woman in front of group demonstrating presentation skills

Public speaking and presentation skills have been taught for centuries.

Over 2,000 years ago, Aristotle described the three modes of persuasion in his book Rhetoric. In Greek, these are called ethos, pathos and logos.

The definitions of these three rhetorical appeals are:

  • Ethos – character
  • Pathos – emotion
  • Logos – logic.

According to Aristotle, any attempt to persuade your audience should include a combination of the three. Understanding these and applying them effectively will help you persuade your listeners when speaking about your company, products, services or ideas.

Let’s look at a few examples of how you can use ethos, pathos and logos to develop your public speaking and presentation skills.

Ethos – character

Presentation skills tip: Start building your character before applying your public speaking and presentation skills

Ethos can be established in several ways that go beyond the speech or presentation you are giving. Being seen as a trusted and reputable speaker before you reach the podium helps to build your ethos.

If you’re viewed as being trustworthy and consistent in general, it will enhance your character in the eyes of your audience even before you apply your public speaking and presentation skills. We’ve all read about major scandals surrounding politicians and other high-profile figures that have destroyed their image. That’s why it’s important to protect your reputation in all parts of your life and be consistent with your message before you get on stage.

Your expertise is another important part of your ethos. Having many years of experience in your field or position in your industry can help you establish yourself as a credible expert. If you are a consultant, writing a book, or books, about the topics you speak about will go a long way to boost your image in the eyes of your listeners. Your educational background can also play a big part in building your credibility.

If your speech or presentation will be publicised beforehand, you can establish your ethos in announcements and advertisements for the event.

Presentation skills tip: Get to know your audience to build your ethos before you use your public speaking and presentation skills

Getting to know your audience at the event is another way to build your ethos. For example, arriving at the event early and meeting audience members during breaks will help you connect and get a feeling of the mood, challenges and outlook of the people you will be addressing. If appropriate and relevant, you might include some of these insights in your presentation. You could mention a conversation you had with an audience member and weave this into your speech (but make sure that this person is comfortable with you sharing this information). This shows that you have a genuine concern for your audience and will boost your public speaking and presentation skills.

Similar to your promotional material and speaking announcements, your background and expertise should be included in the introduction before you speak. The best way to ensure this is to write your own introduction, or at least list the main points that you want mentioned. Again these can include your career milestones and accomplishments, educational achievements, books or papers you have written, previous roles, current responsibilities, and recognitions or awards.

The formality of your introduction will depend on the type of event. If it’s a formal business event, it might cover the main facts about the speaker. If it’s less formal, it can be more humorous and conversational. Either way, a strong introduction will enhance the public speaking and presentation skills you apply during your speech.

If you are giving a motivational or educational presentation, your introduction should be used to build your credibility but it should also tell the listeners how you are going to help them. One technique is having questions at the beginning of your introduction.

If you were giving a presentation on sales skills the introduction could include questions such as:

Have you ever wanted to close more sales in less time?

Do you want to gain the skills that will help you overcome objections?

Would you like to increase your income by making more sales?

In today’s presentation, our speaker will provide the keys to achieving these aims for a more productive and rewarding career in sales.

Presentation skills tip: Boost your public speaking and presentation skills by quoting recognised authorities on your topic

Besides enhancing your own character, you can boost the credibility of your ideas by including quotations. When well chosen and placed, quotations can add variety and credibility to your speeches and presentations. While facts and statistics support the logical element of an argument, and stories bring in an emotional element, quotations add credibility. When you quote an authority — not connected to you or your business — you add that person’s credibility and standing to your premise. This is one simple way to enhance your public speaking and presentation skills.

For example, in the workshops and presentations on writing, I use quotations from great writers and writing experts to support the case for simple and uncluttered writing and public speaking. Some of these include:

Every word that is unnecessary only pours over the side of a brimming mind.

‒ Cicero

Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific term or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.

‒ George Orwell,
Politics and the English Language

Executives and managers at every level are prisoners of the notion that a simple style reflects a simple mind. Actually a simple style is the result of hard work and hard thinking; a muddled style reflects a muddled thinker or a person too dumb or too lazy to organize his thoughts.

William Zinsser,
On Writing Well

By using these quotations in my presentations, I bring outside confirmation to the idea that clear and simple writing is important.

Some public speaking trainers believe that using quotations shows a lack of originality and should not be included as public speaking and presentation skills. But the right quotation from the right authority and in the right place will increase your credibility and the impact of your speech or presentation.

For example, if you were speaking about the importance of developing sound leadership in your organisation, you could use quotations such as:

If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.

‒ John Quincy Adams

A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way.

‒ John C. Maxwell

Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.

‒ Peter Drucker

The appropriate quotation, or quotations, for your speech or presentation would depend on the specific message you want to convey about leadership. You can search for quotations by subject, keyword or author. Finding the appropriate quotation can take some time, but it can be well worth the effort.

As with business speeches, quotations can add depth and credibility to motivational presentations. Earl Nightingale was a master at using quotations in his motivational audio programs. He would often present several quotations on a single subject to enhance his message and make it more convincing.

The following is an extract from The Strangest Secret, one of his best-selling audio programs.

This is The Strangest Secret! Now, why do I say it’s strange, and why do I call it a secret? Actually, it isn’t a secret at all. It was first promulgated by some of the earliest wise men, and it appears again and again throughout the Bible. But very few people have learned it or understand it. That’s why it’s strange, and why for some equally strange reason it virtually remains a secret.

Marcus Aurelius, the great Roman Emperor, said: ‘A man’s life is what his thoughts make of it.’ Disraeli said this: ‘Everything comes if a man will only wait … a human being with a settled purpose must accomplish it, and nothing can resist a will that will stake even existence for its fulfilment.’

William James said: ‘We need only in cold blood act as if the thing in question were real, and it will become infallibly real by growing into such a connection with our life that it will become real. It will become so knit with habit and emotion that our interests in it will be those which characterize belief.’ He continues, ‘…only you must, then, really wish these things, and wish them exclusively, and not wish at the same time a hundred other incompatible things just as strongly.’

