How to Elevate Yourself from an Average Speaker to an Engaging Speaker

I was at my desk in Gloucester gazing over the Docks. It was a bitterly cold midwinter’s day.

My phone rang. Immediately my caller said, “Marcus, I need your help – we have to save a life.”

That was how I learned about Snowy the chicken and began a nine-month publicity campaign.

If you are giving a talk you need to immediately capture the attention of your audience. 

I could have started this talk by explaining my role as the Head of Public Relations for Gloucester City Council and that I was going to talk about how to run a long publicity campaign.

The standard approach is to start at the beginning and laboriously work through your ‘story.’ But it doesn’t have to be like that. Here are what I consider to be my 8 top tips to elevate your public speaking.

1. Know your audience

Who is going to listen to your speech? That is important because to some extent that dictates the type of language you use. Many speakers use technical terms or acronyms unfamiliar to their listeners. That means that you lose them. 

2. Construction is key

Any TV or film drama you watch starts with a cliff-hanger of some sort. It can last several minutes. Only then do the titles roll. Start your talk by grabbing attention. Get your audience engaged. Then take your audience on a journey that arrives somewhere. You need to make sure that your ending has some relationship to where you started. Complete the circle. Leave your audience feeling that completion.

3. Start with the ending in mind

It is an old adage but nevertheless true. What sort of talk are you giving? What do you want it to achieve?

4. Leverage the language

The language you use is important. You have the whole lexicon of the English language to help illustrate and describe your story. For example, there is a huge difference in urgencybetween ‘taking an opportunity’ and ‘grasping an opportunity.’

5. Vary your voice

Vocal variety is another key element. If you have something dramatic to say you might want to speed up and perhaps raise your tone. If you have something sensitive, you can slow down and lower your tone. And, if you have some important information to share then take a pause. Allow your audience time to absorb and digest it. 

6. Don’t hide behind your slides

One of my pet hates is the use of PowerPoint as it is almost always unnecessary. Speakers use it as a prop to hide behind. 

Visual props are good but only if they are an integral part of your talk. If you are a speaker then you want your audience looking and concentrating on you. 

7. Stand up and move

If we were meeting in person, we would never dream of giving a talk sitting down. However, because we are often on Zoom many people give talks sitting down. Sitting down with your face filling the screen robs you of the ability to use your body and to take advantage of your screen stage. I recommend rearranging your desk and camera angles to enable you stand.

If you are unable to stand for any reason, then you can move your chair further back from the camera so that the audience can see more of you allowing you to take advantage of using body language to engage with your audience.

8. Rehearse

It is essential to practice your talk – and to time it. You need to know what you want to say and how long it will take you to say it.

And finally, when you are in front of your audience make sure you always wait until everyone is settled. Wait until they are all looking at you and then and only then start talking.

By working just on some of these aspects and skills you can elevate your speaking.

One of my tips was to make sure you connect your ending with your beginning so I cannot leave you without mentioning Snowy.

Snowy was hatched during a snowstorm at a Rare Breed Centre and was the only one of his clutch to survive.

The call I received launched a media appeal for donations of other chicks he could ‘huddle’ with to help him survive. They were received and he survived and thrived.

He became such a media celebrity that we used him in a variety of ways to promote the council and its services. He had a happy career before he eventually retired.

Snowy is now a regular talk I give. It isn’t just about saving a chicken. It is about how you can take one story and approach it from different angles to keep it alive and fresh. How you construct and present it can keep it constantly refreshed and interesting.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Marcus Grodentz

Marcus Grodentz is a member of Toastmasters International, a not-for-profit organisation that has provided communication and leadership skills since 1924 through a worldwide network of clubs. There are more than 400 clubs and 10,000 members in the UK and Ireland. Members follow a structured educational programme to gain skills and confidence in public and impromptu speaking, chairing meetings and time management. To find your nearest club,visit