John F. Kennedy's speech in Berlin. I think we all could speak as well as Kennedy with some practice.

This article is an introduction to the 3-part series on Smart Public Speaking and Presentation Skills

I remember my first speech.

It was in 3rd grade.  I was 8 years old.  And I was running for Class President.

I had spent the last week campaigning on the playground: I hung huge posters on every fence on campus, and handed out business cards to my classmates.  I ran on a populist platform of procuring and distributing more soccer balls at recess.

But I had some stiff competition.  I was running against two other popular kids in my class.  My campaign platform and my handouts were definitely cooler than the competition, but I knew it was still going to be a close call.

I had to lock in victory.  My last chance was our 5-minute speech right before voting.

I spent hours practicing.  I came up with props.  I thought about hand gestures.  Hours later, I was ready.

I won the election.  I served an illustrious term as 3rd grade president, which consisted of presiding over 2 pizza parties.

Fast forward to today.  I love giving speeches as much as I loved my first speech in 3rd grade.

I realize most people have the exact opposite feeling about public speaking.  From what I hear, it’s one of the most-feared undertakings for many.

And for that reason, public speaking is dismissed: dismissed as something that only upper-level managers, actors and politicians need to know how to do well.

What I think people don’t realize is just how important public speaking is for us as individuals, for our career, and ultimately for our happiness. 

Mastering public speaking:

1. Gives you immense credibility in front of others.

2. Helps put you in control of your image, and helps with personal branding.

3. Makes it easier for you to more concisely, confidently and persuasively convey information; both during a speech, in writing and in conversation.

I won’t say that “everyone” should master public speaking.  It’s up to you to decide if you care enough to get better (which you will, with practice).

I want to take what I learned in 3rd grade–and in the countless speeches I have given since then–and help others understand how to get better.  What I’ve found is that most advice on public speaking is not very good. 

Most people I’ve met try to master public speaking like they would try to study for a math test.

Think back to math class.  The key to success is memorization and understanding dense and technical equations.  If you wanted an A on a calculus test, you have to remember exactly how a derivative works.

There’s a right answer, and there’s a wrong answer.  There’s no room for interpretation.  There’s only one way to do it.

When people try to learn how to speak, they take a “math test” approach.  They try to learn tips; they scrutinize their every word or hand gesture; they worry about inserting the right number of jokes.

But public speaking is not a math test.  Public speaking is, first and foremost, situational. 

There’s no “right way” to give a speech.  It’s entirely an abstract function of the environment, the content, your personality, and your comfort with the situation.

That’s what I want people to understand: giving a good speech is about being able to “feel” the situation.  The best way to learn public speaking is with a mindset inspires action approach, as I have advocated throughout this entire blog!

Let’s get more specific.  I approach teaching public speaking and presentation skills through 3 distinct areas, and I have an article on each one:

Part 1: The Public Speaking Mindset

Part 2: The Speech

Part 3: Handouts and Slides

NB- These 3 articles will be released over the course of the next week.

Part 1 focuses on the overall mentality needed to give a great speech or presentation (the mindset), and Parts 2 and 3 focus on the technical elements and execution (the action).

After you’re done reading the series, I would love your feedback: has my advice helped you?  Are there some other issues I should have tackled, but didn’t?  Is there anything I should expand on?

It’s my goal to convince you that public speaking is incredibly important, can make a positive difference in your life, and is actually a lot easier than you would initially expect.

Are your ready?


Photo Credit: By Robert Knudsen, White House [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

  • Georgi

    I look forward to reading the next articles;)

  • rcthornton

    I have written the next one; feel free to take a look!

  • David353

    Public speaking is without a doubt one of the biggest fears anyone could have. Its probably the number one reason why people fail in the corporate world, they just cant stand up in front of a crowd a give a speech. I think that by using fear of speaking hypnotherapy methods ( anyone can make a great speech no matter how fearful they are beforehand.

    • rcthornton

      I really don’t think the method you suggest is the right way to learn and master public speaking.  Your approach is to take a “supernatural”  or “magical” approach to a natural issue; something that is supernatural or magical inherently cannot be understood, and therefore must just be trusted and blindly believed.  Better methods–such as the ones I tirelessly promote in my blog–encourage cognitive analysis and deep understanding of complex and multi-faceted issues; that is, seeking to understand, rather than looking for a cure-all, magical trick to achieve success.

      • David353

        Hi R.C
                 I understand your skeptisim of hypnotherapy techniques but they have been proven to work in the past. When we listen repeatedly to affirmations they will eventually sink into our subconcious mind and can change the way we think & act. Basically, if you’re told something for long enough you’ll eventually  believe it. So for instance if you had a fear of public speaking then by listening to positive affirmations for a few weeks you could in fact change the way you approach the situation and the fear will eventually dissipate.