5 Habits of an Insanely Good Speaker
A complete guide from my 20-year speaking career
“Rhetoric is the art of ruling the minds of men.”
Public speaking can be a nerve-wracking experience, but it doesn’t have to be.
I know firsthand, as I grew up with a paralyzing fear of speaking in public. Fast forward 20 years, and I can now speak confidently in front of hundreds of people at national conferences.
I was a Toastmaster for over a decade and traveled the United States presenting in front of hundreds of groups, both small and large.
Along the way, I learned a few tips to help anyone become a better speaker.
It is possible to give an amazing speech that keeps the audience hooked and engaged from beginning to end. These 5 habits of insanely good speakers can help.
Start Your Speech by Grabbing Attention
The job of your opening is to grab your audience by the throat. To do that, you need to understand what they are looking for and give it to them—in spades.
This will help engage the audience right from the start and gain their trust so that they pay attention to what follows.
Here are a few of my favorite ways to open a speech with a bang:
- An attention-grabbing story or joke.
- Talk about yourself and how you got to where you are today (great for establishing your credentials and building trust)
- Share a personal experience that ties into the topic of the speech.
- Perform a demonstration.
- Show a powerful visual.
- Recite a startling statement or statistic.
One of my favorite ways to start a speech is with a short anecdote, example, or story that relates to both my own personal experience and to the experience of the audience, as well.
When my alma mater invited me to give a talk about getting a job after college, I knew I needed to come up with a great beginning. College students can be some of the hardest audiences to keep engaged.
When it was my chance to present, I asked if anyone in the crowd had a copy of a resume. As it turned out, a guy near the front of the class held up his hand and offered his resume.
I thanked him, held his resume up for everyone to see, and said “by the time my presentation is over, I’m going to show you how to get a job after college without needing one of these”.
Then I loudly ripped his resume in half.
I let the stunned silence hang for a beat or two longer than what is normally comfortable in most social settings. My heart pounded in my chest because I could feel the tension mounting in the room. The class probably thought I had lost my mind.
Then I slowly smiled, nodded to the guy who gave me his resume, and informed the class that the entire experience had been staged. The guy who handed over his resume? He was my best friend since childhood, who just happened to be taking the class after getting out of the military.
I had the college student’s complete attention for the next 20 minutes of my presentation.
The Body of Your Speech Is for Making Points and Illustrating Them
Once you get past the opening, you enter the body of the presentation. This is by far the biggest part of your delivery. It’s the meat, the middle, and where you fulfill the promises you made in the opening.
You want your body of the speech to be organized, focused on one idea or theme at a time, and include details that illustrate the point you’re trying to make.
“If you have an important point to make, don’t try to be subtle or clever. Use a pile driver. Hit the point once. Then come back and hit it again. Then hit it a third time — a tremendous whack.”
For example, you might talk about the five habits of an insanely good speaker. You mention each point and then go into some detail for each one (gives attention-grabbing opening, makes clear points backed up with compelling stories, etc).
The simple pattern to follow is “make a point, then illustrate it.”
You really can rinse and repeat this formula over and over again in the body of your speech. You want to alter the points, make them original and interesting.
For one point, you might tell a story. For another point, you might perform a demonstration. For another, you might share a quote, joke, or analogy.
The key is to make clear, original points, and then illustrate them in an entertaining way.
The Structure of a Good Speech
Let’s put all of the parts of the speech together.
The structure of an insanely good speech is pretty simple. Here is what it might look like written down:
I. IntroductionII. Preview (briefly mention the main points)III. Body (Make points and illustrate them)* Main point
* Main point
* Main pointIV. Summary of main points (quickly review)V. Conclusion (End on emotion)
While this is a basic skeleton of a good speech, you might be surprised at how many presentations fall perfectly into this structure.
You could give speeches your entire life and never alter from this structure. There are other structures, of course, but this is a great baseline for both beginners and more experienced speakers.
Body Movements of Insanely Good Speakers
An insanely good speaker uses his or her body intentionally during a presentation. There are whole books written about speaking and body language, so I’m only going to go over the broad strokes here.
A good rule of thumb is to keep yourself in center stage.
Most of the time you want to be in the middle of your speaking space so that everyone in the audience can see you. Therefore, as much as possible, stay center stage during your presentation.
Moving through your space
The exception to staying put is to move strategically to different parts of the stage or speaking space.
Typically, during one or two of the main points in the body of your speech, you want to move to another part of the stage. You can move forward, closer to your audience, or move to the left or right side of the space.
You can even move backward, farther away from your audience.
An often overlooked direction is up and down. I’ve seen presenters stand on chairs to move higher, or lay down on the floor of the space.
The key is to tie body movement with your message. If you are talking about stepping up into a new role, perhaps standing on a chair or some other prop might help you illustrate your point.
If you’re talking about becoming more personal and warm in your relationships, perhaps stepping forward and speaking in a softer tone best illustrates your message
Most of the time, you want to use gestures naturally and conversationally.
The main thing about gestures is to use them with purpose. The worst thing you can do with gestures is to use them constantly for no purpose. Usually, this is a sign of a nervous speaker.
Insanely good speakers give slow, focused eye contact to different sections of the audience.
Move your gaze slowly over the audience, pausing to focus on one person or one segment of the audience as you make a point. Then shift your gaze to another part of the audience.
Imagine that you’re speaking to just one person in a particular section of the audience. That’ll help you speak more conversationally with a more personal tone.
Inexperienced speakers give very little eye contact or eye contact that doesn’t connect.
I call it “machine gun eye contact” because the speaker will quickly flick their gaze from one part of the audience to another without pause.
Inexperienced speakers who use notes will constantly look down at their notes, up at the audience, down at their notes, and up at the audience again. It almost looks like they’re watching a ball bounce.
Eye contact only matters when you actually pause to connect with one part of the audience.
End Your Speech With Emotion
The audience will forget most of what you said, but they will always remember how you made them feel.
Especially at the end.
The end of your presentation is usually the most memorable part, so it’s a good idea to wrap things up with an emotional highpoint. Generally, it is crucial to end on something uplifting and powerful such as hope or inspiration.
You can do this by sharing a personal story, tying your speech to a higher value such as saving the planet or preventing abuse, or challenging the audience with a rousing call to action (like how they can contribute to a cause).
It’s often recommended to remind them why the topic is so important and to leave them with something unforgettable.
Summary of the Five Habits
Before we go, let me leave you with a quick summary of the five habits of insanely good speakers. These habits take time to master, but they do form a framework that has worked wonders for me.
- Begin with a bang
- Give points and illustrate them
- Structure your speech
- Move your body with purpose
- End with unforgettable emotion
“Be still when you have nothing to say; when genuine passion moves you, say what you’ve got to say, and say it hot.”
Hi! I'm a freelance writer and blogger who runs a portfolio of websites.