Skip to main content Skip to search Skip to search

Language Arts & Disciplines Public Speaking

The Elements of Great Public Speaking

How to Be Calm, Confident, and Compelling

by (author) Lyman MacInnis

Random House of Canada
Initial publish date
Jan 2009
Public Speaking, Speech, Literary
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Jan 2009
    List Price

Add it to your shelf

Where to buy it


There is no such things as a boring topic, just boring speakers.

Great speakers aren’t just born; they prepare and they practice. The Elements of Great Public Speaking takes the fear out of taking the podium by distilling essential techniques and tricks for just about any speaking occasion, and it shows you how to sound and act like someone worth listening to. Experiencd business people, nervous students, best men and eulogists alike will benefit from MacInnis’ simple, direct advice on everything from body language and word choice to responding to the audience and overcoming stage fright.

About the author

Contributor Notes

Lyman MacInnis has given thousands of public addresses over the last four decades. He is a former columnist for the Toronto Star and the Financial Times, and the author of twelve books.

Excerpt: The Elements of Great Public Speaking: How to Be Calm, Confident, and Compelling (by (author) Lyman MacInnis)

Choosing a topic
In a nutshell . . .
1. The key to a successful speaking experience is to be talking about the right topic for you.

2. The topic must be one about which you have significant knowledge.

3. The topic must be one about which you sincerely care.

4. You must have a strong desire to impart your knowledge and feelings to the audience.

5. If you know your material inside out and upside down, you’ll perform with such confidence that distractions, interruptions,
or losing your train of thought will not be a problem.

6. If you care enough about your topic you won’t fall into the trap of worrying, during your delivery, about how you look and sound.

7. If you really want to impart your knowledge and feelings about your topic, you’ll have a good time doing so, and the audience will catch your excitement and end up having a good time too.

8. You can sometimes meet the criterion of caring enough about the topic by acting as if you do.
9. You can usually find a way to rationalize wanting to give the talk.

10. If your topic meets all three of the formula’s criteria, you couldn’t fail even if you wanted to.

11. But if you don’t meet the significant knowledge criterion, you will fail.
Managing fear
In a nutshell . . .
1. If you don’t manage your fear of public speaking it will likely become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

2. Fear of public speaking is perfectly normal and can be managed and overcome.

3. Maintain a positive, confident attitude about yourself and your message.

4. Give yourself mental pep talks.

5. Visualize yourself giving a successful, well-received speech and having a good time doing it.

6. Audiences tend to be very forgiving toward novice speakers.

7. Objectively assess the odds of something going wrong, and then take the steps necessary to turn those odds in your favor.

8. Even the most accomplished speakers have had to overcome some level of fear early in their careers.

9. The greatest weapon against fear is preparation; prepare rather than fret.

10. The second greatest weapon against fear is practice; the more often you speak in front of groups the less fearful you will be.

Planning a speech
In a nutshell . . .
1. There are four types of talks: talks to inform, to persuade, to motivate, and to entertain.

2. Decide which type of talk, or combination of types, you’re going to give.

3. The best way to give a talk to entertain is to tell detailed stories involving you and other people in the room, especially a guest of honor.

4. If you’re giving a talk to inform, the audience must leave knowing more about the subject than they did when they arrived.

5. To raise the level of a talk to inform to a talk to persuade you have to introduce unequivocal, easily understandable, and compelling evidence to back up your points.

6. In a talk to motivate you have to clearly tell the audience what you want them to do or not do; tell them what will happen to them otherwise; and make it as easy as possible for them to follow your advice.

7. The organizer’s objectives and the audience’s expectations must be met.

8. After-dinner speeches shouldn’t be longer than twenty minutes.

9. Don’t have a question and answer period after an afterdinner speech, but it’s a good idea to offer to stay around and answer questions after the formal proceedings end.

10. Luncheon speeches shouldn’t exceed forty-five minutes, including the question and answer period.

11. Remember it’s always good to leave the audience wanting more; plan to finish before the time for adjournment.

12. At this stage of your preparation don’t dismiss any thoughts that you feel could be included; it’s easier to cut out than add in when editing.

