7 Habits of Highly Successful Speakers

Naturally Gifted Speaker - it's a myth
Are you a naturally gifted speaker? Me neither!

Ever wonder what makes some speaker super successful? Have you ever sat in an audience in awe of a speaker and pondered “How did she do that?” The answer is through a lot of work. There are some freaks (meant lovingly of course) out there who are natural gifted at speaking, but most of us have to work really hard at it.

My first speech was the stuff of horror movies.  As a nerdy, awkward and shy teenager, I was forced to take the dreaded public speaking class. My high school crush was in my class! No pressure right? My knees were knocking, hands sweaty, and I sped read my speech made no eye contact. I sat down before the last word was uttered from my mouth. I got a “C” – it was clearly a pity “C”.

I got better through speaking more and observing the habits of successful speakers.

Habit #1: A clear goal for your presentation

Since the headline of this post blatantly rips-off Stephen Covey, one of the most effective habits of presentations is to “begin with the end in mind”. I’ve implored you to answer the question “What’s your presentation destination?” The bottom line is that you need a clear goal for your presentation. One goal for what you want your audience to know, feel or do immediately after the presentation.

Here’s a tip: Summarize your goal in one declarative sentence. If you’ve got a run-on sentence going on, it’s time to revise.

Habit #2: Prepare early, prepare often

As soon as you know you are speaking, it is time to start preparing. If preparation means opening PowerPoint or Word, think again. Nancy Duarte recommends storyboarding your speech on Post-It notes. Brainstorm your points and sub-point. Write them on Post-Its. Put those on a wall then you can easily reorganize your speech or crumple and toss into the recycle bin points that don’t fit your goal.

This process needs to start early. Speech preparation is an iterative process.

Habit #3: Find stories everywhere

Stories are for everywhere Audiences LOVE stories. They spice up bland, boring data-driven presentation. Stories engage an audience and help them relate the content to their own life. Successful speakers are always looking for stories and know that stories don’t have to be extraordinary. Best stories come from an ordinary experience.

Friend and fellow Toastmaster, Dennis O’Cain, recently gave a speech about his cable not working and his smart phone breaking down. Sounds boring, right? It was anything but boring. The story was told with passion, drama and frustration. More importantly, there was an extraordinary lesson from this ordinary experience about our lifelines to the world aren’t technology but the people who love us.

Stories are everywhere. Successful speakers are always on the look out to find them.

Habit #4: Involve your audience

Audiences want interaction during the presentations. They want to feel involved. Ask them questions that make them think. Use the most important word in any presentation. Use your stories to relate to their world. No matter what your presentation topic think strategically about how to involve your audience more in your speech.

For the love of all good things, avoid the me, me, me introduction. No one cares about you – they care about how your information will serve them.

Habit #5: Respect the time limit ALWAYS

Stop going over time. It’s disrespectful of your audiences time and attention. In your preparing process, aim to end early. That way if there are questions during the presentation, you have time to answer and still end on time.

Habit #6: Show up early

Successful speakers show up to the venue early. You can test the technology and make sure everything is working. If it is not, you can get it fix or go to your plan B (you should always have a plan B when it comes to tech).

The other benefits of showing up early is that you can check the emotional vibe of the room. Are people tired? Are they chatty and happy? What’s the energy like? Showing up early also let’s your work the room. You’ll meet the audience members, make personal connection that allow you to engage with your audience on a deeper level when you are on the stage.

Habit #7: Practice your bootie off

Clear goal + solid preparation + practicing = presentation success. You need to practice your presentation – out loud, in the car, on a boatSpeaking Success Formula or in a moat. Visualize your speech. Make the time to practice and know you can’t wing it. Need help practicing a presentation? Download the practical guide to practicing your presentation to make the practicing process easier and less time consuming.

Successful speakers know that speaking is hard work. There’s no shortcut to success. Get out there and speak. Share your message. Speak as often as you can.

Got a speaking question? Ask below!

  • http://daniel-alexander-book.blogspot.com/ Daniel Alexander

    Great list Michele, especially number 4.
    Everything must be done with audience in mind.

    • http://www.drmichellemazur.com Michelle Mazur

      Thank you Daniel! 4 is important – if we are not audience centered – we’ve already lost the audience before we even begin.

  • http://www.brucesallan.com Bruce Sallan

    I know we can learn to be better speakers, but I think it’s a talent – to a large degree – that you’ve either got or not…especially those who can speak so well extemporaneously. That said, these tips are excellent for the “average” speaker. The born speaker does most of this without thought…

    • http://www.drmichellemazur.com Michelle Mazur

      Here is my observation. Amazing speakers don’t realize they are amazing. They don’t feel naturally born with the talent even if they are. They work really, really hard. I look to some one like Craig Valentine who tells a story about how he lost the first Toastmasters competiton he ever competed in, but somone in his club believed in him and told him he could win the world championship of public speaking (which he did). You see him speak now – and think wow he has a natural talent, but he didn’t. He worked hard.

      The flip side of this is speakers who say they are naturally-talented play loose with these habits. I’ve noticed the “naturally talented” speakers think they can wing it and not prepare. When you start doing that, you begin to falter at your craft.

      Improving your speaking is work whether you are naturally talented or just the average joe. It’s a progression.

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  • http://www.kimyungkim.com Kimyung Kim

    Great info! Thanks. I’m throwing the You out repeatedly in my next presentation!

    • http://www.kimyungkim.com Kimyung Kim

      not literally of course.

  • http://www.peterwatts.org Peter Watts

    “Practice your bootie off!” Am going to build this magnificent phrase into my presentation training! (Although not sure why people have to prep so hard that their shoes fall off like this) ;-) #BritishEnglish

    • http://www.drmichellemazur.com Michelle Mazur

      You’re British?? How did I not know this? Glad you are going to encourage other to practice their bootie off!!!

  • http://greatbritishpresenters.co.uk/ Antoni

    ‘Prepare early, prepare often’ is a great tip to keep in mind – so many people tend to leave their speech preparation to the last minute and I feel this is a recipe for disaster!

    • http://www.drmichellemazur.com Michelle Mazur

      Yes! Winging it is NEVER a good idea. I don’t care how seasoned you are. Hearing that you want to wing your speech just spells disaster.

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