7 skills of a public speaker infographic by Arfath Saleem published on The Executive Blog

7 skills of a public speaker

The price of mastery is hefty. Unless you pay up, no one will pay it on your behalf. If you are in the path to mastering speech – you must understand the skills of a public speaker.

The path to mastery is long and littered with languish; it’s only meant for those who pursue knowledge. Because, the right knowledge distinguishes amateurs from professionals. 

When it comes to public speaking, what are the relevant and irrelevant knowledge?

What should you absorb and what should you throw away?

What are your priorities?

I’ve struggled with these questions for years. I finally could condense it all to 7 skills of a public speaker.

Let this be a guide for you when you set out on your path to mastering public speaking.

Weather you are struggling to begin your journey, or trying to figure out something as simple as how to open your speech, this will be a true guide.

Are these skills learnable?  

There is nothing esoteric in the seven skills of a public speaker. They aren’t generic either. You’ll master them on your own if you put in the effort.

But you must understand that no one will carry you to the promised land. Anyone who promises to be your human rickshaw to the mountain of mastery is either a con-artist or is trying to sell you something. 

Going through this list you will wonder if these skills are meant only for uniquely gifted people. You won’t be wrong to think that, because gifted people can absorb them faster. But, you are stupid if you let it stop you from learning. 

The merit of knowledge goes beyond apparent giftedness. Gifts are uncovered from the damp and desolate dust that has settled within you after years of inertia. 

Unlike those who are gifted from birth, those who uncover them on their own use their gifts generously, and cherish them with pride. Let that be your aim – to be a self made master. Don’t compare yourself to the cool kids who have it all – because you’ll get there one day, because you have the potential to be much better than all of them. Because this is part of your purpose in life. You must uncover your gifts. No one will do it for you.

Discipline to learn

To uncover your gifts you must first absorb knowledge. So, discipline yourself to learn the seven skills of a public speaker.

When I say “learn” I mean truly learn. This includes Independent research, hours of practice and meditation on the toughest blockers you are trying to conquer.

The only intent I have is to brew that storm of talent that’s waiting to emerge from within you. You need to make use of this energy by applying yourself rigorously. It’s a daily grind. There’s no other way.

The seven skills of a public speaker

This blog is just an introduction to the seven skills of a public speaker – i don’t intend to write extensively on each. That’s for a subsequent post. But, this gives you a brief of what you’ll need to focus on.

Out of the seven skills – there are 4 core skills and 3 auxiliary skills. The core skills are essential; understanding how to wield them in tandem is the key to great oratory. The auxiliary skills take you a step further; they make you a 21st century speaker. You must learn all seven to gain an edge

1. Rhetoric

A rare few in this world can use words in a way that sounds surreal. Even with simple vocabulary, the way they put words together makes them sound out of this world. It requires a talent to do so with ease. But it is also a skill that can also be learned. This skill (or rather, a competency) is known as the art of Rhetoric.

Learning Rhetoric is like learning to string a guitar. You’re learning the basic skill with which you’ll make your instrument sing. If speaking is the instrument, words are its strings. Rhetoric teaches you how to use words to move an audience with an appeal to emotion, logic and ethics. It’s the skill you need to argue your points better, to become musical in your speech, and have a hypnotic effect on your listener. Understanding Rhetoric will give you tools to use the right word at the right time. A master of rhetoric can sound intelligent, witty and mature even with basic vocabulary.

Martin Luther King Jr. was a Great Rhetorician. His artistry in putting words together is analysed by literary scholars with the intensity of scientists analyzing the atom. The infamous “I have a dream” speech is a literary gold mine being used as a case study in universities worldwide. From a generous use of alliterations, to anaphora, sibilance, assonance, metaphors and rhyme – it’s a craft of genius.

Speakers must use rhetoric with awareness. It’s a powerful tool on its own. You can use it to build morale in a crisis, you can use it to lead tough teams. It can not only gain the listener’s ears – it can also trap their hearts without them even knowing it.

2. Critical Thinking

The use of speech is incomplete if it has no meaning. Unfortunately, most speeches today have little meaning and little substance. 

But, substance is essential in speech. A speech lacking substance can win an audience for its entertainment value – but stands small against the test of time. You can’t listen to the same jokes of a comedian over and over again. You can, however, listen to a speech with substance on repeat – just to learn something new every time.

Another failure of speakers is a lack of preparation through thinking. Nobody likes a speaker who springs ideas together off the fly. Neither do they like rants that never end. There’s no honour to speak in such a manner.

