How to be a better speaker, so you can become a thought leader

be a better speaker

Want to be a better speaker?

If you do, read on please.

A weird thing has started happening to me. I might be at an art fair, or walking my dog in the street in my suburb or attending a play, and a stranger will come up to me and say,

“Are you Tiffany Markman? I was at your talk, on your webinar, part of a training course…”

Here’s the thing: I’m an actor’s wife. More than that, I’m a soapie actor’s wife. So I’m not usually the one who gets recognised in public. I’m the taker of photos while my husband poses with car guards, petrol attendants, waiters, and the entire bakery staff of Spar shops in small towns.

When my husband-the-actor wants to irritate me, he tells me I’m becoming an “influencer”.

I hate the word “influencer”.

It used to be a nice word, but now it’s a terrible one. (On Instagram an “influencer” is often someone who sells over-priced essential oils, unrealistic lifestyles and poor parenting advice.) However, if having impact via thought leadership is among your goals, you might seriously consider developing your speaking skills and building your speaking repertoire.

Yup, it may be time to work towards being a better speaker.

Become a better speaker – Here’s why

1. There’s a wonderful power dynamic when you have the mic and everyone else is listening to you. It really sets you up as an expert.

2. You can showcase your value. Showing is more effective than telling. If I stand up and give a 1-hour talk on creative content ideation, isn’t that more compelling than sending you a brochure on why you should use me for ideas?

3. You can reach and touch more people in less time. I’ve always been a frequent contributor to digital media, radio, podcasts and TV, but the need to reach bigger audiences with more insights more quickly led me to public speaking in 2010 and professional big-stage talks since 2021.

4. Speaking provides superb ammo for content marketing. Talks get photographed and videoed and mentioned on social media. You write the thing, sometimes you create slides for it and it is often recorded. This means there is a LOT of juice to squeeze out of one set of insights.

So that was why speaking is potentially valuable for would-be thought leaders. Now let’s look at how to boost the skills you have.

Become a better speaker – Here’s how:

1. Remember: You are the expert

Some people enjoy speaking more than others. Extroverts are more likely to have confidence, but their love of speaking does not guarantee that they will be interesting or make sense. Introverts tend to avoid attention, preferring to research, study and write. But once they become experts, audiences like to hear from them, because they have interesting things to say.

Either way, your audience wants your personal perspective and your particular advice, not a report, so you must offer a distinctive point of view. That’s what will engage people.

2. Deliver a benefit, direct or indirect

Speaking is about delivering a message of value that your audience can take away and use, pretty much immediately. This is not always a benefit they will enjoy directly. It could be something of value to their families or friends, to the community, or even to future generations.

Ask yourself this: If I were going to listen to this talk, what would I like to hear? One of the first things better speakers do is consider the needs of the audience and tailor each presentation.

3. 1 key message + 1 main theme

I have seen some truly bad speakers in my life – some of them on big, prestigious, even international stages. And the most common obstacle to a good speech? The speaker hasn’t chosen one single key message, but tried to share a whole encyclopedia.

Think about memorable speeches you’ve seen or heard. What do you recall? What did you tell other people? Chances are, you summarised it into one sentence. Work to express your one single key message in no more than 20 words. Concentrate on communicating only that nugget, with ‘proof’, and repeat it at the start, during, and at the end of your talk.

Then, the best way to make a speech memorable is to have a single main theme to which you return. All of the great speeches in history – like “I have a dream” and “We shall fight them on the beaches” and “Yes, we can!” – had a theme. Themes close the loop for your audience.

4. Rehearse (x3), record (x1), review

I never really rehearsed my speeches before 2021, because I (told myself I) was afraid to “over-rehearse”. That’s hilarious. But my speaking mentor, Paul du Toit, has since taught me this:

“The newer the presentation is for you, the more important it is to prepare adequately. A presenter might feel that once she is familiar with her presentation, she no longer needs to prepare. This is a mistake, because every audience is different. By customising each presentation according to your expected audience, you increase your chances of a warm reception and a successful outcome.”

Paul also advises that a better speaker always, always, always learn and stick to their opening and closing lines: “The only sin worse than a mumbled opening is a fumbled, indecisive close.”

So here’s an idea. Watch my next talk (email me to find out the details, if you’re keen). You can crit me on all of the above and, if I practise what I’ve preached, you can come up to me in public some day, in front of my husband-the-actor, and say…

“Are you Tiffany Markman? I was at your talk…” and then you can wait for my husband to look at me, smile and say something snarky about me being an influencer. Blerg.

Better speakers, unite!