Mastering any skill requires time, practice and patience, and public speaking is no different. There is biographical evidence that to master any skill, you would require about 10,000 hours of practice. That’s how most geniuses are made – with that many hours of hard work put in. But to simply get better at what you are doing, to even go from being an awful public speaker to a good one, it will take you about 14-16 hours.
Can you master public speaking?
The simple answer is – YES. As difficult as it may seem, public speaking, like aforementioned, is a skill. And a skill can be learned. Just like any other skill, it can be understood, developed and improved.
Some people may feel they inherently have personalities that aren’t “fit” for public speaking or interactions with a large group, but introverts can make excellent public speakers too. Most individuals who are great orators have mastered the skill over a period of time – it was developed and improved. And if a bunch of people could successfully do it, so can you!
Public Speaking is a soft skill that requires interaction with others, using good communication and an ability to engage the listeners. The first image that comes to one’s mind when reading the words ‘public speaking’ is probably someone standing on an auditorium stage, with a mic in their hand, referring to a large group of people sitting in the audience, but it may not always be that.
Even your college/school/work presentations in front of your classmates/colleagues/clients fall under public speaking. The process that needs to be followed in both of these situations, with large or small, known or unknown audiences, is pretty much the same.
The keyword here is – practice. It is helpful to take up opportunities you get to speak to an audience and utilise them. A lot of our jitters towards public speaking come from a lack of experience of communicating to a relatively large group of people. Speaking to an audience, even if it is just a bunch of people, would help you get used to having an audience, develop confidence, and get rid of those jitters eventually.
You may feel that mastering public speaking requires you to have an access to a stage and audience in order to improve – which is true. But it is not the only way that one can use. If you do not have access to these things,
Alternatives to using a stage to practice public speaking
Using the mirror
Standing in front of the mirror just like you would on the stage, in front of an audience, can be helpful in improving as a public speaker. This will help you be aware of your actions, hand gestures and body language. You can consider these things and get an idea of how and where you need to improve as you progress.
Virtual video conferencing
Applications like Zoom, Google Meet, Microsoft Teams can be used to practice your speech. This will again help you focus on your body language, gestures and tone. If you think you require to see a couple of faces in order to practice, you can ask a few friends to join the call and present to them. A few restrictions with this method are that you cant really walk around and use the “stage”, but it is a good way when you want to focus on the presentation part only.
Toastmasters is a US based organisation with clubs across the world that help you with working on improving your leadership and public speaking skill, as well as communication. You can find a Toastmasters club near you and present, as well as attend other members’ toasts and speeches.
This will give you a fair idea about public speaking and presentation, along with an opportunity to speak in front of a group of people. If an in-person meet is not possible or too daunting for you, clubs are now available virtually as well. You can find a club here – https://www.toastmasters.org/find-a-club
Acquiring a skill or learning how to perform an art excellently takes some time. How long will you take to become a great public speaker? A large part of this answer depends on where you are starting from and what your target is.
Are you average and want to be excellent? Do you think you aren’t a decent public speaker at all and want to be able to be a great one? The first step is to self-assess where you are right now, as a public speaker, and then work your way ahead. Another question is – how do you want to go about this process? Do you think practising on your own is sufficient? Are you taking the assistance of a public speaking course or learning from an experienced public speaker? – the answers to these questions will give you a good overall idea of where you stand and how you want to move forward.
Mastering the art of public speaking isn’t just important if you actually have to speak to an audience, but it will also further help you require a whole other bunch of essential skills.
The power of winning over a crowd isn’t just applicable to a crowd – it may also turn out to be helpful at your workplace when you want to convince a senior who is confrontational or reluctant, or just convince a co-worker to do a collaborative project in a certain way.
It may also help in motivating oneself, and the people around us. Public speakers are often motivators who captivate their audience and help them be more focussed on what they want to achieve and work towards it.
This applies to life, in general, as well. The art of public speaking can help one motivate oneself and the people around them, to attain their goals. Additionally, one improves their verbal and non-verbal skills as they begin to master the art of public speaking. This may help you have better conversations with the people around you, giving a deeper understanding and eventually forming better, more deep-rooted bonds – professionally or otherwise.
Here are a few public speaking skills that will help enhance your performance:
Keep the audience engaged
For a public speaker to make an impact, the audience shouldn’t just be listening to the speaker, but needs to be immersed in the conversation. In order for that to happen, it is a good idea to constantly assess the needs of the audience as one speaks. If humour works, implement it more. If it doesn’t, try being more informative and factual. It is all about trying and testing what is working for the group of individuals in front of you, a lot of which would also depend on the content you are speaking about.
The listeners need something that would grab their attention immediately. A powerful opening will help that happen. Whether you want to start with a story, a quote, narrating a personal incident or anything else, depends on you.
As you speak, you may be wanting to cover a whole range of topics. Some may be connected to each other while some may not. Regardless, it is important to establish a structure which makes the speech sound like a flow, and not a bunch of random subtopics that are being discussed. This makes the audience maintain their attention and be fully engaged.
