Top 10 Secret Traits of Effective Public Speakers (& How You Can Apply Them)

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You did it all. You structured your speech, practiced it in front of the mirror, learned your points well, and wore your best outfit but still, were not satisfied with how you presented. 

Your speech was well-received but you don’t know if it made an impact. You tried a killer opener, tried being confident, engaging your audience, and being yourself. You were told these things would make you an effective public speaker. Well, they do, but these aren’t enough.

We see you, we hear you. We know what you want. And so dear frantic speaker, we stirred our cauldron with public speaking potions and brewed for you this concoction: the secret traits of effective public speakers.

These secret traits, as we call them, are certain attributes or characteristics that have been observed in all of the great speakers who have walked this planet.

These traits include speaking to serve, involving the five senses, exuberating passion, taking questions, striving to evolve, warming up, being unafraid, practicing with people, going the extra mile, and motivating people to do something better.

One who successfully makes an impact on their audience by applying all the above traits can’t help but become an effective public speaker. 

In this article, we are not just going to share the details of these traits with you, but also the ways in which you can apply them to help you become an effective public speaker. 

Let’s look at these traits one by one:

1. They Speak To Serve

a girl offering a gift wrapped in brown paper.

TEDx organizer Jeremey Donovan says,

“I think the biggest transformation in speaking quality happens when you realize that this song is not about you”

Consider your speech as a gift to the audience. As an opportunity to share this new information you have, with them. And to present in a way that they fully understand your idea.

Taking the focus off yourself will help you treat your talk as a conversation and help you be relaxed and comfortable.

Quentin Schultze, in his book, An Essential Guide to Public Speaking, says that

“It is not about getting what we want but it’s about understanding our audience and their needs so that we can serve those needs. So ask yourself every time, “How does what I am saying benefit my audience?”

How to Apply It:

Start with making changes in your everyday conversations.

Try to speak to not only express yourself but also to understand and listen to what the other person is saying.

Start listening in order to understand instead of listening to respond.

Next, follow these steps by Dave Kerpen from his book, The Art of People:

1. Write down the names of the people you want to inspire at work and at home.

2. For all those people, write down what you think their vision of themselves is in six months, one year, and three years. If you’re not sure, ask them.

3. The next time you prepare to speak to them, remind yourself what their vision of themselves is and how whatever you are selling can help them achieve that vision. Then use that to frame your remarks.

4. Every time you speak or present to a new audience, remember that it’s not about you!

2. They Warmup Before Performing

a group of people warming up before exercise.

“You can say the greatest line in the world, but if you sound nervous saying it, then your message is ruined!”

If you think vocal exercises and warmups are just for singers, you’re wrong!

Vocal warmups are super helpful when giving an important presentation or a meeting or in general just to sound stronger and enhance your speeches. 

Did you know that you use three-quarters of your body while saying a single word? Well, now you do. The vocal exercise is one of the traits of effective public speakers. Why? Let me explain.

While speaking, we make sound using the vocal folds of our larynx, also called the voice-box. Hence, when you warm up with the help of vocal exercises, you are basically stretching the vocal folds. This increases blood flow to your larynx and other organs like the tongue, lips, lungs, etc. 

Warming up essentially reduces the tension in your voice. It helps to avoid voice strain and roughness when you have to speak for hours. It also helps you to achieve a “wider range of pitch” which is essential for voice modulation.

How To Apply It:

Vocal warmups are useful for everyone.

Even Matthew McConaughey does one before shooting! Digressing a bit here, but his scene in The Wolf Of Wall Street was unscripted. He was simply practicing these vocal exercises as he normally did before the shot and they decided to include it in the movie.

Vocal warmup exercises involve everything from tongue twisters to activate your articulators, to jaw releases to reduce tension in your neck area, to lip trills to free your vocal cords, and many more. 

Here is a super short, super fun vocal exercise that you can check out to get an idea!

3. They’re Happy To Take Questions

members of an audience raising their hands

I remember dreading the question-answer round after a presentation. Almost all of us do.

We are in control till we are presenting our speech and then the ball is in the audience’s court. We don’t want to be embarrassed in case we don’t know the answer to a question or haven’t read up enough.

The thing that sets effective public speakers apart is that they look forward to receiving questions. This shows them that their audience has been listening attentively to what they are saying and is curious to learn more. 

Do they magically have the answers to all questions? No. Effective speakers imagine all the possible questions they could be asked and prepare thoroughly for it.

What about questions they didn’t expect to be asked? Well, they see it as an opportunity to learn instead of an embarrassing episode to hide.

