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How to Hone Your Speaking Skills

Mare Petras

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My question is to seasoned speaking professionals: What is the single most important thing you did to hone your speaking skills?

-- Bill Hodges, Lorraine Rice, Lois Creamer, Lisa Welch

Join Toastmasters!

-- Jim Canterucci

Join or start a Speaking Circle. Lee Glickstein's method is extremely productive and it involves other professional speakers so there is a sharing of approach that is very valuable.

-- John Kinde

After acting lessons, directing classes, singing training, Alexander Technique, mime classes, sign language lessons, dance classes, and more, the most powerful training I received was at improv comedy workshops. Second place, 32 years of Toastmasters meetings and contests. Third place, open mike at comedy clubs.

-- John Jay Daly

Never miss the chance to record yourself; video is better but audio is easier. Then listen for patterns and traits you can "korrekt." If you keep them for more than two years you should be able to notice differences.

-- Stacy Robinson

Listen and learn from recordings or live presentations of "the best of the best" speakers -- those who are already proven to be excellent. Listen for the "outline" within their presentation, how they incorporate personal experiences and interesting illustrations to make their points more relevant and memorable; listen to their opening and their closing; listen for the audience reactions throughout their presentation.

-- Rita Makana Risser

In both of my speaking careers, the single thing that helped me the most was working with coaches. I've worked with coaches on staging, body movements, speech structure, adding humor and branding.

-- Cher Holton

The single most important thing I did was to get honest feedback from professional speakers I respected in the business. I did this a couple of ways; one was to simply ask a few of my seasoned colleagues to listen to a tape and give me their honest feedback on the 2-3 things they liked best about my speaking, and the 2-3 things they felt would make the biggest improvement.

-- Laura Benjamin

The single most important thing I've done is to make sure most of my visual aids require interpretation from the audience rather than just slide after slide of text. I use statistics (which they can actually read from the back of the room), diagrams, etc. I also use many fewer slides than I ever did before and build in more interaction.

-- Graham Jones

Speak, often! Offer yourself as much as possible, even to groups who can't afford to pay you. The value of doing "showcases" or free talks will repay itself immensely in what you learn.

-- Diane Royce Smith

Stand up straight, square your shoulders, get that anticipation-of-fun expression on your face and sock it to 'em! Your mom would be so proud of you!

The question is - How? For years before I spoke professionally, I'd have the occasional experience of cracking up, or intensely interesting, a few folks in a regular conversation. It was abundantly clear they were getting something out of interaction with me that they valued. The experience always made me feel super, like I'd hit the jackpot. I was so empowered to do it - as Tinkywinky used to say - "Again! Again!"

So I do everything my body will allow me to do to replicate that moment -- how it feels, the surprise, the pleasure, the sense of accomplishment, the feeling I can keep doing it forever. And you know, it (mostly) works. And when I don't feel that it has worked, I follow the amazingly solid advice of my friend and colleague, trainer Marianne McCarthy, and "Act as if". Again! Again!

SpeakerNet News is produced by Rebecca Morgan and Ken Braly. It is not affiliated with the National Speakers Association. Send comments or suggestions