My old friend Dr. Norman Vincent Peale put it this way: ‘If you think in negative terms, you will get negative results. If you think in positive terms, you will achieve positive results.’

George Bernard Shaw said: ‘People are always blaming their circumstances for what they are. I don’t believe in circumstances. The people who get on in this world are the people who get up and look for the circumstances they want, and if they can’t find them, make them.’

Well, it’s pretty apparent, isn’t it? We become what we think about.[1]

The number of quotations used in the example might seem excessive when you read it. But when you listen to the recording of this motivational talk, it seems quite natural. By quoting so many notable figures dating back to ancient times, Earl Nightingale adds credibility to his premise that we become what we think about.

Be careful when sourcing your quotations from the internet, as emphasised by the following ‘quote’:

The problem with quotes on the internet, is that it’s hard to verify their authenticity.

Abraham Lincoln

In order to avoid using inaccurate and wrongly attributed quotations, use a trusted source. For example, Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations, which are now available on an easily searchable app, and Bartleby.com.

Presentation skills tip: Check your facts to avoid diminishing your authority


One quick way to harm your character, lower your credibility and negate your public speaking and presentation skills is to present false or inaccurate information. If you do, your credibility will fall in the eyes of your listeners, even if your mistakes are unintentional.

For example, when you hear something in your area of expertise, and you recognise that the information you are hearing is inaccurate, it’s likely that the speaker’s credibility will be diminished in your mind. So always check your facts before you speak to avoid diminishing your credibility because being inaccurate will diminish your public speaking and presentation skills.

Presentation skills tip: Avoid unnecessary controversy to prevent losing authority

When speaking about your subject matter, not everyone will agree with you. That’s understandable. But you can avoid losing credibility by not introducing unnecessary controversy. For example, speaking about your favourite politician, political party or political policy, when it’s not relevant to your topic or your group, will only alienate the listeners who do not like that politician, party or policy. In a random audience, you can expect that 30 to 50 percent of the people won’t agree with your political views so don’t waste your public speaking and presentation skills by introducing aspects that could lead to disagreement with audience members.

Pathos – applying emotion to enhance public speaking and presentation skills

Many experts believe that pathos is the most important of the three rhetorical appeals. In Advanced Selling Strategies, Brian Tracy writes that ‘All buying decisions are emotional because people are completely emotional in everything they say and do. They buy emotionally and justify logically.’[2]

The importance of emotions in decision making is backed up by the scientific research. In Descartes’ Error Emotion, Reason, and the Human Brain, Antonio Dimasio shows that people who have had injuries to the part of the brain that regulates emotions — the prefrontal cortex — cannot make decisions because they lack the necessary emotional machinery. Although much about the precise workings of emotions are still unknown to science, the conclusion of the research is that the brain often ‘decides’ among alternatives by ‘marking’ one alternative as more emotionally significant than another.[3]

Given that emotions do play an important part in our decision-making process, we need to include a strong emotional element in our presentations to win people over to our point of view.

Emotion can be introduced in many direct and subtle ways to enhance our public speaking and presentation skills.

Presentation skills tip: Use the power of words to get your audience emotionally involved and support your public speaking and presentation skills.

You might have seen the popular YouTube video called The Power of Words. In it a blind man is sitting on the footpath begging for money. His sign reads, ‘I’m Blind, Please Help’. He’s getting some money from passers-by, but not much. A woman approaches him, picks up his cardboard sign and writes ‘It’s A Beautiful Day and I Can’t See It’ on the blank side and places the sign so passers-by see the new text. He then starts to receive many more contributions.

This short video highlights the importance of using words to get people emotionally involved. Although ‘I’m Blind, Please Help’ logically explains the man’s situation, ‘It’s a Beautiful Day and I Can’t See It’ raises the emotions of the situation by helping us see what the blind man is missing. This lesson can be transferred to the development of public speaking and presentation skills.

The language you use can also play an important part in bringing emotion to your speech or presentation. For example, if you are talking about the problem of addiction to the illicit drug ice, you could say ‘Ice is a very serious problem affecting everyone in our community.’ But you can add emotion by using a figure of speech. For example, ‘Ice is a cancer affecting everyone in our community’. This metaphor adds an emotional charge to your statement.

When Winston Churchill spoke about the ‘iron curtain’, meaning the closing of Eastern Europe and the beginning of the Cold War, he could have said something like ‘The border between east and west has been closed indefinitely’ but he understood the power of emotional language and said, ‘From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an iron curtain has descended across the Continent.’

So remember to use powerful words and symbolic language to develop your public speaking and presentation skills.

Presentation skills tip: Employ visuals to raise emotions when applying your public speaking and presentation skills

If using PowerPoint or a similar program, visuals can be a powerful way to heighten emotions. One of my clients was speaking at a conference and wanted to promote the benefits of home-based businesses as a way for women to balance careers and family life. In her presentation, we used images that highlighted the flexibility and freedom that a home-based business can provide. For this presentation, we found stock images that portrayed the lifestyle that could be attained in the business. These included families having fun together, couples dining, luxury cars and exotic travel destinations.

Finding and choosing the right images can take some time and effort. If you don’t have images related to your topic, you can find stock images online for free or a small fee.

Presentation skills tip: Use stories to evoke emotion

Telling stories is a powerful way to add an emotional element when applying your public speaking and presentation skills. For example, let’s say you are giving a presentation about the benefits of the small business accounting software you have developed. You can point out that a survey of customers revealed that the software is more efficient than their previous systems and reduces the time they need to spend on their accounting by 30%. This is looking at it from a logical perspective. But then you can bring in emotion by telling about the experience of a business owner who was spending time in the office after business hours and coming home very late many evenings because the old accounting system was not efficient. With the new system the business owner now gets home earlier and can spend time with her family.