How To Apply It:

The first thing you need to do is change your mindset. Start appreciating the conversation that takes place after presenting.

Next, put yourself in your listeners’ shoes. What would they like to know more? Which part of your talk might they most and least resonate with?

Before getting to the answer, thank the person for asking the question, then proceed. If you’re asked a controversial or debatable question, start by highlighting commonalities that you and that person have.

You can also ask follow-up questions to best understand where they’re trying to get. And if you don’t know the answer to a question, don’t be flustered. Be honest and promise to get back to them. And please actually get back to them!

4. They Involve The Five Senses

neon light with the words : smell, taste and touch

Everyone learns differently. Some people learn better with the help of visuals, while others learn better when they have a prop to touch and register the idea.

Structuring your talk in a way that engages all five senses of the audience is something that not only increases your impact but also makes it easier to remember. By involving all five senses, you are giving every person in the audience something to connect to. 

Now, we know the five senses: sight, smell, taste, touch, and sound. Involve two or three and you do fairly well. But involve all five of them and boom, you have given your audience 5 ways to remember you by!

How To Apply It:

To engage sight, use visual aids. Be sure to follow the unspoken rule – less is more. If you’re showing graphs and diagrams, make sense of those figures.

Visuals = Visualize. Make your imagery powerful, make your audience visualize as you speak.

If you want to spray a certain air freshener to demonstrate your point then we aren’t going to stop you. But this sense can also be activated through olfactory imagery. Be descriptive, share the details of the story.

For example, details like how the aroma of onions caramelizing in the pan always reminded you of your mom’s kitchen.

It is often tough to come up with something that will engage the sense of touch. But here’s one thing a CEO did that you could try. This one was to promote a product. He distributed a handbook to his business professionals in the audience and kept referring to pages in the book. He also provided the audience with sticky notes and encouraged them to take notes as he was presenting.

The use of music is a great way to engage the auditory senses. You can also learn to add more variation in the way you speak by the use of emphasis, articulators, etc.

The last sense, taste. Perhaps the most difficult to engage. But great speakers have shown that that can be done too. Bill Gates did it when he got two glasses of water and asked Jimmy Fallon to take a sip of both.

He then asked Fallon to take a sip of both and guess which was the regular bottled water and which was the sewage, recycled one. Only to reveal later that both of them were sewage water that had undergone a process to make it safe, drinkable water. Now that is some way to make your point while having fun!

5. They Exuberate Passion

a woman dancing with joy in a spray of confetti.

Be passionate! Let them see the glimmer in your eyes! Radiate enthusiasm while speaking!!

There is a reason why this message is included in all public speaking tips material. It obviously is important. But why?

Try imagining your math teacher teaching you a verse by Wordsworth. They might teach so you understand it. But they won’t be teaching so that you fall in love with it. Only an English teacher or someone who loves Wordsworth can talk about him in such a way that makes the listeners interested.

Nick Morgan, communication theorist, and speaker remarks,

“We don’t fully trust people until we’ve seen them get emotional — angry, sad, ecstatic — because these moments allow us to take the measure of their values.”

It is an indicator of how well versed you are with your topic and how much value the topic holds for you.

When passion is communicated through your speech and gestures, it automatically gets transferred into the people listening to you.

How To Apply It:

To be passionate is to allow yourself to fully experience the feel of the moment and the emotions it brings with it. Learn the techniques, but do not be too focused on them while presenting. On the stage, your passion should speak up.

To start with, choose a topic that you are passionate about. Be it the importance of vulnerability or the water cycle. When you are invested in your topic, it shows.

Next, have “peaks and valleys” in your talks. Have those emotional highs and also the steady points in your speech. Avoid monotony with the aid of voice modulation.

Let your passion reflect in your body language and choose to move with purpose while giving your talk.

6. They Strive To Keep Evolving 

a music concert stage with the word "evolve" written on the backdrop

Effective presenters are always on the lookout for improving themselves and upgrading their communication skills. We live in a world that is constantly changing.

And these speakers know that adapting themselves to these changes is what will help them to continue giving their best and staying on top of the game.

Effective speakers know that the audience of today craves conversation and listening to stories that move them.

Effective speakers from twenty years ago, standing behind lecterns would never be able to see this conversational style as public speaking. But that’s what happened. Change happened and man learned to adapt.

How To Apply It:

Taking public speaking or communication classes will help you get in touch with experts who know what is trending in this arena. 

On your own, you can start attending seminars and taking part in them to see what is the scene there. Watching TED talks can also help you to raise the bar on your own communication skills. 

In today’s time, a lot of public speaking has shifted to the online mode with webinars and Google meets. Here, it is essential to keep yourself updated with the platforms used and the ways to go around it.

