6 Steps towards improving your Speaking Skills

How to effectively improve your speaking skills divided into 6 easy steps

Public Speaking

Just the thought of making a presentation, a speech, or having to speak up during a meeting makes many people very anxious. In fact, for many public speaking even is their number one fear and they tend to avoid it whenever possible.

However, public speaking is a skill that, if practiced sufficiently, can be turned into something that you can be good at and enjoy.  Below are six easy steps that will help you to turn yourself into a good and confident speaker.

  1. Speak clearly
  2. Develop ‘flow’
  3. Choose your ‘expert’ topic
  4. Become a topic expert
  5. Develop style
  6. Practice daily
  1. Speak Clearly

Clear speech is direct and takes responsibility of its meaning. This means that if you want to make an impact, you should not be vague or abstract. You need to make sure that what you say is what you believe, so you can ‘own’ the content of your talk. This means that you should be direct in how you address people. So, don’t say:

It wasn’t appreciated.

Instead, when you make a claim, make sure people know it is your claim and say:

I didn’t appreciate it.

Taking responsibility means that, if you are not speaking for other people but just for yourself, they should know that. So, don’t say:

We are not sure what to do.

When you are speaking for yourself, instead say:

I am not sure what to do.’

People will appreciate it when you are being direct and are taking responsibility for what you say because it makes you connect with them on a personal level. As a speaker, this makes you more believable, so your talk will have more impact.

Volume is also important if you want to be clear, because clear speech demands attention and gives you ‘presence’. People need to know that you are there and understand that you came to talk to them about something important. Speaking at a volume that is just right, so neither too loud nor too soft, makes people trust you. It makes you look confident and it makes your audience understand that you know what you are talking about.

It is also important that you speak with passion. Showing that you are enjoying what you are doing will rub off on the people that are listening to you, and they will want to share in your passion.  To look at things differently, you cannot expect people to enjoy your speech if they think you are not even enjoying it yourself.

Speaking clearly also means not overusing slang and jargon. Slang tends to be quite informal and, therefore, not appropriate in all situations. So, don’t say:

That is an awesome idea.

Instead, you should use more neutral language and say:

‘That is a great idea.’

Jargon should also be kept to a minimum because just the people that are familiar with it will understand it, and it will make your talk quite abstract. Let’s look at this example:

I can give you a ballpark figure.’

The term ‘ballpark figure’ is often used in sales, accountancy and finance. It is a rough numerical estimate of something. However, it is possible that only people who are working in these fields will understand you.

  • Develop ‘Flow’

Speaking with ‘flow’ means looking comfortable in front of the people you’re talking to and being able to speak about any topic with equal grace. Contrary to what many people believe, having flow is not a skill that people are born with, it can be practiced and learned.

Also, looking at ease when speaking to audience should not be confused with being at ease. Often, a lot will be going on in your head when you are speaking, but most of that is not visible to the people in front of you. To develop ‘flow’, there are a number of things to consider.

First of all, thinking about the pace at which you speak is important. Most people, especially when they are nervous, tend to speak too quickly. Speaking quickly affects accuracy and understanding negatively and therefore it is important to take your time. When you consciously force yourself to speak slightly slower than you normally would, your pace tends to be just right for your audience.

Pausing is also important when presenting, for a variety of reasons. Not only can it replace the ‘uh’s and ‘uhm’s, and the filler words that people use in everyday speech, pausing can also be used for emphasis. For instance, many good presenters build in a short pause right before saying something important. In this way, what they say has more impact and is therefore is more likely to be remembered by the audience. Pauses are also used in other advanced presentation techniques.

  • Choose your ‘Expert’ Topic

When trying to become a better public speaker it helps to choose an ‘expert’ topic that you can use to practice with. Often this is something related to your passions or interests. The advantage of choosing something that your care about is that when are talking about that subject, you will probably already be knowledgeable about the subject, so you can spend less time thinking about the content of your talk and more about the delivery. In addition, it will also make you look confident. An added benefit is that your passion for the subject is likely to shine through and you will look more excited about what you are going to say.

