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Whether you’re chatting with coworkers at lunch, having an important conversation with your boss, or giving a big presentation, speaking with confidence and charisma can transform your daily life.

Research shows that communication skills are strong predictors of your success in the workplace and relationships. Yet, so many people still struggle with verbally expressing themselves. Excellent speakers benefit from:

  • Improved communication
  • Getting their ideas heard
  • Earning more respect
  • Being interrupted less
  • Having more loyal and deep connections
  • Not being underestimated or overlooked

If you are hesitating or flustered when it’s your turn to talk, here are 14 actionable tips for improving your speaking skills.

How to Improve Speaking Skills at Work and Beyond: 14 Action-Packed Tips

Most kids learn to talk around 1 to 2 years old, but learning to express yourself verbally is a lifelong learning experience. You can excel in your career and get what you want by mastering the art of talking. 

Many tools are available to improve your speech, whether you’re a native speaker or an English learner. Here are the top 14 science-backed ways to speak better: 

#1 Stay in your zone of genius (only talk about what you know)

You may notice that the most professional-sounding people tend to stay in their zone of genius when speaking publicly. You won’t hear Oprah pretending she’s an expert in electric cars. Nor will you hear Elon Musk advising about spirituality and personal development.

They both stay in their realms of expertise, which naturally makes them sound confident when they speak. They’re not faking it— they know what they’re talking about!

If you struggle to speak with conviction, you may inadvertently talk about topics you don’t know much about. Instead, focus on your zone of genius.

Your zone of genius is the mental space where your skills and interests converge.

It includes the subjects, facts, and stories you know the most about. These things are easy for you to talk about with others because you’re knowledgeable and passionate about them. 

Avoid talking off the cuff about topics you’re not familiar with. Not only does this make you sound uninformed or untrustworthy, but it can send off the message that you are a “know-it-all.” 

Masterful conversationalists are usually not afraid to say, “I don’t know.” Similarly, a public speaker won’t add random facts or opinions that they can’t back up with authentic knowledge on the topic.

Pro tip: Not a master in your subject? No worries! Most people have limited knowledge in a particular field. Try learning from the Three Book Rule, which states that if you read 3 books on a specific topic (for example, tennis), you’ll be more knowledgeable than 99% of the population.

#2 Read books or articles out loud

Reading is one of the most underrated tools for becoming a great speaker. It can make you sound more articulate and smooth in your speech. Plus, you learn new vocabulary and better comprehend the book in the process. 

Unlike conversations or spoken speeches, written text tends to have a better structure for learning, as authors and editors have worked together to keep the text free of grammatical errors or awkward sentences. Reading books aloud helps you learn to speak more smoothly in day-to-day conversations. 

Repeat this exercise at least once per week (or every night before bed if you’re determined):

  • Find a quiet place where you won’t be interrupted.
  • Choose a book you enjoy, flip to a random page, or continue reading where you left off.
  • Read the page out loud from start to end.
  • Take note of words you had trouble pronouncing or sentences that sounded awkward out loud. Notice how fast or slow you read and the tone of your voice. Depending on the character’s speaking, you can also practice changing your voice if you’re reading fiction. This can help you practice vocal variety.
  • Look up the pronunciation of specific words if needed. 
  • Now read the page or passage out loud again. Change your performance based on what you noticed in the first round. Emphasize important points with a shift in volume or inflection (highness or lowness of your voice)  
  • Optionally, use voice memos on your phone to record yourself reading.
  • Listen back to your recordings and find places where your inflection, cadence (the rhythm of speech), and volume change. Do these align with the overall message of the piece? 

If you feel unsure about reading aloud, try listening to audiobook samples to hear how different speakers recite written words. You can also use a free resource like Librivox to listen to free audiobooks or volunteer to read yourself and practice becoming a better speaker.

#3 Use tongue twisters to practice enunciation

Mumbling speech can make it challenging to understand what you’re saying. When people mumble, it sends the message that they don’t want to be heard or feel embarrassed by their speech. On the other hand, people who enunciate their words are seen as more intelligent. 

Eloquent speaking is undoubtedly an art, but it starts with the simple act of training your mouth to move in a certain way. Those silly tongue twisters from your childhood can be surprisingly useful. Repeating related sounds can improve your English speaking skills and articulation of specific words. 

Repeat these 10 times each or until you can say them over and over without fumbling: 

  • Red leather, yellow leather, red leather, yellow leather.
  • Sally sells shells by the seashore.
  • Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers. A peck of pickled peppers Peter Piper picked. If Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers, where’s the peck of pickled peppers Peter Piper picked?
  • How much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?
  • You know New York, you need New York, you know you need unique New York. 
  • I saw a kitten eating chicken in the kitchen. 

