How to Give a Good Speech Even If You Hate Speaking 

I hate giving speeches. Most people do. One study suggested that speaking in front of an audience was number two on the list of what people fear most – just behind death.

I hate giving speeches so my usual response, when invited to give one, is to say no thanks. “I’ll sit on a chair and answer questions,” I say, “but I don’t want to get up there and make an actual speech.”

Three or four times a year, I do make a speech. And my usual strategy to prepare for it is to do nothing. I put the speech on my schedule and then forget about it. I begin to think about what I’m going to say just a few hours before I’m going to give it. I find that this drastically reduces the amount of stress I feel in the days leading up to the speech. But, of course, my stress on the day of the speech is pretty intense.

Given that, you might be wondering why I’m about to give you advice on how to give a good speech. The answer is that even though I don’t like to give speeches, I have given dozens of them. And though I don’t like to prepare for them, I have, on occasion, forced myself to do it. And I can tell you this: Preparation works.

The first speech I prepared for was several years ago. It was a toast for Number Two Son’s wedding. I’d met the father-in-law the previous evening. He let me know that, as a father of the bride, he’d be speaking first. In typically demented fashion, I took that as a challenge.

“What are you doing?” K asked me that night.

“I’m working on my toast,” I told her.

“I’ve never seen you prepare a speech,” she said.

“I know,” I replied.

I gave a damn good toast that day – a better speech than I usually got (and still get) with my “do nothing” strategy. And since then, I have picked up a few shortcuts that have helped me turn would-be bad speeches into pretty good ones.

Here they are…

* “Pearls before swine.” Talk about what you really know. Don’t even try to speak about a subject you don’t truly understand. It’s a fool’s game. Make your speech about something – anything – that you know deeply from having lived it. If you do this, you won’t have to worry about seeming to be smart because you will be smart. If they don’t get it, you can tell yourself (as I do): “Pearls before swine!”

* Follow my Rule of One. The rule is simple: one idea, one story, one takeaway, and one benefit.

* The idea should be something you know to be true. Find a way to articulate it in a single, memorable sentence.

* Don’t begin with that sentence. Begin with a story. That story should illustrate your idea. It should begin with a goal and an obstacle to the goal and end with the overcoming of that obstacle.

* After you’ve told the story –  and only afterward – tell them the takeaway: the one simple and memorable statement that expresses your one big idea.

* After you’ve done that, tell them one big way that they will benefit from embracing that idea.

* Don’t memorize your speech, but do memorize the first and the last sentences.

Try this the next time you have to make a speech – either a formal one in front of hundreds of people, a presentation to your colleagues, or a pitch to your family at dinner. The preparation will be a lot easier than you are probably thinking it will be. And the result – you’ll see – will be well worth it.


Continue Reading

“Persuasion is achieved by the speaker’s personal character when the speech is so spoken as to make us think him credible. We believe good men more fully and more readily than others: This is true generally whatever the question is, and absolutely true where exact certainty is impossible and opinions are divided.” – Aristotle


Continue Reading

veritable (adjective) 

Something that is veritable (VER-is-uh-buhl) is true, or at least feels that way. The word is used as an intensifier, usually to qualify a metaphor. Example by Hanya Yanagihara: “Between their rise in the thirteenth century and their sudden fall in the seventeenth, when the line abruptly ended, the Medicis produced three popes, two queens, and many Florentine rulers, and they supported the work of Galileo, Michelangelo, Leonardo, and Botticelli – a veritable parade of geniuses.”

Continue Reading

Calorie readings on food labels are wildly inaccurate, undercounting calories by up to 70%. And if you’re depending on those readings to help you lose weight, there’s something else you need to know: Your chances of losing weight on a low-calorie diet and keeping it off for five years are the same as your odds of surviving advanced lung cancer: 5%.

Continue Reading

I’ve been working with my partners in the art business to put on a major annual art show in Central America starting next year. It’s going to be big and fun – a combination of Art Basel and the Academy Awards for Central American artists.

The team was in Costa Rica last weekend brainstorming. After what was clearly a very productive session, they sent me the following note…

Hi Mark: We met in Costa Rica, talked with local art and event professionals, and have come up with a very good plan.

One thing that all agreed on was that we must choose a name for the event that is not only very Central American but also clever. And we have a great idea: Manglar! The Manglar Awards!

 Manglar – the Spanish word for “mangrove” – is an ecosystem that all of the Central American countries have in common. The word is minimal, clean – super-easy to create a logo and brand. Even better, the mangrove – struggling to survive between the sea and land – is an excellent symbol for what we are hoping to achieve here. (Not to mention the implication of social responsibility.)

Perfect, don’t you think?

One Thing You Should Never Do in Advertising 

Manglar? I checked the calendar. No. It wasn’t April Fool’s Day. It was mid-July. They were serious.

I sent them this rather curt reply…

Sorry… I HATE “Manglar.”

Yes, it is clever… but clever is the OPPOSITE of good marketing.

Clever says, “Look at ME! Aren’t I smart?” And the prospect does “look at” the marketer, thinking “Who would come up with a name like that? Meanwhile, he is NOT looking at the product.




Continue Reading

equivocal (adjective) 

Equivocal (ih-KWIV-uh-kuhl) means ambiguous, open to more than one interpretation. As used by Italo Calvino: “A tale is born from an image, and the image extends and creates a network of meanings that are always equivocal.”


Continue Reading

Who’s That Knocking at My Door? (1967)

On Friday, I talked about Martin Scorsese’s brilliant “debut” film (in 1973), Mean Streets. It was actually his second movie. The story is that his first one – Who’s That Knocking at My Door?– was considered to be clever but, in the words of John Cassavetes, “a piece of shit.”

As a filmmaker that has produced and directed three bad movies, I wanted to compare my first oeuvre, Killer Weekend, to Scorsese’s first. I was hoping to see similarities – the same sort of bad stuff that Killer Weekendhad. Alas, it turns out that Who’s That Knocking?, while not by any means a great movie, is very interesting in more than a dozen ways. And (in my view, at least), the product of someone that already had, at such an early age (31), a genius for making movies.

Continue Reading