For added impact, you could even quote what the customer said about the difference the software has made in her life:

Acme accounting software has made a tremendous difference in my small business and my life. Before we implemented it, I would spend many hours after work at the office getting caught up on my accounting. Now I get it done in less time, and have more time to spend with my family.

Using simple but true stories like this will boost your public speaking and presentation skills to make a bigger impact.

When a speaker wanted a story to emphasise the power of love to overcome challenges, I found the following story and adapted it for his speech:

Over 2,000 years ago, the Roman poet Virgil wrote that ‘love conquers all’. There are many stories that support this point and I’ll share one with you.

When 21-year-old art student Emilie set out on her bike one autumn morning in New York, she expected to arrive at her internship — not a hospital bed.

Emilie was struck by an 18-wheel semi truck and suffered brain damage, a stroke and fractures of her head, leg and pelvis. She was rushed to the hospital. Her heart stopped for a minute after she went into cardiac arrest. The doctors believed she wouldn’t make it and were asking her family about organ donation.

But for weeks, her devoted boyfriend Alan waited by Emilie’s bedside day and night. She was mostly unresponsive, but he refused to give up.

Once her condition was stabilised, doctors said she wasn’t eligible to be moved to a rehabilitation program because she couldn’t respond to commands. Her eyes wouldn’t follow visual stimuli and she’d been hearing impaired since childhood.

Without a chance at rehabilitation, Emilie would be left at a nursing home with little probability of recovery. But Alan didn’t give up. He believed the woman he loved would come back to him. He turned to the internet to read all he could find on Helen Keller.

Keller’s story inspired him. Late at night, waiting by her bedside, he decided to copy the method of communication Keller’s teacher used: spelling words on her palm. He wrote I LOVE U with his finger on her palm. Immediately, Emilie responded.

Excitedly, Alan documented her words, using his mobile phone to record their interactions as she answered question after question.

Finally, he had the proof he needed to show the doctors that Emilie could go to rehabilitation and had a chance at recovery.

Emilie is still recovering. She has lost her sight, but can still hear with the use of the hearing aids she has worn most of her life. Despite her blindness, she plans to continue to create art.

In this case, love did conquer all. It made it possible for a young woman to overcome great odds and continue living a fulfilling life.

You can use stories to evoke many types of emotions. Stories don’t have to be about monumental achievements or personal disasters. They can be simple things that add an emotional element to your speeches and enhance your presentation skills.

Presentation skills tip: Use sensory words to get your audience emotionally involved

Using sensory words in a story can add more emotion to it. These can include the sensations experienced during the story. If you were speaking about road safety and telling the story of a car accident you could bring up the screeching of the tyres, the shattering of glass and the smell of smoke.

Onomatopoeia is the term that describes a word that phonetically imitates, resembles or suggests the source of the sound that it describes. It is highly effective way to enhance your presentation skills.

Examples include:

  • splash, sprinkle and squirt ‒ for water descriptions
  • giggle, mumble and blurt ‒ for voice descriptions
  • bang, thump and thud ‒ for describing collisions
  • bark, meow and moo ‒ for describing animal sounds.

By using these types of sensory words, you can add emotion to your presentations and enhance your presentation skills.

Logos – logic, reason

Logos can be described as the logical component of your argument. Whether you want people to buy your products or agree with your ideas, you need to use some form of logic or reasoning in your speeches and presentations. So logos is a key component in boosting your presentation skills.

Presentation skills tip: Use facts and figures for logical support

Facts and figures can build a solid foundation for a logical argument used to persuade your listeners. For instance, let’s say you represent an insurance company and want to highlight the problem of people being underinsured. You can point out that 80 per cent of Australians are underinsured and list the source of the statistic as a survey conducted by a government agency. This fact will make your listeners think and ask, ‘Am I one of 80 per cent?’ If audience members believe they are underinsured, they might start to worry about their situation. In this case, a statistical fact can lead to an emotional response, another key element of presentation skills.

In a speech I wrote for a cancer survivor and financial planner, who speaks about the importance of income protection and life insurance at industry events, I used many statistics to get people to think about the subject:

That brings me to another important way I want to make a difference — and my reason for being here today. As a financial planner, I have always been aware of the need to protect against risk. During my career over the last twenty years, I have helped my clients create a better life for themselves and their families. One thing that I never really paid much attention to was income protection insurance.

As financial planners, many of us focus on life insurance but don’t realise the importance of income protection. But when you look at the facts, it becomes clear that there’s a big gap between the possibility of needing this insurance and the number of people covered.

Let’s consider the statistics.

Did you know that every working Australian has a one in three chance of becoming disabled for more than three months before they reach the age of 65?

Did you know that workers compensation only covers you for accidents and injuries that occur during working hours or illness that is a direct result of work?

Did you know that two in five Australians will suffer from a critical illness by the age of 65?

You might already be aware of these facts, but many of your clients probably are not. Also, each day in Australia:

  • 214 people are diagnosed with cancer
  • 41 people undergo coronary artery bypass surgery
  • 35 people between the ages of 35 and 69 will survive a heart attack.

But let’s look at the other side of the equation.

Did you know that only six per cent of employees have income protection insurance?

And only 31 per cent of the self-employed are insured against a loss of income?

Most people insure their homes, their cars, their lives, their holidays, and even their pets — but don’t have income protection insurance. So let’s compare the risks.

The odds of having your car stolen and not recovered are 1 in 800. The probability of having to claim on your home and contents policy is one in 13.

Most people consider their home to be their greatest asset. But did you know that for every single home lost as a result of fire, four homes are lost through a death, and forty-eight homes are foreclosed and lost as a result of disability?

In reality, the biggest asset for most people of working age is their income. As I mentioned, only six per cent of employees are covered by income protection insurance. But do you know the percentage of people who have comprehensive car insurance? It’s 83 per cent!

Again, the statistics show how big an issue illness and disability can be in earning an income. Health issues are the third most common reason for working age Australians not participating in the labour force. Only 29 per cent of people in poor health are employed full time. In comparison, 60 per cent of people in good health work full time.