Use tongue twisters regularly and as a vocal warm-up before you do a lot of talking. 

Bonus Tip: Learn the Art of Stage Presence

Did you know that public speaking is actually a skill? Many people struggle with stage anxiety because they feel they ‘missed the memo’ on public speaking or they are lacking because they do not have a natural stage presence. Not true!

Stage presence and public speaking are skills you need to be taught—very few people have them naturally. 

Here are all the aspects of public speaking you can master.

  • How to make a first impression with an audience
  • How to have stage presence
  • Powerful body language
  • How to speak with a commanding voice
  • What to do with your hands while speaking

For every speaking skill you add to your toolbox, the less speaking anxiety you will feel.

If you want help really diving into your presentation skills, be sure to sign-up for our course…

Master Your People Skills

  • Create a Memorable Presence
  • Communicate with Confidence
  • Achieve Your Goals

Have a question about the presentation or People School? Email Science of People support.

#4 Talk to yourself

One of the easiest ways to step into your power as a speaker is to start talking to yourself. People often dismiss those who talk to themselves as crazy when, in reality, talking to yourself is entirely normal. 

Scientists have found that talking to yourself is beneficial for enhancing your performance in sports, finding things you lost, and solving problems. A practice called mirror meditation combines neuroscience and self-reflection to overcome insecurities like physical appearance and public speaking. 

You can use self-talk with or without a mirror to achieve two primary goals:

  1. Build your confidence: Psychologists say that talking to yourself in a mirror can help externalize your inner dialogue and sort through your thoughts. Speaking positive things to your reflection is a form of positive affirmation. For example, you can calm your nerves before talking to someone important by telling your reflection, “You’ve got this! You are well-spoken, eloquent, and powerful with your words. You’re going to rock this conversation. I love you.” You don’t necessarily have to say these things out loud, but you want to signal to your mind that you are your number one fan (and you should be!).
  2. Rehearse before big moments (and sort through your thoughts): For example, you can rehearse what you’ll say to your boss while you’re driving in the car on your way to work. Don’t worry about acting looking weird—nobody will be able to hear you. Use verbal recitation to gather your thoughts, so you can repeat the key points you want to discuss in the meeting. Similarly, before a big speech, you may want to walk around your room and go over a speech script in your head or out loud. 

Both methods can work synergistically to improve your speaking skills drastically. But the most important thing to remember about self-talk is: Avoid talking to yourself negatively whenever possible, especially before a critical communication event like a meeting, presentation, or important lunch. 

Listen to your internal voice and avoid internal statements like:

  • “You sound stupid.”
  • “I am horrible at public speaking.”
  • “Your voice sounds embarrassing.”
  • “You idiot, get it out already.” 

Replacing negative self-talk takes practice. Replace critical self-talk with positive affirmations (here are 120 great ones) and learn more about silencing your inner critic so you can feel more confident in your speech.   

#5 Learn from the best (& mimic them)

Humans are psychologically programmed to mimic each other. Mirror neurons are primal “monkey see, monkey do” parts of our brain that imitate the actions we see in other people. They explain why babies naturally smile when you smile or why you can learn to swim by watching others move in the water. 

Recent research has also revealed how these neurons are critical for learning language and communicating with others. You can even “hack” your mirror neurons to help you become a better speaker. Think about the best speakers you know and try a few of these simple practices to pick up on their best qualities:

  • Watch a video of your favorite speaker three times in a row. Notice their tone of voice, stature, and vocal quirks. Learn a few sentences from the speech and try to re-enact them in a mirror. For example, if you want to mimic the conversational yet profound tone of Denzel Washington, watch this video of his speech at a graduation:
  • Pretend you’re an actor and recite lines from a movie character you like. You can find specific scenes from movies on YouTube. Analyze how the script structure impacts your feelings about that character’s confidence and self-expression.
  • Listen to a podcast of someone you admire and repeat things they say out loud. Podcasters are great speakers because they only have their voice to capture your attention. For example, Rob Dial of The Mindset Mentor is authentic, empowering, and energizing podcaster who speaks directly to the audience’s needs. 

Pro Tip: Speech mimicry helps you learn to speak more confidently in public or on stage, but remember to stay true to your unique qualities. You don’t want to copy other people’s words, or you will be inauthentic. Instead, take note of the specific qualities you want to adopt—such as a deeper voice, a slower pace of speaking, or a particular type of vocabulary—and integrate these into your existing communication style. 

