Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “All great speakers were bad speakers at first” (Seldes, 2000). Emerson was right because great speakers are not born; they are made. And, no, people are not manipulated and shaped, like lumps of clay, by some mystical presence until, “voila,” they awaken one morning suddenly possessing the ability to deliver a dynamic speech. People become good public speakers by learning the skills of effective speech delivery. What’s more, these skills are not reserved for the select few. They are skills that anyone can learn.
The Characteristics of Effective Speech Delivery
According to Stephen E. Lucas, author of The Art of Public Speaking, “Good delivery does not call attention to itself. It conveys the speaker’s ideas clearly, interestingly, and without distracting the audience.” Lucas also maintains that the majority of audiences prefer listening to speakers whose method of delivery combines a measure of formality with the qualities of good conversation:
- Vocal and facial expressiveness
- Lively sense of communication
Lucas’s opinion is echoed by Rudolph F. Verderber, author of The Challenge of Effective Speaking, who says that the “final measure” of the effective of any speaker’s delivery is how well that person uses his or her vocal and nonverbal components to develop a conversational quality.” Furthermore, he says there are five components necessary for conversational quality:
- Vocal expressiveness
- Eye contact
Of course, when people are having a conversation with friends, they’re just naturally animated, and when people are animated, they’re just naturally going to demonstrate vocal and facial expressiveness, as well as a lively sense of communication. Plus, they’re going to establish eye contact with their listeners, just as they’re going to be direct, spontaneous, and fluent. So, the question is, how do speakers go about projecting these same conversational qualities when they deliver a speech? After all, they’re not sitting around and relaxing with friends but standing in front of an audience and delivering a speech.
Guidelines to Improve Public Speaking Delivery Skills
In order to improve their speech delivery, people should try to achieve a conversational tone, which is not as difficult as it sounds, not if they keep the following guidelines in mind:
- Demonstrate enthusiasm (animation). Even when the topic isn’t especially exciting or inspiring (for instance, an assigned topic), experienced speakers make every effort to convince themselves that they have something worthwhile to say and that their listeners are going to benefit from that message.
- Show vocal expressiveness. Just as they would when conversing with friends, successful speakers vary the volume, rate, and pitch of their voices, and they avoid speaking in a monotone (a voice that remains unchanged in volume, rate, or pitch).
- Display facial expressiveness. Good speakers smile, at least occasionally, and, if warranted, even frown or look sad. In other words, they aren’t afraid to show emotion. After all, no one wants to have a conversation with someone whose expression never varies.
- Exhibit spontaneity. Even though they have practiced their speeches (and they definitely have), polished speakers make their ideas sound fresh, as if they are really thinking about not only the content of their speech but also the audience’s perception of that content. A lack of spontaneity is usually the result when people memorize their speeches verbatim. Yes, good speakers practice their speeches, but they concentrate upon memorizing the “ideas” contained in those speeches, not every word. As a result, they sound conversational, not aloof and reserved.
Improve Speech Delivery by Displaying Language Fluency
In additional to showing vocal and facial expressiveness and exhibiting spontaneity, good public speakers display language fluency. They deliver speeches that are basically devoid of hesitations and other vocal interferences. In other words, although all speakers occasionally use extraneous sounds or words, for example, “ah, uh, well, okay,” and “you know,” effective public speakers make every effort to avoid them. After all, effective speakers know that when used excessively, such interferences prevent listeners from concentrating upon and even understanding the message being delivered.
Improve Speech Delivery by Establishing Eye Contact
Good speakers establish eye contact. When they look into the audience, they see individuals, not an indistinguishable mass of humanity. They also look into the faces of their listeners, shifting their gazes from one person to another person, from one group to another group, and/or from one section of the room to another section. No, they do not single out an individual, lock eyes, and stare until the person begins to fidget uncomfortably. They do, though, allow their eyes to meet those of different individuals as they slowly scan the room because they know that speakers who make eye contact with their listeners are perceived as being more honest and sincere than speakers who don’t.
In summary, even the greatest speakers in history were bad speakers in the beginning. However, by developing public-speaking skills, they eventually became powerful orators; and just as they learned these skills, so can other people, that is, if they want to learn.