It’s Time to Raise the Standards for Public Speaking



Public speaking used to be an industry of prestige. Audiences could count on seeing presentations from skilled speakers who had something of value to say. Today, there are too many public speakers. As it stands, this once prestigious industry is now a wasteland. The market is loaded with hundreds of thousands of speakers who have nothing original to say, and expect to be paid a lot of money for saying it. When you have that much noise, the signal is lost, the industry begins losing its relevance, and speakers become a commodity. Many speakers are not honoring the path it takes to become great.

Most public speakers give a motivational speech with some variation of canned material. The subject matter is something they learned in training and provides no real value to the audience.

I’ve been involved in the speaking industry for nearly 15 years. I’ve managed some of the top speakers in the world and have helped launch one of the most successful bureaus in North America. Today I work with CEOs to increase their revenue through CEO branding. Speaking is a huge part of the strategy to get them in front of their target audiences and make an impression. I’d like to share with you the tips we’ve been providing our CEO clients for years.

Great speakers craft their talks using these pillars as their foundation. They are what separate the good from the bad. They are essential to building an outstanding speech:


I won’t spend much time on this one. Let’s just say everyone can detect a lie. It’s easy to tell when someone isn’t walking the walk or isn’t genuine about who they are or where they came from. It is imperative to be your authentic self. Otherwise, your words will ring false and any value the message may have had will be lost. The best way to be authentic is to embrace your own unique personality and speaking style.


Like your favorite song, great speeches have a mesmerizing rhythm. You find yourself nodding your head and hanging onto every word. For speakers, this requires organization and spellbinding storytelling.

Effective speakers use storytelling techniques to share authenticity and develop rhythm. The techniques are extremely simple. In fact, most of us use them every day without realizing it. Tell a relatable story. Have you ever watched a movie in which you couldn’t connect with any of the characters? The same thing happens with stories. If they are not relatable, your audience will tune out.

Have a point and make it. Telling a story that doesn’t have a point will lose your audience. Some of the best stories are about overcoming obstacles or about learning from one’s mistakes. To make your own stories sing, remember that any good story has structure and drama. Structure can be simple. You just need a beginning where you introduce your setting, characters, and circumstances. The middle is where the drama comes in. The end of the story should wrap things up. Hopefully you grew and changed as a result of your experience.

Finally, knowing when to pause is critical. Stories have a natural rhythm, just the way any type of speech does. Take a breath and pause before the climax of your story to allow the audience a moment of anticipation. A lot can happen in the spaces between the words, so it’s extremely important to allow your story to breathe. Your audience needs to breathe, too.

One Powerfully Unique Idea

Many people think their job is to convey as much great information as possible. It isn’t. A speech should be like the plot of the blockbuster movie “Inception.” Implant one powerful idea that will transform the listener’s life. Not convinced? According to an article from Jack Malcolm of Falcon Performance Group, research shows speech attendees remember no more than 10 percent of what was said in a speech just one week after. Since only 10 percent of your speech will be remembered, avoid spewing out a scattergun of information and letting the audience decide what they are going to pick out. Instead, make your entire speech support for the one powerful idea.

Let’s think through a couple of examples. In 2005, Steve Jobs gave one of his most well-known speeches at Stanford University. The speech had one powerful idea: learn how to live before you die. He utilized three short stories over the course of 15 minutes to drive this point home. In 1992, Bill Clinton won an election leveraging the power of one idea: “It’s the economy, stupid.” And shortly before his death, as he struggled against cancer, former NCAA championship coach and ESPN announcer Jim Valvano gave a speech at the ESPY awards that 20 years later still inspires people. It had one simple theme: “Don’t ever give up.”

Tony Robbins is perhaps the most popular seminar speaker in the world right now. A lot of that is because he clearly means every word he says. Robbins can go on for hours without losing the audience’s attention because he centers his one powerful idea around awakening your inner self.

Devastatingly Effective Quotes

The next step is to incorporate memorable one-liners. This has a mutual benefit for both you and the audience. Audience members will often tweet your one-liners, which increases your reach. They will also better remember them, which will help them better remember your one key point. For example, when Sarah Palin stepped on the scene in 2008 with her one-liner at the RNC, “you know the difference between a hockey mom and a pit bull? Lipstick!” it became one of the most replayed news clips of the year. Ask anyone knowledgeable about Ronald Reagan and they will tell you that his June 12, 1987 speech included the unforgettable words, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.”

The Best of the Best

After you’ve mastered these four pillars, then and only then is it safe to expand upon them. The following are examples of speakers who, once they mastered those skills, were able to develop additional signature skills that put them in the top one percent of public speakers.

  1. Suze Orman, the financial wizard, connects with her audience by emotionally resonating with them and telling them the truth. She shows a deep level of empathy by describing the situations they are going through and then provides recommended solutions. Suze uses voice inflection and eye contact with almost super power like precision.
  2. Van Moody, the author of “The People Factor,” recently spoke at the Potter’s House in Dallas, TX. Moody provided so many wonderful one-liners that it ended up as the third-highest thing trending on Twitter in North America that day. One-liners such as “There is a thin line between a parasite and a friend” and “Value is assessed by how much you’re willing to sacrifice” make a lasting impression. Moody has a skill very few speakers have.
  3. Steven L. Blue, the CEO of Miller Ingenuity, focused on rebirthing American manufacturing, communicates on how to transform your company by blending stories, providing humor to loosen up what otherwise can be a tense topic, and giving big picture homework for the audience to implement.
  4. Nick Vujicic was born without any limbs. He is one of the most positive people you’ll ever meet. Vujicic arguably has more credibility than any speaker in the industry when he talks about keeping a positive attitude. Audiences are moved to tears and inspired by Vujici’s bold storytelling.

While 90 percent of public speakers should indeed be put on the endangered species list, there is hope for saving the species from extinction altogether. Speakers should step up and provide the value and authenticity their audiences crave. Do that, and the public speaking industry can once again be the source of prestige it historically has been.



The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, YEC recently launched BusinessCollective, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses.

Image Credit: CC by Vince

About the author: Raoul Davis

Raoul Davis specializes in helping CEOs increase their visibility, revenues, and industry leadership status through a proprietary CEO branding model. He is a partner at Ascendant Group, a proven top line revenue growth strategy firm through utilizing the power of CEO branding. Ascendant integrates brand strategy, PR, speaking engagements, book deals, social media and strategic networking to accelerate visibility.

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