How can I improve my oratory skills? Practical Tips
Outstanding oratory skills will transform your life drastically, and I have absolutely no doubt about it.
Do you think so too?
I guess you do. Good!
So let’s talk about why you came to my little corner of the internet.
I want to presume you are here because you want to improve your oratory skills. Perhaps, your oratory skills is currently nothing more than mediocre. I guess what am trying to say is that you suck at oratory, you know it and want to improve.
Over the next not so few minutes, am going to share with you practical insights/tips on how to improve your oratory skills.
Tips to Improve your Oratory Skills
There are so many tips on how to improve one’s oratorical skill out there. But most of them are common, they are something any Dick and Harry would know.
Examples of these common tips:
- Practice, Practice and Practice
- Grow Confidence
- Know your audience
I hate common tips, maybe everybody does. Therefore, I want to give you something worthwhile. Something you may not already know.
Something born from years of experience and research.
1. Create a Favourable Atmosphere
You might have never heard about this before. And you are probably wondering “what does creating a favourable atmosphere mean”. So hold on and let me walk you through it.
The primary aim of every oratorical speech is to persuade right?
And for you to be successful at that you need to make your speech work for persuasion. I tell you this;
Everything that works, works under a favourable atmosphere.
By atmosphere, I literally mean “favourable conditions”.
Have you or someone you know being in a situation where your flight is cancelled (delayed) due to bad weather conditions? If yes, then you ought to know that planes don’t just fly, there fly under favourable conditions. And so does oration.
Conditions matter, the atmosphere you are speaking in matters.
What is this Atmosphere?
Imagine you want to deliver an oratory speech were you aim to persuade your audience that they can be millionaires in one year.
And it happens that majority of the audience are people who don’t think they can be millionaires ever in their lifetime. Let alone in one year. Plus, they think being a millionaire is bad, they don’t want to be one.
As if that is not enough, the economy at that point is fast falling. In addition, a recent statistics showed that it would be extremely difficult for people to be millionaires.
This is the atmosphere:
- You are going to speak about something that majority of the audience are not interested in.
- The audience hold opposing view against your speech concept.
- The obvious odds are not in your favor.
Under this atmosphere, it’s going to be really difficult to persuade the audience. Pretty much like a comedian trying to make people laugh during a funeral.
So what do you do?
Your guess is as good as mine. Create a favourable atmosphere.
Instead of beginning with how they can be millionaires in one year. Start by showing (not telling) them that being a millionaire is a good thing and it’s achievable in one year.
Then you also show (again not tell) it is possible be millionaires despite the odds. Before you can finally tell them “How to be a millionaire in one year”.
By creating a favourable atmosphere, you are;
- Getting your audience interested in what you have to say
- You are showing them they need it
- And you are showing a way to practical beat the odds
2. Aim for Majority not Totality
When I was new in oratory, on one occasion after giving a speech; feedbacks just doesn’t appear. A situation where I got no claps, no feedback at all.
It sometimes felt like nobody listened, not to talk of being persuaded. This hurt my feelings. Because I prepared my speech with the mindset that the audience were going to be moved. But that was rarely the case.
As I became more experienced I have come to know that orators feed on minor victories. It is this minor victories that leads them to major victories.
Nobody can truly persuade everybody. Check out my list of the Greatest Orators of All Time. And tell me which one of them manages to persuade everybody. The answer is simply; Zero of them.
No matter how good an orator you are, you can’t persuade everybody. So don’t even stress yourself on that.
What you should concentrate on is how you are going to persuade the gross majority. And notable in some case you don’t even need to persuade the majority. Sometimes just few percentage is enough.
3. Use the Element of Unpredictability
There are some speeches that by listening to their introduction, one can tell it all. These kind of easily predicted speech are rarely interesting.
And when speeches are not interesting, they become boring. And I bet, as an orator you don’t want your speeches to be boring.
So how do you make your speech unpredictable?
There is no one way to make a speech unpredictable. Take them by surprise. Just when they think they know exactly where you are headed with your speech, take a sharp turn.
The key have is to make your speech interesting and not easily summed up by the average minds.
4. Persuade yourself before you persuade others.
If you are not persuaded, you cannot persuade.
It’s going to be almost impossible for you to persuade people on something you are not persuaded about. Except if the audience are not exposed to the topic of discuss.
Speeches are meant to last forever. If you sell your audience something you don’t believe in, they are going to find out eventually.
Maybe not immediately, perhaps it may take them (or people after them) years to know this. And when this happens all your work as an orator is done.
