Seven Advanced Habits of Highly Effective Speakers

photo courtesy of FlickrLike it or not, marketing executives are expected to deliver great presentations. And while some marketing executives are competent public speakers, practicing the following advanced tips can take a communicator from “good to great”.

Public speaking, like any other craft takes discipline, commitment and plenty of practice. With customer presentations ranging from prepared to impromptu, it is often helpful for marketing executives to keep these skills current. And while many speakers concern themselves with “the basics”, some are interested and willing to take their skills to advanced levels.

In this vein, assembled are seven habits of advanced public speakers (undoubtedly there are more):

Know Your Audience

“Know your audience” initially seems like an obvious tip. However, too many public speakers give canned and non-customized presentations that show little to no knowledge of the audience. For example, if the presentation is for a customer, find out why the briefing was requested and specific customer needs. Think personalization. Surprisingly, a little homework goes a long way.

Storytell Whenever Possible

People love stories, and best of all, stories are memorable. Powerful presentations have stories sprinkled throughout, and case studies to help bring key topics to life. Undoubtedly you have seen presentation after presentation start with speaker introductions and an agenda slide. Why not consider starting and ending a presentation with a story instead?

A Smile and Laugh Go a Long Way

Must every customer or internal presentation be so serious? Do you have a funny anecdote that captures a key point? Presenters sometimes think, “I’m not a funny person, so I will leave humor out of the discussion.” Incorporating humor doesn’t mean one must tell jokes. The advanced presenter may incorporate a smile to start, humorous story, and/or self depreciating comment. Remember, a presentation is a performance, so have fun!

Engage the Audience Whenever Possible

Suppose your upcoming presentation is slotted for thirty minutes. Is there any heuristic that says a presentation must take twenty five minutes and leave five for Q&A? Mix it up! Why not incorporate feedback and questions throughout the presentation? Even better, allow for open ended questions (asked by the presenter) during the discussion. For larger audiences, some advanced presenters ask for a show of hands, or other polling device. Social media shows us we live in a world of “engagement.” Your presentation should take this concept into account.

Add Vocal Variety

The advanced practice of adding vocal variety is rare for most public speakers. While a speaker may have body language and content down pat, vocal variety (rate, pitch, tone, highs/lows) is often forgotten. A well-done presentation isn’t necessarily “over the top”, and to be sure vocal variety can be exaggerated. However, adding vocal variety where appropriate can alert your audience that key points are worth their attention.

Self Modulate Based on Audience Reaction

With the exception of a presentation to an audience in a dark room, most speakers can see their audience members. Don’t pass up a golden opportunity to gauge audience reaction—during the actual talk. During your delivery, notice audience reactions—are they bored, asleep, disinterested, fiddling with their smartphone, or staring into space?

Based on audience reaction, the advanced presenter changes his or her delivery and possibly content accordingly. Stop for clarification, ask your audience questions, or consider doing something to change the direction of your speech. Your presentation isn’t actually over until it’s over, so don’t be afraid to change things up before the half-way point.

Incorporate Dramatic Use of “The Pause”

Have you ever seen a speaker incorporate a long breath before delivering a key point? If so, you have witnessed “the pause”. A pause of 1-2 seconds can alert an audience that the next phrase or sentence is worth hearing. This advanced technique is extremely rare, but can effectively be incorporated to activate a key message. However, as dramatic technique, “the pause” should not be over utilized.

These are just seven habits of highly effective presenters. What other “advanced” techniques have you witnessed from your favorite speakers?



  1. Paul: this is a more important topic than many realize!

    Remember that presentations are about taking your audience to a place. Never approach a presentation with the intent of shoveling information at your audience. You want them to start at point A and all come to the conclusion of point B. Presentations, like stories, have tension and controlling ideas. They have an arc. You need to actively manage this or you’ll just bore them to death. Again.

    Good stuff! Thanks.

    Stephen Denny

  2. “It usually takes more than
    three weeks to prepare a good impromptu speech” – Mark Twain.

    The timing for this post couldn’t be better. I, along with a friend, have to present a Balanced Scorecard Strategy Map we created for an accounting firm, after a few days. After reading your post, I’ll have to prepare a short script for what I’m going to say.

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