Top 7 Public Speaking Tips for Military Leaders

As a military leader, you will have to do some public speaking at some point in your career.  This applies to both Officers and NCOs alike.  As you progress up through the ranks, you will speak to larger audiences and you will do public speaking more frequently.

If you read the different surveys online, you will find that people fear public speaking more than they fear just about anything else in life.  They fear public speaking more than spiders and death.  A Soldier can fight in a foxhole, work long hours, go on dangerous convoys and do other dangerous missions without worrying much, but when it comes to public speaking, many fear it.

I guess I’m a little bit different than most Soldiers.  I actually LOVE public speaking.  It’s one of my favorite things to do.  I don’t say that to brag or boast.  I just want you to know that I wasn’t always that way.  Early in my military career, I dreaded it.  I’m not sure if it was because of my lack of confidence or low self-image, but I never wanted to speak to a group of people.

As I matured and honed my leadership skills I began to improve.  What I want to do in the rest of this article is shared some things I did to overcome my fear and improve my public speaking skills.

# 1 Join Toastmasters – If I could credit one thing to helping me be a better public speaker it’s Toastmaster’s.  I spent about 2.5 years with Toastmaster’s and probably gave about 50 speeches. Every time you attend a meeting you are expected to give a speech, whether it is impromptu or a planned speech.  You get good feedback and you actually learn how to plan out a speech.  You also learn how to evaluate other people’s speeches.  I recommend every military leader spend a year or two with Toastmaster’s.  It’s about $40 a year (to the best of my knowledge) and it is money well spent, as I see it.

# 2 Take a Public Speaking Class – If you don’t want to go the Toastmaster’s route you can also take a public speaking class at your local community college.  You won’t get as much experience speaking in this class as you would Toastmaster’s, but it’s still good experience.  Plus, you get some college credits for taking the class.  I’ve taken two or three public speaking college classes in my life and found them to be very helpful.

# 3 Volunteer to Speak – One of the best things you can do to improve your public speaking skills is to volunteer to speak whenever possible.  Volunteer to teach an OPD/NCODP or give a class.  Do this whenever you can.  See if you can get an opportunity to go up in front of the unit formation and share a short message.  The more public speaking you do the better you will get.

# 4 Read Books About Public Speaking – There are many books about public speaking.  Go to your local library or on Amazon and read the following books.

  • The Quick Way to Effective Speaking by Dale Carnegie
  • Confessions of a Public Speaker by Scott Berkun
  • Talk Like Ted: The 9 Public Speaking Secrets of the World’s Top Minds by Carmine Gallo

# 5 Find a Mentor – Another simple thing you can do to improve your public speaking skills is find a mentor.  Find someone in your unit, or even a civilian, who has good public speaking skills and ask them for advice and tips.  They can share some good ideas that will really help you out.

# 6 Watch Other People Speak – Whenever someone else is doing public speaking, watch them closely.  Keep track of what they are doing well and what they are doing badly.  Take notes.  Observe.  Pay close attention.  I learned a lot about public speaking by watching others speak in public.

# 7 Ask for Feedback – Another great idea to improve your public speaking skills is to ask for feedback.  Whenever you do a public speech, ask the people in the crowd, or someone you respect to give you some honest, constructive feedback.  I think of it as doing an After-Action-Review of your speech.  If you don’t ask anyone, you won’t know how you did.

Bonus Tips: When it comes to actually giving your speech, here are a few extra tips.  First of all, plan out your speech and rehearse.  You don’t want to wing it.  Also, look people in the eyes when you talk.  Don’t read your speech verbatim.  Finally, try to make your speech sound like you are having a conversation with someone.  Don’t use tons of big words.  Always keep your audience in mind.   Short and to the point is best!

Final Thoughts

In summary, these are my best public speaking tips for military leaders.  Whether you enjoy public speaking or not, you will have to speak to groups of people many times during your military career.  You can dread it or learn to enjoy it.  By following the seven tips listed above, I truly believe that you can eventually overcome your fears and learn to master (and enjoy) public speaking.

What are your thoughts?  Leave a comment below to let me know what you think.

chuck holmes

Chuck Holmes
Former Army Major (resigned)

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5 thoughts on “Top 7 Public Speaking Tips for Military Leaders”

  1. I just finished a tech school and a big portion of it was public speaking and I'll say there is one thing I learned that helps you speak in public: Speaking in public.
    That's right. Like most things practice makes, if not perfect, at least better.
    I would say watch a few good people do talks and than do a five minute presentation for a small group. Make sure someone watching a qualified public speaker. After the talk they can point out any physical or verbal crutches for you to work on.
    Public speaking is like a muscle. It has to be exercised to get stronger.

  2. You put a great list of tips together here Chuck. Like many, I used to fear public speaking, but like many other things, fear will leave as you just do it. Toastmasters is a great program, and I also agree with reading books on public speaking.

    An old lesson I learned is to find someone in the very back of the room that you can focus on. Forget about the rest of the crowd and speak directly to that person. It works for me, and I believe it will also work for you.

    What Chuck said about rehearsing is also important. Trying to “wing” a public speaking engagement is a recipe for disaster.

  3. These are great tips for public speaking. I have never considered Toastmasters (mostly because of time constraints) but if being in front of people is a way of life the fee is definitely worth the investment! You make an excellent point about not reading verbatim either. First of all – if you write out your entire speech you can easily get lost in all the words. Write out bulleted notes, be knowledgeable about your subject and interact with your audience. Constructive criticism is also great. Ask great speakers for suggestions after you speak so you can improve for the next time. A passive “nice job” never cuts it for me.

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