July 7, 2020

Ten ways to become a better speaker

This past week, I was grateful for the opportunity to be asked to be the keynote speaker as a former member of my Toastmaster club. The topic was extremely important – I would have the undivided attention of the club for 10 minutes – so I landed on the 5 x 5 rule by James Altucher. I have spoken about the 5 x 5 rule before but it is this:

  • You are the average of the 5 people that you associate with the most
  • You are the average of the 5 habits that you do the most
  • You are the average of the 5 foods that you eat the most
  • You are the average of the 5 ideas that you think about the most
  • You are the average of the 5 information sources that you consume the most

I decided to share these rules and to drop in parts of my life when I had first moved to where I am today, 10 years ago.

The point is this – as I was practicing, I wanted to make sure that my message and the topic resonated as much as possible with the audience. Here are the things that helped make my speech a success with the audience:

Communicate with the intent to help

Today, I was at the sauna and I watched an older gentleman helping an older lady with some paddles in the water. The old lady only spoke Chinese it looked like, while the older gentleman did not speak at all. Is it possible to communicate without having a common language? Why yes it is – as I had witnessed with the older gentleman who showed her through basic movements and hand gestures how to use the paddle boards. I thought this was funny given that every single day, we have people that speak the same language but manage to communicate but not understand each other at all. If you seek to help others, then you’re going to do your best to understand and be understood.

Remove jargon

In my speech, I talked about the big 4 (as I work for one of the big 4 accounting firms) but as I thought about it some more, not many people know who or what the big 4 are. Despite being a global organization, unless you work or have interacted with a big 4 firm, you probably have no idea what those companies do. I decided to call the company a global organization instead. In this case, one of the ways you can remove jargon is to practice with someone close to you – your friend or partner and see what questions they have around the language you use.

Make it easy for the audience

As I practiced my speech, I made it as easy as possible for the audience to follow along and understand what I was talking about. I didn’t introduce great leaps in logic. I didn’t introduce complex topics that you had to have a PhD to understand. If you are introducing something that an average person might not understand, give them enough information to follow along. Outline the steps: one,… two,…, three,… If you anticipate confusion or questions, address them as you speak.

Make them laugh

Laughter is universal. I have always heard that if you can make someone learn something, they might remember you but if you can make them laugh, they won’t forget you. I like to introduce laughter and jokes in threes – it’s an easy structure to use and follow. Essentially, I ‘set up’ the joke by introducing something – one speech I was introducing the different nuts that I loved. I talked about my love for peanuts, walnuts and doughnuts. I throw in a surprise at the very end, which catches the audience off guard and surprises them in a good way. I’ll often do this with other things as well – maybe I’ll talk about my three most memorable experiences traveling – the first will be serious, the second will be serious, and the third will be light-hearted.

Keep it short

One of the big reasons that I practiced (and I practiced a lot) is because I tend to speak and ramble on way past my time limit. Many individuals that I see coming into Toastmasters often have a problem of not speaking enough (because they are shy or have no idea what to say). It’s an inside joke in Toastmasters that DTMs (or Distinguished Toastmasters) – those that have achieved the highest designation within Toastmasters – actually stands for Don’t Time Me. These are accomplished and practiced speakers, and the problem they have is that they speak too much. I practice to get my speech down to the time limit I need to, otherwise I’ll go way past the time. This often means I have to cut out huge sections or to place some material into the speaker introduction so that I can still have a good speech.

Share your story

No matter what kind of person you are, you have most likely had some sort of hardship in life. Tell those stories of when you were a kid and failing in school. Tell those stories of when you were broke and trying to get your business off the ground. Tell those stories of failed marriages and breakups with friends. What did you learn from these situations? The speaker isn’t perfect and I’m certainly not perfect either, but I see that sometimes speakers talk about things that envision an ideal scenario or imagine that everyone in the audience has incredible willpower and discipline.

All advice is autobiographical

This is something that I learned from James Altucher – and another reason to share your story – all advice is autobiographical. Think about any of the advice that you’ve given to friends or coworkers – these are things that either have happened to you or you have experienced and so you have filtered out a lot of other advice that may have originally been a part of it. For example, I’ll ask my friends about diets and weight loss and I’ll get hundreds of different tips and tricks from keto, slow carb, atkins, not eating dinner, not eating breakfast, having a smoothie for breakfast, and much much more. Will a particular diet work for you? Probably. What are the chances that the same diet that will work for you, has worked for one of your friends or coworkers? No idea but definitely not 100%. So don’t treat it as such. When I share advice for the audience, I share my own experience with it or I share something that will benefit the audience no matter who they are or what their background is.

Dress well

This is a strange tip, I know, to include as part of becoming a better communicator but based on my experience (remember, all advice is autobiographical), I find that the audience is more receptive to speakers when they are dressed well and professional. I’m sure it depends on the situation as well but I can only think of a couple situations where not dressing up is a better option. Dressing well gives you a good first impression for those that don’t know you. Dressing well gives you a sense of confidence and authority. Dressing well means that you’re not worried about how others are dressed (for example, if you come to a gala party dressed in jeans and a t-shirt while everyone is in tuxes, you will look severely out of place as a speaker). Another good tip – practice in the clothing that you will speak in. This is to ensure that you fit into the clothing and that as you move around or dance as part of your speech, that you can actually do those things during the speech (and not rip your pants or be constricted otherwise).

Understand the audience as much as possible

Before writing any speech or communicating to anyone, you should try to understand them as much as possible. What are their backgrounds? Experiences? Where do they work? What common goals would the audience have? What is the audience interested in hearing? It could be a goal to improve themselves. It could be thinking about new year’s resolutions (i.e., time of year). It could be a certain occasion. All of this information will help you to craft a speech that helps resonate with the audience.

Smile a lot

One of the best advice that I’ve gotten as a speaker is to smile a lot. I smile before every speech. I smile during my speech. I smile after my speech. Why smile so much? It helps to calm myself (the speaker), but it helps to instill a sense of warmth and friendliness in the audience which make them more receptive to my speech (especially if I mess up) but also to jokes or other entertaining stories. When the audience smiles back (and they will if you are smiling a lot), then you also feel like you are welcome as a speaker and that your speech is hitting home – the audience is engaged, they are listening and they want you to succeed.


What advice do you have to be a better speaker? Better communicator? What would you add?

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