Very often when people want to become a better speaker, they miss a very important fact: to become a good speaker, you need to deliver good speeches. To become a great speaker, you need to deliver great speeches.
The speech is the building block of becoming a better speaker. There really is no other way to become a better speaker, except to continue to work on your speeches.
Over my years competing in speech contests and now speaking professionally as a keynote speaker and trainer, I have learned nine ways that you can greatly improve your speeches.
1) Speech Drilling
Speech drilling is a term I learned from 2005 World Champion of Public Speaking, Lance Miller. It entails standing in your living room delivering your speech alone (or a faithful family member or pet).
Speech drilling gives you the chance to go over the most important parts and get them memorized. This is especially important for the opening, close and key message sections.
One thing I’ve learned to do is to drill my speeches in two-minute blocks. This gives me a better sense of flow and also reduces the amount I need to memorize in one go.
Depending upon your commitment level, I’d suggest daily speech drilling for at least a week before your speech.
2) Running the Speech
Running the speech is when you deliveri the speech live to a group. This might be a practice run, or it might be the real thing. Either way, doing it live will make it feel and sound different than delivering it alone.
Whenever I have a big speech coming up, such as a TEDx talk or contest speech, I will deliver the speech to a live audience three or more times before the big day. By doing this, I will get a feel for how it sounds out loud, the timing, and how each part lands with the audience.
3) Getting Fresh Feedback
If you are a Toastmaster, you are probably somewhat used to getting feedback. But what I heave learned over the years is that there are two different types of feedback.
The first is what I call ‘Fresh Feedback’. This is when you present to an audience who haven’t seen the speech before. The benefit of doing this is that you get honest reactions to laughs and the emotional moments. You will have more impact on your audience the first time the hear a speech. You can often gauge their reaction as you are speaking. If you want to really get benefit from this type of group, you want to ask things like:
‘What do you remember most?’
‘What was the most important part for you?’
‘What was confusing or didn’t make sense?’
4) Getting Comparative Feedback
The next type of feedback is what I call ‘Comparative Feedback’. This is when you are presenting to a group who have seen the speech, or have seen you speak before. On repeated listenings, a group will laugh less and your key phrases won’t land as heavily for them. However, they will have a better perspective and be able to offer more nuanced feedback. To get the most benefit from this type of group, you might want to ask things like:
‘What was better this time?’
‘Did anything seem missing this time?’
‘What stood out this time when you saw it?’
5) Video Review
Perhaps the most difficult part of being a speaker is watching your own videos. Many new speakers really resist listening to or watching their speeches on video.
But think about it: if you expect an audience to watch and listen to you, you better be willing to do it yourself!
Always record your speeches, even with just a cell phone. Look at your videos both for strengths and improvements. As painful as it can be, watching a video of your speech is one of the fastest ways to craft better speeches. Go easy on yourself, and watch each speech video through at least once.
6) Written Draft Revisions
It is amazing how few speakers actually write out their speech word for word. It is time-consuming, but when your speech is written out, it will naturally become more concise. You will be amazed to see errors on the page that aren’t obvious in verbal speech.
You will also find ways to shorten and give more punch to the phrases. Remember that most of the most famous speeches in history were actually read out loud, after being written and re-written. Take the time to write out any speech you want to be taken seriously. You will see a big improvement in your delivery after you’ve finished writing and reading it over a few times.
7) Studying Speaking and Fringe activities
This is a tip that I believe sets me apart from a lot of other aspiring speakers. I am always aiming to learn from the experts in the field of speaking. For a small amount of money, you can read books and watch or listen to training programs on speaking from some of the worlds best speakers.
Once you have learned more about public speaking, you can also look to activities that are similar to speaking. I call these ‘Fringe Activities’.
You can explore acting, writing, poetry, improv, stand-up comedy, and anything else that can help to give you new perspectives. You might be amazed to see how something used in a similar activity can teach you a valuable lesson about speaking.
8) Shortening and Lengthening the Speech
This particular technique I learned from my friend and fellow speaker Ryan Foland. He is the master of teaching people to share an idea in a short amount of time.
Try writing different versions of your speech. Try to write 1-minute, 5-minute, 15-minute and 45-minute versions. The shorter versions will give you clarity and brevity. You will find key phrases stand out when you trim the speech.
Whatever remains in the shorter versions should form the core messages that the longer versions are built around. The longer versions will give you a chance to give more useful information.
9) Coaching and Mentoring
This final tip is for those who have a desire to really take their speeches and speaking skills to a higher level. Having a more experienced speaker give you direct feedback is incredibly valuable. For this reason, it usually also costs money.
Getting professional coaching can cut your learning curve and give you an advantage of their experience. Personally, I have worked with several high-level speaking coaches and interviewed several expert speakers.
Every time I have invested the money and time, the benefit has far outweighed the cost.
I hope these nine ideas help you see there are many methods that can help improve your speeches. You might want to choose two or three of these methods to start with and then build on them over time.
Remember that as a speaker, the measure of your skills is the quality of your actual speeches. The more time you spend focussed on improving them, the more often people will tell you that you are a good speaker.