One of the issues I see quite often with new public speakers isn’t that the “public” aspect of it is bothering them. It’s usually a lack of well-developed communication skills in general.
Communication is just like a muscle. You have to push it further and consistently work it if you want your ability to use it to grow in new and exciting ways. In a world where the internet dominates communication, a lot of people aren’t working their communication “muscles”.
Luckily, improving your ability to communicate effectively isn’t impossible (or even very hard). You just need to exercise your abilities a bit and make a conscious effort to improve.
Here are 25 tips and strategies on how to improve your communication skills and improve not only as a public speaker but in everyday life, as well.
1: Practice Active Listening
Many people listen to conversations passively. They hear what the other person is saying, and they might even be attentive, but they’re not breaking it down internally and truly engaging with it.
The first step to improving your communication skills is to learn how to correct that. A few ways to do that are
The more of you listen actively, the better the conversation will be.
2: Don’t Assume
Assuming that your audience, whether it’s your partner or a live audience of 1,000, feels a certain way or understands what you’re saying is a mistake that’s quite easily made
Assumptions are typically good for two things: confusion and disconnection.
3: Be Aware of Your Own Emotions and Mental State
Being self-aware is key. If you’re not aware of your feelings while you’re in conversation, you can quickly spiral out of control or convey topics inappropriately.
Know yourself and acknowledge your own feelings before trying to present anything.
4: Avoid Accusatory Behavior
Again, whether you’re speaking to an individual or a crowd, sometimes you need to address hard topics. This is common in several aspects of public speaking, and it’s certainly common in personal conversations.
Avoid making accusations. No one wants to continue listening or debating with someone who is accusing them of things!
“What I think I’m hearing you say is _______________. Is that correct?”
Now, as opposed to accusing, we’re asking.
5: Be Concise
One pitfall a lot of people fall into is talking too much. Telling someone that your kid did something funny at the restaurant last night doesn’t require you to spend 10 minutes detailing the ride there. Just try to get to the point while still keeping it interesting.
The clear details count. The fluff can be cut out.
6: Find a Bridge
Silence can feel awkward at times. And while we absolutely want to learn to be comfortable in silence, sometimes we need to keep the conversation going.
In these cases, it’s important not to say things just for the sake of saying something.
When silence inevitably throws off your groove, focus on finding a bridge. Find a comment that can quickly and naturally move to the next topic.
7: Lessen Fillers
We all use filler words such as like, “um”, “uh”, “ya know”, “like”, etc It’s just part of being human.
I’m not going to be one of those people who tells you that you shouldn’t/can’t user fillers words. That’s silly. Everyone says “uh” on occasion. The goal shouldn’t be to eliminate filler words, but to lessen them.
The occasional ‘um” or “uh” doesn’t hurt a conversation. But too many of them can make the person(s) you’re communicating to want to pull their hair out.
So, at the absolute least, it’s a good idea to try to lessen filler words. The easiest way to do this is to make it so that whenever you want to say “um” or “uh”, you instead just pause and breathe in.
Pausing won’t hurt your speech. If anything, it may allow your audience time to catch up with you. More importantly, if gives your mouth and your brain a moment to get in sync.
8: Plan Ahead
Planning your speech ahead of time is crucial, and it will help with a multitude of things. You’ll find more concise ways to speak, remove filler words, and find the proper wording for complex topics. If you know you’ll be speaking, practice the speech!
9: No Fidgeting
Your body language is important. Fidgeting around, twiddling your thumbs, and other things show that you’re anxious. There’s no problem with being anxious, but it distracts from the topic and lowers your credibility with your audience. Overcoming the fear of public speaking is important if you want to look confident in front of your audience and have their attention throughout your speech.
10: Eye Contact
Even if you’re talking to a massive crowd, making eye contact is important. It helps the audience connect with you, and it establishes credibility. If you’re looking off to the side, at the ground, or reading from a script, you’ll lose the audience quickly.
Some advice out there tells you to look over the heads for the crowd to make yourself less nervous. I recommend against this because when you do that, you miss the opportunity to benefit from the connection that comes when you make eye contact.
11: Relax Your Arms
When someone crosses their arms, it can show that they’re closed off. Notice I said “can”, and now “will”. Often, crossing your arms is interpreted to mean that you’re not open to communication. And while this isn’t always true, it’s usually better to play it safe.
Make a conscious effort to relax your arms, and your body in general, while you’re speaking.
And oh yeah...
Uncrossing your arms gives you an opportunity to actually use them to help better communicate!
12: Focus on Posture
Your posture describes how confident you are. If you’re standing tall and relaxed, you exude confidence that draws the audience in. If you’re slouched, the audience will pick up on that as a lack of confidence and enthusiasm.
13: Take a Hint
In any form of communication, it’s important that you realize when the audience is telling you something without being blunt. If they’re practically asleep, they’re bored. If they suddenly get quiet with angry expressions, you might want to backtrack a bit.
The best speakers and communicators in the world are CONSTANTLY adjusting. They’re taking feedback from their audience in real time, and they’re adjusting their speaking approach based off that feedback.
Lean into what’s working… Back off from what’s not working… And don’t take anything personally (just take it as feedback).
