Last time I posted on my peeves, so this time I’m giving away some hints on how to improve your game – with a positive focus. Enjoy!

1.No one wants her time wasted. Start crisply, use the time allotted well, and end just a bit early. Good time management is an essential skill of the public speaker. Far too many don’t use the time well, especially running over at the end. Rehearse to find out how long you’ll go. Never, ever run long. But also start well. Don’t waffle at the beginning.

2.Find a positive message somewhere, and a hero to talk about, even if you’re taking some aspect of your field to task. I’m going to go out on a limb here, because a certain Donald Trump is doing very well right now in the American presidential sweepstakes by focusing relentlessly on the negative. But I believe that it’s the duty of every public speaker to find something right with the world, your view of it, or at least some hero along the way who has exemplified the positive attributes you’re standing behind. Otherwise, save your doom-and-gloom for the bar. The public speech needs positive visions – at the very least – of the way the world could be, even if you don’t believe it is that way right now.

3.Have a clear attitude or POV. A good speech is an argument, not a report. It’s not a time to be fair to all competing points of view – it’s a time to put your POV forward. If you do talk about other positions, represent them fairly, but don’t duck your responsibility to have thought through the major points of contention in your area of expertise and your era and taken a position on them. Besides, attitude is fun.

4.Find one main point for your speech to make and ensure that everything supports that point. If it doesn’t, throw it out. A speech is an overwhelming and confusing informational exercise for the audience. Make it as easy as possible by keeping on point.

5.Don’t save your best point or story for last. Rather, begin with it. I’ve undertaken the exercise many times with my clients – we’ll take the big finishing story that is their pride and joy, and challenge ourselves to begin the speech with that story. We ask ourselves, what comes next? How could we possibly top this story? And surprisingly often we come up with something that greatly improves the speech.

6.Don’t be afraid to risk your relationship with your audience by telling it difficult truths. Most speakers want their audiences to love them. Naturally enough; you’re risking a good deal by standing in front of an audience. At least, it certainly feels that way. But true change and authenticity means moving your audience with the truth about what’s going on – not just what you think the audience wants to hear. That’s pandering, and it’s a waste of everyone’s time.

7.Have an ideal audience member in mind. Just as you should stick to one main point, with supporting stories, information, facts, anecdotes, and so on – you should also prepare your speech with one perfect attendee in mind. That way, your speech will focus on what it should: helping a real person think in a new way about something that matters. The only reason to give a speech is to change the world, and you change the world one listener at a time.

8.Don’t keep secrets from the audience. Ever since Steve Jobs and Oprah made fetishes – and successes – out of saving a surprise for the end, speakers have tried to imitate them. Everyone gets a car! Well, it has been done, and by two masters, so don’t you try and end up doing a lesser job. Instead, give the important surprises away as early as possible, and figure out what should happen next.

9.Use only one set of numbers. Too many speakers offer 10 rules of thumb for this topic, and by the way, under Rule Number Two, there are six ways to improve your handicap, or whatever it is. The audience mind can only handle one set of numbers, lists, or rules per talk. As soon as you launch into the first subset, you’ll begin to lose your listeners. Don’t. Do. It.

10.Make your audience interaction real. I’ll forgive a certain amount of “By raise of hands, how many of you have two hands?” But that amount is small. Preferably one – or none. Why don’t I like it? Because it’s treating your audience like children, and reducing them to either-or-voting-ciphers. Instead, do the harder and more rewarding work of figuring out how you can actually involve the audience in the speech by asking them open-ended questions and getting them involved in creating paths forward from your speech. If you’re going to change the world, you have to begin by trusting the people in front of you enough to make them part of the process.

We’ll be interactive at our first public workshop in 6 years in Boston on April 22nd. Spaces are limited – last chance to sign up!





  1. “Don’t be afraid to risk your relationship with your audience by telling it difficult truths.”

    This is what audiences both fear and hope for, no? Somebody who will speak the truth?

    It’s very likely that when you tell a true and hard story, people will not want to hear it, but they will thank you for saying the hard thing, which is itself a form of permission for others to speak their truth.

    Great stuff, Nick. Thanks so much!

  2. Hi Nick,

    I really like this suggestion of tips.

    With regard to storytelling, as a fellow public speaking coach, I think it’s hugely important, and in fact it can be used to build massive rapport with audiences.

    There’s even research suggesting that telling audiences a story helps synchronise their brains with yours – making you feel more in tune with them and they with you – which has to be a good thing.

    I’ve written a blog about it here if you or any of your readers are interested:

    With regard to keeping it real I also agree. I think that many speakers try to stay safe by putting up a facade. My experience is the opposite – the more willing I am to (slowly and gradually) let down my guard with an audience, the safer I feel and the more fun everyone has.

  3. Point 4 is probably the best here – I do a lot of actor training, and one of the main questions I ask is ‘Why Are You Still Talking?’. There’s got to be a reason – an itch – as to why the character is still wanting to say the next line. They haven’t finished something, or there’s been something that doesn’t make sense yet. So having a key point of focus in a presentation gives you a rationale for why you’re still talking – does that sound right?

    1. Thanks, Matt — it’s an interesting point. The techniques of actors and speakers overlap in many places, but not all. The actor is inhabiting a character, and so needs to understand why that character needs to keep talking, as you say. The speaker is inhabiting a POV, and that can be its own rationale for keeping on — at least until the audience is persuaded.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.