Speaking is Habitual: The Power of Habit in Learning to Become an Effective Speaker

Speaking is Habitual: The first Threshold Concept for learning to be an effective speaker.


When I was in high school, every junior had to give a 5-minute speech to the entire high school. Not only was it a graduation requirement, but the course leading up to that speech taught us specific skills that we were meant to take into our lives outside the doors of our school. Not everyone turned out to be a great speaker, because some people just stood there at the podium and read their speech. But the best were from people who knew they needed or wanted to put on a bit of a show. So they spoke loudly, with good breath support (even if they didn’t know they had it), engaged with the audience, and maybe even stepped away from the podium.  Essentially, they were putting on a performance.

My school knew something–that speaking isn’t natural, it’s habitual. As such, it requires a series of skills that need to be learned.

I would guess those 17-year-olds couldn’t tell you exactly what they were doing, but they never intended to be public speakers. For those who choose or are thrust into public speaking, the most effective speakers are making specific choices, building a structure, including storytelling… And they have a good idea of how and why they’re making those decisions. 

Those high school juniors also knew their audience pretty well. They were the same people they were in class with or played sports alongside. And that’s part of why they were effective, because they were asked to speak to a specific audience. But if they were asked to give a speech to parents, or CEOs, or HR professionals, there would be new skills to be learned. 

Regardless of the audience, regardless of the genre, regardless of how regularly you have the same meeting with the same agenda, a speaker has to have their own habits of preparing and practicing and getting in the rhythm. They are always adjusting and forming new habits. And learning new skills. And this learning happens every time, because it is habitual. 

The good news is that speaking can be learned–the skills can be absorbed, and once you embrace that, you can be a good communicator. But the bottom line, for some of those 17-year-olds at least, is that one successful presentation will not be enough to transform anyone. Habits need to be reinforced over time. 

So where do you start? Start by asking yourself what led to your success. If you can identify some of those skills, and are intentional about practicing, you’ll be on your way. 



About The Threshold Concepts for Learning to be an Effective Speaker

Articulation has established Six Threshold Concepts for Learning to be an Effective Speaker. Embrace all six and practice the rituals, habits and patterns associated with them to become a better speaker.