Want to be a more effective public speaker? A strong message is only part of the equation. How you actually speak also matters – too fast or too slow, whether you overuse filler words like “um” and “you know,” whether you make eye contact with the audience (or the camera), and whether you sound like How confident.
To help you improve all of these metrics, a startup called Yoodli has created an artificial intelligence application that will analyze your speech and give you suggestions on how to improve. It also offers games designed to hone your speaking skills. You can use it for free by uploading a presentation you’ve already made or practicing live on the website.
To demonstrate the power of his application, Yoodli used his algorithm in Elon Musk’s five-minute commencement speech. He is a genius who has already changed the world in many ways, and may even succeed in his plans to colonize Mars. But Musk is not an elegant public speaker. He stumbled and muttered, and he repeated his words, sometimes four or five times. Luckily for him, Musk is such a charming and compelling figure that people listen to every word no matter what.
Musk may not want to improve his public speaking skills, but most of us do. We can learn a lot from Yoodli’s analysis of Musk’s speech. This is just some of what it found.
Yoodli says that confidence is the most important quality it measures in a speech. It gave Musk a 2 out of 5 confidence in his presentation, although clearly Musk’s personality is very confident.
If you want to be more confident as a speaker, it may be helpful to know that most people who look confident aren’t born that way – they learn it over time, and so do you Can. The easiest way to learn confidence as a speaker is to practice. Practice public speaking whenever you can, and if you have an important presentation coming up, practice it in front of a mirror, on a friend, on a pet, or all three. Next month I’ll be presenting my new keynote to a large audience at Toronto’s Elevate Festival, and you’d better believe I’ve practiced a lot before going on stage.
2. Filler words
According to Yoodli’s algorithm, Musk said “um” 20 times, “um” 18 times, and “like” two times in a five-minute speech Second-rate. These filler words make up 5% of his speech. We all use filler words in our normal, everyday speeches, and most of us (me included) have to work hard to eliminate them from public speaking. It’s worth it, though, as few things mark you as an inexperienced speaker like filler words. (Musk seems to be an exception to this rule, as he is to many others.)
Musk also used a total of 34 hedge words. Hedge words reduce the power of what you’re saying by hedging – you don’t sound like you’re quite sure what you’re talking about. Compare a simple declarative sentence such as “I believe the economy will rebound next year” and “I kind of think the economy may actually rebound next year.” You can see the effect of hedge words.
If you believe something, just say it. If you’re not sure, just say so – but don’t be clichéd. For example: “The signals from economic indicators have been mixed these days, and the future is difficult to predict, but I believe the economy may rebound next year.”
3 . Pacing
Musk apparently speaks at an average rate of 172 words per minute, which is a bit faster than average. “Consider slowing down,” the app advises.
I don’t know about you, but slowing down the speech to the right pace is the hardest part of public speaking for me. Most of us lead hurried lives. We think fast, we fly from one idea to another. However, if we want our audience to fully hear and understand what we have to say, it is important to speak in moderation, usually at a slower pace than we do in our everyday speech. Yoodli recommends changing your speech rate throughout the speech, and pausing from time to time, as Musk did, perhaps after you’ve made important points or you’ve told anecdotes.
Slowing down, and pausing where appropriate, is a great way to make sure your audience stays engaged, hears your most important ideas, and has enough time to absorb them. Done well, your audience will listen to what you have to say and maybe take it to heart. That’s what any speaker can hope for.
Inc.com has a growing number of readers who receive daily texts from me with self-care or motivational micro-challenges or tips. (Interested in joining? Here’s more information and an invitation to extend your free trial.) Many people who are entrepreneurs or business leaders told me that public speaking is one of the most challenging parts of the job. If you feel this way too, don’t worry. A little practice, and paying attention to these three areas, can make your presentation more effective and compelling, and help your audience stay engaged—even if you’re not Elon Musk.