The Art of Speaking  

The importance of practising public speaking

Practise public speaking

Facebook /Wade Paterson

I have a confession.

I write a lot of columns and produce a lot of video content about Toastmasters and the importance of practising public speaking, however, from January to June 2022, I only attended three of our club’s weekly meetings.

It's embarrassing to admit, but I tell you this is because I want to share my recent experience of finally going back to a Toastmasters meeting and realizing my skills had gotten rusty.

There is a section of every Toastmasters meeting called “Table Topics,” which consists of a Table Topics Master asking attendees random questions. These questions can be about anything: What is your greatest fear? What is your favourite summertime activity? If you could be any superhero, who would you be?

The goal of Table Topics is to force attendees to think quickly on their feet and speak for between one to two minutes.

After a span of several months without attending a Toastmasters meeting, I finally made it back to my club and I was asked a question during the Table Topics segment of the meeting. As I walked toward the front of the room to face the audience, my mind went blank.

For the next minute-and-a-half, I clumsily fumbled through an answer that lacked quality and conviction. The club gave me a courtesy round of applause, but I could see on their faces they were surprised by just how poor of a job I did.

So why did this happen?

What I’ve learned over the years is that public speaking is a lot like working out. I’ve met people who have said,
“I don’t need to go to Toastmasters because I attended meetings a few years ago.” In my mind, this is the equivalent of someone saying, “I don’t work out anymore because I used to exercise three years ago.”

Just as our bodies require a healthy routine of physical activity to stay in shape, our public speaking skills are strongest when exercised on a regular basis.

When you attend weekly Toastmasters meetings, the idea of standing in front of a crowd becomes less daunting because it becomes a regular part of your routine.

Even if Toastmasters isn’t a viable option for you, there are still ways you can practise public speaking. Try recording your speech on your phone and watching it back. You may notice your body is doing certain things that you didn’t even realize, such as leaning on a chair, swaying from side to side, etc.

Many of us also unknowingly add in crutch words such as “umm” or “ahh” to fill in the silence while speaking. Once we are aware of our own tendencies, we can take steps to eliminate unnecessary distractions from our speeches.

You can also practise your speech in front of a friend or family member. (Although, keep in mind, family members and friends may be hesitant to give constructive criticism to avoid the risk of hurting your feelings.)

A final piece of advice is to always have a speech on the go. Perhaps you are attending a wedding this summer or maybe you have an important upcoming office meeting. If you look hard enough, there is likely an opportunity for you to give a speech at some point in the future.

Start working on that speech now to give yourself material to practice with, and ensure that you will come across as a polished speaker when you finally get the chance to deliver your speech.

If you’re interested in learning more about Impactful Communication, subscribe to my YouTube channel.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.


How to conduct a podcast interview

Podcast interviewing

Wade Paterson

Have you ever thought about starting your own podcast or interview series?

Or perhaps you’ve been asked to moderate a panel discussion at an event or conference.

Conducting a great interview is a valuable skill to have, and in this month’s column, I break down a few important tips, which may help convince your audience that you’ve been doing professional interviews for years.

Tip 1 – Determine your format

People are drawn to many different styles of podcasts. Whether you’re aiming to create a professional, research-driven podcast, or whether you simply want to sip beers while chatting to your friends with a microphone in front of you, there’s a potential audience for all sorts of interview formats.

The reason it’s important to identify the format before getting started is so that you can prepare your guest for what he/she can expect during the interview. If it’s more on the professional side, provide your guest with a list of topics/questions you’re looking to cover. If it’s a casual Zoom call over beers, let your guest know he/she may want to crack a cold one, relax and be ready to dive into a wide array of topics depending where the conversation goes.

The more prepared the guest is, the more comfortable he/she will be, which usually results in a higher quality piece of content.

Tip 2 – Research your guest

Whether your podcast is serious and formal or laid back and casual, it’s still important to take the time to research your guest.

I’ve seen way too many podcasts and conference panel discussions where the host doesn’t seem to know anything about the interviewee. If you haven’t done your homework, your guest may find this insulting and your audience may not enjoy the content as much as they would have if you had come prepared.

I host a couple of different podcasts, and for both, I like to read a bio of the guest as an introduction before we jump into the conversation. I challenge myself to write a bio goes beyond low-hanging fruit and can’t easily be found online. This acts as an early signal to your guest that you have done your homework and you are ready for the interview.

Many podcast hosts skip this step and the first question they ask is: “Can you please introduce yourself and talk about your background?” In my opinion, this is lazy and a sign of a host who has not prepared for the conversation.

