I found the following “rules” in a popular book on speechmaking. It occurred to me that they are all wrong.
1. Don’t be nervous. What good does this advice do? Telling someone not to be nervous is like telling someone not to flinch when you slap him.
2. Use a podium. This is a big mistake. Using a podium will only make your presentation appear static and boring.
3. State your objective by telling them what you’re going to tell them. You need to tell them what you are going to tell them, yes. But that’s not your objective. Your objective is to give them information that they need. So tell them how your speech will help, instruct, or enlighten them. Make it clear that they will benefit from what you have to say.
4. Speak slowly. What matters in speech is articulation, not speed. Pace your speech with your enthusiasm. Pronounce each word. Be natural.
5. Tell a joke to get started. Too risky. If you feel you need to tell a joke to loosen yourself up, chances are you won’t tell it well. It’s safer and just as effective to lead with a strong, compelling statement or question.
6. Cover all bases. I’ve never been able to cover even half the bases. If you research your subject properly, if you do some serious thinking, if you prepare yourself by seeking ideas and talking to other people, you’ll have much, much more to say than you will be able to say in the time allotted. Decide, beforehand, on the most important issues and address them. Leave the lesser matters to the Q&A period, if there is one.
7. Summarize at the end. Never summarize. Summary is always boring because it is, by definition, abstract or diluted. Rather than summarize, restate your big idea in a different way. Make your last line a knock-out punch.
8. Keep control at all times. Like the “Don’t be nervous” advice, this isn’t helpful. The way to keep control is not to think about control. Think about what you are saying. Think, “I have something important to tell these people. They really need to hear it.” Focus on your ideas, not yourself.[Ed. Note: Mark Morgan Ford was the creator of Early To Rise. In 2011, Mark retired from ETR and now writes the Palm Beach Letter. His advice, in our opinion, continues to get better and better with every essay, particularly in the controversial ones we have shared today. We encourage you to read everything you can that has been written by Mark.]