14: Master the Active Voice
It’s easy to say things passively. It helps you detach yourself from responsibility for what you’re saying. However, you make the most impact when you use the active voice.
The difference between active voice and passive voice is this…
In the active voice, the sentence's subject performs the action on the action's target. In the passive voice, the target of the action is the main focus, and the verb acts upon the subject.
Now let’s rephrase that in English - HAHA…
Let’s say you’re telling your boss that you sent a customer invoice they asked you to take care of.
The passive voice would say “The invoice went out”. The active voice would say “I sent the invoice”.
Using active voice is, generally speaking, a more powerful way of speaking.
When you truly know a lot about a topic, you can sum it up in a few words. You don’t need paragraph after paragraph of ranting to get the idea across. Keep this in mind, because it adds to your credibility and makes you easier to listen to.
A famous quote by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry sums it up well. He says;
“Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.”
16: Use Layman’s Terms
Sometimes, big words are necessary. You can’t get around it. However, you want to try to speak in layman’s terms whenever possible. It’s easier to understand and helps you convey your point to the audience in a way they understand.
People often think that using big words makes them sound smart.
What makes you sound smart is your audience’s ability to understand what you’re saying.
17: Keep it Entertaining
Whether you’re telling a coworker a story or speaking to an audience, you want to inject a little personality into it to keep it entertaining. Dry, monotonous speeches are not going to engage anyone.
One way to do this is to take people on what I call a “vocal rollercoaster”. This means that you do things like adjust your tone, volume, and rate of speech depending on what you’re communicating.
I go over this in full detail in my public speaking training course, but in essence, you want your voice and your body to be active so that the person you’re talking to is more engaged and entertained.
18: Maintain Your Cool
If you are passionate about something, it’s easy to become a bit overzealous talking about it. You can get angry at the response given, and suddenly, your whole side of the conversation is thrown off track. It’s important to stay calm at all times to prevent going off track.
Composure is one secret to being an effective communicator.
19: Have an End Goal
Whatever it is you’re communicating for, you should have an end goal, and the entire speech should work toward achieving that.
Set that goal, and structure your speech accordingly.
When you start with the end in mind, what you’re saying ends up making a lot more sense along the way.
20: Know Your Audience (and Speak to Them Appropriately)
It’s impossible to know every aspect of a person’s personality before you speak to them. Especially crowds. However, if you want to improve your communication skills, you should have a good idea of what your target audience is generally like. Knowing this will help you build your communication method appropriately.
To piggyback off of something said earlier…
While using layman’s terms is more often than not the smarter move, the one exception to this is if you know that your audience is very high-level regarding a particular industry. Then, and only then, can you feel free to lean a little bit more into industry-specific - “fancy” - jargon.
The bottom line is that if you know your audience, then you’ll be able to more effectively communicate with them.
21: Go Off Script
Communication is fluid. If you write up a long script, practice it word-for-word, and think you’re going to get through a whole presentation without hiccups, you’re wrong.
Be prepared to go off script and get comfortable with it. Your plans should guide the way you speak; not be a rule to follow.
As I said earlier…
The best speakers and communicators in the world are CONSTANTLY adjusting their approach. They’re taking feedback from their audience in real time, and they’re changing what they do or say (i.e. going off script) based off that feedback.
If you feel/see that going off script is the right thing to do…
22: Show Enthusiasm
In your personal life, no one wants to talk to someone who doesn’t care about the topic at hand. In public speaking, no one wants to listen to someone who seems like they just barely want to show up.
Enthusiasm throughout your speech is key. If you’re not enthusiastic about the conversation, your audience won’t be either.
User your body and your voice to generate the type of enthusiasm that people can feel.
23: Manage Your Cadence
Have you ever listened to someone with a really good point, but they sounded as monotonous as a flat line on a heart rate monitor? You want to avoid that.
Speak quickly enough to get the point out in a timely manner, but not so quickly that no one can keep up. Balance is important here.
Also – adjust your cadence to match what you’re talking about. If it’s something somber or important, slow down. It it’s exciting, speed up a bit.
24: Tone is Key
In every form of communication, your tone is key.
Vocal tone refers to how you sound when you talk. Examples include:
Your tone should match the point you’re trying to get across in an appropriate manner. If you sound irritated during a lively pep talk, you won’t be hyping many people up. If you are nonchalant and devoid of emotion while discussing a difficult emotional concept, your message won’t resonate.
Carefully pick your tone of voice as the tone of the conversation shifts.
25: Ask. And Ask If You’re Being Understood
If all else fails, just ask the person(s) you’re speaking to if you’re making sense.
When I’m on stage I’ll literally ask the audience if something I said makes sense or not.
Also, when communicating 1-on-1, a great practice is to say to the other person “So what I’m hearing you say is _____”.
When you can repeat back to someone what they said (in your own words). Or, they can repeat back what you said, the level of communication and understanding skyrockets.
ONE MORE THING
I hope that you found these tips on how to improve communication skills useful. If your goal is to become the best public speaker in virtually any room you walk into, check out the world’s most complete public speaking course below.
Before You Go
If you want to know how to be the best public speaker in virtually any room you walk into, check out the world's most complete public speaking course below.