Speaking skills often go underrated.
After all, it’s not something you’d typically list on your CV.
Everyone is expected to be able to communicate well with their colleagues, but this is not always the case.
The best way to demonstrate your speaking skills is just to show them off, whether that be at your job interview, during a short presentation, or when reporting on your work to your wider team or senior staff.
Why are speaking skills important?
Some of us struggle to get our point across to others, and at times find that our voice is not being heard. Both of these problems can be tackled by improving your speaking skills.
Not only can better speaking skills help us avoid communication pitfalls in the workplace, they also enhance the quality of our teamwork and collaboration abilities more broadly, and will help us to be more convincing and persuasive.
Speaking well is the key to giving good presentations or making successful pitches, and in being an effective salesperson, an inspiring leader, or an understanding manager, amongst other things.
In short, speaking skills are crucial to performance for most of us. And we’re not just talking about being a great public speaker.
Whether it be talking face-to-face with colleagues or addressing a large group, here are 7 ways you can improve your speaking skills today.
1) Make eye contact
This might seem a simple point, but it makes a world of difference.
When talking directly to one person, eye contact is important in order to establish a connection between you and the listener, ensuring they know you are speaking directly to them, and that you get their full attention.
When addressing an audience, try to spread your gaze around, making eye contact briefly with as many of your listeners as you can. This acknowledges their presence and engages them in the conversation.
(If you are addressing only one person in a large group, maintain eye contact just with them.)
2) Stick to the point(s)
No matter the context, be absolutely clear about what it is you’re saying.
If you have only one point to make, concentrate on making that one point. If you have two points, concentrate on making those two, and so on.
We have a tendency, especially when faced with a large crowd, to talk excessively, and to try and labour the point until we gain some recognition.
Avoid this by establishing clearly in your mind what you want to say, before you start saying it. (And stop talking once the point has been made.)
If you want to provide supporting arguments, or introduce some connected reflections or thoughts, then don’t allow them to deflect or dilute the main point you are trying to make.
Return to it and restate the original point if necessary.
3) Preparation is everything
Especially when addressing large groups, failing to prepare is preparing to fail.
The more rehearsed you are when making a presentation or giving a speech the better. Having notes or following slides will not much help if you need to refer to them after every one or two sentences.
Speaking with fluidity and confidence is much easier if you’ve managed to memorize some, or most, of the content of your presentation.
But preparation is also important for speaking to colleagues face-to-face.
Going over to speak to someone without clarifying in your head what you need to say will probably end up wasting everyone’s time.
Consider how the conversation might develop and prepare yourself for that.
If you’re planning to speak to your boss, or a senior member of staff whose time is highly valued, you’ll do well to prepare yourself properly ahead of time.
4) Be clear
Speaking clearly is actually about as important as any of the other points made here.
A common problem, especially when addressing a crowd, is for speakers to clam up a little and talk too quietly.
Another is speaking too quickly, buckling under the pressure of an audience and trying to get everything out at once.
Nerves can make us uncomfortable, distorting our speech.
Focus on speaking at an audible volume, enunciating clearly, and at a comfortable pace for your audience to follow. This is too important to ignore, but focusing on these basic components will also help you forget your nerves and overcome any pressure you might be feeling.
5) Be confident
Confidence doesn’t just help convince an audience, it also helps us convince ourselves.
Adopting a confident tone and body language can empower you to overcome your nerves, transforming you into an impressive and persuasive speaker.
Confidence can also paper over any cracks in what you’re saying. Your audience will be more forgiving of the odd error or mispronunciation, and will typically be less critical of your speech if they see that you are confident in what you’re saying.
Confidence isn’t everything, and some speakers use it to mask the fact they have nothing much to say at all.
But it is an important part of the speaking skill set, and a lack of confidence can do undue (and unfair) damage to your credibility as a speaker.
6) Address the room
When listening as part of a group, it’s natural to let your focus slip and lose concentration if the speaker doesn’t seem to be addressing you in particular.
Great speakers have the ability to make people in huge crowds feel like they are each spoken to personally and directly.
For your purposes it will be enough just to spread your voice throughout the room, making eye contact with various audience members, and using your body language to open your speech up to everyone present.
This is one of the more difficult aspects of successful public speaking, but addressing your audience as a collection of individual listeners will be sure to keep them feeling engaged.
7) Practice makes perfect
If you’re someone who struggles with public speaking, and finds it hard to make yourself heard, then adopting all of these steps at once may not be feasible.
Focus first on the advice that sounds easiest and quickest to adopt, gradually working it into your speaking.
The more you practice, the better your speaking will get. After not too long, these lessons will become second nature.
Soon you’ll no doubt start enjoying it – as will your audience.