What is Public Speaking?
Humans’ ability to communicate using formalized systems of
language sets us apart from other living creatures on the Earth.
Whether these language conventions make us superior to other
creatures is debatable, but there is no question that overall, the
most successful and most powerful people over the centuries
have mastered the ability to communicate effectively. In fact,
the skill of speaking is so important that it has been formally
taught for thousands of years.
Want to Be a Great Public Speaker?
These Are the Traits You Need
Great speakers aren’t just born that way — they actively work
at getting better. Here are the eight must-have traits for a
If you’re trying to improve your public speaking skills, you
should study the behaviors of other great speakers. Here are
the eight traits of a great public speaker — developing these
skills will help you begin to hone your craft.
Confidence is one of the most important characteristics of a
public speaker. It will be hard to connect with your audience if
you come across as timid or overly nervous during your
A certain amount of nervousness may be inevitable, so you
need to develop strategies to deal with these feelings. The
best way to do that is with practice — if you know the material
and spend time working on your speech, it will be easier to
show up confidently.
Effective communicators know how to get their points
across in a succinct way. They know how to speak
clearly and avoid confusing their audience. This makes
it easier for the audience to absorb and take action
on the information you’re sharing. One way to be
more concise is to break your presentation into smaller
chunks of information. And avoid the urge to over-
explain yourself and restate your points using different
Ability to read the room
People who are excellent public speakers are good at
reading the room and picking up on the audience's
nonverbal cues. For instance, you notice if they seem bored or
disengaged during your speech and can adjust your
Learning how to read the room takes time because you have
to get out of your head first. Stay focused on the audience
and the goal of your presentation. Over time, you’ll learn how
to read your audience’s micro-expressions and understand
how they’re receiving the information.
People can tell when you’re excited about the topic you’re
speaking on, and they can also tell when you’re just going
through the motions. And enthusiasm is contagious, so if
you’re excited about the information, it’s more likely to rub off
onto your audience.
If speaking with enthusiasm doesn’t come naturally to you,
this is a skill you can develop. Work on showing enthusiasm in
your voice, body movements, and the pace with which you
deliver the speech.
You need to understand your strengths and weaknesses to be
an effective speaker. Know what your best qualities are and
how you can use these to enhance your presentation skills.
You should also know your weak points and look for ways to
minimize them. Great speakers are always looking for ways to
improve and make their presentations more engaging.
Authenticity is what allows your audience to connect with you
during your speech. If your speech comes across as inauthentic,
it will be harder for the audience to trust you and take your
message seriously. Focus on being yourself and telling stories that
are honest and vulnerable.
Knowing how to dress
As a public speaker, your attire matters much more than you
might think. You want to dress in a way that’s comfortable and
fits your sense of style but also resonates with the audience. For
instance, the demographic you’re speaking to will inform your
No matter how well you prepare for a speech, there’s always the
potential that something could go wrong. Maybe your slide deck
stops working halfway through your presentation, or you forget
what you planned to say.
As a speaker, it’s essential to be adaptable and expect the
unexpected. This attitude will allow you to stay calm, focus on
the audience, and decide what you’re going to do next.
You can’t learn to be a good public speaker; you have to be born a
naturally good speaker. Everyone can become a better public speaker
through study and practice. I love to ski. I wasn’t born being a good skier;
rather, I grew up skiing. I skied as often as I could and I got better. The
same is true of public speaking. You were born with the basic equipment
needed for speaking in public—lungs and a mouth.
I can only learn public speaking through practice alone. This
misconception often works in conjunction with the misconception #1 and
#3. I see this as a hugely egoistic argument since it assumes that only you
know what good public speaking is and only you know how to improve.
Let me return to the skiing analogy (though you could substitute any sports
or skills analogy, like playing a musical instrument). Most people develop
their skiing ability by simply skiing a lot. But if you want to get better, you
need to seek outside information about the principles of skiing. That’s why
people pay a lot of money for ski lessons. Ski instructors can both model
good skiing behaviors and they can talk about the physics of metal on
snow and the physiology of your muscles on skis.
Public speaking is just delivery (speech content doesn’t matter).
This is like saying that a good essay is simply one that has good
grammar or punctuation. A good essay should have good
grammar and punctuation, but it also needs good content. The
same holds true of a speech. When we listen to a speech we
judge the speaker according to what they say as well as how
they say it. Think about presidential debates. After any
presidential debate, pundits flood the airwaves and pick apart
both content and delivery, but they spend far more time
discussing what the candidates said.
Reading a speech is the best way to ensure a good speech. You will
hear me talking a lot about the similarities between writing and
speaking, but they also differ in many important respects. A speech
is an act of communication with a specific audience. Reading a
speech undermines this (and as we will see, can actually make you
more nervous). If you were having a conversation with a friend
about your classes and suddenly started reading a prepared set of
comments, the conversation would sink. Why? A conversation is
dynamic and relies on communicating with the other person. A
speech is like a conversation in this way, you are engaging in a
shared act of communication with the audience.