The Secret to Success in Public Speaking

Public speaker faces audience.

In any public speaking scenario, the speaker must remember and revere the priorities that offer the secret to public speaking success. The message ranks at the top of this priority list, followed by the audience next, and finally the speaker.

Priority #1: The Message. In any given speech, presenters will have an impetus, or driving force, that causes them to face their fears, stand in front of an audience (whether it consists of 10 people or 10,000 people), and speak. The message should reside at the core of that driving force. All too often, speakers forget to prioritize their original central idea or core message, and as a result, allow their message to become distorted by either delusions of being an entertainer (i.e., seeking laughter as a priority instead of delivering information) or fear of how the audience will receive the message, resulting in a watered-down message. Speakers should not forget the reason they stood up to speak in the first place. Before speaking, speakers need to remind themselves that they have one job to do: deliver a message. However, they also cannot forget about the other two components rounding out the triad of priorities.

Audience watches speech.Priority #2: The Audience. Arguably, the importance of the audience theoretically should equal the message, for without the audience, the speaker might as well be speaking to themselves in the mirror. While the core of the message ultimately comes first, how speakers will present that message depends upon their audience. Speakers must deliver the message to the audience in such a way that makes it easy for them to understand the message as originally intended. How audience members receive the core of the message remains highly dependent upon how they filter the message through their lens of understanding, so the speaker must get to know what to expect from the audience. What drives them? What are their feelings, attitudes, opinions, values, and beliefs? How much or little do they know about the topic? Effective speakers consider these questions and more before composing the speech.

picture of person delivering a speechPriority #3: The Speaker. The person or people delivering such messages ranks last in the list of priorities. Why place the speaker last in this order of importance? Frequently, most novice speakers spend more time and effort thinking about their self-image and how audiences will perceive them than they do on considering the strength of their message and/or how the audience will receive that message. As a result, novice speakers begin noticing nervous symptoms (e.g., shaking hands, sweating profusely, dry mouth, etc.) and start to dwell on them, fearful that the audience can see these symptoms manifest, magnifying the natural fear of public speaking exponentially. By placing the speaker last in the order of priority, focus rightfully returns to the message and how well the audience memorably understands it as the speaker originally intended. Instead of wasting mental energy on thinking about superficial qualities like appearance, redirect focus where it is needed so that effective communication can occur.


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Messages that Matter: Public Speaking in the Information Age - Third Edition Copyright © 2023 by North Idaho College is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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