All these elements of failure stem from the lack of critical thinking. Although entertainment has its place in speaking, a speaker is not a tool for entertainment. A speaker should move hearts to help people become better than who they are. In today’s race to create more content we forget to consider this. Critical Thinking is cardinal.

As a speaker you must create the optimum structure for your content. You must research. You must dwell on the problem you are trying to solve adequately so that you comprehend it better than your audience. All questions that stump you and could stump you must be appreciated, analyzed and answered so that what you say makes complete and undoubtable sense. Not only that, you must figure out the most persuasive tactic to influence the audience to believe you and support your opinion. You must create a message that no one can refute even after they go home and think about it. Only when you achieve this will you gain honour as a speaker. For this you need critical thinking which can be honed through preparation, practice and self reflection.

3. Delivery

I could rename this skill “Body Language and Vocal Variety”.  But those phrases don’t capture the true nature of these skills. Although two different skills, they work like salt and pepper in a dish – without them the speech becomes bland.

Aristotle also had a name for this – “Physics and Poetics”. While Physics dealt with the art of motion (relating to speech), Poetics deals with the art of using your voice. These are surface level definitions to help this article – but Physics and Poetics are extensive subjects the Greeks used to study.

In essence, how you use your body to convey your message is critical to excellence in public speaking.

In public speaking classes or workshops today Vocal Variety has become underrated. This might be because many don’t know how to teach it. It simply gets mentioned as an essential element, but is kept in a corner without much discussion or dissection. Compared to Vocal Variety, it’s easier to talk about Body Language because of its conspicuousness (Make Eye contact, don’t leave your hands in your pocket, use your hands, feel free to gesture, look to all parts of the audience and so on). In a sense, Body Language is “King” in Public Speaking. If the King dies, the game is over. But if Body Language is King, Vocal Variety is the queen, and the queen is the most powerful of all pieces – it can dominate the whole game without the King having to make a single move; this is why great audiobooks and podcasts work.

The combination of the two is a core skill that every public speaker must learn. 

Aristotle, who trained Alexander the Great in his oratory, would make Alexandar repeat the lines of great speakers just so that he would gain the habits of speakers who came before him.

The repetition of poems, the exaggeration of emotional dialogue in drama – is a great way to begin the practice of Physics and Poetics.

The mastery of Physics and Poetics is essential for any speaker to inspire the audience.

4. Production

There’s one ability that every artist should possess, without which he will never succeed. That is the ability to produce art regardless of the circumstances. This is the hardest competence for a speaker to learn. It’s scarier than the devil.

The devil in honing this skill rises from our ignorant desire to produce perfect content all the time 24/7 when we haven’t even learned to speak a single sentence properly. We want to reach the moon when we haven’t even passed 8th grade. None of us can reach such a consistency of high quality content unless we are divine. So we make an excuse, or give up altogether.

The speaker must know that, for every great work of art, an artist must produce 99 crappy ones. Understanding that and breaking through the daily blocker of resistance to create content is success on its own. Conquering this is the difference between a professional artist and an amature.

To achieve this you must identify the internal resistance that drags you down with self doubt, fear and procrastination. Public Speakers, also artists, face this devil daily. How many times have you put away writing a speech that you knew you needed to prepare for? How many times have you signed up for a speech and never taken the time to script it or rehearse it?

Procrastination lays in bed with you, cuddles you and kisses when you start watching that movie. It seduces you to stop thinking about the hard work you are supposed to do today because you can always do it…later. It lurks like a parasite in your ears. When the movie isn’t enough, it tells you about that porno (watch it only once, and that it) – then takes you down a rabbit hole of mindless waste of time until you end up in your deathbed with nothing to claim as your work. Your vice could be youtube, movies, drugs, alcohol, sugar, junk food, women, sex, masturbation. The devil comes in many forms.

No public speaker nor artist is immune from this. Resistance is real, it is the nemesis of greatness.  Learn how to defeat it, or be defeated by it every single day. This is the skill of production.

Now for the auxiliary skills. These are skills that aren’t essential – but the mastery of them will make you entertaining and valued beyond a doubt. Anyone in the path to mastering Public Speaking must hone these skills.

5. Humour

A funny speaker is the darling of the audience.

You can’t find many with this ability, because it’s daunting to write and execute a joke confidently. Most speakers would rather hide under the carpet than oblige to a request to be humorous. The fear is real – but it is one that must be conquered.

