Public Speaking


This week you will be presenting your first speech via video. As you stand before your cell phone or computer camera (or other recording device) please be alert to the following elements of good public speaking.

  1. EYES ON YOUR AUDIENCE. A good speech requires at least 90% eye contact. There is no emotional contact with the audience without eye contact. So keep your eyes on those you are talking to.
  2. BOTH FEET ON THE FLOOR. In many textbooks, it is called “flamingo foot.” It has to do with propping one of your feet up on the toe or on the other foot while you are speaking. It weakens the confident look of your body and takes away from the speech. Try to avoid that.
  3. HANDS OPEN AND TOWARD AUDIENCE. Open hands indicate an open communication style. Closed hands send a signal of aloofness and distance from the audience. So let your hands be open and in front of you or by your side, never behind you. Use them as you would normally and naturally and you will be fine.
  4. AVOID “UH’S,” “UM’S,” “ER’S” AND OTHER FILLER WORDS. These are called “vocalized pauses” and they hurt a speech a great deal. So practice and let someone help you diminish their use as you speak.
  5. TOSS OUT THE GUM. Please don’t be chewing gum as you give your presentation.
  6. SMILE AND SHOW GOOD BODY ENERGY. Let your face and body show a commitment to the speech. Enjoy it and let that show. It will be my personal privilege to watch and listen to you and to offer positive feedback. So give it your best and we will both be glad.

For this assignment, send back a note to me as to the two or three of these that you need to work on most. All of us will probably need #4. But which others? Write it so you will have it highlighted in your mind when you give your on camera speeches.


Within the first 90 seconds of a speech, as much as 50% of a speaker’s nervousness dissipates. That is good news. If you can stand up and focus on what you plan to say for the first minute and a half, you will be surprised at how much you settle down and get into the flow of the speech.

This chapter is reassuring when it comes to nervousness. Most of it is simply invisible to the audience. They call it the “iceberg effect.” Only 10% of an iceberg shows above the surface of the ocean and only 10% of your nervousness is visible to an audience. With that safely in mind, we should have confidence that most of what we feel, the audience cannot see.

For the remaining percentage of nerves that creep into the speaking process, do this. Go online and search the topic, “Tips for Overcoming Nervousness When Speaking.” You will find dozens of ideas on how to diminish it. List at least five tips for taking the negative nerves out of the speaking event. Choose those that you believe will most help you.


Speakers use a variety of techniques for getting attention early in their presentations. I am going to list eight different ways and then suggest two of them that are especially useful for people who are just learning the art of public speaking. Here are eight techniques for how to begin a speech. Each of these will draw the audience to you and get their attention focused on you.

A CLOSURE LINE: In your opening line, you begin a familiar bit of poetry or a commonly known slogan and allow the audience to finish it. For example, if I start by saying, “Jack be nimble, Jack be quick, Jack jumped over ___ ________________,” more than likely in your mind you said, “the candlestick.” If I begin by saying “Mary had a little ________,” nobody is going to say “goat.” Mary is the one who had the little lamb. When the audience can finish your line, they also give you their attention. You have found common ground with them and it draws you and them together.

You give an example. Start a familiar, well-known line from popular literature or popular culture and leave off the last word or words and see if I get it.


A GREAT QUESTION: A strong question that lands on what many in the might wish for is also a great way to start a speech. Ideally the question is fresh and direct, not boring and worn out. If you ask people, “What would you do if you won the lottery?” it is acceptable, but rather worn out. We have all heard it a lot. It would be better to start with this question, “If I could give you $5,000 and tell you to go anywhere in the world you would like to go, where would you go?” That question is new, fresh, direct. A question like that gets the audience’s attention, especially if it lands somewhere in the area of their interests.

You give an example. Put yourself in front of a class of first graders and begin your comments to them by asking them a question that will get their attention. Be sure and land on what their interests might be rather than what yours are. Give a try at a good opening question.


A STARTLING STATEMENT: This technique should be used sparingly, but once in a while, it is a good way to grab the audience’s attention. Surprise them. For example, I had a student stand up on front of the class and begin her speech with these words, “There are 24 of us in this class. If statistics hold true, four of us will have cancer at some point in our lives.” That caused the rest of us to look around with a grimace. That landed close home. Far worse odds than being struck by lightning.

You try it. What is a startling bit of information that you might share on any topic of your choice that would instantly link the listeners to you? Offer your startling comment here.


A WELL-KNOWN QUOTATION: This is one of the most widely used techniques. You search a little online for a quote that relates to your topic and suddenly a familiar one pops up. Take this one by President John Kennedy, “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.” Most people know it. They will likely finish it before you do. You might even link this with the closure principle and allow them to finish it for you. Again, you are finding a common area of knowledge with the audience and that almost always gains their attention.

You try it. Place a famous quote on these lines, one that the audience will easily know and perhaps finish for you. ___________________________________________________

A CLASSIC PASSAGE FROM LITERATURE: Closely related to a great quotation, this approach has you citing a well-known passage from someone like Dr. Seuss or Maya Angelou. Take this passage from Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. “Fourscore and seven years ago, our forefathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal…” The familiar ring in people’s ears is the sound that draws them to you.

What is a passage you can think of? Quote a few lines here. Look it up online if you need to make sure you get it right.


SOMETHING IN THE SPEECH SETTING: This technique suggests that you point out something in the setting where you are speaking that is unique or special to the audience and use it to pull them to you. For example, if I am speaking at a veteran’s hall, I often turn to a picture of military people on the wall and ask if anybody in the audience knows any of them. They almost always do. Let any who do say a brief word about how they knew them and when that hero served their country. If you show respect for what matters to an audience, they will respect you.

Now you try it. Suppose you are speaking in a high school gym to a group of athletes. What might you refer to in that setting that would cause them to feel a sense of pride and appreciation that you mentioned it? _____________________________________________

JOKE OR HUMOR: Many people like to start with a joke or funny story. This one is tricky because you have to realize that humor is generational in nature. People of one age might not think something is funny while people of another age might laugh out loud. You have to be sensitive and culturally smart to do this one well. For example, you might quote this from the Reader’s Digest, “Do you know why the chicken went to the séance?” “So she could get to the other side!” If nobody laughs, move on quickly and don’t scold them for not understanding.

Give it a whirl. Are you good with humor? At least give me your worst joke and see what happens. Keep it clean. Give a try at a humorous line or joke.

SING OR WHISPER: Those two approaches have a remarkable ability to get the audiences attention. If you sing poorly, all the better. The audience can identify with you as a terrible singer. Whispers draw attention the same way “The National Inquirer” draws our eyes in the grocery line. If you whisper, people will lean forward to see what you are saying.

Can you think of one more way that a speaker might get attention? Dig around in your own mind and think of one and indicate it here. Describe it briefly as I have done the ones I listed.

Assignment 4:

For the discussion, let’s flip the chapter over and instead of talking about what we might speak on, tell me three or four topics that you would NOT want to speak on. Then tell why. What would make each of the three or so topics tough for you to tackle. It will be fun to see if any of us mention the same topics.

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