Beat the Fear of Public Speaking / 2

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Hello, welcome

I don’t know what specifically brought you here but please allow me to make the following observations:

  • If you want to make the world a better place, you have more chance if you tell people.
  • If you dread making presentations for work, you can learn to overcome that.
  • If you dread making a speech at a private event, you can learn to overcome that.
  • If you’re self employed, you can acquire confidence sharing your work with a wider audience.
  • If you’re a speech-writer, but rarely give speeches yourself, you can learn what your clients are going through.
  • If you give some talks already, you can extend your repertoire.
  • And in this age of Zoom, you can always pick up more techniques to make online engagement work for you.

“I’ve hated public speaking all my life and I suspect it’s held me back both professionally & socially – will watch out for what’s coming with much interest.” – email from P.K.

Hi, I’m John-Paul Flintoff. This part of my website is about Speaking Well Enough. It builds on A Modest Book About How To Make An Adequate Speech (written by me, published by Hachette). Learning to enjoy public speaking can be mind-blowing. I hope you will try it.

Avoid this beginner’s mistake

There are five steps to making a speech, whatever the topic, whoever the audience.

Beginners often make the mistake of jumping to the second step, which makes everything afterwards a bit hopeless.

Don’t make that beginner’s mistake!

Please concentrate as I quickly describe the five steps, as first outlined by the Ancient Greeks.

1. Invention
(What kind of audience do you have? What do you want to achieve?)

If you have a talk coming up, you need to find your purpose before you do anything else. Subject-matter comes later.

This sounds counter-intuitive because we’re used to people saying, eg, “I’m giving a talk about steam engines / the sex lives of chimps.”

But if you don’t know who you’re talking TO, and what you want to achieve, how can you do that?

If you are talking about steam engines to under-five school children, that’s one thing. If the audience is government transport officials, that’s another.

If you’re delivering the steam-engine talk on a platform at Kings Cross station, you say one thing. If you’re in the Amazon jungle speaking to people who have never previously seen anyone like you – well, again, that’s something else.

Obvious when you think about it. But so important, because these things affect not only what you will say but how you will say it.

If you want to entertain your audience, that’s one thing. If you want to persuade them, that’s another.

And the same principles apply to each of the following contexts:

  • A wedding speech
  • A presentation at work
  • An artist’s Show and Tell
  • A eulogy
  • A political speech
  • A planning appeal to a local authority
  • A webinar
  • Anything else that involves letting words out of your mouth to be heard by an audience

In each case, a useful question to ask yourself is:

“How do I want these people to be changed (even if only in a small way) by what I tell them?”

Only then, having identified your purpose, is it time to move on to the second step – and think about what to include in your speech, lecture, presentation, pitch or talk.

2. Arrangement
(What to tell, what to leave out? How to use facts and figures. The power of story.)

Whatever your topic, you will have your own material to prepare, some in advance and some at the last minute.

You’ll face hard choices about what to include and what to leave out.

Once again, there is a framework to help you do that.

3. Style
(Sharpen your rhetoric. Channel somebody inspiring. Raise the emotional temperature.)

Your style is unique. We all have our own voice: I have mine, you have yours. You may worry that you haven’t “found” your voice yet, but you will.

Until then, it’s OK to borrow – but never say something that feels fake.

4. Memory
(Mental routines. Practising out loud. Using mind maps and other visual memory aids. Using props.)

You may not need to remember anything. If you do, you can choose from a variety of mnemonic techniques.

5. Delivery
(What to do immediately before the event, what to do at the event, and what to do afterwards.)

The TV critic Clive James once described a sports commentator, Murray Walker, delivering his material “as if his trousers are on fire”. Walker’s nickname was “Turbomouth”.

This high energy was achieved, he once explained, by standing throughout the race, “bouncing around on the balls of my feet”.

You too may want to have that effect – but I don’t recommend it if, for instance, you are delivering the eulogy at a funeral.


Wow, Cripes, Cor Blimey

Whatever your topic, to master public speaking you will want to break down the task into those five parts of classical rhetoric.

When I submitted the first draft of my book to the lovely publishers, I used the names of those five parts just as you’ve seen them: Invention, Arrangement, Style, Memory and Delivery.

My editor wondered if I could make them a little less, well, boring.

So I came up with alternatives. As somebody who enjoys playing with words, I found the task amusing:

1. WOW, or Work Out What (The Heck You Are Up To).

2. CRIPES, aka Choose Really Interesting Proofy Evidence Stuff

3. COR BLIMEY, or Clean Out Rubbish But Leave It Massively Elegant

4. CRUMBS, also known as Completely Ram Your Mind/Brain Space

5. GASP, aka Give A Super Presentation.

I quite liked these alternative titles but my editor decided, in the end, to go with the traditional versions. Boring, but probably wise.

I repeat the list here to emphasize that – whatever you call them – those steps are SO important.


Even before the book came out, I used the five steps to build a speaking course, with videos, downloads and one-to-one sessions.

Accepting that most people aspire to be better than Adequate – though gawd knows why, because adequate is good enough, and good enough IS good enough – I gave the course a different name:

It went very well.

“Thank you so much for what has been the best course I’ve taken. Not only has it been invaluable in getting me to think properly about what a) public speaking means, and b) what I actually want to say, it’s also inspired me with fresh ideas about what to do and where to go creatively.” – N.J., participant

That was during the coronavirus lockdown, so it HAD to be delivered online.

I have subsequently delivered courses and workshops in person, in London and abroad. You might be quite surprised by some of the people who have attended. (I’ll tell you in a bit.)

I like to deliver in-person courses – they are a lot of fun.

But they’re not always convenient, and I can’t help people who live far away.

Marianne Power Testimonial.jpeg

My experience during lockdown demonstrated that, with careful planning to ensure interaction, it’s entirely possible to teach public speaking online.

Over a short period, individuals who hadn’t known each other at all became a powerful source of inspiration and encouragement to each other.

Here’s some of the feedback they gave each other during and after those final talks:

12:42:20 Great delivery!
12:42:40 Real gravitas and powerful
12:50:01 Love the playfulness
12:55:41 Really inspiring, makes me want to see your work
12:56:10 really interesting, was with you the whole way through
12:56:45 Very natural and engaging – brilliant project!
13:05:26 Loved the down to earthiness of your talk
13:06:03 Really well put and clear, and super relevant
13:13:22 Very moving
13:13:29 Incredibly powerful. Well done.
13:22:16 gripped to know what happens!
13:30:29 raw and honest, compelling to listen to
13:39:19 Delightful and surprising. Such a great idea for a talk – and good advice for our lives!

By working online, I can reach many more people. And I can make it more affordable for you.


Hostile Audience, Amazingly

You remember that, when my agent suggested I write this book, I was recovering from a breakdown?

Well I didn’t tell you yet what happened when I left the hospital and travelled across the country to deliver the keynote at that AGM.

The audience turned out to be the most hostile I’ve ever encountered.

As soon as I walked to the front of the stage to speak, there was a loud call for me to get off.

Keep reading…