  • Becoming the ‘Expert’

Because it is much easier to talk about something that you already know a lot about, it makes sense to choose these types of subjects to talk about if you can, or become a topic expert if you need to. In this last instance that means it will definitely be worth it to study up your subject so you can start your presentation with confidence. Once you are confident, you will find that you will naturally aim for conversations that you are comfortable with, pursue positive reactions from your speaking partners when you talk to them and naturally divide your talk into subtopics, all because you are the expert.

  • Develop Style

Now that you have become a topic expert, you can develop your style. Style is personal, which means that there is not one way, or just one style in which you should present. Your style needs to go with your personality and often it takes quite some time and experience to discover what your personal style is.

To develop your presentation style the volume at which you speak, and particularly the variation in it, can help you to make your talk more memorable. For instance, you could speak up when you are (or want your audience to be) excited about something.

Varying your pace is also a useful tool that can help you discover your style. Not only do certain advanced presentation techniques require you to speed up, slow down or pause, varying your pace could also help you express emotions effectively.

Showing good body language is also an essential skill to develop if you want to be a better presenter. Your gestures and expressions not only support the content of your talk, they also tell the audience a lot about how you feel as a presenter. For this reason, being aware of how you look and how you move in front of your audience is something worth working on.

Adding some humorous comments of jokes to your presentation could also help. It is a good way to establish rapport between you and the audience, especially during your opening. You do have to keep in mind, however, that humor is very personal and culturally specific. What some people find hilarious may not work on others. Because of this, you have to keep in mind that a joke can work wonders if people find it funny, but it can be disastrous for your presentation if it bombs. Therefore, if you choose to include a joke, you may want to choose one that is safe, or at the expense of yourself.

Telling a story can also work well. You can use it as a ‘hook’ to make your audience interested and to approve your credibility as an expert if you choose to a story that is personal. In general, storytelling will also make your talk more interesting because your story will link your subject to everyday life experiences and make your presentation come to life.

  • Practice Daily

When it comes to presenting well, practice makes perfect. There is no way around it; the more you practice, the better you’ll become. This doesn’t mean, however, that all your presentation should be ‘high stakes’. If you want to become better, most of your presentations should take place at home. You should ask friends and family for feedback, record yourself on video, and practice in front of a mirror. Setting specific targets for yourself will help you focus on specific skills. This means choosing one or two things you want to focus on every time you practice. Presenting at ‘real’ events will help you learn to present under pressure. This could range from simply starting a conversation during a party, to speaking up during a meeting, to being on the podium in front of a real audience. It doesn’t matter, as long as you practice, you’ll get better and more confident.

Conclusion

The above-mentioned steps will help you become a better, more confident, and more successful presenter. Just keep in mind that presenting is not a talent you are born with, but a skill that you can work on and develop over time until it becomes something you are skilled at and is fun.

How to Write and Elevator Pitch

How to write a clear and effective elevator pitch

How to make an elevator pitch

Before you start making your elevator pitch, there are a number of things that are important to know. You need to understand what an elevator pitch is and why they are important. Also, you need to know how to write one, and to help you do that, it is a good idea to look at some examples and tips.

What is an elevator pitch?

An elevator pitch is a short presentation that usually is under two minutes in length. It could even be under one minute. The reason why it is called an elevator pitch is because the duration of the presentation is about the same as how long it takes to ride an elevator to the top of a tall building. Another way in which the term elevator pitch could be explained is that it was based on the hypothetical situation that you could run into an important business executive while sharing an elevator and that you would have the length of the ride to run your business idea by him/her.

An elevator pitch could be about yourself – for instance, if you are looking for a job – or it could be about a business idea, a product or a service.

Why is an elevator pitch important?

You could look at an elevator pitch as a mini-presentation that is always ready to go, and there is a variety of reasons why it is helpful to have one. First of all, an elevator pitch could serve as a good icebreaker to start a conversation and it is a useful way to get a lot of information across in a short time. Also, your pitch could work as an effective transition from the online-version of you, to the real-life version of you. It could serve as a way to be more than a person on a phone or a screen and could help you to make an impression. A well-prepared elevator pitch also helps you in exciting or stressful situations in which you want to rely on information that you have already thought about and prepared. Finally, an elevator pitch may also create opportunities for you to take the lead in conversations in which you need to make an impact.

