The Holy Trinity of Public Speaking

Everyone will have different views as to exactly what makes a great presentation or speaker.
Having given over 500 business presentations & speeches, won public speaking awards, run public speaking training classes and courses and written a book on the subject, Chris is in as good a position as anyone else to give you some tips.

From all my experience, I have distilled the key traits and attributes to great public speaking into three key areas :

  • The Audience
  • The Message
  • & The Messenger

1: The Audience

Now I know I am stating the obvious but it is amazing how many people ignore this part of the trinity.
Public Speaking is a form of communication. In many respects it ids the same as if you were in a conversation or putting your point across around a table. Sometimes, in a business presentation, it might not involve any more people than you would have sitting around a table.
Yet, in other respects it is very different.
We are by ourselves; we are exposed; we are being eyed up by our audience and we sense a form of danger. When we stand up to speak in public we are confronted by the age old “fight or flight” nerves that cavemen had when confronting a sabre tooth tiger.

The crucial question you should answer is why should the audience listen to you? What valuable contribution are you going to make to their lives? You need to answer the cry of “what’s in it for me?”

Many speakers do not bother to address these questions.
You can spot them easily. They are the ones who drone on for ever, they go into too much detail for their audience (or indeed too little), and there seems to be no purpose to their speech. In short they are boring and a waste of time.

Speakers need to engage with their audience. To achieve this you need to understand your audience. Understand who will be there, their level of knowledge, what their concerns or passions are.

Speak to your audience, give them eye contact, smile. Inter-act with them just as if it were a conversation.

Write and deliver your speech or presentation so that it adds value to their lives.  Have the courtesy to finish on time.
And do the audience the additional courtesy of practising your speech rather than winging it!


2: The Message

Why are you speaking at all? Why should the audience bother listening to you?

Again, this trinity is not adhered to by many speakers.

Too often I see speakers who remind me of Alice meeting the Cheshire Cat in “Alice in Wonderland”:

Alice: Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?
The Cat: That depends a good deal on where you want to get to
Alice: I dont much care where.
The Cat: Then it doesnt much matter which way you go.
Alice: …so long as I get somewhere.
The Cat: Oh, youre sure to do that, if only you walk long enough.

So often speakers seem to have no end goal for their speech.

Former President of the USA, Ronald Reagan said “Every speech has a job to do”.
What job do you want your speech to do?

Be clear about your purpose & what you want your audience to do because of your message.

Grab their attention with a powerful, clear introduction. Assemble your supporting information (the body of the speech) in an easy to follow structure. Finish with a conclusion that re-enforces what you were talking about and tells them clearly, what you want them to do.

Winston Churchill summed this up neatly: “Tell them what you are going to tell them, Tell them, Tell them what you have just told them.”


3: The Messenger

As the messenger you are the crucial part of the trinity linking the message to the audience.

Learn how to communicate clearly and how to sound interesting when you deliver your speech.

Be aware of your body language. Does it enhance your message or detract from it. Your non verbal communication needs to support your verbal communication.

Like the messenger who ran 26 miles from the Battle of Marathon to Athens to bring news a Greek victory, you are like an athlete. You need to prepare and practise like an athlete.

Check out what you are walking into. Who else is speaking, what is the venue like, how do microphones, projectors and the like work. Is the microphone actually working before you speak?

How many times have you practiced your delivery? How familiar are you with the running order, the key messages, the visual aids that you may be using. Do you know how long your speech really lasts? Can you deliver your introduction and conclusion without looking at your notes?

Have you prepared a plan B for when things go wrong? Think through all the potential banana skins, especially the ones that would really freak you out. Then either mitigate for them or decide how you will handle them.

You need to be like a swan; gliding serenely across the water but below the surface paddling hard.

Your aim is deliver a clear, confident speech that is engaging and effective. The best way to do this is by taking the time to understand your audience, spending time writing a clear, logical speech (the message) and practicing your delivery whilst preparing yourself thoroughly (the messenger) – That is the Holy Trinity of Public Speaking.

About the Author

Chris is a speech writer, public speaker and communications expert based in Atlanta, Georgia. If you would like help from Chris and his team on your next presentation or speech, you can reach out to him at

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