I’m continuing a series of public speaking principles in the next few blog posts that are a summation of what I’ve learned about this fiendishly difficult art and science over three decades of practice, coaching, learning from others, and research, especially neuroscience.  Here are the next seven, numbers 22 – 28.  These principles cover mainly the structure and content of a speech.

22.The science of public speaking lies in getting the basic persuasive structure right. The art of public speaking lies in getting all the details right. We persuade people to adopt a new point of view only by getting them to let go of their status quo, something that most people do with great reluctance and deep resistance.  There is a science to the basic structure of taking your audience on a journey from their status quo to a new point of view.  Get that wrong and you may delight your audience without changing them.  The art comes in the little details of tone, story, and emotion.  Get those wrong and you’ll lose your audience without delighting them.

23.The structure of a speech should be informed always by its main purpose – and you should be able to state that in a sentence. You may actually never utter that sentence to you audience, but you should know what it is. It should guide the inclusion and exclusion of details and ideas throughout.

24.A good speaker should be prepared to improvise in the moment. A speech is always the meeting of the speaker, the topic, the audience – and the moment. A speaker should be ready to add detail, cut short a section, answer a burning question, and otherwise lead the audience on a journey driven by consent, not a forced march.

25.A good speech begins with specifics and ends with generalities. To orient the audience, and anchor it in something concrete, always start with specifics – a specific story, stat, statement or question.  By the end of the speech, having moved your audience to action, you should be pointing the way forward at a lofty, future-oriented level.

26.Good speakers save their best stories for the end of the speech. Great speakers start with their best story and find even better ones.  Aristotle advised storytellers to begin “in the middle of things,” and keep raising the stakes after that.  You should never be parsimonious with your material.  Use it lavishly, extravagantly, and wastefully, secure in the hope that you can craft even better stories.

27.A great speech is a process, not a product. If you think of your speech as a thing, you’ll give it to the audience and that will be the end of the interaction.  If you see your speech as a process of journeying together with the audience, you’ll take the audience naturally with you to the end of the speech, and beyond.

28.A great speech is anchored in a specific topic, time and place. Churchill’s great speeches in WWII, that held together and inspired a nation to keep fighting, would seem grandiloquent and excessive in peaceful times. A speech needs to be aware of its moment.


  1. What a magnificently orotund word “grandiloquent” is!
    I’m not sure whether I’m enjoying your Principles on Public Speaking or not, Dr. Nick. On the one hand they’re immensely instructional – on the other they scare the bejesus out of me. Thank you, I think.

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