The Art of Good Public Speaking: Why You Shouldn’t Tell Stories About Yourself In Your Presentations and Speeches

Learning from the experts: Good public speaking examples

As a regular speaker I have discovered the best people who win over a crowd.  The person who controls emotion.  The person who has every member of that crowd hanging on their every word.  It is in fact their job to do so, and to come up with new ideas on a regular basis.  If they fail, they do not eat.  Am I talking about politicians?


I am talking comedians.  And good ones at that.

I am not suggesting that the next time you walk into the board room (bored room) you become a standup comedian or comedienne, but you can certainly learn much from the great talents, and embarrassments, that grace out nations stages and television screens.  Analysation is the key, so set the video recorder, Sky box or whatever, and enjoy.  Then watch again.  Have a pencil and paper ready and note the following examples of how they deliver good public speaking.

  1. Timing
  2. Audience engagement: how they engage, how they capitalize on the interaction
  3. Pace of delivery
  4. Imagery used
  5. How they walk, or stand
  6. Smiling
  7. Mannerisms
  8. Demeanor
  9. Dress
These are just for starters.  As you watch you will become aware of other things that you will want to make note of.
Take your list, mark off those things which could find their way appropriately into your own public speaking, and which should be avoided.  Try them out, and then make notes on what worked, or didn't work, and what you could change.Compare different professionals too and see why what works for one comic doesn't work for another. I for example am completely unable to tell jokes.  However, the way I tell completely normal stories or messages has the effect of connecting with people over significantly long periods of time.One of the tricks is to make sure there are key elements to your talk, this will be covered in the next part of the series.

Father of the Bride Speech: Rowan Atkinson (British Comic genius) shows how NOT to do it

Good Public Speaking Doesn't Focus On You, Because You Are Not the subject!

Now a quick word about what public speaking is not about when the subject that you have been asked to talk about is you.


The cult of celebrity likes to make us think that if someone wants us to go and speak to them about who we are we kind of go in with a job-interview mindset. Yes, in the job interview you will want to tell them all about you, but believe me when I say that there is nothing more tedious that truly hearing someone who talks and talks about themselves.

At this point I might be risking losing YOUR interest. Surely, you will be saying, you have heard people – particularly stand-up comedians – talking all about themselves?

Wrong. What you have heard them talk about is the situations that they have found themselves in, and told their stories as observers of life. It just so happens that occasionally they take a minor role. The main character is usually someone else. Often a comedian will talk about their immediate family or their upbringing, but they don’t talk about themselves. Theymight talk about how their parents talked to them, but in the end it is the parent who is the main subject. Remember this, or you will lose people.

What will be remembered is that the stories were interesting, fun, and all about you. But that goes back to how people remember – they remember you. You, your character, your body language, mannerisms, dress…everything becomes the hook in their minds which is what every other thing hangs off. And if those things can connect with a previous experience you are on to a winner.

If you are going to be a good public speaker and fantastic at making presentations and speeches you have to get this fundamental right.

Good Public Speaking Subjects

So what exactly will make the best fodder for your talks?

Obviously if you are presenting in the boardroom you will have to talk about what is going on with the company, but if you have somewhat more freedom, a bestman or groom's speech for example, you don't have to be tied down to all the same innuendo jokes, or even finding the same tired old material that many other people have used in the past.

It's interesting, but time and time I hear at (for example) a wedding breakfast mother-in-law jokes, or bad puns, or someone trying to do the usual lets-embarrass-the-new-family-member line.  Don't bother, unless you really feel it is expected.

  1. Good public speaking tip number 1: don't feel under pressure to deliver
  2. Good public speaking tip number 2: don't give more than 5 minutes
  3. Good public speaking tip number 3: let your subject focus on one really positive aspect told in a warm and loving way...and if it's funny along the way people will love it.  They will love you even if it isn't funny.

So how does this work then?

Let's step back a moment and imagine that you feel you have to deliver the same speech style as someone you once heard that you thought was acceptable.  Chances are it was Steve Martin's Father of the Bride or some other film if you have never actually been to a wedding.  You think funny is the way to go because a) it will help you in your nervous state to feel accepted b) it will help you to forget that this whole thing has cost a small fortune c) You don't care because you drank too much.

So you dig around and decide that telling the story of your daughter (or read your appropriate family member into this if you wish) when her knickers fell down at the beach and everyone saw will be really funny.  Or how you remember when she lost her first boyfriend.  Oh yes, funny for you, and you will get laughs.  But those laughs are slightly embarrassed for the sake of the guests of honour.

Instead, what happens if you tell the day your eight year old daughter threw her arms round your neck  - the last time she did - and told you that she loved you.  And how you are happy to hand over that privilege to her new husband who will more than enjoy being told the same.

No laughter, but everyone delighted.  Be positive!  Don't try to be funny, even if you think you are.  You can flesh this story out with what was going on at the time before the last hug episode, how she used to play with her toys as she grew up.  Paint word pictures, get people on your side.  Don't ramble. Don't try to be clever.

People will remember it.

Does this work in other places?  Yes!  From the preacher's pulpit to the boardroom this is what people thrive on: stories.  Stories told well, with warmth, that won't make people feel uncomfortable.  It is an art to convey humour that is offensive, and I personally don't like it, though some comedians do it very well.  It takes years to learn.  If this is your first and rare outing, don't try to demonstrate a skill you don't have!

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