Want to Speak Well? Look to the Pros.

In this new series, experienced speaker, teacher, and consultant Joel Schwartzberg breaks down for us the best ways to improve your presentation skills, whether you’re still in school, in mid-career, or in upper management.

With just over a year before the next presidential election, we’re about to be deluged with political debates, speeches, pontification, and more passionate punditry than any human not employed by Fox News or MSNBC can stand. But whether those speakers are conservative, progressive, or somewhere in the middle (or just trying to be) their goals are always the same: to make their points clearly, concisely, effectively, memorably, convincingly, and credibly.

And that should be your goal, too. Whether you’re speaking in front of a vast audience or a prospective employer, you want to make your own points clearly, concisely, effectively, memorably, convincingly and credibly.

In this blog and in my upcoming Hired Guns Academy course, we’ll be looking at ways to do just
that. But for now, while there’s so much speech-making all around you, it’s a good idea to examine how politicians do it. Remember two things: One, good speakers aren’t born; they’re trained. Two, when it comes to strong public presentations, how you say it as important (if not more important) than what you’re saying.

Barack ObamaYesterday’s Republican debate and tonight’s speech by President Obama are both good opportunities to gauge the effectiveness of different ways of getting a message across.

As you’re watching candidates or pundits speak, stop the tweeting for a moment and ask yourself these questions about their speaking styles (versus their speech’s substance):

1) Is he talking too quickly, slowly, quietly, or loudly?

2) Is she ending her sentences with periods or question marks?

3) Is he gesturing too much, not enough, or just right?

4) Is she pausing for effect, and what is that effect?

5) Does he seem nervous? What are the giveaways?

6) How is she adding emphasis to her big points or catchphrases?

7) What in his speaking style conveys strength, and what conveys weakness?

Write down what you learn, study it, and try to copy what works. There’s no plagiarism when it comes to public speaking techniques, only good habits that are understood and employed by strong speakers. So watch, learn, repeat.

My YouTube recommendations: inaugural addresses by Bill Clinton, Ronald Reagan, and Barack Obama.

[Photo: Paolo Vairo / Shutterstock.com]

About this Gun

Joel Schwartzberg

Joel Schwartzberg

won the U.S. National Championship in After-Dinner Speaking in 1990 and was ranked among the top ten overall public speakers in America. After coaching at U. Penn and Seton Hall, he was inducted into the National Forensic Association Hall of Fame in 2002. Joel has been teaching public speaking since 2006, while holding down executive digital positions with Nickelodeon, Time Inc., and PBS. A nationally-published personal essayist, Joel authored the award-winning essay collection The 40-Year-Old Version. Follow @joeljest.