#6 Always remember your MVP

An MVP isn’t just the star of a sports team. It’s the Most Valuable Point you need to make in any communication setting. If everything else you say was forgotten, what is one sentence that gets your point across?

Before you go into a meeting with your team, give a speech, or check in with your boss, think about your MVP. For example,

  • I’m going into this check-in with my boss to ask for a raise of X dollars. 
  • I want to sit down with my significant other tonight and resolve our miscommunication about X. 
  • My main goal for today’s work lunch is to get to know 3 new things about each of my colleagues. 
  • The key purpose of this article is to help people improve their speaking skills in various settings.  

Regardless of the communication setting, an MVP gives purpose to your words. 

Bonus: If you want to sound really convincing, practice turning your MVP into a specific sentence or two. Something like:

  • “My performance in the past 6 months has doubled the company’s revenue, and, as a result, I believe I deserve a higher raise.”
  • “There was a miscommunication earlier, but after some deep thinking, I realize it was my fault, and I am truly sorry.”

Having a concrete sentence or two memorized can help deliver your speech powerfully and convincingly.

#7 Sound more confident by speaking louder and lower

Speaking isn’t only about what you say but how you say it. A 2017 Yale study found that the sound of your voice is what makes people:

  • Trust you
  • Like you
  • Believe what you’re saying
  • Feel certain emotions 

Think about it: How do you feel when you hear someone using filler words like “um” or “like” in every sentence? What about someone who talks softly? Or someone who raises their voice at the end of a statement to make it sound like a question?

You probably won’t perceive them as confident in what they’re saying. You may even be less likely to do business with them, believe their story, or give them what they’re asking for. 

There are three keys to sounding more confident when you talk:

  • Speak louder (but don’t yell): When you feel nervous, you may naturally talk more softly. But this can create a negative feedback loop that makes you sound (and feel) less confident. Instead, make your voice sound stronger by speaking at a moderate volume that you adjust based on the room and audience size. 
  • Speak lower: Research shows that people who speak louder and lower are perceived as more dominant and authoritative. This is particularly important for women who talk in soft, high tones. You don’t need to change your natural voice completely; instead, practice speaking in the lower end of your range. 
  • Talk at a moderately fast pace: If you speak too slowly, you could sound boring. People who drone on in a monotone don’t tend to keep our attention for long. On the other hand, if you speak too fast, you could sound annoying or difficult to understand. Studies have found that people who talk at a moderately fast pace (about 195 words per minute) seem more intelligent, persuasive, and attractive. Measure your voice with a Metronome app for Android or iOS and try to land in the 110-160 word per minute range.

Remember that your optimal vocal volume and pitch may change depending on your audience. Learn more tips about How to Speak with Confidence and Sound Better.  

#8 Prepare your voice

Have you noticed your voice sounds groggy in the morning or strained after singing too loud on the drive to work? It’s not the best vocal state for negotiating a business deal or asking for a raise. 

Vocal care isn’t just for singers or public speakers. Proper preparation ensures your voice doesn’t crack when it comes time to speak up in a meeting. To sound better when talking, remember to:

  • Use deep breathing: Shallow chest breathing can make you sound more jittery or nervous when talking. Deep belly breathing exercises can help improve your oxygen levels while simultaneously calming your body. 
  • Exhale first: When it comes time to speak, most people breathe and start their sentences with an inhale. Instead, remember to exhale first. Blow out a strong breath just before you start talking.
  • Stay hydrated: Your voice is directly affected by your level of hydration. Research even finds that hydrated voices sound better. If you are about to speak for an extended period in a speech or meeting, drink plenty of water in the hours leading up to the event.
  • Use our 5 vocal warm-ups:

5 Vocal Warm-Ups Before Meetings, Speeches and Presentations

#9 Start and end with the best points

The serial-position effect explains why people remember the first and last things you say the most clearly. Whether talking to your coworkers about a project or giving a big pitch to a client, you should emphasize the best points at the beginning and the end.  

This is particularly important for presentations, but you can apply it to daily conversations. When preparing to speak, the first thing to do is brainstorm all your key points and ideas. It helps to jot them down on flashcards or digital slides. Arrange them so that the juiciest or most essential points come first. Then, reiterate them at the end as well.

For example, if you’re selling your marketing services to a client, the very first lines of the presentation may emphasize why your agency’s package is the best one available. This is sort of like a thesis. You might start with: “Top Level Agency is a one-stop shop for your marketing needs because we do all web design and digital production in-house (no freelancers or contractors!), offer 24-hour emergency technical support, and monthly payment plans.” 

