Public Speaking: The Simple Secrets
Transcript of after dinner remarks delivered to the August, 2001, CliqueFriends Meeting

I was asked by the membership to talk tonight about the art of public speaking and, in particular, about the easiest way to become a good public speaker.

Well, we've had a great dinner, and as the hour is getting late, some of you are eager to get on your way home. With that in mind, I am going to give you the simple answer straightaway: the easiest way to become a good public speaker is by talking.

Now that might seem to be too simple -- but think about it. What does an Olympic swimmer do to become a better swimmer? He swims. What does a professional singer do to become a better singer? He sings. And what does a student do to become a better student? He studies.

So why not? Why shouldn't a person who wants to be a better speaker just talk?

Now a swimmer doesn't just swim, a singer doesn't just sing, and a student doesn't just study, you say. And you're right.

They improve through repetition, they improve through analyzing and developing techniques, and they improve because they are striving toward a goal, toward being the best.

The last few months of my sophomore year at college, I spent very long days closeted up with my books and typewriter. I took in ideas with my eyes and expressed them with my fingers. Once school ended, I returned to a normal life, but much to my surprise and frustration, I was having difficulty talking. I was like a sailor who had stayed too long on shore before returning to ship. It was like when you first get off the roller coaster at the amusement park. It takes a little while to regain your legs. So hard had I studied, I had forgotten how to talk. That's not to say I had been struck dumb. No, it wasn't that bad. But I did find myself tripping over words because my mind had been training for speed but my mouth had been enjoying a few months on the beach.

Repetition. A swimmer swims, a student studies, a singer sings, and a speaker speaks.

Secondly, they learn techniques from others, and as they master them, they tailor them to themselves. A good speaker does no less. He listens to others -- to the great orators of our time and time past, and listens for their cadence, their use of imagery, how they build a story, and how they end it. And, a good speaker listens to himself. Because we are each different, we have to find what fits us -- in personality and ability -- and then improve on that.

And thirdly, a good speaker has a goal, a reason for public speaking. For many, it's to command the power of the spoken word. To use the power of the voice to triumph over the power of the limb. To be able to lead an army of people, simply by speaking. To persuade the most biased of minds, with reason. Or as Shakespeare's Othello said when attempting to explain Desdemona's love for him,
She thanked me,
And bade me, if I had a friend that loved her,
I should but teach him how to tell my story,
And that would woo her.
Repetition and technique are important, but it's the love of what you are doing and the desire to be the best that sets the best off from the rest. Watch and learn from your children the power of motivation. Ask them to tell you about something that they don't want to talk about, and it's hard to get a word out of them. Go turn on the television to watch your favorite program while they go play, and it's hard to get them to shut up. That's when they're motivated and are speaking to reach a goal.. And as a public speaker, you should be as well.

Let me close on this thought: practice, technique, and striving toward a goal are the basic ingredients to being a good public speaker. By applying yourself towards these will come confidence that when called upon, you can do it, and you can do it the best. Then, public speaking is no longer a challenge. It's play time.

Ask me back, and we can talk more about the role of confidence and the love of the art in public speaking. Many have said much about these two already, but I feel more can be said. But that, ladies and gentlemen, we'll save for another night.

Good night.

Updated September 30, 2003 - go to our home or life advice page