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23 Public Speaking Secrets Gleaned from the Greats


Whether you're giving a report in a college classroom, or delivering a speech to thousands, public speaking is an important skill to master. Everyone has their favorite tips, including picturing the audience naked, but no one says it better than great speakers themselves. Read on to find out how 23 great public speakers learned how to do such a great job.

  1. Be persistent and practice: "All the great speakers were bad speakers at first." -Ralph Waldo Emerson
  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. Seek our your most difficult audience member: "Engage the lowest common denominator, someone with a negative attitude or who can't concentrate. If I can engage that person, everyone else with fall like a domino." -Erin Gruwell
  7. 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
  8. 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
  9. Use humor appropriately: "Never make any jokes in the morning. They're absolutely deadly. No one has gotten their full dose of caffeine." -Dick Rudder
  10. 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
  11. Consider how you can entertain your audience: "There is always risk with being funny and controversial that the audience will miss your message, but I think there is a better chance they'll hear it if you are entertaining." -Scott McNealy
  12. 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," he says. "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
  13. Warm up with one on one conversation first: "If you are the type that gets frightened or intimidated by speaking to large groups, it doesn't hurt to speak to a couple people in the audience before you start your speech." -Kate White
  14. Always be prepared ahead of time: "I have the speech nailed two weeks before I have to give it. I don't go out with a written speech, but with eight to 10 line connectors [transitions between points I want to make]." -Glenn Rothman
  15. Avoid using jargon, and never assume your audience knows your topic: "Too many speeches are either too dense or too dull, particularly in the corporate sphere. Use examples that include dialogue–two people talking to each other in their own spoken language. Don't assume your audience knows your topic. Never fall into jargon." -Floyd Abrams
  16. Have a "front page news" message: "Step one: Literally write the headline you want a newspaper to carry as if your speech were going to make front-page news. If you can't, your message is too complicated, too boring or too vague to impress anyone. Step two: Be substantive. Make a strong prediction, take a controversial stand or deliver a keen insight–but back it up with facts and research. Step three: Be entertaining. Use anecdotes and self-deprecating humor to connect with the crowd. Step four: Don't speak too long. Even a good speech loses people after at most, 40 minutes." -Ari Fleischer
  17. 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
  18. Remember to have soul in your speaking: "I believe that one always does himself and his audience an injustice when he speaks merely for the sake of speaking. I do not believe that one should speak unless, deep down in his heart, he feels convinced that he has a message to deliver. When one feels, from the bottom of his feet to the top of his head, that he has something to say that is going to help some individual or some cause, then let him say it; and in delivering his message I do not believe that many of the artificial rules of elocution can, under such circumstances, help him very much. Although there are certain things, such as pauses, breathing, and pitch of voice, that are very important, none of these can take the place of soul in an address. When I have an address to deliver, I like to forget all about the rules for the proper use of the English language, and all about rhetoric and that sort of thing, and I like to make the audience forget all about these things, too." -Booker T. Washington
  19. Repeat yourself without sounding repetitive: "Say the same things over in different ways, especially when you are trying to sell something. When I would teach law, I did this as an educational tool, but it's also a sales tool. It will make an imprint that people will remember." -Judge Maria Lopez
  20. Choose your words carefully: "Never say anything about yourself you do not want to come true." -Brian Tracy
  21. Consider the unknown first: "A man does not know what he is saying until he knows what he is not saying." – G. K. Chesterton
  22. Know that it's an honor to be asked to speak: "Compliment the audience. Every invitation to speak is a compliment and an honor to you, so you better recognize that starting off." -Dr. Robert H. Schuller
  23. Mean what you say, and be careful not to overspeak: "Little said is soon amended. There is always time to add a word, never to withdraw one." -Baltasar Gracian

February 1st, 2011 written by Staff Writers

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