It's the business skill people dread the most--but once you get over the initial jitters, being a good public speaker really isn't that hard.
Like most skills, you can become competent, if not great, if you're willing to put in the time for practice and planning.
Here are 30 essential skills you must have to be an amazing speaker:
1. Know your audience. Unless you already know them well, you should plan to spend time researching and understanding your audience as well as your topic.
2. Pick your topic carefully. If you're in a situation in which you have the freedom to choose your topic, make sure to consider its timeliness and relevance along with your level of knowledge and the audience's likely interest.
3. Practice makes perfect. Even in an informal setting, you want to sound polished, with everything flowing naturally. That means lots of practice. Great speakers rehearse, and they do it many, many times.
4. Stay focused. Stick to the points you've planned to make, and don't let things wander off course.
5. Treat it as a journey. Set the context, prepare the audience, and then lead them where you want them to go.
6. Catch their attention. Open the speech with something striking and catchy. It's a good time for humor. Make eye contact, and let the audience know you see them from the start.
7. Empower and energize. Your audience will follow your cue, so be passionate and energetic and empowering. If you don't feel empowered by what you're saying, you can't expect your audience to be excited.
8. Be respectful. Treat your audience with respect. Don't talk down to them or become hostile, but be respectful in all you do and say.
9. Tell a story. A good presenter is a great storyteller. Your audience doesn't want to be lectured; they want to be moved. Tell the story in such a way that people feel like they are living it.
10. Avoid acting. Speaking isn't acting! You are not there to play a role but to speak and be yourself. Artificiality creates distance between you and your audience.
11. Be (appropriately) funny. A sense of humor and the timing to deliver a funny line go far in making you a great speaker. Just be careful to think your jokes through, rehearse your delivery, and not overuse them.
12. Tune in. Modulate your voice: Change up the tone, loudness, and pace to keep your audience engaged.
13. Pay attention to your body language. You can reinforce your points and connect with the audience with your posture and gestures.
14. Don't forget to breathe. Pause before and after important ideas. Don't be afraid of the silence, which will feel much longer to you than to the audience. A pause gives people time to fully take in what you're saying.
15. Make eye contact. Don't stare, but look around the room and scan people in the audience, making brief eye contact with people in all areas of the space.
16. Use visuals wisely. Use images that support your message, but don't let them become the whole story. Never read a slide to the audience.
17. Show confidence and poise. Even if you're faking it, keep your voice confident and poised, neither nervous nor arrogant.
18. Convey character. Let your sincerity, conviction, and enthusiasm shine through.
19. Be your genuine self. Don't try to copy someone else or create a better version of yourself. Be the same person you are away from the podium.
20. Don't brag. It's fine to highlight your expertise or offer stories to connect with the audience, but humility will give you much more authority than bragging.
21. Talk from the heart. Speak to your audience as if they were your friends. Be sincere, authentic, positive.
22. Show vulnerability. Allow yourself to be human. When people can see that you're subject to mistakes and missteps, they'll connect with you more deeply.
23. Don't talk down. Keep your style conversational; speak to your audience, not at them.
24. Sound powerful. Use short, simple sentences. Don't rush, but speak slowly and clearly.
25. Leave them wanting more. Stop well before people start fidgeting and looking at their watches.
26. Close strong. Close the speech with a striking, impressive remark. Remember that a great beginning and ending are the most important elements.
27. Be accessible. Be available after you speak so people can share what is on their mind, and they'll take you and your ideas more seriously.
28. Be memorable. Being an average speaker--or even a good one--won't get you the notice you deserve. Be memorable. Do everything you can for what you say to live on in the hearts and minds of those who hear you.
29. Seek feedback. Get candid feedback from as many people as you can, both in rehearsal and after the talk itself. Then you can build on what you do well and work on your weak points.
30. Listen and learn. Pay attention to other speakers--at conferences and events, on political shows, and within your community.