So to Speak…

By February 13, 2019Features

H&E North asks industry insiders and experts to explain what makes an effective speaker.

Jon Card runs Coverage Class, which offers media training events and Jon has spoken at conferences across the UK. He also works as a business journalist writing for titles such as The Guardian, The Telegraph and The Times:

“Great speakers entertain their audiences as well as educating and informing them. The best way to do this is by telling stories which give your audience an insight into your world. As a journalist, I give people insights into how the media works and tell stories about my interactions with editors of newspapers, interviewees and the ups and downs of my work.

“I think they have to strike the right balance between showing knowledge and expertise and boasting about their achievements. They need to ensure they are regarded as credible, but nobody wants to listen to someone bragging. If they admit to some mistakes and weaknesses, it helps. Keynote speakers should always have a few jokes or funny stories in their speech. It’s not stand-up comedy, but laughter helps the mood of the room.”


Alex Merry founded Public Speaking Accelerator for thought leaders looking to speak on major stages, and also established TEDxClapham and the Talks of our Time Podcast. Alex’s client’s talks have been seen around seven million times so far:

 There are huge misconceptions about what people think makes a great public speaker. In the 1960s, two studies were published that concluded that communication is made up of 7% words, 38% tone of voice and 55% body language – don’t worry about what you say, just worry about how you say it. This of course was music to the ears of public speaking coaches across the world.

The result? The illusion that public speaking is for extroverts. Big bolshy delivery. Gestures. Wooing. When was the last time you went to a conference and didn’t hear someone speak about themselves?

The studies were completely misinterpreted. Some of the best speakers in the world would class themselves as introverts and they take the spotlight despite of the fact that every bone in their body is telling them not to. They are driven by a higher purpose to make a difference, they didn’t feel like they had a choice.

History has shown that done right, public speaking is a catalyst for change and to set someone up to succeed. Here are questions every great speaker should consider…

  1. The Talk’s Purpose

Simply put, people have watched their talk, what happens next? Will it be to entertain (like after dinner speakers), educate (this doesn’t mean talking about themselves the whole time!), change opinion/ behaviour (thought leadership) or to build a movement?

  1. Self Awareness

Subconsciously, an audience will have made their mind up about a speaker before they’ve walked on stage – they’ll have read their bio in the conference handout or listened to the MC’s introduction. Their job in that first 30 seconds is to surprise your audience by being different to the preconception they’ll have.

  1. Empathy

Everyone is attending the event for a reason. It might be to learn something new, or to meet new people etc. and that means your audience wants something. Their job as a speaker is to work out what it is your audience needs. If you can articulate the problem the audience is experiencing better than they can themselves, they will subconsciously associate your event with the solution and that can be incredibly powerful.

Susan Heaton-Wright is an ex-opera singer and the creator of Superstar Communicator, the communication philosophy that ensures her clients make an impact when they speak. She shares her knowledge with directors, teams and individuals in business, universities and organisations around the world. She is an international speaker, podcaster, and has appeared on BBC TV and radio:

“In my opinion it is all about a speaker that really engages the audience. The topic should always be all about the audience, not them. The speaker’s content resonates and connects with the audience because it is relevant to them and they leave with inspiration, knowledge and motivation. A good speaker is a performer: their presence and impact retains the attention of the audience while entertaining them and they know how to craft and deliver a great speech.”


Peter Watson is the Managing Director of Distract, a creative advertising agency based in the East Midlands:

“The best speakers I’ve seen are ones that can give value and bring points to the table that you’ve never considered before but remain humble. It’s not necessarily the showboat or the most informed speakers who make an impact, but the ones you connect with on a personal level and that’s a lot to do with delivery.

“When it comes to public speaking, you also have to remember that everyone has to start somewhere. When I first started speaking I thought every single word I uttered, mattered. My advice would be that they to find what works for them. Don’t pretend to be someone you’re not, if you are a showman, move about, make yourself a physical performer, that’s what comes naturally. If they work best with a slide presentation and interacting in a measured way, then stick with that. You do you, nobody else matters.

“Over time, I’ve realised that for me, scripted and rehearsed speeches don’t work. I’m not the kind of speaker that can stay still or remain rooted to the podium, but that’s not to say that’s not how some people excel.

They should speak clearly. This might seem the most obvious, but a speaker that can be heard is one people will cling to. They could be giving the best advice in the world, unless they are are hitting the back of the room with clarity, you’ll be wasting every second.”