Speakers are a motley collection of experts, teachers, misfits and crusaders (in the non-12th-century, deracinated version of the term).
We don’t have a union, and we’re mostly on our own while on the road, on stage and in the search for new ideas.
We need a code.
Here’s my offering: Ten Tenets of Public Speaking. Let me know what I’m missing, what you like, what you don’t like and what you’re drinking.
1. I am always learning. Just as every speech is an opportunity to teach or persuade a new audience, so is it a chance to learn from that audience. Speakers are never done learning. Speakers are always open to—and never defensive about—finding someone who knows more than they do.
2. I will always make time for my fellow practitioners. Good karma works for speakers, as for anyone else. We are kind to the beginners, the stars, and the last-speech speakers, because we recognize ourselves every step of the way. Every speaker’s career follows the same basic arc.
3. I will never become a diva. Life’s too short and changing the world too important for speakers to take themselves too seriously. Every speaker ought to be treated with courtesy—and to treat everyone they meet along the way with the same courtesy.
4. If I say I’ll do it, I will. The speaking business is one of relationships, and consistency is the common currency of engagements, occasions and moments. It’s a simple matter of integrity, in dealings both big and small.
5. I’ll be a tiger negotiating and a kitten when I arrive on site . We have every right to make the best deal we can and every duty to be gracious on site. Putting on a conference or an event is a stressful, detail-obsessed responsibility, and we won’t add to the burden. We will haggle first, then work together.
6. My stage persona and my offstage persona are one and the same . Integrity has always been important, but in the YouTube era it’s even harder to get away with being, say, the Tithing Advocate on stage while ignoring the homeless man outside the venue. Audiences measure the strength of our message, at least in part, by whether we live it—and they will know.
7. I embrace my failures and successes—for what each can teach me. A successful speech is the happy confluence of a speaker with passion, a message with purpose and an audience with ears. Whether it goes well or it doesn’t, there’s something to learn. There are no silly questions, just fresh perspectives and new ways to think about our topics.
8. I understand that every speaker has a unique voice, so I won’t compare them. Some speeches work well on some occasions and not so well on others, so wise speakers don’t assume it’s all their own magnificence that created the success. What they cultivate instead is their own voice. Uniqueness is something born into us and re-learned over a lifetime.
9. I am authentic, yet sensitive about TMI. We live in an age of authenticity, and that’s by and large a good thing, but no audience wants to hear everything. The speaker must decide what to share and what to keep private, what’s relevant and what isn’t.
10. I am in service to the message and to the audience. The only reason to give a speech is to change the world—not to change the speaker’s tax bracket. Speakers recognize they are part of something larger. The opportunity to speak to an audience is a great gift, one that speakers treasure always.
A version of this post first appeared on PublicWords.