Real Leaders

Don’t Say This When Making a Speech!

Each week, speech coach and leadership mentor James Rosebush will answer a question on how to improve your public speaking.

Stephen Bates, CEO, Global Interconnect Inc. asks: “What shouldn’t I say, and what should I say, when speaking in public?”

Dear Stephen,

You have asked a question at the starting gate of all public speaking. You will always want to start with identifying and outlining the content or your message. Ask yourself: “What essential, knowledge, experience, or facts do I have that are unique to me and would be valuable to the audience?” A speech is really about you, giving. Giving from your insights, analysis, struggles and victories. Once you have your message in mind, ask yourself the next vital question: “Is this message something my audience wants to hear, and will they value it?”

To hit a speech out the ballpark, the message has to resonate with the audience and have them leaving the room wanting more. Are they walking away smarter, more enabled and inspired by what you have shared? Have you addressed what they came looking for? Have you stayed on target?

The toughest speeches are like commencement addresses or when there is no specific topic assigned to you by the host. That doesn’t mean you can’t ask the college or host what the foremost issues might be in the minds of the graduates or audience. Be thoughtful about the fears and vulnerabilities of the audience, and address them. It’s your job to make a connection with the audience, so don’t launch a missile that soars over their heads or misses the mark. Once you’ve settled on your theme, stay with it and come back to it, but drive it home with stories to illustrate the points. Today’s most successful speeches are ones that are laced with stories.

What you don’t want to say are things that are all focused on yourself and your own greatness. Building yourself up in a speech will provoke the opposite reaction and will build yourself down in the minds of the listeners. They will appreciate you more if you share your struggles, rather than your victories. They want you to be like them, but still maintain a level of authority which justifies their coming to hear you in the first place! If you must refer to accomplishments, never use the personal pronoun “I.” Always say, “We did it!”

Lastly, build up your audience. Tell them how good they are, how accomplished they are, and how honored you are to be sharing your thoughts with them. Never, ever, denigrate your audience or look down on them, not only in what you say and how you speak but also in want you think. Remember, thoughts are often audible, even though they go unspoken!

Good luck!

Have a question you’ve always wanted to ask about public speaking? Email James at and your answer may feature here.


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