Speak with Conviction

I recently had the good fortune of working with a number of teenagers to help them with their public speaking and presentation skills for leadership roles that they have in their youth group. It’s always great to see young people who are interested in public speaking and willing to take the plunge to share their ideas with others.

Taylor Mali
Taylor Mali

As I was preparing the workshop, I came across a wonderful performance by poet Taylor Mali. I have long been a fan of Mali and have previously written about him. I love the way in which he weaves words together and the passion with which he speaks.

I showed this video to the teenagers with whom I was working. They loved it.

Mali’s poem is great for young people, but it’s not just for young people. It’s for all of us. When we stand up to give that speech or make that presentation, we had better speak with conviction. Because if we don’t have confidence in our own words, why should our audiences have confidence in us? If we don’t believe in the message that we are conveying, how can we hope to move others to action?

In order to speak with conviction, we have to know our material; we have to believe in the rightness of our message; and we have to be prepared to take the risk that people might not agree with us. As Seth Godin said in a recent post,

If you’re hyper-aware of what others are thinking, if you’re looking for criticism, the unhappy audience member and the guy who didn’t get the joke, you will always find what you’re seeking.

For it to be any other way, you’d either have to be invisible or performing for a totally homogeneous audience. Invisible is an option, of course. You can lay low, not speak up and make no difference to anyone. That’s sort of like dividing by zero, though. You’ll get no criticism, but no delight either.

As for finding a homogeneous audience, good luck with that. The one thing that’s true of all people is that they are different from one another. What delights one enrages the other.

Part of the deal.

So, like Taylor Mali, “I implore you, I entreat you and I challenge you to speak with conviction. To say what you believe in a manner that bespeaks the determination with which you believe it. Because contrary to the wisdom of the bumper sticker, it is not enough these days to simply question authority—you’ve got to speak with it too.”

Photo courtesy of Emil Brikha

Like this article?

Share on Facebook
Share on Twitter
Share on Linkdin
Share on Pinterest
Picture of mannerofspeaking


    1. Hi Donn. Many thanks. I had seen this version before. It too is good, but I prefer the more recent one that I used in the post for a couple of reasons.
      First, Mali builds to a climax in a more measured way and thus I find the message at the end more powerful, even if it is said with less vigour. More importantly, in my view, is the fact that in the more recent version, Mali has cut out some parts that he used before. This pruning, as it were, makes the poem tighter and better, and is a great example of how less is more.

  1. Hi John,
    Thank you for this post. I speak about “don’t make your inflection go up at the end of a statement”, this video shows it all. I have a video to use for my speaking and training now. LOL Thank you!

    1. Hi Cynthia. Glad that you enjoyed the post and that the video clip will help you with your training. It’s certainly perfect for the point you want to make. Best of success with it!

  2. Hi John,

    This was a really good post. I agree, speaking with conviction can dramatically impact the way we deliver our messages and how they are heard by others. What can help here, is to use an attitude of conviction and confidence, underlying the words.

    What I would like to practice and develop further, is the ability to speak with conviction in an impromptu fashion.

    1. Hi Hiten. Thanks for the comment.

      I have found that the conviction really starts to flow naturally in a speech when one’s focus is on the message and how it can help the audience, rather than oneself (such as being concerned about how one will appear to others, concern about forgetting something, etc.). As for conviction when speaking impromptu, a lot depends on the context.

      For example, answering questions at the end of a presentation is a form of impromptu speaking. But as the questions will likely be related to the topic on which you were presenting, you will already be in the proper frame of mind and that will certainly help. But in other cases – where you have to speak on something “out of the blue” – it can be tougher. I find that this is where having a rich life experience on which to draw helps. Knowledge gained through friendships, successes, setbacks, lessons learned, travel, reading, etc. can be very useful in helping us to frame our thoughts quickly and with conviction.

      1. Hi John. I am citing some of your comments here in a persuasive speech I am giving for my Business & Professional Speech class. My speech is titled “Speaking with Conviction & Authority” — sort of ironic, if you think about the context!
        In regard to your comments here about focusing on your message and not the audience (and what they think of you)…my mother with her simple wisdom told me growing up — “You will never feel awkward in a social situation if you focus on others and finding out about them — forget yourself — put others at ease, and you will relax as well.” While at first that may seem contrary to what you’re saying about NOT focusing on the audience — I think it actually supports it in the arena of delivering a speech. Even though we have an audience — in this context I would apply my mother’s advice as focusing on my message and not worrying about what the audience is thinking of ME — but what they are thinking of my message — which frees a speaker to speak with more conviction.

        1. Thanks for the message, Sandra. Great advice from your mother. Well worth sharing and I like how you apply it to public speaking.

          I think you definitely have to focus on the audience … but at the right time. And that time is when you are preparing. You need to think about the audience’s needs, the audience’s interests and how you can help them. Then, when you are on stage, the focus should be on delivering a great message which, ultimately, is in the audience’s interest.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

two × four =


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