Money shouldn’t be a barrier to learning — but for many people it is.
With public speaking, many people will turn to a quick Google search or YouTube scan to find “tips and tricks” for free. But you can only hear “stand up and speak up” so many times before you wonder if there is more to learn.
And while nothing can replace in-person feedback, attending conferences, courses, and coaching can be expensive. Even if you can afford training you’ll need to keep the momentum going if you want to excel in this area. Many of the people I coach ask me about what they can do to keep the learning going after our workshops.
Thankfully there’s a whole range of ways to improve your communication skills for free or at a reduced cost.
Personally, I believe everyone should have the ability to communicate their ideas effectively, so Body Talk offers free videos and blog tutorials on a wide range of subjects including storytelling, stage presence, and mindset. But Body Talk is only one of many varied resources for practicing and improving your speaking skills:
1. Raise a glass with Toastmasters.
This international non-profit is dedicated to helping people improve their public speaking skills no matter the occasion.
When I was first starting out as a professional speaker I attended a few of their clubs simply to gain more experience in standing in front of people. I always found the members to be kind, supportive and clear in their feedback so that I could improve.
Although the name denotes a celebratory function, Toastmasters actually helps people hone their professional and business-related speaking skills as well. And there are more than 16,000 clubs in 143 countries, so there’s bound to be a group near you.
If you’re looking to brush up on your own, the official Toastmaster website offers some basic tips for just about every type of speaking you can imagine — delivering a technical briefing, presenting an award, actually giving a toast, etc. But for those willing to spend about $90 a year, you’ll get a regular workshopping experience from fellow speakers. Meetings generally have a variety of specialized helpers present — including someone who counts your vocalized pauses and someone who helps with your grammar. I especially enjoyed the 60-second contest, where you had to talk passionately on a random subject for exactly one minute, throwing in the ‘word of the day’ for extra points!
2. Watch speakers in action — live.
TED talks seem to have taken over the world! A simple search in your local area will likely bring up dozens of events each year. They are usually reasonably priced or free and you get to see a range of speakers. The speakers often hone their talk for months in preparation so you may see some terrific demonstrations of how to tell a story and captivate an audience.
I recommend the live experience, which will really help you to understand the connection between the speaker and the audience. However, you can even search on YouTube to watch someone flawlessly deliver a good speech on public speaking itself!
By seeing how the best perform, you can see what works well with an audience and begin to emulate that behavior. The bonus? You can learn a little something about the science behind public speaking along the way.
If you have been studying communication you can also analyze the speakers and think deeply about why some of them engaged the audience more than others. This critical thinking will allow you to reflect on your own style and improve at home.
You can even extend this to watching comedians and entertainers on stage. Notice the timing, pausing, energy and storytelling they use to hook the audience in. See how they stand and notice the range in their voices. All of these simple elements will feed your mind with inspiration for your next presentation or pitch.
3. Ask your boss.
In your day-to-day role, you may lack the opportunity to speak to an audience. The good news is that many people shy away from this at work and so they will be grateful if you put yourself forward.
Try asking your manager about events and meetings where you could give a brief talk — perhaps you have some thoughts to share in the next team meeting? Or you may like to run an energizer to get people warmed up and laughing at the company conference. If you volunteer to do this many people will be thrilled. They may even offer to give you coaching before you do it.
4. Give your community a voice.
There are many local groups that need willing volunteers to lead meetings and promote worthy causes. You’ll find these at the local school, church, in your community. Your local running club may need a leader to speak at club events.
If you can find a local cause that you care deeply about then you will feel propelled to stand up and speak with passion, among a receptive group of friends, who will likely cheer you on and give you tips to keep improving.
5. Books, books, and more books!
When I first started working on my communication skills I read as many books as I could find. I made countless notes and cross-referenced the ideas to see where they agreed or disagreed on key points. In the end, I filled my shelves with over 200 books on communication, which I still refer to today. This may sound like a lot, but even if you aim for one book per month they will soon add up.
If you are worried about reading so much you can get a more concise resource here at ‘getAbstract’ where you can read a condensed version of my book ‘You were Born To Speak’ for free.
Regardless of the resources, you decide to employ, taking advantage of the chance to improve your communication skills is going to have benefits in the key moments of your life. You’ll be helping to further your professional career, and who knows, maybe you’ll become the go-to toast-giver this wedding season!
If you would like to learn more about improving your communication at work you can listen to my new podcast ‘Born To Speak’ on iTunes.