How to write an elevator pitch

An effective elevator pitch is made up of four parts. First, you need to introduce yourself in a way that is short but memorable. Also, you need to provide a summary of what you do. This is important because it helps the listener to assess whether you, or the idea, product or service you provide, could be of help. Once you have made this clear to your audience, you need to explain what you want. In other words, this is the part in which you explain what you have to offer, or which problem you solving. Finally. your elevator pitch should always end with a call to action. This means that you have to make something happen that will help you to maintain the relationship between you and the person you are pitching to. This could be trying to set up a meeting, offering to call, sending an email, etc.

Now let’s look at these four elements in a bit more detail.

Explaining who you are

When you meet someone for the first time, you need to say hello and give your full name. Depending on what the custom is, you accompany this with a handshake, or a bow, etc. After that, you may want to add a pleasantry like, ‘It’s nice to meet you.’, ‘It’s a pleasure to meet you.’ or something along those lines.

Explaining what you do

Explaining what you do starts with describing your background and briefly giving an overview of your education. This helps your listener to determine who you are. After that, you need to explain what your work experience is, so the person you are pitching to can assess whether your skills and your background could be useful. It also helps to emphasize any specialties or strengths you may have, because these may set you apart from potential competitors. Here’s an example of how to introduce yourself and explain what you do:

Hi, my name is Yui. It’s so nice to meet you! I’m a PR manager with a special focus on overseeing successful initiative launches from beginning to end. Along with my seven years of professional experience, I recently graduated with an MBA from Osaka University, with a focus on consumer trust and retention…

Explaining what you want

After you have explained who you are and have told your listener a bit about your background, you need to make clear what you want. What that is depends on the situation, of course. You may want to pitch yourself, an idea you have, a product of a service, but what all these have in common is that they should all include an ‘ask’. In your ask’ you specifically state the goal of your pitch. This could be a job opportunity, an internship, or just the contact information for a follow-up meeting.

Secondly, you need to explain the ‘value’ you bring to the table. In other words, you need the explain what your audience has to gain by listening to you so they understand what you have to offer.  Let’s look at the following example:

I find the work your PR team does to be innovating and refreshing—I’d love the opportunity to put my expertise to work for your company…

Finishing with a call to action

Now that your audience knows who you are, what you do, and what you want, you need to end your pitch with a call to action, in which you explain what you would like to happen next. This could be a request for setting up a meeting, getting the opportunity to express your interest in a job, etc. What is important is that you make something happen that will lead to further contact between you and the people you spoke to.

If your request is agreed to, you need to thank your audience for their time and obtain their contact information. Be sure to end your conversation with a ‘task-oriented’ goodbye, like:

Thank you for your time. I will send you a follow-up email tonight. Have a great day.

Here is another example:

Would you mind if I set up a quick call next week for us to talk about any upcoming opportunities on your team?

Examples

As mentioned, what your pitch will look like very much depends on what you would like to achieve or what your ‘ask’ is, so next are some examples that have been put into context.

Context: Adding a contact

Job title: Business analyst

Hello! My name is Anwar, it’s a pleasure to meet you. I have a background in Business Analytics with just over 10 years’ experience creating data-driven solutions for various business problems. Specifically, I love and have had great success in the strategic evaluation of data analysis with our executive staff. It sounds like you do similar work—I would love to keep in touch to learn more about what you and your company do.”

Context: Seeking a job opportunity

Job title: Media Planner

Hi, I’m Tom. I’ve spent the last eight years learning and growing in my role as Media Planner, where I’ve developed and optimized strategic media plans for our top client and managed a subset of planners as a Team Lead. One of my proudest achievements was a pro-bono project that was recognized as a top non-profit campaign last year. I’ve been interested in moving to non-profit for quite a while, and love what your company does in education. Would you mind telling me about any media planning needs you may have on the team?

Elevator pitch tips

Of course, your elevator has no value on paper; it needs to be presented orally, so you can make an impression. In order to prepare your pitch, there are a number of things that you can do. First, it helps to read the pitch out loud to yourself to detect any mistakes and opportunities to say things more concisely. Also, you may want to ask a friend to help you practice out loud so you can receive some feedback. This will give you an opportunity to polish and finetune your pitch. Finally, keep in mind that most people, when they get nervous, tend to speed up and start rushing through their speech. Just remember, to keep your pitch short and concise and then take your time and speak at a normal pace.