Therefore, I urge you live by this code “persuade yourself before you attempt to persuade others”. If you cannot persuade yourself on something, it’s worthless trying to persuade people on same.
Watch Martin Luther King Jnr’s ‘I have a dream’ speech. You will feel and see that he truly believes in what he is saying. He truly believes that one day people “will not be judged by the color of their skins, but by the content of their hearts”.
Be the same.
5. Sell your Personality
Many experts on public speaking would tell you that you speech should be ‘all’ about your audience.
Blindly, I have also preached this concept. And till now, I believe your speech should be somewhat about your audience.
But, think of this; when you are delivering a speech;
Who are your audience listening to?
Who are they seeing on the stage?
You! All you.
I have been in an audience and listened to people delivering speeches. And consciously, whether or not the speaker is trying to make her speech about me, am always looking at her.
Consciously am trying to analyze the speaker’s personality, right there during her speech.
Who is this person?
What’s giving her the confidence to think she can persuade me on her view (or idea)?
Every audience does their own version of this. Not just me.
Before they start listening to you (not hearing you), they always try to define the speakers credibility. Often times based on the personality of the speaker presented before them on stage (maybe, except celebrity speakers).
Sell them the right (true) personality. Sell yourself first to them, before you attempt to sell your message.
If your audience buy ‘you’, they would listen to your speech. But when they don’t buy you because you probably fail to sell yourself, they simply won’t listen to you.
And if they don’t listen to you, honestly, how are you going to persuade them?
6. Speak to the heart, not to the Head
Do you want your speech to be powerful?
Do you desire your speech to resonate?
And most importantly, do you want your speech to be remembered?
Then speak to the heart.
Messages sent to the head, just don’t stick. When you speak to people’s heart, you get them emotionally involved.
And your message becomes sticky.
Your message is going to be powerful, resonating, and well-remembered if it’s sent to people’s heart.
And do you know the best way to speak to the heart?
You don’t? Guess …
The Best way to speak to the heart is to speak from the heart.
Whatever topic you are speaking about. Whatever message you are passing. If you want it to resonate, be powerful and remembered, then, open up your heart, speak from it.
7. Be a Seed Planter
If you really want to excel in oratory. Then rethink your approach to it, if you haven’t.
See yourself as a seed planter. Where your message is the seed and your audience the ground.
Your responsibility is to plant the seed under the “right conditions (atmosphere)”. Then allow it to germinate by itself.
Seeds are also of different types and hence grow in different ways and rates. Some seeds grow faster, others take a lot longer.
As an orator, it’s not in you to make seed (your message) germinate. But it’s in you to plant it.
Instead of sweating on how your seed (message) germinates. Focus on the planting.
For if you plant your message rightly in the hearts (and not head) of your audience, under the right conditions, they will eventually germinate.
And also note that as some seeds take longer to grow, so does some messages.
Therefore, you may not get an immediate positive feedback while delivering certain speeches. But as long as you plant your message rightly, it will eventually germinate and grow.
8. Don’t be Afraid to Step on Toes
Every art of persuasion is a ‘me’ (or mine) against ‘them’ (it) ploy; like it or not. Every view or person will always have an opposition except, maybe they don’t take sides. And crazy as it maybe, even neutrals have oppositions.
Think about just any message you want to pass across. And tell yourself the lie that it doesn’t have oppositions, if you can.
Even ideas with reason amount of scientific facts like Global Warming (or climate change) have oppositions in strong numbers. With all the evidence that supports it, people still made strong opposing views (ideas). Don’t know what am talking about, ask Pres. Donald Trump or Dan Pena.
No matter how neutral, how universal your message maybe, as an orator expect opposing views (ideas). And when you are expecting opposition, don’t play safe. Or play the ‘mister nice guy’, too afraid to step on toes. Else you are going to persuade NOBODY.
Do you want to make a difference, be OutStanding?
Speak strong on whatever your message is about?
And don’t be afraid to take sides and step on toes. Oratory is built on stepping on toes (in a respectful manner).
9. Speak in your Strengthzone and Target Weakspots
I have taken time to study Great Orators and try to identify key things that made their speeches great. One of the key things I learnt is that they always speak from an area of strength.
They always speak on things they know too well. Things they can relate with; that’s speaking in their Strengthzone.
Imagine what it would be like if someone who knows nothing about fashion is trying to persuade you on what clothes to wear for an occasion. You do be like “Come on, get lost”.
This is exactly the kind of response audiences give to orators who speak about things they know nothing or little about. Orators who speak from a weakzone.
The other thing that is intertwined with speaking from an area of strength; is the targeting of weakzones.
