As you hang up the telephone, the icy fingertips of panic grip your stomach; your heart races. Your most recent project was delivered on time, within budget, and is approaching payback one year ahead of schedule. Your industry association wants you to address their annual convention.

Relax: they believe you have something to offer. Here are 10 rules to ease your palpitations.

As you think about your speech, remember the second rule: all great speeches, and even some good ones, require shape. As a practitioner of the forensic form, I find the old saw is hard to beat: “Tell them what you will tell them; tell them; then tell them what you told them.”

Wait a minute, you say. What is the first step? “Shake hands with the audience” is the answer. I already did it by noting that you have something worthy of being said. Former Ambassador Robert Strauss used to begin his addresses like this: “Before I begin this speech, I have something to say.” This passage was always composed in a style that enabled him to reclaim a powerful tone for the instructive portion of his remarks. Make the first step a quick one. Put on your smile; calm your nerves, then get to work.

Your skeleton now needs flesh and blood to spring to life; structure needs a pulse. A good speech needs a beat, a sense of movement to get the audience tapping its mental foot. One technique orators through the ages have used is anaphora, the repeated beginning. For example, from Reverend Jesse Jackson: “Get ready. It’s morning time. From the slave ship; to the championship; it’s morning time. From the outhouse; to the state house; to the courthouse; to The White House; it’s morning time. . . .” Don’t overlook parallelism. It sings. It excites. It works.

What else is required? Occasion. There comes a dramatic time in the life of a person, party, organization, or nation that cries for the uplift and release of a speech. Someone is called on to articulate the pride, hope, or grief of it all. The speaker becomes the center of attention, and the world stops to listen.

A closely related item is forum. Be it the floor of the United States Senate or the dais in the convention hall, each viewer in the audience must feel like the extension of a vast audience. One-on-one may sell; one-on-a-million thrills.

The fifth required element is focus. A “great” speech does not need to start out great and stay great to the finish. It needs to engage your listeners, then make allowances for a dip in interest in the middle. It then builds to its climax. John Stuart Mill, the political economist, defined the orator’s art: “Everything important to his purpose was said at the exact moment when he had brought the minds of his audience into the state most fitted to receive it.”

To handshake, shape, pulse, occasion, forum, and focus, add purpose. A speech should be made for a good reason. To inspire, to instruct, to rally, or to lead are noble purposes. To sound off, to feed a speaker’s ego, or to flatter or intimidate are not.

Add theme to the list. If you cannot answer the question “what do you want to say” in a single, declarative sentence, do yourself and your audience a favor: decline the invitation.

Delivery is the essence of eloquence. It requires practice, discipline, drilling, and timing. You can be your own trainer. As you develop self-confidence, you put the audience at ease or make them sit up. Your eye is in contact with the people, not the page. Your professional passion is contagious.

Every audience needs a sense of completion. It begins with a quiet, declarative sentence; it builds in a series of semicolons; it employs the puissance of parallelism; it reaches to the farthest rafter and reverberates with the action and passion of our time, and—forgetting those silly rules of short sentences and banishments against self-adulation—it grabs each conventioneer by his or her lapels and shouts to their hearts and souls to say, “This—this is the end of the best speech you will ever have the good fortune to experience.”

Follow these rules, and you will experience instant, sustained applause punctuated by the occasional “bravo!” at the conclusion of your speech. Be forewarned: there is an ever present pugnacious pundit punk in every audience who wrinkles his brow and wonders aloud, “But what was really said?”

As for everyone else, they will offer their highest compliment—their undivided attention.

** This article is one of 101 great articles that were published in 101 Great Ways to Improve Your Life. To get complete details on “101 Great Ways to Improve Your Life”, visit

Author's Bio: 

Since 1987, as the Principal Consultant for Faulkner & me (, Craig L. Howe has offered financial and speech writing services to corporate and eleemosynary clients. In his spare time he operates, home of the Pointed Pundit. Craig was born in Buffalo, New York. He was awarded a MA degree from the Newhouse School at Syracuse University in Syracuse, New York, and a BA degree cum laude from Hillsdale College, Hillsdale, Michigan. He lives in Darien, Connecticut, with his wife, Cynthia. They are the parents of three grown children.