Presentation skills: Beginning the presentation

How to start off well during a formal presentation or speech

At the beginning of your presentation there are usually four things that you need to do, and the first of those is greet your audience. Also, when you are not presenting within your own organization – so when you are presenting to people that may not know you – you need to introduce yourself and say which company you represent. It is also helpful to say something about yourself and to welcome your audience.

Greeting your audience is usually what you start with. Apart from it being the polite thing to do, it is also important to make your audience feel welcome. Doing this helps to build, what is called, rapport between you and your audience.  You want to build a good relationship with the people you are presenting to and greeting them before your get to the actual presentation is an important part of that.

If you are presenting to a group of people that you don’t know, or to people who don’t know you, it is also important to introduce yourself by mentioning your name and, for example, the organization you are working for.  Just like when greeting your audience, it helps to build rapport. Also, it helps the audience to put you into a certain context as a speaker, like in this this example:

Hello. I’d like to welcome you all here this morning. I am Jill Anderson of Anderson and Brand International.

In this example it is likely that the audience will link the name Jill Anderson to the company’s name, Anderson & Brand International. This information may give the audience an idea of Jill’s position in the company, adding to her credibility as a speaker.

This is not always necessary, of course. Sometimes saying your name and mentioning how the opportunity to speak makes you feel is enough to build rapport. Like in this example:

Good afternoon. I’m delighted to be here today. My name is Peter Jones.

Sometimes it may be helpful to mention your name together with the name of your company if your company has a good reputation in your field, or if it is particularly well-known. Like here:

Good morning everyone. Thank you all for coming. I am Rebecca Ferris from KPMG.

Similar to the first example, mentioning your name together with the name of a respected company could positively affect the impact your presentation has on the people that are going to listen to you.

After you’ve greeted your audience and have introduced yourself, it is often a helpful to say something about yourself. Not only does this help your audience to relate to you on a more personal level, it is also an opportunity for you as a speaker to showcase your expertise. Here is an example:

Before I continue, let me tell you something about myself. I’ve been working for Anderson and Brand for seven years.

Letting the audience know that you have been working for the company that you are representing for seven years tells the audience how much experience you have and how dedicated you are to that company. This could make what you are going to say more credible because your audience is more likely to assume that you know what you are talking about because of your experience.

If you have a lot of experience in a certain field, but have worked for a number of companies during your career instead of just one, you could use a sentence like this:

My career in finance began in the late 1990s when I joined …

… and then you add the name of your company. It tells the audience how experienced you are, and if you add the companies you worked for in the past, along with the job titles you’ve held, it could tell your audience something about your skillset.

The following sentence works in a similar way:

My experience in the field of environmental preservation started when …

… and then you can mention an experience that had an impact on your career. You may want to use a sentence like this when you are a freelancer, for example, or when you are not representing an organization.

Welcoming your audience is also important when you begin your presentation and it is often combined with thanking the audience for the opportunity to speak. Like here:

Welcome to Google. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to talk to you today.

This sentence not only expresses that you are glad that your audience showed up, but by expressing that you are grateful for the opportunity to speak, you are also expressing a level of humility. You are putting yourself on the same level as your audience and when your audience feels they are more or less the same as you, they are more likely to be interested in what you have to say. In other words, this way of welcoming your audience also builds rapport, just like the following sentence.

Thank you for inviting me to talk to you today.

By using this sentence, you are positioning yourself as a guest of the audience, which suggests that you aren’t there to tell them what to do or to believe, but that you are there with them to discuss the topic of your talk together. You are putting yourself on the same level.

Now, let’s look at this sentence:

Welcome everybody. I appreciate the chance to speak to you this afternoon.

This sentence works in the same way as the previous one. It builds rapport between you and the audience by pointing out that you are there because of them.

So, to conclude. A successful presentation starts with an effective opening during which you greet your audience and introduce yourself, you provide some background information about yourself, and you welcome your audience by expressing your gratitude for the opportunity to speak. If you do this well, you will set yourself up for a successful presentation.

Video: Beginning the Presentation