Mr U popped into my office to discuss how he could improve his communication skills. He’d emailed me to request an appointment, so we agreed on a convenient day.

At the appointed time, Mr U arrived, dressed appropriately in a business suit and polished shoes, the standard attire of full-time male MBA students of the globally ranked business school in Africa where I worked part-time.

After the pleasantries, I asked how I could help. He needed advice on improving his communication skills. He’d come across my profile, he explained, and since I was a ‘communication expert’, he decided to reach out.

I smiled and thanked him for his kind comment. Nonetheless, I assured him that improving my communication skills was still a continuous process of learning.

“Communication is broad.” I continued, “Which aspect do you need advice on?”

He seemed a bit surprised that I asked. So I prodded: “Speaking or writing?”

“Speaking”, he returned swiftly.

I nodded.

After asking more clarifying questions, we discussed the fight-flight-freeze responses to public speaking anxiety. I told him that the fear of speaking in public was a common problem that even seasoned speakers and leaders faced. I urged him to build his knowledge of effective speaking. His programme at the business school was to last 18 months, so I challenged him:

“If you commit to acquiring the knowledge and doing the work required, you’d see a transformation in your speaking skills by the time you graduate”.

He looked encouraged, and armed with the names of the three books I recommended, including my business communication blueprint Influence and Thrive, he promised to keep in touch.

When Mr U left my office, I reflected on my journey in business communication, from my first job right after my Master’s, including three years as a stay-at-home blogger mum to my current role. I’ve got over two decades of related experience in the field. But it wasn’t until I became steeped in business communication as a communications coach, trainer, advisor, and speaker seven years ago, that I realised how far I’ve come.

And I wished many years ago that someone had shown me a clear path to take to improve my speaking skills. Unfortunately, no one did. So, I learned all I know now by obsessive observation, trial and error, self-education (including reading and learning), practice, and application (as a lecturer, facilitator, and trainer).

Therefore, just in case you are still unsure what you should do to hone your speaking skills or how to proceed, below are 10 hard truths to grasp:

1) Realise that your path is an endless journey

First, decide that you want to improve your speaking capabilities.

This might seem obvious, but as I stressed to Mr U, business communication is a broad field. Therefore, being vague about improving your communication skills won’t do much to motivate you after some time.

I recommend that people who approach me for coaching or training tackle one key communication segment at a time. So, in the first conversation, we determine whether my help is required in public speaking (e.g., presentations or speeches), business writing (e.g., emails, reports, and formal letters), nonverbal communication, or interpersonal communication.

Next, ‘rewire’ your mindset. When you commit to the process of improving your speaking skills, you’d need to prepare for the long haul.

It might take a few years before you feel confident speaking to influence important people. Other times, you may see improvements in three months.

You may also experience highs in your journey that encourage you, or endure blunders that make you question if the journey is worth it. But your discipline will be worth the results. Whatever (little) effort you consistently make to improve your speaking skills adds up to the overall transformation you will experience further down the line.

I can’t give you a timeframe for the desired results but realise that there’s joy in the journey when you begin to experience a shift in your speaking capability. Furthermore, as you stick to the learning and refining process, people will notice a difference and declare that something in you has changed.

2) Unlearn self-limiting attitudes about persuasive speaking

Related to the first point, you must unlearn whatever defeatist attitudes you’ve nursed over the years about your speaking skills.

Such beliefs may be linked to your childhood (Mr U revealed he was a reserved child who didn’t speak much). They may also be tied to previous events (a speech/presentation that ended badly and caused ridicule), limited education/exposure (causing weak confidence and pronunciation concerns), or other factors that you couldn’t control. But what you can control now is how you should proceed.

According to a statistic cited by the US National Institute of Mental Health, 40% of the population suffers from glossophobia—the anxiety of speaking in public. So you’re not alone when you feel physical manifestations of this fear, which include sweating, weak knees, a racing heartbeat, light-headedness, and feeling nauseous.

And if you’re an introvert, be sure to dispel the myth that you’re too shy to speak persuasively. In fact, historical figures who were introverts included Abraham Lincoln, Eleanor Roosevelt, Albert Einstein, and Mahatma Gandhi. Yet they spoke powerfully. Similarly, modern leaders such as Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, and Barrack Obama who identify as introverts are influential speakers.

Note that anyone, anywhere, limited by education or circumstances can become a persuasive speaker. But you’d need to believe this point about yourself. You must become your enduring cheerleader so that you’re prepped for the road ahead and the effort you must expend to become excellent.

