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.


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.

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  1. 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!

    1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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?

    1. 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.

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

  5. 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?

    1. 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.

  6. 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)

    1. 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.

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John delivered a keynote address about the importance of public speaking to 80 senior members of Gore’s Medical Device Europe team at an important sales event. He was informative, engaging and inspirational. Everyone was motivated to improve their public speaking skills. Following his keynote, John has led public speaking workshops for Gore in Barcelona and Munich. He is an outstanding speaker who thinks carefully about the needs of his audience well before he steps on stage.

Karsta Goetze

TA Leader, Gore and Associates

I first got in touch with John while preparing to speak at TED Global about my work on ProtonMail. John helped me to sharpen the presentation and get on point faster, making the talk more focused and impactful. My speech was very well received, has since reached almost 1.8 million people and was successful in explaining a complex subject (email encryption) to a general audience.

Andy Yen

CEO, Proton Technologies

John gave the opening keynote on the second day of our unit’s recent offsite in Geneva, addressing an audience of 100+ attendees with a wealth of tips and techniques to deliver powerful, memorable presentations. I applied some of these techniques the very next week in an internal presentation, and I’ve been asked to give that presentation again to senior management, which has NEVER happened before. John is one of the greatest speakers I know and I can recommend his services without reservation.

David Lindelöf

Senior Data Scientist, Expedia Group

After a morning of team building activities using improvisation as the conduit, John came on stage to close the staff event which was organised in Chamonix, France. His energy and presence were immediately felt by all the members of staff. The work put into the preparation of his speech was evident and by sharing some his own stories, he was able to conduct a closing inspirational speech which was relevant, powerful and impactful for all at IRU. The whole team left feeling engaged and motivated to tackle the 2019 objectives ahead. Thank you, John.

Umberto de Pretto

Secretary General, World Road Transport Organization

I was expecting a few speaking tips and tricks and a few fun exercises, but you went above and beyond – and sideways. You taught me to stand tall. You taught me to anchor myself. You taught me to breathe. You taught me to open up. You taught me to look people in the eye. You taught me to tell the truth. You taught me to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes. I got more than I bargained for in the best possible way.

Thuy Khoc-Bilon

World Cancer Day Campaign Manager, Union for International Cancer Control

John gave a brilliant presentation on public speaking during the UN EMERGE programme in Geneva (a two days workshop on leadership development for a group of female staff members working in the UN organizations in Geneva). His talk was inspirational and practical, thanks to the many techniques and tips he shared with the audience. His teaching can dramatically change our public speaking performance and enable us as presenters to have a real and powerful impact. Thank you, John, for your great contribution!

Sara Canna

HR Specialist, World Health Organization

John is a genuine communication innovator. His seminars on gamification of public speaking learning and his interactive Rhetoric game at our conference set the tone for change and improvement in our organisation. The quality of his input, the impact he made with his audience and his effortlessly engaging style made it easy to get on board with his core messages and won over some delegates who were extremely skeptical as to the efficacy of games for learning. I simply cannot recommend him highly enough.

Thomas Scott

National Education Director, Association of Speakers Clubs UK

John joined our Global Sales Meeting in Segovia, Spain and we all participated in his "Improv(e) your Work!" session. I say “all” because it really was all interactive, participatory, learning and enjoyable. The session surprised everybody and was a fresh-air activity that brought a lot of self-reflection and insights to improve trust and confidence in each other inside our team. It´s all about communication and a good manner of speaking!"

Jon Lopez

General Manager Europe, Hayward Industries

Thank you very much for the excellent presentation skills session. The feedback I received was very positive. Everyone enjoyed the good mix of listening to your speech, co-developing a concrete take-away and the personal learning experience. We all feel more devoted to the task ahead, more able to succeed and an elevated team spirit. Delivering this in a short time, both in session and in preparation, is outstanding!

Henning Dehler

CFO European Dairy Supply Chain & Operations, Danone

Thanks to John’s excellent workshop, I have learned many important tips and techniques to become an effective public speaker. John is a fantastic speaker and teacher, with extensive knowledge of the field. His workshop was a great experience and has proven extremely useful for me in my professional and personal life.

Eric Thuillard

Senior Sales Manager, Sunrise Communications

John’s presentation skills training was a terrific investment of my time. I increased my skills in this important area and feel more comfortable when speaking to an audience. John provided the right mix between theory and practice.

Diego Brait

Director of the Jura Region, BKW Energie AG

Be BOLD. Those two words got stuck in my head and in the heads of all those ADP leaders and associates that had the privilege to see John on stage. He was our keynote speaker at our annual convention in Barcelona, and his message still remains! John puts his heart in every word. Few speakers are so credible, humble and yet super strong with large audiences!

Guadalupe Garcia

Senior Director and Talent Partner, ADP International