I love public speaking.  There is probably nothing I do that gives me a bigger thrill than standing in front of a huge audience and giving a speech.  I have been giving speeches since third grade, when I ran for class President.  My speech consisted of a populist platform of bringing more soccer balls to the playground.  I think I won in a landslide.

One of my biggest strengths is my ability to speak confidently and cogently in public and in front of audiences of all sizes, from a few people to an entire lecture hall.  My most memorable speech was when I ran for student body president my junior year.  I promised to “max out” our school’s “fun card”.  Even to this day, people still remember the speech.

I think public speaking should be one of your most important strengths, too.  Your ability to lead and inspire other people will, in large part, boil down to what you say, and the way in which you say it.  Think of any President from any political party that you admire, and think about why you admire him.  Surely his ability to speak in a way that makes it seem like he understands you and your needs is something that makes you like him.

Most advice about public speaking is inadequate.

I’ve read quite a few books about public speaking.  Frankly, I think most of them are bad.  That is because they miss the point entirely.  See, these books don’t actually try to teach you how to speak in public: they try to give you lists of “tips” to memorize (upwards of 300 pages worth of tips, in some books I have read); the idea is that by memorizing these tips, you will be able to give a flawless speech the next time you try.

I can tell you this: whenever I give a speech, I absolutely never proceed by thinking about a list of tips and trying to implement each one as I talk.  Quite to the contrary.  It comes almost entirely naturally to me.  This comes through practice and mindset.


As with everything I have written in this blog in previous articles, I submit to you that giving a good speech is entirely about mindset.  If your mindset is true and you practice speaking, you will be able to give a rousing, confident and cogent speech.

Key points about mindset:

  • Just think of all the bad speeches you’ve had to sit through.

Relate to your prior bad experiences.  What didn’t you like?  What puts you to sleep?  What annoys you?  Don’t do those things.

  • Understand exactly what your value proposition is.  What are you trying to teach or convey to your audience?

This is one of the biggest “rookie” mistakes with speaking.  You think everything you could possibly talk about is important, and you’d be doing your audience a huge disservice by not sharing every little detail.

That mindset, I can guarantee you, is exactly wrong.

You need to know, very specifically, what value you bring to your audience.  A lesson I learned in campaign school when I volunteered for the Republican Party: a candidate’s campaign platform should have 3-4 main points that the entire campaign is based around. The same goes for your speech.  What 3-4 main points are you conveying?

Anything else sounds like the ramblings of a madman.  Or just the ramblings of someone disorganized.  Either way, you’re going to overload your audience with irrelevant information.

  • Say only those words which are value-added.

A lot of people use “filler” language when they communicate.  Remember that your audience’s attention span is short.  Use only that language which is direct and to-the-point.  So instead of saying “Well gosh, I’m really not sure what the answer to your question is.  I thought I prepared this before the speech, but I must have left it at home.  Maybe the best thing for me to do is get back in touch with you tomorrow”, say “I’m not sure.  May I get back in touch tomorrow with the answer?”

Using direct language increases the appearance of confidence.  It makes you seem like you know exactly what you need to say.  Audiences like confident speakers, and sounding like you are rambling will detract from that confident appearance.

  • Go watch some speeches of people you look up to, and imagine yourself speaking like them when you talk.

This is valuable because you get to “feel” how good speakers use their voice, posture and gestures to motivate a crowd.  Having that “feeling” is much more useful than memorizing.

  • Realize how dumb it is that you’re so nervous.  Stop pretending that your speech is such a big deal.

Unless you’re Mitt Romney who gets dinged for misstating one sentence in the thousands of speeches he has given, your speech probably does not matter that much.  Why care so much about something with so little on the line?  Even if your speech is actually important, realize that your worrying about it is actually causing your problems rather than your worrying being a reaction to your problems.


Of course “practice makes perfect”.  But what’s important here is to realize that practice is the only thing that actually makes you better.  It’s another reason the “lists” are dumb (since they presume memorization will automatically make you better).  Practice will help eliminate the worrying feeling.  I highly recommend getting feedback from family and friends during your practice sessions.  Equally valuable is to videotape yourself.   Just see what you are doing wrong, and get a better “feeling” about how to speak better.  Don’t worry that much if you think your speech doesn’t go well.  Chalk it up to practice, and do better next time.