Then, you can introduce yourself, explain the package offerings, and dig into more details. At the end of the presentation, repeat the key benefits they’ll get from working with your company. 

People remember the beginning and the end! Avoiding burying your important points in the middle! Many people tell stories chronologically and accidentally bore their audience with background stories and foundational info that leaves a bad first impression. 

Pro Tip: Practice your opening and closing line the most. If you have these, you know you will start and end on a high.

#10 Master the art of presentations with 4 quick tips

From job interviews to congratulatory speeches to workplace meeting presentations, speaking in front of a group of people is a life skill that we all must practice at some point. It’s how you sell yourself, your ideas, or your products and services. Yet over 30% of Americans list public speaking (glossophobia) as one of their biggest fears. Fortunately, overcoming glossophobia can be as simple as preparation and practice. 

Here are four quick tips to transform your presentation skills:  

  • Start with a hook: First impressions are everything! A sparkling one-liner, a fascinating story, or an intriguing question are the easiest ways to capture your audience’s attention before you dig into the details. Notice how Vanessa Van Edwards’ Tedx Talk starts with a funny phrase about her awkwardness: 
  • Cut out excess info: A short presentation packed with information is far better than a long, boring drone full of fluff. Cut down your speech to the basics so that everything supports your main point. Avoid irrelevant facts or boring anecdotes. 
  • Don’t just talk: The most captivating presentations use multiple modalities. Instead of just standing and talking, an engaging presenter will layer on the graphics, charts, videos, and visual demonstrations. 
  • Pretend you’re a performer: In his book, Steal the Show, actor, and coach Michael Port says the quickest way to boost your confidence is to simply act like you’re giving a performance and you don’t have any stage fright. Transform your negative inner talk to something positive by tricking your mind into thinking you’re capable and confident in your speaking skills. 

Pro Tip: If you are planning for a big presentation and fear losing the audience’s attention, consider making your presentation more interactive by inviting the audience to participate. You can use non-awkward icebreakers, “raise your hand” questions or a social media poll on a related topic. 

Some presenters even invite an audience member to the stage for role-playing or a mini-case study. For example, in a meeting presentation about how you plan to improve upselling techniques in your stores, you may invite a coworker to act out a customer-salesperson scenario. 

Want more tips? Take your presentations to the next level with these 10 Presentation Ideas That Will Radically Improve Your Presentation Skills

#11 Use meaningful hand gestures

People who “talk with their hands” are naturally more magnetic. Studies show that gestures increase the value of spoken words by up to 60%! But you don’t just want to flail your hands around without purpose. Our analysis of the top TED Talks of all time found that there are specific movements that portray confidence.

These 7 powerful hand gestures include:

  • Show the number: Any time you mention a number, use your fingers to add a visual element of that amount. 
  • Increase or decrease: Spread your hands closer or farther away to demonstrate the intensity of a conversation point. For example, if you say, “this is a small problem,” you may close your hands together to show a small space. 
  • Feel it in the heart: When discussing something emotional, gesture toward your heart or chest region. You may naturally put your hand over your heart when you say, “this means so much to me.”
  • Guide your explanations: Use your hands to give a visual guide to a complex explanation. For example, suppose you’re discussing two opposing viewpoints. In that case, you might gesture to the right for Point 1 and to the left for Point 2.
  • Bring things together: When you discuss the convergence of points or groups, bring your palms together in the center to demonstrate these two things merging. 
  • Emblems: Cultural hand motions like thumbs up, A-OK, or pointing with an open hand can be used to highlight specific talking points. 
  • You-me-we: Bring people into what you’re saying by gesturing towards them, yourself, and then between you. 

Watch this video with Vanessa Van Edwards to see how each gesture works:

Here are another 60 Hand Gestures You Should Be Using and Their Meaning

#12 Learn to decode body language (and use it to your advantage)

Have you ever wished you could tell what people are thinking? Decoding body language is an underrated social superpower. If you understand how to tell if your boss is being confrontational or your colleague is withholding information from you, you can have a major communication advantage. 

