Guest Posting: I Could Never be a Speaker, by Alan Stevens

This information was written by Alan Stevens, and originally appeared in “The MediaCoach”, his free weekly ezine, available at

I Could Never Be a Speaker

I beg to differ. Everyone has the capacity to be a good speaker. I have worked with hundreds of nervous presenters, and never had a failure yet.

Great TipsThe single most important aspect of professional presenting is to understand your audience. Far too many speakers prepare and deliver their words of wisdom without giving a thought to what the audience want to hear. The professional speaker always starts by finding out as much as possible about the audience, their reasons for being present, and their motivating factors. This can be done by talking to the meeting organizer, but is better dealt with by talking directly to prospective audience members themselves.

Once a speaker understands their audience, it is then time to decide on the key message to be delivered. Another common error is to try to impart too much information. It is essential that the core message of any speech can be summarized in one sentence of around twenty words. Discouraging as this may seem, if an audience member is asked the day after hearing a speech “What was the speech about?”, and they can remember the core message, the speech will have been a great success.

Thirdly, speakers need to remember that they are not just deliverers of information. There is a story from Ancient Greece about a speaking contest between two great orators. At the end of the first speech, the audience rose and cheered the speaker, calling out “What a great speech”. At the end of the second speech, the audience rose and shouted “Let’s march on Sparta!”. The hallmark of a truly great and professional speech is not changing a person’s point of view, but changing their behavior.

Lastly, speakers need to consider the way in which they present. There are no absolute rights and wrongs here, but experts agree that there are some things you should never do, such as:

  • Start badly
  • Fail to understand equipment
  • Put too much on each slide
  • Patronize the audience
  • Use bad graphics
  • Turn their back on the audience
  • Speak inaudibly
  • Use jargon
  • Run out of time
  • End poorly

In summary, you need to prepare, practice and perform properly. You can do it!

2 Comments so far
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Great story about the Greeks. Do you know the exact source?



Good question, Gonzalo.

Based on a couple of Google searches it seems that the quote attributes the ‘great speech’ oratory to Cicero (which is nice, given that our profession has an annual Cicero Speechwriting Award) and the ‘let’s march’ rhetoric to the Greek statesman Demosthenes, or maybe Ceasar — it’s unclear exactly who said what.

This story made the headlines in Britain (where Alan Stevens lives) back in 2010 when then Prime Minister Gordon Brown misquoted it in a speech. This article discusses the origin of the quote at length. More specifically, the Heresy Corner blog states the real source of the quote is unclear and weighs the rational of the alternative sources.

In my estimation one of the best ‘let’s march’ speeches is Henry V before the battle of Agincourt:

Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more;
Or close the wall up with our English dead.

The game’s afoot:
Follow your spirit, and upon this charge
Cry ‘God for Harry, England, and Saint George!’


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