Every year, I challenge myself on my birthday by doing consecutive push-ups to match the birthday I’m celebrating. As you can imagine, the task becomes more difficult every year. Last year, I felt fortunate to have eeked out the 38th push-up.
This year, on my 39th birthday, I realized there was a chance I might not be able to meet the challenge, so I decided to pump out 39 of something else. With that in mind, I did some reflecting and compiled a list of 39 things I’ve learned about public speaking.
1. You’re never good enough not to to practice.
2. Public speaking is both a science and an art. Approach it strictly from either point of view and you and you won’t be as successful as you could be.
3. All things being equal, written speeches are better and more successful than extemporaneous speeches.
4. No height of reasoning or depth of wisdom is strong enough to educate a mind that refuses to learn.
5. Every audience and individual is unique. What works for one won’t necessarily work for another.
6. There is no “best way” to start every speech. Each speech is as unique as the audience. Every opening should also be unique.
7. Gestures are overrated. They can’t add substance to a message that lacks substance.
8. Even the right words can lose their effect if they’re not delivered with the right timing.
9. Even if your audience disagrees with your position on a subject, they want your speech to be good. After all, they have to sit through it.
10. When put to the test, most statistics about public speaking are a crock.
11. What our audience remembers most is what resonates with them most.
12. The setup of your room affects the flow of energy in the room.
13. Recording yourself on video is the best way to pinpoint your strengths and weaknesses.
14. Memorizing your material and knowing your material are not the same thing.
15. Sometimes public speaking should be treated as a performance. At other times, public speaking should be treated as a conversation. On occasion, it should be treated as both.
16. Always research your audience as thoroughly as possible… always!
17. Reading the book of Proverbs is a great way to train your mind to come up with analogies that easily explain complicated concepts.
18. Age means squat when it comes to your effectiveness as a public speaker. Martin Luther King Jr. was only 34 when he delivered the “I have a dream” speech.
19. It’s okay to say “um” every now and again. People expect it. “Um” becomes a problem when it is used in a pattern the audience begins to anticipate and predict with 99% accuracy.
20. One of the easiest ways to improve your ability to develop a successful speech is to read and listen to successful speeches of the past and present.
21. When you truly connect with your audience, you will be able to feel and experience their energy.
22. Public speaking is not a monarchy and content is not king. Content alone is not enough to persuade people and move them to take action.
23. What you say AND how you say it are of equal importance.
24. Authentic story telling is easy to learn. Just read story books to children.
25. If your presentation relies heavily on technology, be sure to have a plan B.
26. If you’re using PowerPoint or props, rehearse with them.
27. Knowing your subject is important. Explaining your subject in a way that’s easy to understand and memorable is more important.
28. Your speech is successful if your audience remembers, repeats and responds to it… not if you get a standing ovation.
29. The worst times to speak are just before and just after a meal. The audience is too hungry to concentrate just before and too full (or tipsy) to concentrate after.
30. Asking questions is an effective way to engage the minds of the individuals in your audience.
31. When you tell a story, debrief it. Not everyone will interpret your story the same way.
32. Before using a statistic in your speech, research the statistic yourself. There are a lot of myths disguised as statistics.
33. Always put statistics in context. Explain what the statistic means and why the audience should care.
34. If you must tell a joke, use an original one. Few things are as deflating as having people in the audience deliver the punch line before you do.
35. Don’t use a $20 word when a 5 cent word will do the trick. When it comes to word choice, simpler is usually better.
36. Use repetition in your speeches. It will reinforce your main message and make it easier for the audience to follow your train of thought.
37. If you’re going to be introduced, write your own opening. Never trust someone else to do it for you.
38. Even excellent presenters have “off” days. Get over it and move on.
39. Your audience won’t shut you off as quickly as they will a show on television. They can watch the show in their pajamas, but they get dressed up and travel to hear you speak.
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If you would like to take your speeches to another level and learn more public speaking tips, I suggest you download a free copy of my “Successful Speeches Toolkit” so you can make sure your next speech is a successful speech. Visit http://www.wellwrittenwellsaid.com/successfulspeechesblog/?page_id=10 to get your workbook and search tool.
John Watkis is a freelance speechwriter, consultant and keynote speaker who helps his clients give better speeches so they can get better results.
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