And so it begins

One of the greatest public speakers of ancient Athens was Demosthenes (384 – 322 BC). His speeches have been studied for centuries. Not only do they provide insight into the culture and society in which Demosthenes lived, they also provide wonderful examples of his oratorical skills.

As a young boy, however, Demosthenes was the very antithesis of a polished public speaker.  He was shy and had a weak voice. On top of this, he stammered. In fact, Plutarch, another notable from ancient Greece, would describe Demosthenes’ voice as being characterized by “a perplexed and indistinct utterance and a shortness of breath, which, by breaking and disjointing his sentences much obscured the sense and meaning of what he spoke.”

According to legend, to remedy these shortcomings, Demosthenes worked very hard. He built himself an underground room where he studied speeches from the great orators of his time.

To overcome his speech impediment, he used to talk with pebbles in his mouth. To strengthen his voice, he would recite verses while running. He also would walk along the seashore and practice speaking above the roar of the crashing waves.  In so doing, Demosthenes strengthened his speaking voice and his confidence, and went on to become one of the greatest orators of all time.

Demosthenes was a great public speaker, a model for public speaking today

Demosthenes Practising his Oratory, Jules-Jean-Antoine Lecomte du Nouy

I like that story because it speaks to a deeper truth.  Public speaking is something that is within the grasp of everyone.  Public speaking is a skill that we can improve.

Of course, we are not all Tony Blair or Barack Obama.  We will not all have the opportunity to address nations from the podium (something for which many of us are grateful, I am sure).  But we are called to speak in public in a myriad of ways all the time: delivering a presentation to clients; raising a toast at a wedding; running an office meeting; motivating the players on your local sports team before the big game.  All of this is public speaking, and it is a skill that we should endeavour to improve.

Polls show that one of the most important qualities that employers look for in a candidate is the ability to communicate well.  We can all learn to communicate well if we take the time to learn a bit about the craft, and if we practice.

My hope is that this blog will provide you with useful insights into, and tips on, the world of public speaking.  And, perhaps, it will get you a little bit excited (in a good way) about standing up in front of people and speaking to them.

This blog has been a long time coming, but it has now arrived.  Special thanks to three good friends who are all great bloggers: Catherine Nelson-Pollard; Alistair Scott; and Melissa Miller.  They have provided great advice on blogging and even greater encouragement to give it a go.  They have also set a high standard to which I aspire.

And so it begins.


About John Zimmer

International speaker, presentation skills expert, lawyer, improv performer
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19 Responses to And so it begins

  1. Pingback: 3,000,000 visits | Manner of Speaking

  2. chris daly says:

    Hello again John. I have two couples in my Masters Swim Squad who are to marry in September this year and I have offered to help the grooms with their speeches. I value your input, and wonder if you could suggest any examples of speeches to look at or good sites. Maybe your readers have some suggestions also.

    Thanks, John and keep up the good work.

    Cheers, Chris (from Australia)

    • John Zimmer says:

      Hi Chris,

      Thanks for the comment / question. I don’t have any speeches that come to mind immediately (other than the one that I gave at my wedding). My friend, Jack Vincent, wrote an article about the time he officiated at his niece’s wedding. Now officiating is, of course, different from being the groom, but there is a lot of good advice in the article that relates to the solemnity of the occasion. Here is the link to the online version of the magazine in which the article appeared: Flip to page 14.

      Other than that, I would tell your friends to just speak from the heart. They know better than anyone why they are getting married to the women they love. Personal stories always go down well (and are easy to remember). And humour (in good taste) is always a hit. What they want to do is take the audience on a bit of a roller coaster ride, blending the serious with the humorous in the right proportion. They should write out the speech to get a real feel for it but the more they can speak without notes, the better it will be. If they are very nervous, a cue card with the key points to remember would be fine.

      I hope that some of this is helpful. My best wishes to your four friends for their big days.



  3. Gopinath says:

    Good to see your blog. Look forward to more such posts.

  4. Well done John; it was worth the wait. Classy look and great photos in the banner. A suggestion – maybe you could have a section where folk who have been to hear/see a particular speaker and want to rate them (i.e., 1-10) can do so here?

    • John Zimmer says:

      Thanks for the comments, Catherine. And thanks for the suggestion. I like it. I am grappling with RSS feeds and such at the moment, but when I wrestle those beasts to the floor, I will take a closer look at your idea.

  5. katie hayoz says:

    Bravo for the blog! I will follow it for sure as I need motivation to give my next speech…and the following ones!

  6. David says:

    Congratulations for your blog John. Looks really great. I’d like to add its feed to Google Reader but I can’t find any link to it?

    • John Zimmer says:

      Thank you for the comments, David. I am still new to the whole blogging experience and will try to figure out the RSS feed function.

  7. Great blog, John. Congratulations on it’s launch. Looking forward to many informative and interesting posts.

  8. Congratulations, John! You are officially added to my list of Bloggers Close to My Heart.

  9. Joan Curtis says:

    One of history’s greatest orators, Winston Churchill also had a long time stutter (which lasted his entire life). But, that never held him back.

    I’ve been speaking, teaching and writing about public speaking for two decades. One of the biggest problems is some people fear public speaking so much, they won’t go to training. That’s sad because as John points out in this blog, we can all become better communicators, whether one-on-one or one-to-many.

    If you want to improve your speaking, check out the podcasts on my site, titled, Making Powerful Presentations. That might be a place to begin.

    Also, keep reading blogs like this.

  10. Jose Penate says:

    The “apocryphal” anecdote about Cicero’s childhood reminds me of Joe Biden’s “biography”. Apparently, Joe had a severe, debilitating stutter as a young man. It was only through an iron will and perseverance that he overcame that impediment and moved on to be able to plagiarize a speech by Neil Kinnock.

    I enjoyed reading the first post. Great idea for a blog, Mr. Zimmer!

    • John Zimmer says:

      Thanks for the comments and support, Jose. You will always have the distinction (for what it is worth) of having been the first person to post a comment.

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