Speakers don’t have a union, and we’re a motley collection of thought leaders, experts, teachers, crusaders (in the non-twelfth-century, deracinated version of the term), and misfits.  We’re on our own a good deal of the time on the road, on the stage, and on the search for new ideas.

So we need a code.

Here’s my first pass at one – The Ten Tenets of Public Speaking.  Let me know what I’m missing, what you like, what you don’t like, and what you’re drinking.

I. I am always learning.

Just as every speech is an opportunity to teach or persuade a new audience, so is it a chance to learn from that audience.  Speakers are never done learning.  Speakers are always open – and never defensive – to finding someone who knows more than they do.

II. I will always make time for my fellow practitioners.

Good Karma works for speakers just like everyone else.  We are kind to the beginners, the stars, and the last-speech speakers, because we recognize ourselves every step of the way.  Every speaker’s career describes the same arc in the broadest sense.

III. I will never become a diva.

Life’s too short and changing the world too important for any single speaker to take himself or herself too seriously.  Speakers have a right to be treated with courtesy – and to treat everyone they meet along the way with the same courtesy.

IV. If I say I’ll do it, I will.

The speaking business is one of relationships and consistency is the common currency of many different engagements, occasions, and moments.  It’s a simple matter of integrity, in the end, in dealings both big and small.

V. I’ll be a tiger negotiating and a kitten when I arrive on site.

We have every right to make the best deal we can, and every duty to be gracious on site.  Putting on a conference or an event is a stressful, detail-obsessed occasion and we won’t add to the burden.  We will deal first, then work together.

VI. My stage persona and my off-stage persona are one and the same.

Integrity has always been important, but in the YouTube era it’s even harder to get away with being, say, the Tithing Advocate on stage while ignoring the homeless man on the street near the stage.  Audiences measure the strength of our message, at least in part, by whether or not we live it.  And they will know.

VII. I embrace my failures and successes both – for what they can teach me.

A successful speech is the happy collision of a speaker with passion, a message with purpose, and an audience with ears.  When it goes well and when it doesn’t there’s always something to learn.  There are no silly questions, just fresh perspectives and new ways to think about our topics.

VIII. I understand that speakers speak each with a unique voice and therefore I won’t compare them.

See Tenet VII.  Some speeches work well on some occasions and not so well on others, so wise speakers don’t assume it’s all their own magnificence that created the success.  What they cultivate instead is their own voice.  Uniqueness is something given to us at birth, and re-learned over a lifetime.

IX. I am authentic, yet sensitive to TMI.

We live in an age of authenticity, and that’s by and large a good thing, but no audience wants to hear everything.  It’s up to the speaker to decide what to share and what to keep to oneself.  It’s up to the speaker to decide what’s relevant and what isn’t.

X. I am in service to the message, and to the audience.

The only reason to give a speech is to change the world.  It’s not primarily to change the speaker’s tax bracket.  Speakers recognize that they are a small part of something larger.  The opportunity to speak to an audience is a great gift, one which speakers treasure always.

It’s just over a week to our Powerful Public Speaking workshop, March 31st, in Boston.  Let us know today if you’re interested in attending.






  1. Well said, Nick! How about adding another one: I will eat my own dogfood. If I talk about strategic planning, I will have gone through the process and am able to point to a strategic plan. If I talk about customer service, then each and every touchpoint in the process is amazing. Etc. 🙂

    1. Thanks, Kristin — great addition, and really important. When I talk about public speaking or communications, I have to model good behavior (and my advice) or people call me on it. I can’t just be the messenger:-)

  2. Nick, you significantly help me live Tenet #1: Always be Learning. Every blog you write is loaded with thoughtful, immediately applicable insights. I’d also add another one: Be open to Feedback. I see it as as a critical corollary to the first tenet. And it’s one of the key ways we learn and raise our bar. Thank you, Nick.

  3. I saw your first two points demonstrated beautifully this week not by speakers, but by teachers. I was watching my daughter and others from her school perform in musical competitions. Her handbell group blew the other groups out of the water.

    As I was sitting with the teacher/director later in the day, a teacher from one of the other school approached. “Can I pick your brain? How can I help my students improve?” Our teacher shared insights on what she observed and techniques they might want to use.

    I was so pleased with both teachers. The first one humbled herself for the sake of her students. The second one willingly shared some things that would help, and she did so with grace.

    When I commented on it, she said, “It may seem like
    it’s all about the competition, but it’s really about the students.”

    1. Thanks, Jennifer — I love this story. It is indeed all about the students, and the teachers that, through their generosity, make the world go ’round.

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