Tip 3 – Come with lots of questions

When it comes to the total number of questions you should have prepared for an interview, too many is always better than having too few.

While studying journalism in my second year of college, I was on a practicum placement at a small town newspaper. For an assignment, I was asked to conduct an interview with a local business owner about the oilfield industry. I came prepared with a total of six questions. I asked the first question and the response was: “Yes.” I asked the second question and the response was: “No.”

Before I knew it, I had run out of questions and left the business owner’s shop with my tail between my legs and very little information to help me fill out what was supposed to be an 800-word story.

It is my suggestion to always come prepared with more questions than you think you’ll need. Also, ask questions that can’t be answered with a simple “yes” or “no.” On the flip side, don’t get hung up on your questions if the interview takes an interesting turn. The best interviewers tend to be great listeners who can come up with clever follow-up questions on the fly to ensure smooth transitions in the conversation.

Tip 4 – Bring energy

If you smile and are upbeat when interviewing your guest, not only will your guest feed off of your infectious energy, but your audience will as well.

I understand an energetic interview may not be appropriate for certain subject matters; however, for the vast majority of podcast topics, it is better to be upbeat than slow and monotone.

Even if your interview is an audio-only conversation, still force yourself to smile as you talk.

Tip 5 – Eliminate “mmms”

It’s tempting to add in unnecessary sounds when interviewing someone, because this is a typical practice in everyday conversations.

For example, if somebody is telling you a story at a social event, you may periodically jump in with a sound such as “mmhmm,” to indicate you are still following along with the story.

On an audio or video interview, it’s best to limit these sounds. Audiences may find too many of these sounds from the host to be distracting and even take away from the conversation. Instead, if you’re doing the interview via Zoom or in-person, you can simply nod at your guest so he/she knows you’re still following along in the conversation.

If you’re interested in learning more about Impactful Communication, subscribe to my YouTube channel.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

How to build a great speech

Preparing to speak

Wade Paterson/YouTube

Whether you’ve been asked to speak at your friend’s or a family member’s wedding, or you need to deliver a top-notch presentation in front of your customers, it’s difficult to know where to start when it comes to building an effective and impactful speech.

This month I share four tips to help you create a speech that captivates your audience.

Tip 1 – Don’t write it out word-for-word

Writing out your entire speech is a tempting thing to do as a new speaker. Many of us have an incredible fear we will forget everything we were planning on saying as soon as we step in front of the crowd.

While writing out the full speech can be a safety net to counteract forgetting your next line, the problem is that many elements of an impactful speech — such as body language and vocal variety — are removed when you stand in front of an audience and read the words you’ve written down on a page.

Instead, be purposeful with which words you choose to write down verbatim. My suggestion is to fully write down your introduction and concluding sentences. If you practice your speech enough, you likely won’t need to reference these notes, but they can sit on the lectern as a crutch in case you completely freeze in front of the audience when you begin speaking.

For the middle — or “the body” — of the speech, don’t write down everything you’re planning on saying; rather, jot down key words that will trigger your memory about what to generally talk about. If your speech is about your journey as an athlete, perhaps you write down “third grade baseball story,” as one of the bullet points. By seeing that on the piece of paper, it will jog your memory to tell that familiar story, and it will come across as much more natural than it would if you read sentences off of a piece of paper.

We often forget the audience has no idea what we’re planning on talking about, so if we slightly go off of our own prepared script, no one will know.

(One exception to this is if you have a few specific statistics or data points that are important to articulate factually. Feel free to write those down within your notes as well.)

Tip 2 – Start with a strong introduction

Regardless of the theme of the speech, a powerful introduction is a necessary ingredient if you want to win over the audience. Too many speeches start off weakly with the speaker stepping on stage and making small talk or casually introducing themselves before limping into the actual speech.

Audiences will be quick to make their judgements on whether or not your speech is going well. If you capture their attention and impress them in the first few seconds, you have a good chance of holding their attention throughout the duration of the speech.

To help illustrate this point, I’ll use an example of a fictitious speaker named Bob who used to be addicted to gambling, but worked hard to overcome that addiction.

Weak introduction example: Hey everyone. My name is Bob, and for quite a few years I struggled with gambling, so today I’m going to give you a few tips so that you don’t make the same mistakes I did.

Strong introduction example: There I was, standing in front of the roulette wheel. I had already put my money down, there was no going back. All of the money I had taken out of my bank account was on “even,” and as the ball bounced around and landed on a number, I came to the realization that my life was about the change forever.