Examples and more examples
What makes a content more than just content is shared experiences. While giving a speech, when you simultaneously give examples that may make the audience relate to you and the topic of discussion, massively helps improve your public speaking. Not only will it help in understanding the topic, but we as individuals love to be understood as well. And examples go a long way in helping with that. In Dale Carnegie’s words, “speakers who talk about what life has taught them never fail to keep the attention of their listeners”.
A short summary of everything that was discussed towards the end helps the speech be impactful in the longer run. This would help the audience to be able to completely grasp the content which was discussed and gave a wholesome view of the speech.
How can you go about mastering public speaking? Here are a few tips and tricks:
Before taking onto the stage to address an audience, it is a good idea to visualise doing so. Visualising successfully delivering a speech and keeping the members of the audience engaged helps you, as a speaker, helps you face your fears without actually facing them, in addition to being in a positive state of mind towards the event you want to deliver the speech in.
Positive affirmations really go a long way in maintaining a positive attitude towards an upcoming, nerve-racking public speech. It helps you look at it from a rose-coloured lens. For example, affirmations like “I will knock it out of the park” or “The audience will appreciate my speech and be engaged in it” reminds oneself that all this is indeed possible.
Practice and more practice is needed to truly shape your public speaking skills. Consistency needs to be maintained in this practice in order for one to truly improve and eventually master the skill.
Better planning → better results
Plan your speech properly before taking onto the stage. You can use different techniques of effective communication that will be explored in detail further in the article. Planning effectively instead of ‘winging it’, helps you become more confident because you know your content in and out. It can help you think on your feet and be prepared for any unprecedented question that might come your way.
Listen to master public speakers
Watching and listening to public speakers who have mastered the art – noticing how they structure their speech, go about engaging the audience, their body language, how they end the speech, summarise, and tackle questions, is an effective way of understanding how to go about doing that yourself. But it is also important to remember that every public speaker has their own style. Drawing inspiration is fine but trying to replicate everything a master public speaker does is not the best idea. Originality is equally essential.
Following a couple of speakers who have already mastered the art of public speaking is also a good idea.
Here are some of “master” public speakers you can watch and draw inspiration from:
NY Times best-selling author and entrepreneur, Tony Robbins is known for giving powerful speeches that have an impact over people. He has delivered several speeches and also runs motivational training programmes. You can hear him speak here:
Dr. Eric Thomas
A motivational speaker and entrepreneur, Dr. Eric Thomas was once credited by the NBA legend LeBron James as someone who inspired him to win the 2012 championship.
A former monk, Jay Shetty now chooses to spread the wisdom he gained over the years via social media and youtube. He was a part of the Forbes 30 under 30 list and has a very successful podcast “On Purpose” where he talks about different topics that matter.
Effective communication skills that you can use for planning a speech:
A device that has been used since ancient times to communicate effectively, the rhetorical triangle has been around for about 2000 years and to this, continues to be an important tool that helps people to improve conversations when addressing an audience.
The rhetorical triangle comprises a three-part structure and was developed by the Greek philosopher and polymath, Aristotle. Now Aristotle is himself popular to be known as a master public speaker, which can be observed from his writings and speeches.
He formulated this method of organising a persuasive argument with three core structures, namely, ethos, pathos and logos. Ethos essentially means a speaker uses their credibility to persuade the audience, in addition to showing character and ethics. Pathos means showing vulnerability – your emotions and passions, something the audience can connect with on a deeper level.
Lastly, logos means, backing everything you say with logic and reasoning, which is also important for the audience to be able to believe what is being told to them. This three-part structure makes the core of the rhetorical triangle, which can be extremely helpful in formulating your speech.
Monroe’s motivated sequence
Monroe, a professor of Purdue University, in his book ‘Monroe’s Principles of Speech’ gave an outline of impactful speeches using the psychology of persuasion.
In this list of principles, Monroe mentions a couple of steps that need to be followed to formulate and deliver a speech effectively. The first step is to grab attention by using techniques like storytelling, informational statistics, using humour, among other things. This is followed by establishing the need for the discussion of the topic that is being spoken about.
The next step is to satisfy that need by addressing the solution to the problem in discussion. This is to be followed by visualising the future, and lastly, actualization, where you go beyond simply visualising and tell the audience what they can do in order to address the issue. This gives them something to take back, making the speech impactful.
The 7 Cs of communication
Probably one of the most popular techniques of effective communication, the 7Cs comprise of 7 elements that make communication effective, namely: clarity, correctness, conciseness, courtesy, concreteness, consideration and completeness. This helps ensure what you are trying to communicate to the audience is exactly what is being communicated.
There are several other ways that can be used to effectively communicate to master public speaking, and different methods may be useful to different individuals. It is important to understand what works for oneself. Regardless of the method, consistency in practice and having clear set goals will help you master the art you truly want to.
After all, in Rob Brown’s words,
“if you can speak, you can influence, if you can influence, you can change lives”
Public speaking truly gives you the power to do that.