Yes, There is “A Secret” To Getting Better as a Speaker – Here It Is

I know, I know… it is really dangerous to say that there is one “secret” to anything. But, I think I’m ready to acknowledge one such secret.

The secret to getting good at speaking is:


Ok, I’ll add a slight addition to this secret:


I’ve just finished one of my two-day intensive training sessions on Presentation Skills. (“Presentation Skills” is the new way to describe “Public Speaking.” Yes, I know that many give “presentations” with plenty of PowerPoint slides, to small groups and large-to-larger groups. But, ultimately, every “presentation “ depends on good communication skills; good face-to-face, up-in-front-of-people “Public Speaking” skills).

And, one participant gave his best “practice speech” the first thing on morning number 2. Why? He had rehearsed it, out loud, in his home, three times before he arrived.

Practice, practice, practice. Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse. This is the secret to getting good at speaking!

Talent is OverratedOh, you can practice wisely, and that will up the improvement rate. In Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell describes the 10,000 hour rule (it takes 10,000 hours to master most any skill), and he speaks to the idea of “deliberate practice – practice with the intent of getting better.” Geoff Colvin in his book Talent is Overrated develops this idea further, and states:

Deliberate practice is above all an effort of focus and concentration. This is what makes it “deliberate,” as distinct from the mindless playing of scales or hitting of tennis balls that most people engage in. Continually seeking exactly those elements of performance that are unsatisfactory and then trying one’s hardest to make them better places enormous strains on anyone’s mental abilities.


Jeff Immelt has now specified “deep domain expertise” as a trait required for getting ahead at GE…
“The places where we’ve churned people, like reinsurance, are where you will find we’ve failed.”
Building and developing knowledge is one of the things that deliberate practice accomplishes. Constantly trying to extend one’s abilities in a field requires amassing additional knowledge, and staying at it for years develops the critical connections that organize all that knowledge and make it useful… No one is born with a vast fund of knowledge about anything.

Carmine Gallo, in his praise and description of Steve Jobs as a communicator, says:

“Now, the average business person does not have the resources to create a Steve Jobs’ extravaganza, but you do have time to rehearse. The greatest presenters do it, and so should you.”

(You can see Carmine Gallo’s excellent video about Steve Jobs, embedded in my blog post about it here).

So, here is the secret –


What is the difference between the two?

Picture a football team. The players do all sorts of “drills” – blocking drills, passing drills. These are simply to develop and hone the skills. This is practice.

Now, the football team also runs through specific plays, time and time and time again. This is rehearsal.

So, for a speaker to practice — practice gestures, read poems or song lyrics or any passage of written material aloud, working on vocal variety and verbal punch (never speak in a monotone!). Practice looking out with your eyeballs to every part of the room, as though your audience is spread throughout the room. All of this is practice.

And, then, rehearse your actual speech/presentations. Word for word, reading it, learning it, adding your gestures, guarding against adding those dreaded filler words (uh; um), working on your eye contact. If you are using slides, rehearse with the slides. This is rehearsal.

Every good speech/presentation you give has the possibility of adding to your credibility, your growing reputation in a good way. And, every poor speech/presentation you give will likely detract from your credibility.

People do judge you when you are up in front of folks, speaking. So, work at it.

Here’s the secret:

Practice. Practice. Practice.

And, here’s the bigger secret:

Practice, Practice, Practice.
Rehearse, Rehearse, Rehearse.

You simply will not get good at this task of speaking in front of others without practice + rehearsal.


A few additional comments:

This post is primarily on the “delivery” aspects of a good speech. It kind of assumes that you have written/prepared a good speech/presentation. That you have valuable things to say, and they are worded, and organized, well.  But, that part of a good speech/presentation also requires plenty of skill development too, doesn’t it?

Here’s a specific idea: hire a good speech coach to watch you rehearse, and then to watch you as you actually speak. Have them point out what you do well, and what you need to work on next.

Click on image for full view.  This is a"simple" sheet.  I used to use a more elaborate sheet, with more specific items to observe -- but, this simple sheet is easier to use, and captures plenty to work on.
Click on image for full view. This is a”simple” sheet. I used to use a more elaborate sheet, with more specific items to observe — but, this simple sheet is easier to use, and captures plenty to work on.

Or, if you cannot afford such a coach, then recruit a friend to be your “designated listener.” Give them a critique sheet to follow, and mark up to help you know what to work on. My current “simple” sheet is here.

And, in these days of iPhones and iPads, it is easy to have someone video your speech/presentation. Do that, and have that coach or designated listener friend replay it with you as they go thorough the critique process.

In other words, work at getting better – and, you will get better. And if you don’t work at getting better, guess what? You probably won’t get any better.


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