When I was diagnosed with cancer in 2005, I was fortunate to be one of the six per cent covered by income protection insurance. During my treatment I wasn’t able to work for nearly two years. I don’t know how I would have survived if I didn’t have income protection insurance. Having to go through treatment was challenging in itself, but I didn’t have to worry about where my income would come from while I was going through it and the ongoing health challenges I face today. It amazes me to think that I was one of the few people who had income protection insurance when it was needed.

Given the target audience of financial planners, who are accustomed to numbers, the list of statistics provides a logical foundation for the idea that their clients need income protection insurance. This highlights the importance of knowing your audience as you prepare to apply your presentation skills.

Combine Credibility, Emotion and Logic to Boost Your Presentation Skills

Choosing the right mix of ethos, pathos and logos is a crucial aspect of public speaking and presentation skills. How you combine the three will depend on your audience and the product, the service or idea you’re promoting. Business managers, for example, often need to make a logical case for purchasing a new solution to a problem, so business-to-business products and services require a rational justification (although the decision is ultimately based on emotion).

Many consumer products and services — such as travel, leisure, health and beauty, and fashion — tend to be promoted on an emotional level. So if you’re selling a tropical beach holiday or fine jewellery, you will want to focus on the emotional element of your offering.

The following opening to a presentation shows how you can combine credibility, emotion and logic. It was written as the introduction to a training workshop that was part of a program to teach new hypnotherapists to help smokers quit the habit. The text in italics and brackets explains how the three elements are used throughout the speech. Other public speaking and presentation skills are also noted.

Good morning and welcome to the Quit Smoking Wizard 5-day workshop.

As you may know, I’m Jim Ford, the founder of the Quit Smoking Wizard program.

I’m honoured and grateful that you have chosen to join me in becoming a Quit Smoking Wizard.

As I was preparing for our journey, I was looking for a way to summarise the next five days for you.

After thinking about it for a while, one word that explains what we’re achieving here flashed into my mind.

That word is transformation. [The theme is introduced.]

Transformation is much more than change. We all change in small ways every day. But transformation is life-changing change. It’s our transformational experiences that we remember and mark time with.

Wayne Dyer said, ‘Transformation literally means going beyond your form.’ [Using quotations to bring outside confirmation, which builds authority.]

My goal is that this seminar makes it possible for you to go beyond your current form to make a better life for you, your families and your future clients. [Tricolon]

Although I’m standing here in front of you as the Quit Smoking Wizard, I had to undergo major transformations to get here.

Twelve years ago I was a different person.

I was broke. I was deeply in debt. I was homeless.

[Speaking frankly about his unfortunate personal situations brings emotion to the presentation. Also notice the triad.]

I woke up on the street one day and made a decision to change.

That decision came from within. Your decision to become a Quit Smoking Wizard came from within. The decisions your clients make to seek your help in quitting smoking will come from within.

[The previous three lines are an example of epistrophe, which is when you end consecutive sentences with the same word. In this case ‘from within’.]

These decisions all lead to transformation.

By becoming a local Quit Smoking Wizard, you have put yourself in a position to transform your financial and professional lives.

But there’s much more to it.

By choosing to be here, you will help save lives. [Emotional element in saving lives.]

Each year, smoking kills more than 18,000 people in Australia. That’s 50 people each day. This is more than the combined number of people killed by road accidents, alcohol and other drugs.

The total cost of smoking to our society is $31 billion each year.

That’s nearly $1,500 dollars for every man, woman and child in Australia — every year.

[The numbers bring facts into the speech and the logic that smoking has a high cost for our society. There’s also an emotional element about the number of people who die each year as a result of smoking.]

Should we keep paying that? [Rhetorical question]

The good news is that by helping people overcome their addiction to cigarettes, we’re transforming their lives.

Statistics clearly show the benefits of quitting:

People who are fortunate enough to quit before middle age reduce the risk of lung cancer by 90 per cent.

A person who has been a non-smoker for 15 years reduces their risk of stroke to the level of a person who has never smoked.

After one year of being a non-smoker, the risk of heart attack decreases by 50 per cent.

But these numbers don’t show the personal side of what we can do.

Here are some glimpses of the differences you’ll make by helping people transform themselves into non-smokers.

Ian, a Quit Smoking Wizard client from Sydney, wrote:

‘I wish to express my sincere gratitude and appreciation to Jim and the team at the Quit Smoking Wizard. My wife recently died from lung cancer, leaving behind two children under five years. It was her dying wish that I quit smoking so that I would be there for the kids for years to come. I had nearly given up on life until I met with Jim. His compassionate nature and pure professionalism not only guided me through the maze of quitting smoking but also gave me the courage to keep going. It has now been six months as a strong and confident non-smoker and I can’t praise Jim enough. After the tragedy we have been through, I now can see a future ahead for me and my family. Thank you for your patience and understanding. You have given me hope to continue.’

Thomas, a Quit Smoking Wizard client from Brisbane, wrote:

‘I am 76 years young and today I became a non-smoker. After smoking over 60 cigarettes a day I decided to quit smoking, so I contacted the Quit Smoking Wizard and was very pleased I did. Jim and his team guided me through the process, and to my surprise I have not smoked even a single cigarette since. I can’t believe how easy it has been, with no withdrawals at all. The system he uses makes it very easy to quit smoking. Now that I am a proud non-smoker, I am sure excited to be around for years to come for my grandchildren. If an old bugger like me can do it, so can anyone.’

[The testimonials above give outside confirmation that enhances the credibility of the speaker and his quit smoking program. The testimonials also add a strong emotional element which boost presentation skills.]

It’s my goal that you too receive letters like these from your clients.

You probably know that there are other programs that will teach hypnosis to help others overcome their addiction to cigarettes. I’ve studied these.

Although many of them have their strong points, most don’t take the extra steps to make sure you have the right frame of mind to succeed.