As you can see, the second introduction is much more powerful and has a higher likelihood of capturing the audience’s attention.

Tip 3 – Choose the right speech body

Every single speech should have an introduction and a conclusion; however, the body of the speech will fluctuate depending on the context.

For example, a maid-of-honour speech at a wedding may have the following structure: Introduction, explanation of why bride is an amazing person, quick story about bride, advice for the groom, conclusion.

A persuasive speech, perhaps delivered to a prospective customer, may have this type of structure: Introduction, first point about why your product is superior, second point about why your product is superior, third point about why your product is superior, expected results if customer switches to your product, conclusion.

As mentioned earlier, your notes for the middle section of the speech should be brief and act as a quick reminder about what you’re planning to speak about next. In the maid-of-honour example, the speaker may choose to write down a few of the words that describe the bride for the first body paragraph, she then may write down a sentence that references the story she’s going to tell for the second body paragraph, finally she could jot down a couple of words that will act as pieces of advice for the groom. These subtle notes will be enough to get the speaker back on track if she forgets what she had planned to speak about next.

Tip 4 – End with a memorable conclusion

The best conclusions, in my opinion, are the ones that come full circle.

Within the second tip, I used an example for an introduction based on a man named Bob who was previously addicted to gambling. An example of a full circle conclusion could be something like this:

The number bounced around and final landed on number 11. The roulette dealer took all of my chips and left me with no money. But what I’ve come to realize is I actually hit the jackpot. While my money was taken away from me, I gained something money can’t buy: self-awareness, discipline and self-control.

If your conclusion ties together with your intro, you will take your audience on a journey and return them to a place of familiarity. In my experience, these are the most satisfying speeches to listen to.

If you’re interested in learning more about Impactful Communication, subscribe to my YouTube channel.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

The importance of vocal variety in public speaking

Vocal variety

YouTube Wade Paterson

Vocal variety, which is the ability to change the volume and tone of your speech to emphasize certain words or sentences, is the underdog of public speaking skills.

When used well, vocal variety can turn a good speech into a great speech. If you think about the greatest speech you’ve ever heard, it likely included a range of vocal variety.

On the other hand, a lack of vocal variety can turn a bad speech into a terrible speech. For example, think about the last time you listened to someone speak for a significant length of time in a monotone. It probably put you to sleep, or at the very least you would’ve found it difficult to concentrate.

In this month’s column, I will break down three ways you can inject vocal variety into your next speech.

Tip 1 – Turn Up the Volume

Perhaps the most obvious thing that comes to mind when you think of vocal variety is raising your voice to make an impact.

If you’re talking about something very exciting in your speech, you should raise your voice to match that excitement. If you’re telling a story that involves a person yelling, you should actually yell to allow the audience to become more immersed in the story.

Raising the decibel level not only adds texture to the speech, but it also has the ability to recapture the audience’s attention. Humans have incredibly short attention spans, so it’s unlikely the audience will be completely focused throughout your entire speech. But if you unexpectedly raise your voice at a strategic time in your speech, it will recapture the attention of your audience.

Tip 2 – Turn Down the Volume

A powerful – but less used – vocal variety skill is to soften your voice.

The idea of this can be scary because it requires a level of vulnerability; however, depending on the context of your speech, it can have a bigger impact on your audience than raising your voice because it is less common.

As an example, if your speech is about a sad subject matter, try lowering your voice and introduce lengthened pauses at key moments. Chances are, your audience will connect deeply with this tactic and you won’t lose their attention.

Tip 3 – Do Something Unique

One of my favourite speeches of all time is a TED Talk titled “If I should have a daughter” by Sarah Kay. The first three minutes and 40 seconds of her speech consists of spoken-word poetry. As soon as the poem concludes, the audience gives Sarah a standing ovation (even though her speech continues for another 18 minutes).

Doing something unique – such as singing or reciting a poem – is a high-risk, high-reward endeavour that, when done right, can transform a great speech into a legendary speech.

If you are someone who is musically gifted, try introducing a few lines of a song into your next speech. If you are a member of a Toastmasters club and are used to giving many speeches, try incorporating a poem into your next speech. While the concept might be scary, this variation from the norm is sure to capture your audience’s attention.

If you’re interested in learning more about Impactful Communication, subscribe to my YouTube channel here.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

More The Art of Speaking articles

About the Author

Wade Paterson is an award-winning Toastmaster who is passionate about Impactful Communication.

His columns and accompanying YouTube videos are focused on helping others become more confident public speakers and communicators.

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

Previous Stories