How To Be The Best Public Speaker on the Planet


I was scared to death. I thought I was going to cry.

Polls say people would rather be dead than speak in public. Seinfeld joked that a guy giving a eulogy would rather be in the coffin.

I’ve given 100s of talks but last week I wanted to die before I went on stage. I was speaking to an audience of about 200 CEOs. I felt inadequate and that they would hate me.

Claudia said, “Just take a deep breath. Do what you usually do.” And I did.

Here’s the operating theory: you don’t need 10,000 hours at anything to be the best. You just need to pretty good at something (a couple of 100 hours) and then you need to know how to give a good talk in public. Because so few people want to talk in public so you will stand out.

I wrote a post a year ago: “10 Unusual Tips to Be a Great Public Speaker“. I still follow those tips but…

Since the first post I’ve given a lot more talks to a varied set of audiences. I’ve spoken about everything from spirituality to business to creativity to entrepreneurship to failure.

And before each talk I’ve always thought to myself: “holy s**t, how did I write that post about public speaking. I’m more nervous than ever!”

So I have a few more tips. And these tips are as important as the first ten.

Read More: How To Be The Luckiest Guy On the Planet in 4 Easy Steps. 

A) WATCH COMEDIANS. I watch great standup comedy before every talk. It puts me in a looser mood and makes me laugh, which relaxes me.

When possible, I will directly steal a joke from whatever comedian I’m watching. If they’ve tested out the joke, then it’s probably a good one and will work for me as well.

I even practice imitating their timing. The way they pause, the way they change voices and move around the stage, everything.

Comedians are the best public speakers and are up against the most brutal audiences so you MUST study comedians.

B) NO POWERPOINT. I used to think I always needed a PowerPoint. Because as useful as my words are: a “picture is worth a thousand words”.

This is total BS. If a picture is worth 1000 words then you are worth 100,000 pictures.

I compare Daniel Tosh stand-up with his TV show “Tosh.0”. In his stand-up it’s just him, making jokes, NO PowerPoint.

In “Tosh.0”, the format is that he watches YouTube videos and makes fun of them.

His stand-up is better than the show. Even though the show is great, it isn’t as fun as just watching him do stand-up.

PowerPoint will only distract from the main attraction: YOU.

C) CLOTHES. I ONLY dress in clothes I feel most comfortable in, even if everyone else is wearing tuxedos.

When I speak I have a specific “uniform”. I wear a t-shirt I had custom made that has all 67,000 words of my book, “Choose Yourself!” printed on it. And I wear a white shirt over it and black pants. Like a waiter. I’m at your service and I’ve chosen myself. BAM!

D) PAUSE. I had this unnatural fear that if I paused too much during a talk people would get bored.

But inserting pauses allows people to think about what you are saying. It allows you to breathe, it allows you to be funnier, it avoids the impression that you are rushing through the material. Take a drink of water. Walk from one side of the stage to the other. Whatever you need to do.

E) Q AND A. I enjoy Q and A as much as the talk itself. So I arrange beforehand to do the maximum amount of Q&A.

F) ABS. Always Be Storytelling. NEVER give advice in a talk. Nobody is smart enough to give advice.

Just talk about your own experiences and what you did to help yourself. Mix in interesting facts.

Straight out advice will never help anyone. Buddha himself realized this about public speaking. He said, “Don’t believe me on anything. Try this out for yourself.”

G) ABV. Always Be Vulnerable. Nobody wants to hear from Invulnerable Man. They want to hear where you are scared and vulnerable and feeling insecure. Because we all do.

Poor speakers create an artificial divide between themselves and the audience. They feel they need to do this in order to establish their own credibility.

Let me tell you – there is no such thing as credibility. In 100 years there will be no buildings named after any of us.

Somebody has to be on stage and some people have to be in the audience. That’s the only difference.

Don’t put any thought as to WHY you are on the stage or how you need to be “better” than the people in the audience. You aren’t better. You’re simply the speaker.

We all woke up lonely and confused this morning. What a miracle that we get to speak to each other.

And even better, we feed the soul by listening to each other. Ultimately, the best speakers are the ones who have put 10,000 hours into listening.

Read More: How To Be The Luckiest Guy On the Planet in 4 Easy Steps. 

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  • Jonathan

    Great article. I had trouble in pubic speaking too. But I finally found the system that worked for me and my friends. I have free info about this on my site at http://www.expressivedegrees.com

  • Oberlin

    “Never give advice”, – except if you’re giving advice on how to become a public speaker…right?
    “Nobody is smart enough to give advice.” Correction: very few are left on this planet that know how to receive advice and even fewer those who can give useful advice that produces good results. So we’re left with people like you you wonder about lamenting that no one is smart enough. The question is how smart are you to learn. In real life, (not your theory) many could benefit from wise advice. But one category should never give or be given advice – the morons.
    “Comedians are the best public speakers” (???) – correction: they have the easyest speaker job. They have very little to lose and even less to offer. Mocking others is a very safe place to be, and if you throw in a tiny self deprecation you give the audience the impression that you’re all secure, and a cool dude at ease with your environment. Easy – if you’re a natural ass-hole like Tosh. If people laugh at your jokes or at you, it doesn’t matter, you’re a success – because that’s all it takes, and there’s nothing big at stake. If they don’t laugh and boo, you’re still a prick and a joke. So make a fool of yourself again and again untill they laugh. That’s is easy. You just have to be idiotic enough to want to dedicate your life to such a career. Be a modern buffoon. And then you have the moron-bunch who see that as something valuable and they turn such boffoons into icons and study them and want to become like them. Yeah, they should definitely not be giving anyone advice. I agree!

  • Magdolna Radosits

    ABS was an eye-opener for me: storytelling, of course – you get that from every “10 best public speaking tips ever” article – though you managed to find a way to link it to the even more important message “nobody is smart enough to give advice”.
    Brilliant!

    You can have all the techniques and tools that are humanly possible to rely on while presenting if your attitude falters. And yes, surely, nobody is smart enough to tell you the ultimate solution to a problem. In addition, this attitude will bring you closer to your audience. Thanks, James! I will keep this in mind.

  • http://jamesaltucher.com James Altucher

    Thanks Tina. I have to always remember it also. And be careful how I am recycling stories. I am giving a talk tomorrow so thinking about this.

  • http://jamesaltucher.com James Altucher

    I’m going to try these, Suzy. Thanks.

  • http://jamesaltucher.com James Altucher

    Kevin, good point. Now that I’ve started a podcast I might do a separate post on how to do a good podcast. but I’m still learning.

  • http://jamesaltucher.com James Altucher

    Yes, the problem is, people who are smart can give advice but most people don’t listen. Which is why things like stories, etc are a more effective way of getting an important message across.

  • http://www.communicationdiva.com Jenn Swanson

    Great tips, and I agree with pausing sometimes. I was told once I was going so fast people couldn’t digest one thought before I was on to the next. Excellent feedback, so the tip to pause and let people breath on occasion is critical. Thank-you!

  • http://www.powerpoint-presentation-power.com/ PowerPointPresent

    “Be more concerned about making others feel good about themselves than you are making them feel good about you.” Dan Reiland. More at http://www.powerpoint-presentation-power.com/

  • wudumoses

    Hi James, not just liking but loving it too
    it sounds so awesome to ma ears as it enters ma mind. ie the suggestion on being smart
    But wearing what makes you happy n feeling so compatible adds flavor.
    i realy awe you a vote of thanks, indeed listening is one of the best tool and i always quote that a good listener is a better speaker n the better is the best.
    that is why even in churches people takes time to listen to their soul