As the Director of Quit Smoking Wizard, I believe that your success is my success.

That’s why we will mentor and coach you to be successful as a local Quit Smoking Wizard. So the last day of the seminar will be dedicated to setting the stage for your prosperous future as you help people quit smoking.

This will be your time for major transformation.

My personal transformation has taken me from being homeless to helping hundreds of people become non-smokers. [Again, the emotional aspect of where he started from and how he was able to change.]

Wherever you are in your life at this time, our journey over the next five days will be a giant step in transforming your lives and the lives of those you love.

Most importantly, as a local Quit Smoking Wizard, you’ll be helping people add years to their life and life to their years.

I look forward to our journey together.

This speech is an example of how you can use the three elements of persuasion to raise your public speaking and presentation skills.

Presentation Skills Article Summary

  • The three persuasive appeals were defined by Aristotle in Rhetoric over 2,300 years ago. These include ethos (character), pathos (emotion) and logos (logic).
  • Combining ethos, pathos and logos effectively is the key enhancing public speaking and presentation skills and create persuasive and memorable speeches and presentations.
  • A good introduction can boost your authority before you speak.
  • Quoting respected authorities adds outside confirmation of your message and builds credibility.
  • Check your facts to avoid delivering incorrect information and diminishing your authority as a speaker.
  • Avoid unnecessary controversy that could decrease your credibility — such as mentioning your political beliefs when they are not relevant to your message.
  • Use powerful language, including figures of speech, to evoke emotion.
  • If using slides, adding emotion with images will enhance your presentation skills.
  • Stories are an excellent way to bring more emotion into your speaking.
  • Use sensory words for more pathos and enhanced presentation skills.
  • Facts and figures can be used to enhance the logic of your message.
  • Be aware of how you balance pathos, logos and ethos in your speaking. Remember that emotion is the predominant component of decision making.

We teach these and more in our presentation skills training courses and workshops. To find out more, visit our Presentation Skills Training and Coaching page.

This article was adapted from Speech Power – The Leader’s Guide to Creating Powerful Speeches and Presentations.

© 2016 Michael Gladkoff

[1] www.nightingale.com/articles/the-strangest-secret. This is a transcript of the audio program read by Earl Nightingale. It is an excellent example of how to weave stories, quotations, facts and other elements into a speech to support your message.

[2] Tracy, B 1995, Advanced Selling Strategies, Simon and Schuster, p. 200.

[3] Dimasio, A 1994, Descartes’ Error — Emotion, Reason, and the Human Brain, Avon Books, New York.

Woman sitting at computer writing a keynote speech.

Whether you are an experienced writer or not, writing a keynote speech is the first step in preparing for success when speaking at a conference or other important event.

The main responsibility of a keynote speaker is to set the tone for an event or conference program. So a keynote speech needs to be inspirational and should bring the audience together by creating agreement on the ideas presented and inspiring people to act. An effective keynote speech will empower the audience and motivate them. To deliver a winning keynote speech it’s important to write it out word for word  and prepare yourself for delivering the speech.

Here are some tips that may help you in writing a keynote speech.

Know your audience when writing a keynote speech

It’s important to know about your audience before you begin writing your keynote speech. If have a know who’s in the audience – such as their age range, education or professional background – then it gives you an idea on how to write a keynote speech in a way that the audience will relate to it.

While you brainstorm ideas for writing a keynote speech, ask yourself some questions such as:

  • How can I get the audience to agree to my viewpoint?
  • What words or phrases will help me achieve this?
  • What information – stories, fact, figures, quotes, etc – will be relevant and convincing?

The answers to these questions will guide you to include pertinent information when writing a keynote speech. You can then tailor your writing to match the hearts and minds of audience members.

Plan your time when writing a keynote speech

What to say and how to say it within the provided time is important. If you don’t plan your time wisely, then it’s likely you will miss some important points, include something that’s not relevant, or run out of time on the podium. So writing a keynote speech according to the time allotted is essential. A good rule of thumb is to write 100 to 150 words per minute of speech, and then practice delivering it to see how long it takes. If you are speaking faster than 150 words per minute, slow down. You are speaking too fast – which means your audience won’t be able to take in the information you are delivering.

Let’s say you have been given 30 minutes to speak. A 30-minute keynote speech can be divided into three sections; for example, the first 10 minutes can be used to introduce key points, the next 10 minutes can be used to expand on the key point, and the last 10 minutes can be used to reiterate the key points and conclude the keynote speech.

Again, each of these 10-minute sections can be further sub-divided into sessions of 2 to 3 minutes, so that you will have about 10 to 15 smaller sections in total.

Segmenting your time will also allow you to focus effectively on each sub-topic. You can write effectively on each sub-topic and then polish the content to meet the goal.

Of course, not every keynote speech has to fit this outline, but it can be helpful if you are not experienced in writing a keynote speech and need a basic formula to work with.

Add variety to your content when writing a keynote speech

Research the subject as much as you can before you begin writing a keynote speech.

One way to approach writing a keynote speech can begin with a rough draft of the main topic, along with 2 to 3 supporting topics. Then you can develop the draft by building a structure of your speech.

A good keynote speech is not just a string of words. Adding variety of content to your keynote speech will create more interest. A keynote speech without variety may bore audience members. So include statistics, humour, metaphors, real-life stories, case studies, and new ideas. If possible, show relevant videos and introduce audio content that supports your points.

Make a note of keywords/key phrases when writing a keynote speech

Writing a keynote speech emphasising keywords or key phrases will help you while you deliver the speech. Keywords can be highlighted in bold or typed with a different font colour, highlight important text and repeat key phrases for emphasis during the speech.

Rehearse and perfect your keynote speech writing

When you are done writing a keynote speech, begin rehearsing what you have written. Notice the flow of your speech. Does it sound natural? If not, rephrase words or sentences so that the speech may sound natural. If there are sentences that sound disjointed or ambiguous, you can polish your writing during the editing process.

