23 Public Speaking Secrets from the Greats

Today’s post comes from Carol Brown at OnlineCollege.org. Carol contacted me and suggested that I might find one of her articles interesting. I do, and I think you will too.

Carol has gleaned 23 public speaking secrets from well-known people. As she says, while everyone has their favourite tip, nobody says it better than the great speakers. Each secret is accompanied by a quotation and a link where you can read more about that particular point. It is an excellent reference source.

Of the 23 secrets that are listed, here are 11 that I particularly liked:

  1. Be persistent and practice: “All the great speakers were bad speakers at first.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson (How could I not like this, given that it is the tagline for Manner of Speaking?)
  2. Know your purpose: “You shouldn’t give a public speech unless you want to make something happen.” – Tom Peters
  3. Be a real person: “If you have enthusiasm and excitement, if you show your humanity up there, that’s when the audience starts to warm up.” – Richard LaGravenese
  4. Believe in your message: “If you believe in something, you can talk about it. All my life I have been very, very shy. To get in front of a crowd drives me nuts, but I have a message to deliver.” – Jack LaLanne
  5. Offer a moving speech that sticks with your audience: “Have a unifying theme tethered to a powerful, inspirational story.” – Ken Starr
  6. Don’t bore your audience with unnecessary data — deliver a simple message: “I speak at nursery schools; benefactors ask me to speak for Earth Day. It is invariably the most challenging presentation I ever give, but I force myself to do that because it really forces me to get down and think [about] the basic message and how can I communicate it as simply as possible.” – Allen Hershkowitz
  7. Speak for your audience, not yourself: “The single most important thing you can do is put yourself in other people’s heads and hearts. I think about what they truly need, not what I want to talk about. Whatever size the group, whether five or 5,000 people, you have to at least try to imagine what each of those individuals are there for.” – Tony Robbins
  8. Resist the urge to speed through, and get attention by speaking slowly: “Slow down, especially at the beginning of a speech. You’ll get the audience’s attention by pausing.” – Bob Kerrey
  9. Never underestimate the power of eye contact: “When I’m preaching, I’m not speaking to 800 people – I’m trying to speak to each person individually. I move from west to east, making contact with people for a second or two. If there’s someone who seems disengaged, I’ll keep coming back in hopes of reaching them. But you have to be very careful: If you’re talking about, say, adultery, you don’t want the person you are looking at thinking that you’ve found them out!” – Rev. Kieran Harrington
  10. Dream about your speech at night: “The night before a speech, I go over my notes right before I go to sleep. There’s almost something magical about it. You remember the words in a dreamlike state and it helps your brain absorb the material.” – Sally Koslow
  11. Consider the unknown first: “A man does not know what he is saying until he knows what he is not saying.” – G. K. Chesterton

You can read the entire article here.


About John Zimmer

International speaker, presentation skills expert, lawyer, improv performer
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6 Responses to 23 Public Speaking Secrets from the Greats

  1. sneha says:

    Thanks very much. It’s really very helpful. It’s my passion to become great public speaker. Hoping for more such tips in future. Thanks

  2. journa says:

    Hi there John … I am also passionate about public speaking and regularly write about it. Thanks for the helpful tips!

  3. florian says:

    Great collection of great speakers’ attitudes. Based on my own experience with people who are keen on getting there, I’d say that especially #3 – “Be a real person” – is challenging. Where enthusiasm and excitement are concerned, they just don’t dare to act as if they were in a bar chatting with friends or at a party shouting in terror when they are facing an empty fridge. This step of leaving behind the “OMG, what will they think of me…” is so extremely difficult for them. A great way, probably the only way, to break this vicious circle is constructive feedback by others.

    • John Zimmer says:


      Thanks for the comment. I agree with you about how difficult it can be for some people. When a speaker is focused too much on himself (for whatever reason) the audience will pick up on it. Ironically, it is when a speaker focuses on the audience and “forgets” himself that he shows his true self. And that is what you want the audience to see – the real thing.

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