3) Educate yourself on the science and art of persuasive speaking

Acquire knowledge by all means. Listen to podcasts, take courses, sign up for one-on-one coaching, and watch videos.

But above all, apply what you learn.

Read valuable resources. Myriad books abound online, but an eye-opener for me was Carmine Gallo’s  Talk Like TED. The author analysed hundreds of TED talks and revealed nine incredible insights on what made them great. He also provided research findings from neuroscience, psychology, and communication and offered practical advice to help you improve your speaking ability.

As you progress in your journey, you may become obsessed with acquiring knowledge, and that’s a good thing because public speaking is both a science and an art.

Therefore, expose yourself to the science of public speaking by learning about the latest insights in the industry, and the effect of neuroscience on the craft.

Also ensure you learn the art of this field: how to connect with audiences with Aristotle’s pillars of persuasion (ethos, pathos, and logos), how to use nonverbal communication to win trust and boost credibility, and how to tweak your delivery styles for different occasions.

The more you become immersed in the science and art of public speaking, the quicker you improve your skills.

4) Learn the three rules of effective speaking

Over the years, as I observed what worked in speaking and what didn’t, I devised three rules of effective public speaking. I expanded on them in my bestseller Influence and Thrive.

These three rules of speaking (in addition to my three rules of effective communication) have become a staple in my lectures, seminars, coaching, and training programmes. They will guide you to becoming a more purposeful speaker whose words move audiences:

#1: Know your audience (so you can tweak your content to make it relevant to their needs and refine your delivery accordingly, thereby influencing them to take action).

#2: Prioritise the three beacons of simplicity, brevity, and clarity (so that your points are easily understood and the call-to-action is clear).

#3: Give feedback (so you know what to revise/adjust. Also ensure feedback is timely and factual for the quickest results).

For more information, read this article on how managers can lead their teams effectively with communication.

Keep the rules in mind for every speaking engagement to increase your persuasiveness and impact.

5) Get acquainted with body language—and it’s deeper than gestures

Nonverbal communication, also referred to as body language, is critical to speaking effectively.

Nonverbal cues and behaviours, from facial expressions, gestures, and movement to vocal dynamics can either amplify the impact of your speech/presentation or diminish your credibility.

Body language, which encompasses everything we do with our bodies without speaking, and the character of our vocals (pitch, tone, volume) conveys different meanings to people.

So your ‘open’/’warm’ and ‘closed’/‘defensive’ gestures, the way you dress/stand/sit/move, the way you smile/frown, the way you dominate space/shrink away, the positioning of your body, your weak/strong handshake, your eye contact or lack thereof—they all communicate different perceptions across cultures.

There’s a whole field of body language. Learn insights to get a deeper appreciation of how best to project yourself to connect with people, boost trust, and increase your credibility.

Mark Bowden, a world-renowned expert on body language who wrote the foreword of my book, delivered a riveting TEDx talk on being inauthentic with your body language. Watch it at least once.

Other experts in the field include Amy Cuddy, Allan Pease, and the Behavior Panel. Access their videos on YouTube for free.

Without a decent understanding of how to use your body language effectively, you’d fail to connect meaningfully with people or get them to trust you and support your causes.

6) Join a Toastmasters Club

This is non-negotiable when you’re starting your journey.

Toastmasters International is a nonprofit organisation that operates clubs worldwide to improve the speaking skills of its members.

It’s imperative you join a local chapter of the club and attend meetings regularly. In those meetings, you’ll meet like-minded people who’re committed to improving their speaking skills, and you will be supported and nurtured in a conducive environment. If you’ve not been regularly exposed to speaking in public, then participation in a Toastmasters club is a great way to get started, hone your skills, and build momentum. Some people attend for years before setting up their speaking businesses, while others only need a few months to build their confidence and increase their competence.

Whatever level you aspire to attain in your public speaking journey, a stint at Toastmasters will be beneficial.

Don’t skip this step.

7) Embrace storytelling

Storytelling is all the rage in public speaking and for good reason.

Humans are wired for stories, ever since our ancestors huddled together around fires to share stories,  information, and traditions. Stories not only connect you to people, but they also make you memorable.

There’s also science to explain how it works. In this fascinating article on why your brain loves good stories, researcher and professor,  Paul  J. Zak, reveals that oxytocin, a neurochemical is released when stories are told. Oxytocin promotes empathy and elicits cooperation, thereby making your stories a powerful tool of persuasion.