It’s quite possible that we may miss some words while reading the speech aloud. If some words don’t fit the flow of your speech, delete them to make sentences shorter and crisper.

Make sure that the sentences are punctuated correctly. Look for full stops, exclamation points and commas. Be aware of where you want to a pause during your speech. Make a note or include some signs for those portions while you are writing a keynote speech.

While you are reading the keynote speech aloud, you will find out whether you have adequate time to speak what is written. If your reading goes above the allocated time, then you may find yourself rushing to deliver the keynote speech when delivering it live. It’s also possible that you may end up with too little content, and you may not know be able to ‘pad’ the speech on the spot to meet the allotted time. In this case, you will want to add more content when writing a keynote speech.

After you have gone through the editing process, ask yourself whether your keynote speech is powerful, informative and motivating, and, above all, whether it will connect you to your audience.

If yes, then you are all set to deliver your keynote speech.

All the points in the article are explained in more detail in my book, Speech Power: The Leader’s Guide to Creating Powerful Speeches and Presentations.

You can also find more tips on writing at the Word Nerds Writing and Editing blog.

Michael Gladkoff

Book with open pages and the word 'Storytelling' above it.

Storytelling is a powerful tool to use in speeches and presentations. From early childhood, we develop an appreciation for stories and the ideas they communicate. Including storytelling in your speeches and presentations will enable you to convey your message in an entertaining, memorable and indirect way. People will remember good stories and their lessons long after they have forgotten the finer details of a speech or presentation.

Through storytelling, you bring your message into reality and give it an emotional and/or humorous dimension. If you simply tell your listeners to take an action without a good story to support your message, you won’t be as successful in motivating them.

For example, if a company leader is speaking about the need for change at his organisation, storytelling about a company that didn’t change and failed as a result can be effective. In addition, the leader could include storytelling about a business that succeeded because it was able to change.

Storytelling using personal stories from your life is often the best way to promote your ideas. These stories could be something that happened in your childhood, your work, your family life, your travels, or anything else you have seen or heard. This is why it’s a good idea to write down the interesting stories you hear or experience. If you don’t record these stories, it can be challenging to find the right one when you want to include storytelling in your speech or presentation. If you can’t find a personal story that supports your premise, there is usually a relevant story to be found — but you have to look for it.

Get Storytelling Ideas from What You Hear or Read

A famous and influential speech was the result of a story heard by Russell Conwell while travelling in the Middle East in the 1800s.

The speech based on the story was so popular that Russell Conwell delivered it over 6,000 times around the United States. The money he earned from it was used to fund philanthropic causes, including the establishment of Temple University in Philadelphia, which now has over 40,000 students on nine campuses around the world — a great example of the power of storytelling!

You can read the full speech at American Rhetoric.

Storytelling from Your Life

An anecdote is a short amusing or interesting story about a real person or event. If you pay attention, you can find plenty of anecdotes from your life that you can eventually use for storytelling when speaking.

David Brooks, who won the Toastmasters World Championship of Public Speaking in the early 1990s, is a proponent of storytelling in speeches and presentations. One example he uses when discussing the changing world of technology is about his son. When he asked his then four-year-old son how to spell his name, the son answered: ‘D‒A‒N‒N‒Y Enter.’ It’s a very short anecdote that helps make a point about the effect of technology on our lives.

Like David Brooks, I have been able to find my own story  that shows how technology is changing our lives. One day my son was ill at home from primary school. He was spending quite a bit of time playing games on an iPad. Later in the day he was reading a book and I asked him to do a small task. His answer was ‘Wait. I need to pause my book.’ Humorous gems like these appear to us every day, but we need to look out for these stories, and write them down to save them in a storytelling ‘toolkit’.

Steve Jobs was admired for storytelling in his thought-provoking speeches, which he meticulously prepared and rehearsed. In his Stanford Commencement Address in 2005, storytelling from his life supported his message. Read the full speech to see how Jobs applied storytelling in his Stanford Commencement Address.

After ending one of his stories, Steve Jobs put the focus on the audience and offered advice and encouragement based on his experience. This highlights the point that your storytelling should not only focus on you, but get your audience involved by showing how the lessons you have learned can help them as well. This might include asking questions, offering friendly advice or giving a call to action.

So when you are preparing for your next presentation, ask yourself: ‘What story, or stories, from my life will support my message?’ This doesn’t always have to be something that personally involved you. It can also be something you heard or something you read that had an impact on you. If storytelling ideas don’t come to mind, give yourself a few days to think about it — if you have enough time to do this.

For storytelling in future speeches and presentations, save the stories that you think could be relevant to what you speak about. You can collect interesting stories you read in publications, bookmark them in your web browser, and jot down your stories in a dedicated story journal.

Michael Gladkoff



When I discuss my speechwriting experience with some of the businesspeople I meet, they are surprised that anyone would pay someone for speechwriting services. Common questions include:

  • Why would a person pay for speechwriting services?
  • How can you provide speechwriting if you are not an expert in the field?
  • Is it ethical to have a speech written by a professional speechwriter?

I have also met people who were amazed when they learn that most executive and politicians don’t write their own speeches. For example, Obama didn’t write his own speeches and almost always read them from a teleprompter. In fact, he would often struggle when the teleprompter stopped working or when speaking without a script (as in this video).

When asked in advance to speak, speechwriting is the last thing on the mind of many. They have mixed feelings — they might look forward to the possibility of expressing their message, but they may also feel anxious about the best way to present it. An easy way to avoid speechwriting is to ‘wing it’ by having a general idea of what to say, creating an outline and then practising the speech a few times before the event. It can work for an experienced and confident speaker, but usually the result would have been much better if they had taken the time to write a speech.

If we look at the great speeches in history, they were all written in advance — and many times professional speechwriter was involved in the speechwriting. It simply isn’t possible to perfect your language without going through the speechwriting process. A good speech requires research to find and choose the appropriate elements, such as stories, humour and facts. It also requires creativity in selecting the best words to convey the message. This includes redrafting your speech until it feels right.