13. If there’s even the slightest chance that the audience might be antagonistic, search hard for common ground and points on which they’ll agree with you and use these points in your opening.

14. It’s usually best to stick to one strong message; if you can’t express the theme of your talk on the back of a business card it’s probably too complex.

15. Your script and delivery should vary depending on the formality and expectations of the audience.

16. If misconceptions need to be cleared up, do so during your opening.

17. Your opening and closing are the most important parts of any presentation.

Writing a speech
In a nutshell . . .
1. You should always write out your speech in full even if you’re going to be speaking from notes.

2. Make the material your own; write it as if you were talking. Your words are to be heard, not read.

3. Never feel uncomfortable about using words that let your feelings show through.

4. Use simple language.

5. Make your words and phrases human rather than institutional.

6. Never use words you have difficulty pronouncing.

7. Don’t be afraid to use dialogue.

8. Whenever you have a choice, be positive rather than negative.

9. Support your positions rather than attack other people’s.

10. Use short sentences, the active voice, and powerful words.

11. Always have a dictionary and a thesaurus at hand while writing your speech.

12. Organize your material not only to be understood but also so that it cannot be misunderstood.

13. Be sure your illustrations and examples are clear, persuasive, and relevant.

14. Be specific; specifics make speeches come alive. Generalizations make for dull speeches.

15. Don’t overuse illustrations and examples to the point where the audience becomes confused.

16. Have a strong opening. Grasp the audience’s attention right away.

17. Have an equally strong closing. Make a concerted effort to find a catchy phrase or line that will make the speech memorable.

18. When you think you’re finished writing your speech, ruthlessly edit it one more time.

19. Mark up your final script or notes with delivery cues.

20. Recognize that there are particular requirements to be met when writing a speech for someone else.

Delivering a speech
In a nutshell . . .
1. Arrive at the venue early, check it out carefully, and have any problems taken care of.

2. Determine if the audience will be of the size and makeup you anticipated. If not, consider whether you have to do some last-minute editing.

3. When the event begins, pay attention to everything that goes on, especially your introduction.

4. If the audience hasn’t had a break in the hour before you begin to speak, give them a short leg-stretch.

5. It’s fine to mention the names of a couple of people in the audience, but be sure you get the pronunciation correct.

6. Tone of voice, facial expressions, and body language are as important as your actual words.

7. Use inflection, word emphasis, timing, and pauses, but do so in a conversational tone, just as you would when telling a story to a group of friends.

8. Smiles, if they’re real, are good; chuckles are great, as long as they’re not at someone else’s expense.

9. Make continual eye contact with all parts of the audience, but don’t get into a set pattern.

10. Stand erect, don’t slump, don’t tense your shoulders, don’t rock or sway; look like someone who’s worth listening to.

11. Don’t hold on to the lectern, put your hands in your pockets or clasp them behind your back, or otherwise prevent your gestures from coming naturally.

12. To ensure natural gestures, lightly rest your fingertips on the lectern and forget about them; your arms and hands will then do just fine on their own.

13. Audience participation is always effective–even if it’s just through rhetorical questions or a show of hands.

14. Never, ever, insult your audience.

15. Deal with hecklers diplomatically, but deal with them.

16. Don’t worry about letting your feelings show.

17. Don’t talk too fast.

18. If you’re running out of time, talk less not faster; never run overtime.

19. Except in extraordinary circumstances, don’t read a speech or hand out copies beforehand.

20. Dress just a little better than the occasion calls for.

21. If you need glasses, wear them, but be sure they fit.

22. Be yourself, but be yourself at your very best.

Editorial Reviews

"MacInnis clearly knows his stuff. The Elements of Great Public Speaking is a practical guide to thumb through before every speech, whether it’s your first or 500th."
USA Today
"Whether you’re a first-time speaker or an experienced one looking to further refine your technique, this is a must-read guide."
—Hon. Frank McKenna

Other titles by Lyman MacInnis