The incident is still as real in my mind as it was the day I saw it happen when I was a eleventh grader. Public speaking class. We were to give a three to five minute speech about ourselves. They were OK, nothing to get excited about, and then Byron R.’s turn came. Since that April spring day I’ve heard many speeches, but I’ve never seen anyone as nervous as Byron, which was surprising to all of us because he was one of the school tough guys, or so we thought.

By the time Byron finished, he had literally torn off strip after strip of the notes he’d brought to the front of the class and eaten it strip by strip. By the time he finished his speech his digestive tract was busy digesting the paper he’d written on. Of course with each strip he’d torn, wadded up, placed in his mouth and swallowed, Byron became more flustered because he was trying to do was read his speech and, of course, the words were disappearing and he ended up, at the end, with nothing to read from. I’m sorry to say none of us were able to contain our laughter although to see the school tough guy go through the agonies of delivering “a few words” about himself were, frankly, satisfying. He didn’t seem like such a tough guy by the time he fidgeted back to his seat.

On another occasion a few years later I was a member of a public speaking club that met weekly. We used up a lot of time that night discussing our annual party for spouses and friends we wanted to invite. The discussion finally came down to what beverages would be served. Coffee, of course, was on the agenda and why it took over a half hour merely to discuss coffee I’m about to tell you because what happened is another of those unforgettable images etched in my mind thanks to Mr. O.

For nearly fifteen minutes he gave an impassioned speech about why we needed to rent special coffee urinals, instead of urns, and yes our budget was tight, but he felt so strongly that we needed to splurge and rent coffee urinals that well, we were laughing so hard, we let him go on and on about coffee urinals longer than decorum should have permitted. My ribs ached for a week and we’re lucky no one laughed so hard an emergency vehicle had to be called to cart them off to the emergency room of the nearby local hospital.

You’ve probably heard this many times but why not take up several lines saying it again? A number of studies have shown that some people fear public speaking more than death, a fact I sincerely doubt, but that’s what the studies say. Do you think the dead feel that way about public speaking when they’re contacted by a relative on some psychic’s radio or television show and have to answer questions albeit inside the psychic’s head in front of a live national audience?

My college speech professor, Mr. Plache, used to talk to us about what he called “the awkward phase of change.” What’s not easy in the beginning probably isn’t supposed to be because, just like learning to ride a bicycle or drive a car, you have to go through the “awkward phase of change” before the activity becomes second nature and you become an old pro at it.

What helped me shake my nervousness was a statement made by Dale Carnegie to the effect that, in the old days, when messages were delivered by telegrams, people who received the telegram were far more interested in the MESSAGE than they were the guy who delivered it. In other words, get your mind off yourself and onto your message, he indicated, and you will see giving a speech isn’t about you.

Speaking about you, however, I can tell you that as your audience we want you to succeed. Those frightfully embarrassing moments when you’re shaking, your face is flushed, you don’t know what to do with your hands, you’re fidgeting, we are having a difficult time watching you suffer. You have, in effect, distracted us from what you have to say and made the speech more about yourself, and that always makes an audience feel uneasy.

Here are a few public speaking tips, and only a few of many, I’ve picked up throughout the years. There are basically four parts to a speech:

The introduction. It should be tailored to the audience you’re facing and each audience, in different cities, will not be the same as the one you’ve just spoken to. Your task is to create interest, from the beginning, so your audience will want to listen to what you’re about to say. Your introductory remarks can help you establish a common ground with them and to, hopefully, gain their favor.

Your specific purpose statement — short, sweet, brief; it’s the road sign that tells your audience what this speech is about and why you’re giving it. Like the center beam of a home, your specific purpose statement should be firmly planted and from it you build a logical framework for the central structure or body of your speech that’s yet to come. Your specific purpose statement is designed “to build a bridge from the heart of your purpose to the little island of your audience’s interests,” is the way a writer once phrased it.

The body of your speech — you organize your examples, quotes, facts, and statistics toward the response you desire. The body is where you present your points and proofs, making sure they all connect and move forward and connect to your concluding remarks.

The conclusion of your speech is, I believe, one of its more strategic elements. If well-handled it will be remembered and you will leave your audience with a lasting impression. The conclusion of your speech is not synonymous with the fact you’ve stopped talking. Here it’s your job to wrap up and sell your presentation with a conclusion like an archer who sends the arrow directly into the center of the target he or she is aiming at, that center being your audience’s interests.

I don’t know who first said it but I’m sure my former college speech teacher read this somewhere before imparting its wisdom to his freshman public speaking class and the statement goes like this:

Public speakers are known by their entrances and exits!

Author's Bio: 

James Clayton Napier is a former television and radio broadcaster who covered local, state and national issues in Austin and Central Texas for thirteen years. James taught Communications and Journalism at three universities. Now a full time writer and illustrator, James resides in Arkansas. With over 7,000 cartoons (represented in 17 unique series), James offers a quirky view of society, relationships, money and success, and quirks of life. More about James at