You’ve probably heard the statistic that 65 to 90% of communication is nonverbal. Unspoken cues often give us more insights into people than what they say out loud. Some of the most notable body language cues to look for include: 

  • Lip pursing: People may be subconsciously holding something back. If you accidentally purse your lips during a speech, it may make you seem to withhold something from the audience. 
  • Raised eyebrows: When someone is guilty, they might subtly raise their eyebrows to show fear. On the other hand, eyebrow raises can also indicate amusement or surprise. Take notice of your eyebrows while talking in the mirror and use them to emphasize your points.
  • Touch: A light touch on the arm can be a thoughtful way to get someone’s attention or help. Combined with speaking in a soft or friendly tone, this can help you appear more kind and more compassionate.
  • Firm handshake: A nice firm handshake can portray you as confident but not domineering. Deliver your handshakes with a well-rehearsed introduction like “I’m Joe. It is a pleasure to meet you.” 
  • Laughing: In awkward situations, subordinates might laugh to appease the person in power, while superiors may refrain from laughing to uphold their status. As you speak, notice when you awkwardly laugh out of nervousness versus when you laugh because something is actually funny.  
  • Sitting versus standing: A sitting person is physically lower than a standing person, making them potentially seem inferior or easier to reprimand. You almost always want to be standing when you are giving a speech or a presentation. On the other hand, sitting while having a tough conversation with your significant other can help create a level playing field for open-hearted discussion. 

Note how you use body language as you talk to others daily. There are so many ways you can combine speaking skills with a specific position or nonverbal cue to portray more confidence, kindness, or influence. Learn more about understanding Body Language In the Workplace: 15 Cues You Must Know

#13 Work on pronunciation with this app

Whether you are a native English speaker or learning the English language, countless words in the dictionary aren’t pronounced the way they are spelled. But proper pronunciation can make you sound more knowledgeable and well-spoken. 

The most commonly mispronounced words include:

  • Etcetera
  • Epitome
  • Niche
  • Library
  • LIable
  • Espresso
  • Sandwich
  • Meme
  • Desert vs. Dessert 
  • Comfortable

Do you think you’re guilty of mispronunciations? Use the free app, Say It (Android) (iOS) to check your speech. Oxford University Press developed it to help practice sounds, words, and sentence pronunciation. 

Pro Tip: If you accidentally mispronounce a word in conversation or a presentation, don’t be afraid to correct yourself. It happens to everybody, and there is no shame in saying “excuse me” and repeating it. If you have an accent, embrace it! As long as people understand your words, pronunciation shouldn’t be an argument of tomAYto versus tomAHto. 

#14 Improve your listening skills

Paradoxically, the best speakers tend to be the best listeners. After all, communication is a two-way street. Listening is one of the most valuable social skills because it helps you:

  • Understand other people
  • Make deeper connections
  • Demonstrate that you’re interested in what others have to say 
  • Avoid dominating a conversation
  • Learn how to speak better

Listening is particularly important if you feel shy or socially awkward. Next time you’re having a conversation, practice active listening with:

  • Loud listening: When someone else is speaking, strategically use sounds like “oh,” “ah,” or “wow” to show you are engaged.
  • Eye contact: Avoid using your phone or diverting eye contact when someone is talking. Instead, casually hold their gaze for 3-5 seconds to show that you care. But don’t be overbearing with eye contact, or you might appear weird.
  • Asking questions: Show that you were paying attention to another person’s story or presentation by asking questions about what was said. Just be sure you don’t interrupt them or cut anyone off while inquiring.
  • Wait for your turn to talk: A great conversationalist’s most obvious skill is knowing when to talk. Your decision to speak while someone else is still talking could send the message that you think your opinion is more important than theirs. Politely wait your turn and even leave a few seconds of pause after someone else finishes their thoughts. 

Stuttering and Language Processing Resources:

Do you struggle with stuttering or other language processing issues? You definitely can get help! Here are some great resources to check out:

Key Takeaways: Speak Better with Planning and Practicing

Nobody is born a masterful speaker, but the most charismatic people have cracked some communication code. Fortunately, the secrets to their verbal success are accessible to everyone. Start speaking better with these simple practices:

  • Talk louder, lower, and at a moderate pace: If you find yourself speaking soft and slow, it can help to increase the volume, lower the tone, and speed up the rate of your words. This will help you sound and feel more confident while talking. 
  • Mimic speakers you admire: Find people you want to sound like and listen to them regularly. Identify the characteristics you want to mimic, like their cheeriness, articulation, or authority. Learn lines from their videos and recite them as you watch.  
  • Read out loud: Written words tend to be more edited than spoken ones. Practice reading your favorite books out loud so you can 
  • Master pronunciation and enunciation: Avoid mispronunciations and mumbling. Instead, use the internet to learn how to pronounce words you’re unsure about and train your mouth to enunciate specific words with tongue twister exercises. 
  • Use hand gestures: Your hands are among the most underrated tools for speaking. Use them to your advantage by emphasizing essential points. 

Whether you’re talking to an audience of 2 or 2,000, public speaking can catapult you to higher levels of self-development and professional success. To take your speaking skills to the next level, learn these 15 Science-Based Public Speaking Tips to Be a Master Speaker

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