I’ve written a number of times on the secrets for professional public speaking success.  But more recently, I’ve started thinking about the personal qualities that are important for success in this challenging field.  The life of a public speaker is a difficult one – not as difficult as coal mining, perhaps, but difficult nonetheless in its own way – and certain characteristics are important if you’re not going to be miserable in the life you lead. Five in particular seem to me to be most important in the successful speakers I’ve observed over the years as a coach.  What’s your experience?  What has stood you in good stead – or the contrary, has gotten in the way for you?

1.Emotional resilience.  I think the most important characteristic is perhaps emotional toughness, or resilience.  Not every audience is going to love you, and not every speech is going to be a success.  But if you can’t bounce back from the difficult occasions, and take the successes in stride without becoming overly confident, you’re going to have a rocky ride indeed.

2.Determination. Closely related to resilience is the ability to stick to it without giving up, even if things don’t go your way at first. It takes considerable effort and time to develop a successful public speaking career, and anyone who expects quick results and easy wins is almost certainly bound for disappointment.  Hanging in there – without being delusional – is one of the emotional success factors.

3.Conscientiousness. Speakers need to sweat the details, from the arcana of their area of specialty to the little moments of technical and performance felicity that make the difference between OK and great. And caring for all the people who help you along the way is important too.  Successful public speaking is all about the little stuff and the big stuff, both.

4.Control. Great speakers learn to control the moment, to rise to the occasion, and to seize the opportunity for an effective ad lib when it arises. It’s all about understanding the ebb and flow of human emotion and engagement, and knowing when to control that flow and when to ride it.

5.Optimism. Of course speakers must be optimists. There are so many ways that a life on the road, a life of endless auditions in front of new audiences every night, a life of the ups and downs of venues and technical issues and unexpected delays and problems – all of it can chip away at the most durable of human psyches. Optimism is a must.

My own allotment of these qualities varies –even on good days – so I talk about these qualities not because I believe I’ve mastered them, but because I’ve seen their mix in the speakers I’ve coached over the years, and seen what can hold a speaker back from success – or propel them to opportunity after opportunity.  When someone asks me if I think they have what it takes to become a successful speaker, we usually start the discussion because the talent and insight are there.  What separates the winners from the rest in the end is these qualities, plus one more:  a willingness to work harder than the rest, for longer than everyone else.

What are the emotional qualities you see as essential to your success and the successes you’ve observed?



  1. Hi Nick, I’d add “mindfulness” a concept I have been thinking about a lot these days. Mindfulness for a speaker means being in the moment during the entire gig – from when you leave the door of your home until you return. It’s being aware of the entire event you’re speaking at, not just your 60 minutes on stage. Enjoy the plane ride and be aware because you never know who might be on the flight. That person behind you in line to check in to the hotel might be the CMO of the company that hired you. The person on the treadmill next to you at the gym could be your speaking client’s top customer. You’re “on stage” from the moment you depart your home so enjoy it and be aware of your actions.

  2. Hi Nick

    Excellent post, the emotional quality I believe is very important is a deep sense of Gratitude. Grateful for your audience, be it one person or 1000 persons. Grateful for your message, its origins, and its meaning for others. Gratitude in your crafting of that message and gratitude in the practice of delivering that message.

    To awake each day, to be grateful, at a deep and simple way for each breath, each smile and each other. Grateful for the good times and the times that challenge us. For the times we flow and for the times we grow.

    As always grateful for your inspiration, your ideas and your willingness to share.

    Kindest regards
    John Keating

  3. I love this article. What is the biggest emotional quality required to be a good public speaker? For me, it’s having the courage to speak if you’re terrified of doing it. I used to run a conference company, and I observed a strange phenomenon…. the speakers who scored the highest in delegate evaluation forms were always those who got the most nervous. That’s because they had only become public speakers because they had an important message to share that they were passionate about, rather than because they were comfortable with public speaking. They were usually petrified, but delivered their message with passion and integrity.

    I have noticed this lack of confidence tends to go hand in hand with a high level of self-awareness that can make people more sensitive to audience feedback than more confident and egotistical speakers. Over time, these nervous people grow in confidence and learn how to be amazing public speakers, because they continuously seek out feedback, and care so much about making sure they don’t waste the audience’s time. In the end, they become the best speakers at the event, but they still get nervous, because they believe there is always room for improvement…

    I have dedicated my career to helping these people find the courage to speak! You can read about my thinking on fear here which stems from my own story of overcoming fear of public speaking: http://lovepublicspeaking.org/the-worst-advice-i-ever-heard-about-public-speaking-anxiety

    Keep up the great articles Nick!

  4. Awesome post, Nick. I’d add a few related concepts: Stamina — perhaps as a subset of a few of these. And Humility (always be learning — you’re never exactly a “master,” because you can always improve. And finally Vulnerability. Because putting yourself out there is scary — it’s easier to stay in your comfort zone. (Relates to Carrie’s above — which I love.)

    Thanks for writing this!

  5. Hi Nickwould like to give a testimonial, item 4.Control.
    I was still studying Gymnasium at night and was candidate for President of the Guild. So I was making my speech in a classroom when the light went out. The students have already begun to make fun of the situation. So in control, I said something like: This physical darkness you are living will soon be resolved. But if they vote on the competing plaque they will have a mental darkness for a whole year

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