Authors & Speakers Network Blog with Larry James

Thursday, May 14, 2015

How to Give a Great Speech ~ Part Two

NOTE: You may want to read “How to Give a Great Speech” Part One before you read Part Two.

Earl Nightingale, Guest Author

Don’t be a comedian

Humor isn’t something that can be forced, nor should it be reached for. It’s something that comes naturally to those with the ability, or at least it seems to. If you have it, congratulations. Use it wisely. If you don’t have it, use it sparingly and make certain it’s really funny before you use it at all. Don’t try to dabble in one of the most difficult professions in the world — that of a stand-up comedian.

A&SGreatSpeech2Before you include a joke in your speech, ask yourself this: Why am I telling it? Jokes aren’t necessary to the opening of a speech. Neither are funny comments, unless they have a clever tie-in of some sort that the audience will genuinely appreciate and enjoy.

I’ve heard so many tedious speakers say, following the introduction, “That reminds me of a story …” and then proceed to tell a story that hasn’t the faintest resemblance to anything said in the introduction at all. It didn’t remind him. He just wanted to tell a joke, and everybody in the audience knows it and begins to move their feet and cough and look around for the exit.

Here’s a good rule to follow that I’ve found works. If there is any doubt in your mind whatever, if there is the faintest feeling of uneasiness about a story, never tell it. That feeling of uneasiness is your more intelligent subconscious trying to tell you to forget it. Save if for the locker room at the club if you must tell it.

If you want a foolproof system, use the enormously successful Jack Benny system: Make yourself the joke. Benny has produced the most prolonged, helpless laughter in the history of show business. It happened on his old radio program when he was approached by a robber who said, “Your money or your life.” What followed was simply silence, the deadly, convulsively funny silence that only Jack Benny could manage. The silence lasted only a few seconds when the laughter began, then mounted and mounted and continued for a record-breaking period of time, I think something like 15 minutes. Finally, when it did subside, the robber repeated, “I said your money or your life.” And Jack Benny replied, “I’m thinking. I’m thinking.”

Again the laughter took hold and the program nearly ran out of time before it could even attempt to finish. A simple silence did it as Jack tried desperately to decide which was more important to him, his money or his life. He was always the loser in his elaborate plans, as is the coyote in his attempts to trap the road runner. People love us when we’re foiled by our own weaknesses.

If humor is your forte, then you don’t need any advice or help from me. If it isn’t, use it sparingly and in good taste. It’s wonderful when it’s right. It’s so awful when it isn’t.

Speak with style

I was a speaker at a hospital benefit, and as I waited in the wings of a large theater where the benefit was being staged, I noticed that one of the officials for the evening was on stage in front of the lectern reading the names of the various high school graduates from the community who had won scholarships in nursing. He never looked up at the audience. He spoke in such low monotones that he was difficult to hear, even with an excellent audio system, and his performance was as lackluster as any I’ve ever seen. When he was through, he walked back to where I was standing in the wings. As he disappeared from view to the audience, his face broke with a beautiful broad smile, and he said in a strong voice, “Man, am I glad that’s over.” I stopped him and I said, “You should have flashed that wonderful smile to the audience and used your normal voice. It’s excellent.” “Oh, that,” he shuddered. “I’m scared to death out there.”

Now, the audience got a picture of a very lackluster man with no personality and no style whatsoever, a total cipher. Yet, here was a good-looking man with a beautiful smile, an excellent style of his own that his friends and acquaintances no doubt greatly admired. I wanted to go on stage and say to that great audience. “I wish you could see so-andso as he really is. He’s quite a guy.”

Everyone has his or her own special style. It seems to come with the genes and the upbringing and the education, all of thousands of experiences that coalesce to form a person’s own unique style.

You have only to study prominent people on television to quickly see that each of them has a style all his or her own that he or she is completely unconscious of. Just as we should never doubt our hunches or our own unique powers, we should never doubt that we have a natural style. If, and it’s a big if — if we can be natural.

The key is to lose ourselves in our material. In an ideal speech, we are conscious of putting on a performance, but at the same time we’re so interested in what we’re talking about and we know our subject so thoroughly, we can immerse ourselves in it.

I was chatting with a salesman on an airplane one time. It turned out we were both going to the same convention. I had to speak. He had to receive his company’s highest honor as national sales leader. As our conversation grew more animated, I asked him the secret of being number one in sales with his company. And he gave me the most interesting answer. He said, “I was in this business for several years, and I tried hard and I worked hard, but I was a long way from the top. Then one day, a wonderful thing happened. All of a sudden, things were turned around. Instead of my being in this business, the business got into me.”

He looked at me and his eyes were shining, and he asked, “Do you know what I mean?” I told him I knew exactly what he meant and he could number himself among the most fortunate human beings on earth, the people who actually enjoy what they’re doing, the real stars. It reminded me of John Stuart Mill’s theory of happiness in his book Utilitarianism. He said that only those people who do not seek happiness directly are happy. People who spend their time helping others and are engaged in some art or pursuit — followed not by a means, but as itself an ideal end — find happiness along the way. The important part is that those who are the happiest are engaged in a daily pursuit, followed not just as a means, but as itself an ideal end. And it’s the same in making a fine speech.

BONUS Article: The Communicator’s Job – Can You Improve Your Speaking and Writing?

Copyright © 2015 – Earl Nightingale. Earl Nightingale was the author of Lead the Field. To read more articles by Earl Nightingale, “Life of the Unsuccessful” (Mar/Apr 2006), “The Cure for Procrastination” (Sep/Oct 2005), and “The Strangest Secret” (Nov/Dec 2004), visit today.



Authors & Speakers Network Blog

Larry James is a professional speaker and the author of three relationship books, “How to Really Love the One You’re With: Affirmative Guidelines for a Healthy Love Relationship,” “LoveNotes for Lovers: Words That Make Music for Two Hearts Dancing” and “Red Hot LoveNotes for Lovers.” His newest book is “Ten Commitments of Networking.” Larry James also offers “Author & Speaker” coaching. Contact:, P.O. Box 12695, Scottsdale, AZ 85267-2695. – More than 110 articles especially for Authors & Speakers at:

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