Play To Your Strengths As A Speaker

by Stephen Boyd | July 31, 2003

I recently gave an assignment where the students had to use exaggerated gestures and body movement to describe how to do something--such as eating a piece of pizza or changing a tire. One of the students in this class is a quadriplegic, and I was uncertain as to how he would handle the assignment. He responded in a marvelous way by showing how he taught his niece to wiggle her ears! He gave a lively demonstration from the neck up. The audience loved it and he did an outstanding job. He demonstrated a powerful principle in speaking: play to your strengths.

In attempting to improve our speaking, we often concentrate on overcoming our weaknesses. On a video playback of a speech we will look for all the mistakes and think of ways to improve. There is nothing wrong with doing that—if we also will evaluate what our strengths are and work to accent our strong points as a speaker.

For example, if you tell stories well, be sure to include stories in your speeches. If you use humor well, include it whenever appropriate. If you have a naturally lively delivery style, don’t stand behind a lectern when you speak; stand to the side or in front of the lectern so you can accentuate your delivery. If you have an uncanny ability to elicit audience participation, then allow time for that in any speech you deliver.

The logical conclusion is that if you play to your strengths you will eventually weed out the weaknesses not by dwelling on them. Instead, squeeze them out of your speech by relying strongly on your strengths. Playing to your strengths will increase your self-confidence in speaking and will provide more energy in delivery. You will feel good about the things you do well in speaking and know you are including them as you speak.

To improve your speaking, identify your strengths. You can do this by observing your audience response to your speech, asking friends what they think your strengths are, and by identifying the places where you feel most comfortable when speaking. A mature speaker is one who knows what he/she does well and seeks to emphasize those strengths every time he/she gets in front of an audience.

About the Author

Stephen D. Boyd, Ph.D., CSP, is Professor Emeritus of Speech Communication, College of Informatics, Northern Kentucky University, near Cincinnati. He presents keynotes and seminars to corporations and associations whose people want to speak and listen effectively. See additional articles and resources at To book Steve, call 800-727-6520 or email him through his website.

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