If You Want to Become a Great Speaker…

What do great writers do?

“So we read to experience the mediocre and the outright rotten; such experience helps us to recognize those things when they begin to creep into our own work, and to steer clear of them. We also read in order to measure ourselves against the good and the great, to get a sense of all that can be done. And we read in order to experience different styles.” – Stephen King, On Writing

Common sense, isn’t it?

Now, what do great speakers do?


When we’re cheering that shy girl in glasses, a Toastmasters first-timer, to go for a Table Topic, sometimes we say: “You can’t learn to swim by watching swimmers from the shore!” It’s true, especially because you can’t really see what the swimmers are doing under water!

Often however, we push it too far. An aspiring speaker joins a club an gets the lesson about swimming (“Don’t watch, swim!“). He stops watching – and gets to speak. Speaks often – but over a few months, his club becomes his only reference.

This is unlikely to work for two reasons:

  1. Most (or all) people in a Toastmasters club are rookie or intermediate presenters. Even the fact someone won at Division or District level does not make them a great speaker in the eyes of non-Toastmasters public.
  2. In Toastmasters we have a very specific speaking culture. We are converging in terms of styles and speaking topics. People who join Toastmasters have a passion for personal development (if they didn’t, they would not voluntarily torture themselves by attempting to speak in front of a group of people), so they talk about it. Nothing wrong with that. But if you seek audiences outside Toastmasters – you need to be able to get beyond that.

If you want to become a Great Speaker, seek out Great Speakers. Get a book of political speeches by Churchill, study the best TED and Talks (Chris Anderson is listing more than 100 of his favorites in his book) and hey, why not, watch the Toastmasters World Champions of the past 10 or 20 years.

Take some time to reflect on them: What makes them great? Interesting? Original?

Not to forget the “mediocre” and “outright rotten”: No problem finding those! Just check your Outlook calendar at work – I’m sure you’ll be able to spot a bad presentation coming either this week – or the next at the latest! Good news: This time it’s going to be fun watching it. You’ll be taking notes! Why does it suck so much? What could the speaker have done differently to avoid boring his audience to tears? What made you yawn?

There you have some inputs!

Just to make sure – the lesson about swimming still holds here (especially for that shy girl in glasses – but for you too). Make sure you balance your study with your own speaking.

As Stephen King states the “Great Commandment” of mastering the craft of writing: “Read a lot, write a lot!”


Photo by Efe Kurnaz on Unsplash

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