The 5 Secrets to Public Speaking

… Or Any Kind of Public Performance

There are five secrets to giving a successful talk or presentation:

(1) Energy

(2) Harness your nerves

(3) Fake It ‘Till You Make It

(4) Future Pacing


(5) Preparation

An Ounce of Energy is Worth a Pound of Technique

Energy is a vital component to good presentation.

If you’re dragging and listless, you won’t do well, no matter how prepared you are or how insightful your views.

Roger Ailes – Ronald Reagan’s chief of communications and now the head of Fox News – might be an extremist, but he wrote a whole book on this subject which is really pretty good. The whole book can be summed up in the statement:

An ounce of energy is worth a pound of technique.

Look at Obama: Even if you hate all of his policies, you have to admit that he’s got a lot of energy.

Ailes gives the following advice:

How do you get that kind of positive energy, especially when you’re nervous about giving a speech, chairing a meeting, or being interviewed for a job or by the news media, for example.

Ask yourself: What am I thinking about? Am I focused on positive things like “This is an opportunity ….Let me review my agenda: What are the points I want to make? This can be fun; I’ve been asked to speak because the believe I’m an authority and can contribute something”? These kinds of thoughts will energize you in a way that will help you be successful.

If you like exercise, then you already know that vigorous exercise will boost your energy and pump you up. Go exercise before your talk.

If you aren’t the exercise type (or even if you are), you may want to know that deep breathing and deep relaxation can effectively charge up your energy levels.

Moreover – as we’ll discuss in the second secret – everyone has a free, abundant and always-available source of energy available for our public appearances.

Harness Your Nerves

The top professional musicians, speakers, tv and radio personalities, and other well-known performers all say that they still get nervous before performances. Interviews of everyone from mega rock stars to top trial lawyers prove that.

The trick is that top performers don’t try to “fight” the nerves to stay calm. Instead, they look at the nervousness as the “fuel” that super-charges them to give a great performance.

The adrenaline pump of nervousness primes us to wake up, focus and treat our performance as important. This can give us strength, endurance, quick thinking and passion.

Through repeated experience, top performers know first-hand that this nervousness is the raw “fuel” which can power great performances.

Indeed, the top speakers, musicians, athletes and performers in every field know that nervousness is a good thing, because nervous energy is the raw fuel which powers their performance.

The top performers know how to channel that raw energy into a good performance. Successful performers look at nervous energy as rocket fuel to power an outstanding performance.

The trick is not to fight it. If you try to force your self not to be nervous, you will get more nervous and will not perform well.

Instead of labeling that feeling as being “stressed”, “nervous”, “panicky” or “freaked out”, think of it as being “excited”, “energized”, “passionate”, “primed” or “pumped”.

Nothing I can write will convince you that stress is the fuel for a successful performance. I have performed enough – in front of thousands of people, and in high-stakes make-or-break situations – to know what I’m talking about, and performance experts say the same thing. But you have to verify this for yourself.

Practice speaking in front of groups of friends. Practice making a presentation to a co-worker. Practice getting nervous and performing well anyway. (And if your presentation is clumsy, go back and prepare more. See the 5th secret. Also ask your friends or co-workers what would make it better. Keep practicing – the more you practice the better you’ll get.)

Doing that will prove to you that nervousness is simply part of the package, and that you can perform even when you’re nervous. Again, remember that you’re in good company: everyone gets nervous, including the world’s top performers.

Fake It ‘Till You Make It

The third secret is to do your best to imitate great speakers or performers who you admire.

Specifically, what the top experts say (and I’ve found to be true myself) is that “fake it ’till you make it” is the fastest way to improve your public appearances.

Here’s an analogy. If you’re pretty good at basketball, then think back to when you first started playing. You doubtless imitated Michael Jordan or Kobe Bryant or another great player. If you’ve been playing a while, more of your moves will be spontaneous now. But you imitated well-known players when you started out, which propelled your skills forward.

Or if you’re a pretty good artist, think back to when you first started painting. You likely imitated well-known artists; and painting “in their style” helped you develop your painting skills. Now – as a reasonably good artist – you can improvise a little more, and create some of your own style. But when you started out, you were just trying to parrot the greats.

In the same way, imitating master public speakers who you like will hone speaking and interviewing skills, and boost your speaking abilities by leaps and bounds.

“Faking it ’till you make it” is not false or insincere. It is the exact same learning process you employed when you started playing b-ball, or painting, or learning any other skill.

As you get more comfortable in public speaking, you can find your own style, or combine the best aspects of different public speakers you like. But for now, just imitate your favorite personality to get up and running, and to develop your skills.

Future Pacing

A related trick is to look at each performance – not as the BIG, all-or-nothing, make-or-break performance – but as practice for future performances.

Even if you’re (1) going to be interviewed on tv and millions of viewers will see you, (2) going to sing on stage in front of thousands, or (3) you’re going to give a business pitch in front of a conference room full of big cheeses … you’re probably going to do something similar again in the future.

