Conference Stage Microphone

There’s lots of advice out there about how to create, deliver, and get paid for great public speaking.  But, as I was on a brief Busman’s Holiday watching some great speakers recently, I realized that there are some rules that tend to go unspoken and that many up-and-coming speakers might not know.  So here they are, without further ado.  If you already know these rules, and are following them, then you’re on the right road to success.

1.Study the great speakers – but don’t imitate them. There’s much to learn from a close study of the great speakers – whether it’s Kennedy and King, Churchill and FDR, or some of your business heroes.  You’re not serious if you don’t spend a lot of time scrutinizing the greats in your field.  But – and this is important – your goal is not to figure out how to imitate them, but how they can push you to be great in your own voice.

2.Always rehearse. When you’re done, rehearse some more.  There are a very few people who do shine when they “wing it” – and show up to speak with no plan in their heads about what they’re going to say.  But not as many as think they are great, and even those people don’t do as well as they would have if they rehearsed.  If you’re in denial about rehearsal, you’re not being real about your craft.  Do you imagine that the two teams getting ready to compete for the Super Bowl here in the US next weekend took this week off?

3.Everything is grist for your mill. If you’re truly passionate about your subject, then you should have a way of looking at the world that’s always seeking out new material, new stories, and new examples of what you talk about.  You should be constantly refreshing your stuff, constantly trying to disprove what you think you know, and constantly looking for new information in your field.

4.Seek tough feedback. I spend 4 hours recently with a pro speaker going over a 45-minute talk move by move.  That pro wanted the toughest feedback I could give, not a pat on the back and a “nice job.”  It’s great to hear that things went well, but unless you’re getting someone to take you and your talk apart on a regular basis, you’re not improving.

5.Your craft is your voice. Speakers speak.  It amazes me how many don’t learn the mechanics of good vocalizing, breathing, and care of the voice.  You need to be hydrating and breathing, of course, but that’s just the start.  The art and science of vocal production is the very bedrock of what you are doing as a speaking, so you need to be serious about your instrument.

If you’ve read this far, you can no longer say “no one told me!”  Take care of these basics regularly, and you’ll see your game improve.  Avoid these truths of the craft, and you’ve got no one but yourself to blame when the breaks don’t fall your way.



  1. Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes. I absolutely agree with all of these. What a good post!

    I’d also add that many of those people who claim that they can wing it (and are good at it) have usually done hours of “unconscious rehearsal”, by explaining, re-explaining and clarifying their material in other settings (e.g. meetings, conversations, networking events, etc) many times before they ever present it on stage.

    1. Good point, Alex — if you’ve already got a refined stump speech, in essence, that works for you, you’ll need less rehearsal.

  2. Great article and reminder of 5 things that help to keep the saw of presenting sharp and ready! My main way of rehearsal is through visualisation both active and passive.

    Also being prepared to listen to the feedback of people who won’t gloss over and then re-assess my presentations I’ve found to be the best.

    Developing your own style for what you’re recognised for takes time; avoiding taking the easy route of copying others takes discipline … however it pays dividends in the end!

    1. Thanks, Gary — I appreciate the reflections on the five ideas. You might want occasionally to actually walk your rehearsals, not just visualize them, because the embodiment of a talk — your message — is only achieved through the physical act of speaking and moving on it.

  3. Great rules Nick. Number 5 is my 2018 investment. I’ve watched the vocal coach that I am currently working with transform speakers in a few short minutes with some easy to incorporate exercises. Hence I am now working with her and the exercises she recommends to improve my vocal ability.

    I am also a fan of rehearsals with tough feedback. In fact, I clearly state “PLEASE BE BRUTALLY HONEST” at the top of my own evaluation form that I hand out at my events. There is no better way to improve unless you are willing to get the honest truth about your performance and work to improve it.

    Thanks for sharing.

    1. Thanks, Tim — and kudos to you for asking for honest feedback. Many people say they want it and then shrink from the actual thing itself. We all find it tough, even painful at times, but it’s the way to move forward.

  4. Hi the 5 rules are cadinal.i will be intrested to learn how to tell my story , eg how to start a speach .have been invited on tv and radio but i cant talk but in me there is a story!!

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