The Myth That Words Don’t Count

The false belief that the words have little importance in speeches and presentations has been propagated by an unfortunate myth. Some leadership consultants repeat it without knowing its source and what its author was really saying about communication.

In the late 1960s, psychology professor Albert Mehrabian wrote that:

  • 7% of the message pertaining to feelings and attitudes is in the words that are spoken
  • 38% of the message pertaining to feelings and attitudes is the way that the words are said
  • 55% of the message pertaining to feelings and attitudes is in facial expression.[1],[2]

This has been misinterpreted over the years and is incorrectly believed to mean that in any spoken communication, including speeches and presentations:

  • 7% of meaning is verbal (words)
  • 38% of meaning is vocal (how the words are said)
  • 55% of meaning is in facial expression.

What Mehrabian was really writing about was the inconsistency in messages pertaining to feelings and attitudes in one-on-one communication. For example, if you see an acquaintance who says he is glad to see you, but he is frowning, 55 percent of the meaning you interpret is from his facial expression. In this case you would doubt that the person is glad to see you.

In explaining his research, Mehrabian wrote:

Please remember that all my findings on inconsistent or redundant communications dealt with communications of feelings and attitudes. This is the realm within which they are applicable. Clearly, it is absurd to imply or suggest that the verbal portion of all communication constitutes only 7% of the message. Suppose I want to tell you that the eraser you are looking for is in the second right-hand drawer of my desk in my office. How could anyone contend that verbal part is only 7% of this message? Instead, and more accurately, the verbal part is nearly 100% of the message.[3]

He later stated:

Please note that this and other equations regarding relative importance of verbal and nonverbal messages were derived from experiments dealing with communications of feelings and attitudes (i.e., like-dislike). Unless a communicator is talking about their feelings or attitudes, these equations are not applicable.[4]

The idea that words make up only seven per cent of our messages was never meant to be applied to public speaking. Unfortunately, it has gained popularity in some circles — including Toastmasters and Neuro‒Linguistic Programming (NLP) — so you will find people who believe words don’t matter very much — so speechwriting must not be important. They incorrectly think that body language and vocal and facial expressions are the keys to conveying their message, since the words only count for seven per cent of its meaning.

But even if you still believe that words have little importance, let’s look at speechwriting from a historical perspective. When you consider the well-known speeches delivered by leaders throughout history, do you believe that the words are unimportant? Probably not. Although speakers such as Martin Luther King (I Have a Dream) and Winston Churchill (We Shall Fight on the Beaches) had distinctive voices and knew how to use them, it would be ridiculous to say that the content of their monumental speeches only accounted for seven per cent of the meaning and that speechwriting was not a major factor in the impact of these speeches.

The power of words has been proven beyond speechwriting. Many years ago, I worked in market research and learned how important it was to read interview questions accurately from the survey script. This is because market research professionals know that changing one word or phrase to another word, which has the same or very similar meaning, can significantly influence survey responses. As the Pew Research Center explains:

The choice of words and phrases in a question is critical in expressing the meaning and intent of the question to the respondent and ensuring that all respondents interpret the question the same way. Even small wording differences can substantially affect the answers people provide.

…For example, in a 2005 Pew Research survey, 51% of respondents said they favored ‘making it legal for doctors to give terminally ill patients the means to end their lives,’ but only 44% said they favored ‘making it legal for doctors to assist terminally ill patients in committing suicide.’

Although both versions of the question are asking about the same thing, the reaction of respondents was different. In another example, respondents have reacted differently to questions using the word ‘welfare’ as opposed to the more generic ‘assistance to the poor.’ Several experiments have shown that there is much greater public support for expanding ‘assistance to the poor’ than for expanding ‘welfare.’[5]

If such minor wording changes in market research surveys can influence the way people feel and respond, then we need to think very carefully about the thousands of words we use in our speeches and presentations. Speechwriting is the process of choosing and organising these words that have a major impact on how people feel and respond.

Speechwriting Enables You to Refine Your Ideas and Apply Your Research

The speechwriting process includes researching, developing and organising supporting material, creating a structure and using words for the most powerful effect. These basic elements that make a successful speech can be combined to create the desired outcome when you plan and write your presentation. The act of speechwriting can spark creativity to produce an impressive result.

Delivering a speech from an outline or having a general idea of what you want to say will not create the same outcome. Doing the research and thinking it through as part of the speechwriting process is the only way to find and organise the elements that make a powerful speech or presentation.

Even if you are an expert in the subject matter, speechwriting is still important. Writing only the opening and conclusion of your presentation, and practising and becoming familiar with these sections can greatly enhance your impact. Then you can deliver the body of the presentation from an outline if you are comfortable doing so.

Speechwriting Prevents Mistakes and Misinterpretations

Politicians, executives and other high-profile leaders often get into trouble by saying the wrong thing. The typical defence is that the statement was ‘taken out of context’ and ‘that’s not what the speaker meant’. Many times these utterances are in interviews and other situations where the person is asked a question. But you can avoid embarrassment when delivering a speech or presentation by planning ahead and writing down what you want to say. Being prepared will reduce the chance of making a statement that can cause problems and lower your credibility as a speaker.

Yes, there will be times when you are called upon to speak without having time to prepare. But if you do have time, don’t risk making mistakes by failing to prepare, which includes planning, researching, writing and redrafting.

Speechwriting Helps You Stand Apart from Other Speakers

The speaker who has taken the time for speechwriting, or who has collaborated with a professional speechwriter, and who has practised it will be more confident than the speaker who hasn’t. When you prepare, you can include techniques that gain attention, build rapport, persuade and make your messages memorable. As a result, you will stand out as a leader and increase your influence.

Michael Gladkoff

[1] Mehrabian, A & Ferris, S 1967, ‘Inference of Attitudes from Nonverbal Communication in Two Channels’, Journal of Consulting Psychology, Volume 31, Issue 3, pp. 248–252.