But understand that a good story should follow a tried-and-tested structure called the hero’s journey: The hero is introduced in an everyday scenario. Then trouble brews and escalates testing the hero’s resolve. An action is taken. A solution is found and applied. The hero emerges victorious.

Even brief anecdotes or your experiences can be used to season your speeches/presentations to trigger emotional responses. They coax your audience to accept what you’re championing.

Stories can take different forms: an origin story, a rags-to-riches account, a cautionary tale, a mini-case study, or lessons passed on from generations. Tell stories, but always connect them to the larger point you’re making. Use your body language to heighten the emotional appeal of your stories and supercharge your delivery.

Sprinkle stories generously when speaking in public. They make you unforgettable.

8) Seek opportunities to speak and volunteer

It might sound obvious that the more you speak, the better you get. However, when you become deliberate about growing your knowledge and regularly apply what you learn, you improve your skills faster.

Therefore, seek every opportunity to speak. Offer to lead your team’s meeting, commit to asking one thoughtful question in a group, and collaborate with colleagues on projects.

Volunteer in religious and social circles, or join a fundraising activity. Volunteering is an excellent way to practise what you learn without the pressure of being constantly assessed. So, you’ll quickly learn what works and what you should discard.

Start in small gatherings, and as your confidence grows, become ambitious and speak at larger events. Your nerves might not disappear, but with each speaking activity, you fortify yourself against the impostor syndrome and build the courage to continue.

Practice might not make you perfect, but it leads to consistent progress. Perfection is overrated, anyway.

9) Teach

A surprising realisation for me over the years is that teaching has increased my knowledge and honed my speaking chops.

When I landed a communications coach role at the globally ranked business school I mentioned at the beginning, my teaching experience was almost nonexistent. I had only delivered a full-day training programme a few months before my interview.

But a few days after I landed the job, I was told to deliver a double session to MBA students. It was a daunting but exhilarating experience.  As the years rolled by and I continued to lecture, facilitate executive seminars, and run my private training programmes, I noticed that teaching has made me a persuasive speaker. It has also allowed me to revise, tweak, and hone my body language to engage with different audiences.

You know the popular saying: The best way to learn something is to teach it. I also became more knowledgeable about different aspects of communication when I started to teach. Teaching has helped me to simplify concepts and share them in ways that audiences understand and appreciate.

Whatever your field, commit to regularly teaching someone who needs help at work or elsewhere. By doing so, you sharpen your critical reasoning and improve your ability to communicate clearly. Over time, you enhance your speaking skills and become more confident in your delivery.

10) Draw inspiration from others, but always let your passion shine

Public speaking cannot be done in a vacuum. It involves a community.

Since you’ll need to interact with people and connect with audiences, draw inspiration from people you admire to refine your craft. Study your favourite speakers in different fields: business leaders, politicians, social icons, and religious leaders. Watch them in action and watch their videos. Note their body language, the words they choose, and their delivery.

Commit to testing different styles. But ultimately, embrace your uniqueness, which is your superpower, and let your passion shine in every speaking activity. Enthusiasm is contagious. You’re a one-of-a-kind phenomenon, and no one can replace you; believe it.

One of my unique characteristics is I’m an African communications trainer with international qualifications and a global outlook. This trait has landed me international recognition and awards—all of which have increased my differentiation.

Keep honing your speaking skills by all means but be proud of your background and life experiences. Leverage them to shine when you speak.


Excellent speaking is achievable, irrespective of your (limited) natural ability or (disadvantaged) background. Don’t let anyone convince you otherwise.

So, just like Mr U, as you embark on the fascinating, sometimes terrifying path to sharpen your speaking skills, stay the course.

Start small if you must, but be persistent in improving your skills.

Your future self will thank you when you break that glass ceiling, land amazing opportunities that were previously closed to you, or achieve great feats with your speaking chops.

Trust me on this.

Do you need help with your communication skills?

I love working with ambitious professionals, executives, entrepreneurs, and business leaders worldwide.

You already know my approach, my credibility, and my experience. So kindly get in touch, and let’s explore how my transformational communication coaching and training services will catapult you to success in your career or business.

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N.B: First image is courtesy of GooKingSword via Pixabay. Second image is courtesy of John Hain via Pixabay. Third image is courtesy of Yogesh More via Pixabay. Last image is courtesy of Gerd Altmann via Pixabay.

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