Your role as an orator is to change or consolidate people’s view (or stance). And you need to understand that before your speech, your audience already have a view (or stance) that many differ from the one you present in your speech.
Your audience are already settled in say, Washington, and you want them to relocate to New York. In other to achieve this you sure do need to give them reasons to relocate.
You need to identify DC’s areas of weakness in comparison to NY and hammer the nail right there. That’s what Great Orators do. They target weak zones and speak from an area of strength.
10. Stories Good, Personal Stories Great
I think this one explains itself and I believe you get the picture. But for the love of oratory, I will break it down a bit.
We all have heard that stories work magic in public speeches. And for decades now storytelling in speeches produces oratorical magic.
But not all stories go down well. Not all stories live to the magical hype.
If you want to use stories for your oratorical speech, be sure to get the most of your storytelling.
Use Real Stories!
Tell Your Story!!
Tell Personal Stories!!!
In so doing you will truly experience and pass the oratorical magic to your audience. Stories matter, your story even more.
11. Don’t Insult your audience
Often times I have observed some speakers speak in a manner that downgrades their audience, so to say. Whether they do so consciously or unconsciously is a question for another day. The resulting effect of such speech is as expected: bad and undesirable.
Nobody likes to be insulted whether directly or indirectly.
No matter how knowledgeable, leftist or convicted you are about a subject of discuss, learn to respect other people’s position. Whether they stand for you or against you; respect your audience.
Speak to your audience, the way you would love to be spoken to. You don’t have to agree to respect.
Respect they say is reciprocal. If you respect your audience, irrespective of your positions, they will respect you.
12. Don’t force you point down their Throat
Years back I found it difficult to comprehend why some people would just not be persuaded. No matter how sound my oration was.
As an orator (even as a human being) you have to live with the fact that some people will always refuse to be persuaded.
Look around, tell me who do you think are the greatest orators of all time?
Did everybody always agree with them?
They have to live with the fact that some people are always not going to be persuaded. No matter how well-crafted their speech was.
This situations are prevalent in every speech you give. And I see a lot of orators react ugly to this trend. They cross the line of respect, and they try to force their point down people’s throat.
These orators are some of what I call ‘the ugly orators’ we know today. They do be like “you must agree, you must be persuaded”. And I too might have been one.
13. Provide Answers in Advance
Goodluck Henry Emeka
They say don’t work hard, work smart. I say, don’t speak hard, speak smart.
Before you walk to the stage always have it on the doorstep of your speech preparation that your audience have questions.
Whatever you are going to be speaking about, people will always have questions about it or related to it. And even during your speech, more questions may likely unfold.
Don’t get off that stage leaving your audience frustrated and unsatisfied. Because you failed to answer their major questions.
Therefore, if you want to give your audience what I term a good ‘listener’s experience’, then answer their questions.
It’s your responsibility to figure out the major questions your audience might have. And try to answer those questions in your speech.
By doing so, you will not only improve the quality of the listeners’ experience but also your oratorical skill will giant-ly improve.
14. Arrogance May Work Temporarily But Modesty Lasts
A lot of us orators are ego beings. And we should have ego and pride. And it’s only normal too that our ego & pride reflect in our speeches. But that moment when ego & pride becomes arrogance, the oratorical air is polluted.
I have observed people speak arrogantly to an audience they want to persuade. Which I think is awful. I confess to be equally guilty of this.
One time, I got so carried away in my oration that I didn’t see the line between pride & arrogance. And I crossed it not knowing but my audience might have known. They might have been irritated.
When I watched a video replay of that speech, I said ‘that’s awful’. It was ugly.
I was ashamed of myself. And since that speech, I learnt modesty, in spite of my pride & ego. This changed & transformed my skill in oratory more than anything.
I learnt to be even more self-controlled. To constantly look at myself in a mental mirror when I speak. No matter how passionate and carried away I get, I try not to cross that line between pride and arrogance. And you should do same.
Note: Pride don’t go before a fall, Arrogance is what goes before a fall.
Things I learnt from Great Orators
1. Don’t Just Tell Stories, Tell Stories that Resonate with the audience:
Great orators don’t tell just any story, they tell the audience her story. When I listened to speeches from great orators and they tell stories, I feel so connected to their stories. Because it’s more like they are telling my story. If there is one lesson to learn from great orators, it would be that an orator should not just use a story to prove or explain a point. He should also use it to tell the audience that “this speech is about you” by mirroring the ‘audience story’ in the story they tell.