[2] Mehrabian, A & Wiener, M 1967, ‘Decoding of Inconsistent Communications’, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Volume 6, Issue 1, pp. 109–114.

[3] Lapakko, D 2007, ‘Communication is 93% Nonverbal: An Urban Legend Proliferates’, Communication and Theater Association of Minnesota Journal, Volume 34, p. 5.

[4] From Mehrabian’s website: www.kaaj.com/psych/smorder.html.

[5] www.pewresearch.org/methodology/u-s-surveyresearch/questionnaire-design

Public speaking myths abound. Over the years I have repeatedly heard and read a number of myths about public speaking. Let’s look at five common myths about public speaking that can hinder the development of speaking and presenting skills if they are believed and followed.

Woman public speaking with flip chart.

Public speaking myth number one: ‘Your words are not that important — it’s your voice and facial expression that communicate most of your message when speaking in public.’

This myth is a result of misinterpretation of research conducted by Albert Mehrabian in the late 1960s. From his studies, he claimed that in interpersonal communication:

  • 7% of the message pertaining to feelings and attitudes is in the words that are spoken
  • 38% of the message pertaining to feelings and attitudes is the way that the words are said
  • 55% of the message pertaining to feelings and attitudes is in facial expression.

The problem is that these numbers were not meant to be applied to public speaking but to one-to-one communication of feelings and attitudes. For example, if you meet a friend and she tells you that she is having an excellent day, but she is frowning and her voice sounds sad, you won’t believe that she is happy because the words are not congruent with the vocal and facial expressions.

In other situations, including public speaking, your words are crucial for communicating your message. If your words only accounted for 7% of your message in general, you would not be able to listen to a radio program and understand it. More ridiculously, you would never have to learn a new language because you could communicate 93% of your messages through your voice and facial expressions no matter where you travelled in the world.

In explaining his research, Mehrabian wrote:

‘Please remember that all my findings on inconsistent or redundant communications dealt with communications of feelings and attitudes. This is the realm within which they are applicable. Clearly, it is absurd to imply or suggest that the verbal portion of all communication constitutes only 7% of the message. Suppose I want to tell you that the eraser you are looking for is in the second right-hand drawer of my desk in my office. How could anyone contend that verbal part is only 7% of this message. Instead, and more accurately, the verbal part is nearly 100% of the message.’

In the early 2000s, addressing the controversy raised by his research, Albert Mehrabian wrote:

‘I am obviously uncomfortable about misquotes of my work. From the very beginning I have tried to give people the correct limitations of my findings. Unfortunately, the field of self-styled “corporate image consultants” or “leadership consultants” has numerous practitioners with very little psychological expertise.’

Despite these statements from the author of the research, you still find public speaking ‘experts’ who say words are not that important.

You can read more about this topic in Communication is 93% Nonverbal: An Urban Legend Proliferates.

Public speaking myth number two: ‘You don’t need to prepare too much if you know the subject matter already.’

Many times I have heard ‘I know my subject matter very well, so I can just get up and present it without preparing for public speaking situations’. The problem with this statement is that having the knowledge does not necessarily mean you can present it effectively without thought, planning and preparation.  How many times have you seen experts ramble on, repeat themselves and lack impact due to a poorly planned presentation?

Taking the time to prepare for your presentation will help you organise your thoughts, conduct any additional research needed, and craft powerful phrases that are more likely to be remembered. If you don’t write a full script and memorise it, you could write a strong opening and conclusion and an outline for the body of your presentation. This will ensure you open and close effectively and present your topic in logical manner.


Public speaking myth number 3: ‘Speak fast to be a dynamic speaker and keep people interested.’

It’s good to be enthusiastic and passionate about your topic. However, this often leads to poor public speaking performance when the mouth tries to keep up with the mind. By slowing down, your audience will be able to absorb your message and remember it.

If we look at many of the great speeches in history, that have made a strong and lasting impact, they were delivered at a moderate to slow rate. For example, Dr Martin Luther King’s I Have a Dream speech and Ronald Reagan’s Remarks at the Brandenburg Gate (‘Tear down this wall’) were delivered at a rate of around 100 words per minute.  As a speechwriter, I aim for a maximum of 125 words per minute when writing for clients.

Besides slowing down your overall speaking rate, pausing when making important points or transitioning to a new topic will help your audience follow you throughout your speech or presentation.

Public speaking myth number 4: ‘Don’t quote other people in your speeches and presentations, but be quotable.’

I started hearing the idea that you shouldn’t quote others in speeches and presentations a few years ago. The idea is to create your own quotable content instead of quoting others. The problem with this idea is that using the right quote at the right time can be highly effective in many public speaking situations. Quoting respected authorities, who agree with your message, will strengthen your position.

Some of the most admired speakers from the present and past — political, motivational and business — have quoted others in their speeches and presentations. A few examples are Earl Nightingale, Martin Luther King Jr, John F Kennedy, Ronald Reagan, Al Gore, Brian Tracy and Wayne Dyer.  All of these top speakers used quotations in their speeches and presentations. One of my favourite examples of using quotations effectively is Earl Nightingale. See how he used quotations in his best-selling motivational program The Strangest Secret.

 Public speaking myth number 5: ‘Great public speakers are born, not made.’

A big part of my development as a speechwriter and speaker has been my involvement in Toastmasters International. I originally joined Toastmasters in the mid-1980s. Over the years I have watched and helped speakers go from being terrified on stage to becoming masters of public speaking.

If you are in extrovert, introvert, or somewhere in between, you can boost your public speaking skills through practice and feedback. If Toastmasters isn’t for you, one approach to improving your public speaking is videoing your speeches and presentations. A video recording doesn’t lie, so you will see all the annoying, distracting and ineffective things you might be doing while speaking.

Michael Gladkoff

About the author: Michael Gladkoff is a speechwriter, author, speaker and trainer based in Melbourne, Australia. His next Speech Power workshop will be held in Melbourne on 17 November, 2016.