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7 Ways to Improve Your Oratory Skills

November 11, 2016 - Dom Barnard

Great public speakers are not born that way; most have to practice and perfect their oratory skills. The most well-known orators are Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King and Adolf Hitler. Their speeches delivered their message in a powerful, articulate way that resonated with their audiences.

Below is a list of oratory skills that you can train yourself in, so that your speeches are more clear, confident and successful.

Grow your confidence

The most fundamental oratory skill is confidence. It can be difficult to build confidence but practicing the other 6 techniques below, you will have greater faith in your ability to present.

Some people find it useful to adopt an ‘on-stage persona’ of someone who is confident and influential, as then they can separate their speech from their natural self. They are then able to view their speech as more of a performance, and therefore act more confident.

  • Expect to be nervous
  • Prepare your speech
  • Practice in a realistic environment
  • Breathe deeply to expand vocal range
  • Rehearse out loud
  • Focus on your audience
  • Visualize success
  • Connect with your audience

Read about these tips in more detail – How to Develop Confidence Speaking and how to look confident while speaking.

The most fundamental oratory skill is confidence

The most fundamental oratory skill is confidence.

Use suitable content

The content of your speech is also important. When preparing your speech, make sure your message is suitable for your audience and stay away from acronyms and jargon words if your audience is not familiar with the topic.

Using metaphors and quotations can help bring your speech to life and keep the audience engaged. You should make sure that your speech starts and ends on the most powerful statements or the points you most want your audience to take away with them.

Know your audience

One of the most difficult but essential oratory skills is the ability to connect with your audience. This can be done through what you’re saying and your body language. Remember that your audience are just people and people connect over shared experiences or values.

You could begin your speech with an anecdote that shows your personality, which will create a positive energy in the audience and will instantly make you feel more relaxed too.

Eye contact is also essential to form a connection with the audience. Try looking at one person for 2 sentences, then another person for 2 sentences, and so on. That way, you’re making a solid connection with many members of the audience, and they’ll perceive you as confident, trustworthy and knowledgeable.

Eye contact is essential to form a connection with the audience

Eye contact is essential to form a connection with the audience.

Make use of your vocal range

Your speech will come across as boring if you speak in a monotonous tone and your audience will lose interest very quickly. The human voice is technically capable of 24 notes on a musical scale, yet most people only use 3 in their everyday conversations.

Practice your speech while going up in pitch, and then back down again. This will sound strange and, of course, you should not present in such a comical way, but it will give you an idea of how much of your vocal range you could be using.

Exercise – Extend your vocal range

  1. Warm up. Always warm up for a while before starting the actual exercise, you can do this by vocalising in the middle of your vocal range.
  2. Scales, Thirds and Fourths. All types of scales that go through your entire vocal range. Practice them as often as you can. This will gradually strengthen both your current vocal range and its boundaries.
  3. Hum. While practicing the scales mentioned before, try to hum them. This has proven to be the most effective exercise for me, especially for higher pitched notes.
  4. Push the boundaries once in a while, but not too much. You don’t want to end up with a raspy voice at the end of your practice.
  5. Try to sing. Breathe with the diaphragm and use your breath to support your singing.

Read more about improving your vocal range – How can I safely extend my vocal range?

Consider length

Ensure your speech is within a time constraint, if you are given one. If you’re not given a timeframe then it’s always better to be thorough but brief. If your speech is interrupted in some way, shorten or skip one of your messages in the middle.

If you’re talking for a long period of time, it’s important to factor in relief breaks – it’s difficult to maintain an audience’s concentration levels beyond 15 minutes anyway, let alone if they are hungry or need the bathroom.

Audience attention span over the length of a presentation

Memorise key points

Another difficult oratory skill is the ability to remember what you’re saying and still deliver a powerful speech. Great orators do not use scripts, nor do they memorise them word for word and simply recite the speech.

Your speech will be much more effective if you memorise the key message points that you want to deliver, and then speak from your heart about them, and not your head.

You should be talking about something you are passionate about, so this shouldn’t be as difficult as it sounds. The problem with memorising a script is that if you lose your place, you will stumble and panic – something the best orators don’t do.

Practice in realistic environments

Like any other skill, the best way to improve your oratory skills is to practice. You wouldn’t expect to become good at a sport without practicing it, and it’s the same with public speaking. One way of doing this, is to record yourself and listen for how you sound and watch your body language is saying.

Obama spent many hours perfecting his speeches

Obama and his team spent hours just perfecting the opening of this speech.

You want to be open, use hand movements, and make use of the stage when possible. You can also use virtual reality applications to analyse your hesitation words, pitch, pace and levels of eye contact.