10 Critical Success Factors for the Public Speaker

Strategies for being an effective public speaker any place, any time.

Image source iStockphoto

Public speaking is often framed as a skill where success is talked about in terms of tips, tricks, and secrets. But this can become overwhelming and you may find yourself asking, “Which tips should I focus on?” or “Do these tricks work in every setting?” It may be more beneficial to reframe this.

What if we imagined ourselves as public speakers who adopt strategies — or critical success factors — that are essential to our goal: being an effective public speaker any place, any time. If the focus shifts from public speaking as a skill to viewing ourselves as public speakers, we strategize for success differently. Suddenly the question changes to, “What strategies work every time?”

10 Critical Success Factors for the Public Speaker

The term “critical success factor” is used in strategic planning and originated in 1961 when D. Ronald Daniel wrote about it in the Harvard Business Review. Daniel described critical success factors as key areas, not metrics, that are crucial to businesses experiencing success in the marketplace and achieving their goals.

In this case, we will understand critical success factors as key strategic areas to practice that make a public speaker effective. Together, these 10 factors will lead to a speaker’s success regardless of place and time.

In this case, we will understand critical success factors as key strategic areas to practice that make a public speaker effective.

1. Audience-centeredness

Keep the audience in mind from beginning to end. The audience should impact the topic you choose, the goal of your message, your supporting materials, and how you deliver your speech. Above all, make it clear why what you are saying should be important to them and relevant to their lives.

2. Message-centeredness

Make your message the center of your attention. Focus on the value of your message and the impact it could have. The best way to manage nerves is to stop making it about you — defuse those thoughts that wonder, “How do I look?” or “How am I doing?” Remove the pressure to prove yourself and instead, be passionate and authentic about conveying your message.

3. Organization

Give your speech a beginning, middle, and end. Create an outline and check to see if your points or ideas connect and have a clear purpose. Think of yourself as the guide that is giving directions to the audience and use order to make it easy on them to listen to you and understand.

4. Language

Choose descriptive and powerful words and avoid clichés. Stay away from overused expressions and be original. You want your speech to be fresh and exciting, not stale or familiar. Incorporate metaphors, similes, parallelism, repetition, or alliteration to add emotion through your use of language.

5. Storytelling

Tell at least one story — about you or someone else. Stories have the power to build trust, break down barriers, plant ideas or emotions, and have been called “data with a soul.” We all love a good story. We love it even more when the speaker takes us on a momentary journey with descriptive and rich language. Make it personal, and utilize the story as a springboard to emphasize your main point.

6. Visual Aids

Provide your audience with a visual message. By communicating your message visually in addition to verbally, you will gain interest, leave an impression, and allow audience members to better grasp and retain your message. Get creative and stop leaning entirely on PowerPoints or Google Slides. Think of objects, models, photographs, charts, short video clips, or a physical demonstration.

7. Rehearsals

Rehearse even if it feels tedious. If you are experienced, rehearse in a 3 to 1 ratio, if you are a beginner, rehearse, rehearse, rehearse. Persons who speak for a living need only practice three times the number of minutes of their speech, as in a 30-minute speech means 90-minutes of practicing. The majority of persons should rehearse their speech out loud with visuals several times over. It is in fact true that practice makes perfect, however, very few people put in enough practice to experience this.

8. Delivery

Express your ideas, engage your audience, and establish confidence with a strong body and voice. Begin by reviewing that what you plan to say is clear and easy to understand. Next, move on to how you will say it in an interesting way. Finally, concentrate on how to use your body posture and movement, as well as your voice, to appear competent and passionate. Play around with volume, pauses, vocal variety, and the rate of your speech to sound compelling.

9. Persuasion

Think of persuasion as encouraging a small movement in opinion and action rather than a giant leap. As a persuasive speaker, you are inviting the audience to consider an idea and a subsequent call to action. Give your listeners the tools to put things together in their own minds by showcasing your credibility, appealing to their emotions, and involving their intellect with data or proof. Persuasion is a delicate art, but its approach dates back 2,000 years and remains effective.

10. Roots

Ground yourself with support and fuel your passion. Amanda Hennessey gave some great advice in her book when she instructed public speakers to “Think Like a Tree.” Her insight strikes at something most speakers forget — that they need encouragement and support and that their confidence grows as their passion grows. Persons who surround themselves with others who sit and listen to the rehearsals, provide feedback, and clap loudly after the presentation stay encouraged to keep speaking. In addition, persons who feed on research and conversations surrounding their message of choice are reminded over and over again of why they choose to face their fears and speak in public.

I write on professional and interpersonal communication to inform how to relate to one another. My Master’s degree is in Rhetoric & Philosophy of Communication.

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