This may seem like your one-time shot … but odds are it isn’t. If you’re doing it now, you’re probably going to do it again another time.

Instead of focusing on how you’re doing NOW, shift your focus to thinking about it as practice for the next interview. Specifically, the excellent things you do this time … you’ll probably want to do the same thing next time also. The things you don’t like about your public performance this time … you probably won’t use next time.

Our minds are wired so that we learn fastest when we “practice” or “play”. This helps take us out of a narrowed self-critical mindset to a more creative, expansive and relaxed perspective … And we perform better with that perspective.

In addition, our minds are programmed to begin with an image in mind, and then to try our best to approximate that image (like in the third secret). So by thinking about what you want your future performance to be like, it makes your current performance better.

(This technique also works magic with dating. Instead of getting flustered when you’re talking with THAT girl or THAT guy, think of your conversation as practice for when you meet attractive people in the future. It will go smoother, and you’ll learn how to be a better and more eligible dater).


“It usually takes more than three weeks to prepare a good impromptu speech.”
– Mark Twain

“The very best impromptu speeches are the ones written well in advance.”
– Actress Ruth Gordon

Nothing can replace preparation.

Unless you are one of the lucky people who can improvise well, you should outline your presentation, and then write out notes or use index cards to map out exactly what you want to say. Then practice until you don’t need the notes anymore.

If you feel like you need some notes with you during the presentation, just jot down key words to jog your memory. If you try to read anything other than a couple of key words, you won’t be able to pull it off.

More fascinating and useful self-help tips:

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  • Zack Taylor

    The secret to public listening is to recognize these and learn how to fact check and it also helps to listen to those who don’t use charisma or good speaking skills to convince people more carefully, they often are less manipulative.

  • gozounlimited

    Or you can use the Sarah Palin hand note technique…….. just have to point out….. Obama the Antichrist took nine lives in OK yesterday while his demons drove right into the storm. The geoengineered storm took a right hook (totally unnatural) and delivered a little karma to the mouseoles. Now that’s entertainment…..

    Weather Channel meteorologist injured in Oklahoma tornadoes after storm sweeps up his SUV: ‘My life flashed before my eyes’
    read more:

  • Warren Celli

    Good read, refreshing actually, but you left out secret # 6 in public communications, don’t speak at all. Instead hire others to do it for you as the Xtrevilists do…

    Excerpt from the symptoms of Xtrevilism;

    “The Xtrēvilist, those without conscience who act on their baser cannibalistic instincts, hold viewpoints and behaviors that lack significantly the emotive empathy component of life. Their aberrant behaviors are facilitated and amplified by using DETODs. DETODs facilitate their Xtrēvilism because they can purchase and gain the credible emotive components that they lack in themselves from others. Because they can buy others emotive and empathy creating skills in media they can have crafted on their behalf manipulative messages — DETODs — that mask their true intent, their lies and their scams. They can more easily conceal their real motives and deceptive self. They can operate without conscience and not have to fake the emotive skills necessary to relate, and, they can do this all on a far greater scale. Think advertising, marketing, public relations, puppet politicians, and corporate propaganda here.”

    More here…

    Deception is the strongest political force on the planet.

  • Boughten Bread

    There is too much of an emphasis on over-achievement. Most people, MOST PEOPLE AS IN 99.9999% OF THE PEOPLE, have very little to say that is more than of casual interest.

    I think, if we are ever going to get over the fatalist idea that some collective consciousness of mankind is mostly made-up of the faint praise of a chosen few meritorious geniuses, geniuses we all should follow off the edge of a cliff, then just perhaps more of the conscientious effort in journalism (alternative or otherwise) should be expended instructing that vast majority of blabbermouths in this country how to keep their mouths shut, while ignoring all the other supposed geniuses that have led us all so far astray generation after generation. Life really would be better. In fact, it’s the only way to make life better, with a gag order on all the stinking self-professed geniuses -that think they have something to say we should all listen to.

    Life may not be a dream, but any one of YOU can come back to me when you find something it more closely resembles. My point is, I’ll let you be in my dream, if you’ll promise not to wake me up by claiming you are another one of those presupposed geniuses with all the answers to all the mysteries of life.

    I’ll take it as it comes. And if I am not meant to command an audience like Shakespeare, so be it.

  • wunsacon

    For a thread about public speaking on a blog that often (rightfully) criticizes Obama, no one’s going to point out the importance of using a teleprompter? Phfthth… 😉

  • Shaan Goerge

    Presenting is always challenging and I find that what does capture interest is to also tell a short, hopefully deprecating and amusing, and at least relevant personal story to illustrate a point. It might be your story or someone else’s story but as we are all interested in the human experience a good short story helps connect the audience with the speaker and goes a long way to grab everyone’s attention.

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