of course not. That’s why my courses focus on teaching through practice. We cover basics, but the crux of the teaching comes from giving speeches.

2. Get quick and productive feedback.

How can you fix a mistake you don’t know you’re making? The feedback must be good and honest, but it must also come quickly. Although not always feasible, the best way to give feedback is in real time. When I have clients who need a lot of improvement fast, I have them give the speech in front of me, and I will stop them as they make mistakes.

3. Do it over until you have it right.

It’s not enough to tell someone they messed up and then move on to the next assignment. That does help, but what helps more is acting immediately on feedback by using it in practice. In my example of stopping clients during their speech, I do that so they can fix the problem then and there. We repeat and go over the speech until the feedback critiques are solved. Focused repetition is one of the most powerful practice tools available to public speakers.

 4. Deliberative practice.

When you’re giving a speech, there is a lot going on mentally and physically. You have to remember what you are going to say. Manage your vocal and physical delivery. You should be monitoring your audience for feedback, and you should be adjusting to meet the needs of that feedback. One of the reasons people are so afraid of speaking in public is because there are so many things that can go wrong. If we have time, rather than bombard a client with a list of stuff to work on, we devise a strategy that focuses on sub-skills to improve incrementally. That’s what deliberative practice is, focusing on sub-skills and the sub-sub-skills that go into that.

5. Everyone’s a teacher.

Teaching others requires that you have a thorough understanding of the material. My experience is that I’ve learned a lot more as a teacher than I did as a student. I have to take in knowledge, understand it, and then determine how to explain it to others so that they understand it. Requiring students to critique others leverages this process to place students in the role of teacher.

6. Be the audience.

Ever heard a speech? Have you ever listened to a good speech? A bad speech? You don’t need to learn to be a speech critic because we all have an innate sense of what we like and don’t like. It’s fascinating to me that, despite some differences, people tend to have a natural sense of what is good and bad about speeches. When you find yourself in the audience, think about what you like and don’t like. You can merge the natural judgment of the audience with your self-awareness as a speaker.

7. Emulation.

Exposure to lots of great speakers creates an understanding of the various styles and strategies used by orators. I don’t encourage students to copy the speaking style of anyone, but I do want them to understand that there is no single method to success. But there is much to be learned by paying attention to the differences between speakers, and it demonstrates that they can find their voice and still be successful.

8. Find your voice.

Taking risks opens space for discovery and improvement. Speakers should be encouraged to take risks, be removed from their comfort zones, and challenged. My experience is that students will be more creative and move beyond cookie-cutter approaches that are boring and cliche. Finding your voice, a distinctive style all your own is the ultimate sign of mastery.

For more information about mastering your skills, check out this great TED talk from Tim Ferriss!


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