Holding attention in an online setting is quite different from an offline setting. You may need to use visual aids more creatively to capture and retain attention. Research the best ways and platforms to share your message and work accordingly.

7. They Aren’t Afraid 

a person standing on a wooden bridge over a deep water body

If you’re thinking fearlessness is one of the traits of an effective public speaker, we’re happy to inform you that you’re wrong, dear reader!

Fear gets to the best of us. Even top public speakers. But like they say, “it’s 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it.”

What we mean when we say effective public speakers aren’t afraid is that they aren’t afraid of failure. They know that failure teaches one more than success does.

I remember the first experience I had with failure in public speaking. I was in eighth grade and was giving a speech in the school auditorium. Five minutes into the talk, I blanked out. Completely. I tried relaxing but I just couldn’t get a word out. I remember quietly making my way to a seat in the auditorium. 

What mattered is not this incident but how I perceived it. If, by chance, I had thought that because of this experience of failure, my chance for success the next time reduced, then perhaps I would’ve never faced the audience again. But I did, right in the ninth grade. And mind you, this time I won the competition!

When we understand that we have a part that we play in making that failure, we also understand that the power to not make it a failure rests with us. Hence, we take steps to avoid those things from happening again. 

How To Apply It:

To overcome your fear of failure you first have to participate in an activity that gives you that experience. In short, always welcome a speaking opportunity. Get as much stage experience as you can. 

Start small. If you are in a group and have the chance to make your point or ask a question, do it. If you are in a classroom setting, engage in the discussions happening.

Because every time we speak, we go through the process of thinking, selecting our words, and presenting them in the best possible way. 

What is public speaking but a slightly more structured form of that?! 

8. They Go The Extra Mile 

a foot of a runner on the mark 1 on a racing track

I recently came across this quote that stuck with me,

“Go the extra mile, it’s never crowded.”

Doesn’t that explain why there are only a handful of effective public speakers in a bunch of people?

Tasting excellence in any field, not just public speaking, requires one to do more than what is expected of them. 

What does going the extra mile mean when it comes to public speaking? Well, it means working on your skills till you get it right.

For example, if it means changing your content constantly to suit your diverse audiences, you do it.

How To Apply It:

To apply this trait in your real life, you need to first and foremost, be unafraid of hard work.

It means to take the time out to get to know your audience before your performance. To make a note of their beliefs, their psychological demographics, etc. 

This is just one area. Like this, you need to analyze all the other aspects that come under your speaking profile. If it means taking coaching to improve your articulation, do it.

To learn as much as possible and then share that knowledge with your audience.

9. They Practice With People

a business professional presenting to his colleagues

We’ve all heard the age-old advice of practicing your speech in front of a mirror. A step ahead of it, recording your speech. Sure, these tips help.

But one trait of top public speakers is that they practice in front of people.

They try to mimic the real-life situation of an auditorium or stage as much as possible. Running your speech through with fellow colleagues or family members or experts in the field helps a great deal with feedback.

How To Appy It:

Don’t rush your practice. Take baby steps. Be through with the preparation from your side, only then present it in front of your select group of people.

Also, keep in mind to not prepare half-heartedly just because this isn’t the real deal. 

While choosing people to present to, ideally take the ones who can offer you some constructive feedback and guidance. You can practice with as small or as large a group as you want to.

This will also reduce your nervousness and boost confidence for the actual performance.

10. They Motivate People To Do Something Better

a monochrome image featuring a man speaking and two people in his audience raising their hands to ask questions or respond

All presenters have goals that they aim to achieve at the end of their presentation. They know what they want from their audience- a thundering round of applause/ a standing ovation or a million-dollar deal. 

Effective presenters are different. All aspects of their presentation- right from the visual aids to the persuasive delivery, are made in such a way that they (the presenter) know what and how they want their audience to feel.

This feel is rooted in their desire to make people do something better.

For instance, if their talk is about cleaning beaches, they will ensure that this message is radiated in every little part of their speech in such a way that people are impacted by their message to the point of action.

How To Apply It:

To start with, take individual aspects of your presentation, start with your pointers, your activities, your slides.

Next, ask this question keeping these aspects in mind: do my slides/points/activities convey my main message and motivate listeners to do something better?

You will be surprised at the amount of content that doesn’t really contribute to your central theme but is just taking up space. Whittle it down to the basic and most salient points.

To Sum It Up,

Now that you have a fair idea of these secrets and their applications, we sure hope you take the time and effort required to include them in your public speaking activities. We hope to see you among those effective speakers soon! Best of Luck!

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