2. Mean what you say:
Great orators mean business, are serious about what they are saying. They don’t just say ‘I have a dream’ to entice their audience. They truly have a dream. Genuine Oratory is not show business.
3. They address their audience’s care, fear and hope:
Great orators talk about what her audience care about, they confront their fears and evoke hope, give reason for hope or strengthen their audience hold on hope. They are simply all for their audience. There is little or no ‘self’ in their speeches. It’s never about them, it’s always about their audience. Orators should be highly selfless, they should be audience first and almost audience only.
Great orators are not puppets, they are self-willed. There is this constant air of ‘I am in charge’ and confidence when they speak; it’s fascinating. But more fascinating is their humility. You get to hear them speak with authority and yet humbled; that’s what I call ‘humbled authority’
They speak from their heart: They open up themselves before their audience, making them vulnerable. This vulnerability make them strong. Like the saying ‘give and it shall be given unto you’.
They pour their hearts before their audience and in return they are loved by their audience. Ever wondered why great orators are loved? This is why. They open up and speak straight from their heart.
5. They Act:
“What goes on in between speeches is important for greatness in oratory”Goodluck Henry Emeka
Who do you fancy as a great orator? Can you remember two or three speeches they gave? I think you can. You know why I think so? You don’t, I guess. Great orators are not considered great because of one great speech they gave but for series of speeches. The things they do in between one speech and another is part of what makes them great.
Think of it like a police commissioner that gave a speech urging residents to remain calm in the face of terrorist attack. Promising that he and the entire police department would stop the terrorist and bring them to justice. They then went ahead to bring down the terrorist. After which, the police commissioner gave another speech, a ‘yes we did it’ speech. And then everybody goes clapping celebrating the PC.
Great orators don’t just speak they act. Winston Churchill, J. F. Kennedy and King Jnr. for instance, when you tell how great an orator they were, people will also see their actions aligned with their speeches.
6. They are Responsible for their Audience:
Great orators carry on their shoulders the weight of responsibility. They feel responsible for their audience. That explain pretty much why they do what they do. As a child, there were personal stories my father would tell me, that he would probably not tell just anybody. Stories he used to admonish me. He told me those stories because he felt that he was responsible for me. This is one of the reasons why orators tell stories that are considered personal and private to their audience. Because, they feel responsible for them. Little more like Winfrey telling stories of how she was molested as a child. Great orators feel responsible for their audience and they take responsibility for them.
Also Read: How to Prepare for an Outstanding Speech
7. They live under the same sun as their audience:
One of the reason why King Jnr. was great as an orator for the civil rights movements that most people overlook; is that King Jnr. was black. A black man speaking for a black civil right movement: a combination for greatness. Or take Churchill a Britain facing the same fate as people of the UK during World War II. Great orators share a lot in common with their audience, they most likely face the same challenges as their audience. As Churchill and King Jnr. face the same challenge as their audience, so did Gandhi, Mandela, and Abraham Lincoln. They lived under the same sun as their audience.
8. Past, Present & Future:
One of the things I love about great orators is their understanding of the history around what they speak about. They speak about today through yesterday and they proffer a future built on today. The greats of oratory are rooted in histories, live in todays and hoped for tomorrow. This I think plays a role in connecting them with many generations and even in today (the future of their yesterday) most of their speeches still resonates with us.
9. There is always an enemy:
Great orators live a story. That I believe is a major reason why you can tell a story about them. Every great story has a conflict, without which nothing great is built. “A story without an ‘antagonistic theme’ is a story with ‘no conflict’. Conflict drives plot. Without plot you cannot have a character study. Without conflict, the character has no reasons to change, grow, or develop. So there’s not much to study. What in heaven’s name could you write about without any conflict occurring?” Anonymous. For great orators there is always a conflict, something to fight against. A problem, a challenge, or an antagonist. The bottle line is the ‘us against them or it” mentality is a major part of great orators greatness.
All these tips are going to help improve your oratory skills only when you apply them on a consistent basis. If you use them today and tomorrow you don’t, you are likely not going to notice any substantial improvement. Consistency is King.
Do you know?
I have been using this tips personally and up till now and even in the nearest future, I don’t see myself mastering them 100%. I keep trying to improve on each individual tip.
There should always be room for improvement, if you want to excel in oratory. Little tweaks here and there can be what will make you stand out.
Therefore, always seek to improve.
If you have read all these tips from A-Z, you have demonstrated a rare willingness to improve. I see you going places in oratory. Keep seeking improvement.
- The Art of Public Speaking (12th Ed.), by Stephen E. Lucas. Buy from Amazon