Like any skill, however, humour is not as hard as it seems. For a long time I thought that I’ll never be funny, that I’ll always be a serious speaker. But, the moment I was able to incorporate humour in my speeches, my serious speaking became inspirational and the emotional speeches became influential. Although I’m still in the path to mastering it myself, I’ve seen the benefit that humour brings to your speeches. It is inexplicable.

Now, when I say “make people laugh”, I mean consistently and spontaneously. Like a pro dancer performs a well rehearsed sequence – humour must dance on the surface of a speech at the right tempo, moving at the right notes.

As a speaker you must aim to dominate your audience (or as comedians put it – “Murder them!”). Whether they are Big, small, intelligent, stupid, proud, judgemental, criticising, distracted or all of that put together at the lastminute, you must still be able to dominate that audience. That is mastery. It is developed with years of practice, and years of going through experience after experience.

6. Story

Crafting a story that’s compelling is one of the most demanded skills in the 21st century. 

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but everything that prevents you from achieving your dream, everything that you chose to do instead of pursuing your dreams, comes as a story. Youtube, movies, life’s drama, pornography, you name it theres an audience for it because they tell stories. There are enterprises that make butt loads of money producing these stories – and why shouldn’t you?

Story telling, while an art, also has its guidelines – its dos and don’ts, its nuts and bolts – therefore you can learn it, practice it, apply it and develop it so that you’ll look like a natural.

7. Design

Though the last – it’s the cherry on top of the skills of a public speaker.

A speaker must understand “beauty” and should be able to produce “beauty” by design.

There are quite a few things you’ll need to design as a speaker. PowerPoint slides, booklets, flyers, content teasers, stories, vocal variety, body language. The creative use of each of the skills mentioned before needs the understanding of Design.

I did tell you that some of these skills might sound like it’s only for the talented 1%. But is creativity so esoteric? Is it something you can’t master? It may not come naturally to everyone – but then, what does? Without mastering creativity will you ever become a unique speaker or be able to carve out a name for yourself in this infinitely inundated world?

Creativity is essential to differentiate yourself. Without this skill you’ll be a me-too speaker, someone dying to get ahead without anything different to offer. Creativity is the way in which you use all the 6 skills previously mentioned, in a manner that no one else has – artistically.

These are the seven skills of a public speaker. An equal mastery of all will make you a great of greats.

The hardest skill of them all

Out of all of these skills, the most difficult to master is the skill of production.

The resistance to produce comes in many forms – it can come in lethargy, laziness, or it can come in the form of ego which makes you think that you are better than this. It is easy for us to get lost in the thoughts of fear that prevent us to take steps – but your greatest calling lies where your greatest feeling of resistance is.

You must do what your mind says you are afraid of or uncomfortable doing. You will know your calling when your actions are resisted. The inner critic will get louder than ever. You will know that you’re thinking of your greatest calling when you immediately try to postpone doing it. That is the enemy trying to take you down and prevent you from becoming the person you are meant to be. Don’t succumb to it. It makes you resentful and depressed. If there is a reason more and more people are depressed in the world, it’s because the world is churning out more and more reasonable excuses to procrastinate our dreams. In effect we are selling our souls in return for back row seats. What you need is front row seats – and for that you must defeat resistance that’s trying to give you a bad deal.

The seven skills of a public speaker must come together to reach excellence.

I’ve seen great speakers with creativity, producing content that you’d have never imagined – but they get no traction because they weren’t able to master the skill of production. They stop before they take off. I’ve also seen speakers with unlimited amounts of stories that can last a lifetime – but are not able to put it into beautiful rhetoric or speak with a powerful voice so that the world can hear them. There are speakers who are out there, struggling to get ahead because they are weak in one or two of these skills. And just one is enough to leave you at “Average”. This is why your regiment of development must focus on these seven holistically. There’s no way around it. You must aim daily for their development.

The need for courage

You must also understand that it takes guts to achieve something phenomenal. In the process of mastering your craft, or pursuing your goals, you’ll have your enemy visit you on a daily basis at a constant frequency. Your enemy does not rest. He does not give up. So, you cannot rest, you cannot give up.

Remember that your maturity grows every time you face your enemy and go against what he tempts you to do. You have the choice to listen to the enemy and party or to be at home and work. You are meant for great things. Keep that in mind. Don’t let the worst thing happening to humanity get to you – unlimited distractions. Be the dreamer who makes it their advantage. Because those with courage, those with great will, those who dare to tussle with the enemy and get their work done will be much more prosperous than everyone else.

Infographic Image Credits on Unsplash

7 thoughts on “7 skills of a public speaker

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