Keys to Success in Speaking–and in Life

In my speaking career, I have developed and delivered many times some version of four different speeches. I make ten to twelve different points in the four speeches combined. Here are three of my favorites because I believe they apply both to speaking and to life.

Pay attention. In a multi-tasking world, this is sometimes very difficult. We have to focus on what is important to us in the moment. The students in my classes who paid attention were also the best students. Paying attention is critical, whether it’s to drive safely or to listen to your spouse.

As a speaker I am always looking for new material for my speaking. Constantly I focus on an event, statement, or experience that I might develop as support for an idea. Just last week, I found this statement by Steven Wright that intrigued me, “Everywhere is walking distance if you have the time.” I’m not sure where I will use this statement but I have it ready.

A second key to success is to show up. When I wrote a letter of recommendation for a student, I did not look first at grade point average. Rather I checked the roll to see if the student attended class regularly. Just showing up will assist in your success in life. That is true whether it is to your job, your nine-year-old’s soccer game, or your spouse’s charity event. I double-check the speaking date and talk to the program chair a few days before the event to make sure I will arrive at the optimal time. I check my GPS to insure that I can follow the directions. I give myself plenty of time to compensate for traffic problems so I won’t be late. When I arrive I contact the program chair to say that I am present.

One day a bureau owner called me to see if I could sub for one of his speakers who mixed his speaking dates and was in another part of the country that night speaking for another organization. I hope that never happens to me! To succeed as a speaker, you must show up, on the right date, and at the right time.

Probably many get credit for this statement, but I found the source to be Woody Allen: “Ninety percent of success is showing up.”

A third key to success is the ability to laugh. I think one of the keys to my successful marriage of 50 years is that we laugh a lot with each other. In my university classes some of my most successful days were when my students laughed often. Sometimes the laughter was caused simply by their bantering back and forth. One of my all-time favorite lines is from a Purdue student in one of my son’s classes. He came to class wearing a t-shirt that read, “You can never relive a party but you can always retake a class.” That class was off to a laughing start. I often began class with a joke or humorous line. Even though they did not always laugh, this attempt at humor told the students they could be in fun in my classes.

A presentation will always be improved with relevant humor. The speaker should not attempt to be a comedian but rather to encourage the audience to smile or chuckle and sometimes even laugh. Serious points can be remembered longer when accompanied by humor. This could be a quotation, joke, or personal experience.

Many avenues lead to success, but three important ones in life or in delivering your next speech are to pay attention, show up, and live with levity.



Steve Boyd
Steve Boyd
Stephen D. Boyd, Ph.D., CSP, is Professor Emeritus of Speech Communication, College of Informatics, Northern Kentucky University, near Cincinnati. Steve won the Toastmasters International Speech Contest in 1970 and was chosen Outstanding Professor of the Year at NKU in 1984, among other awards and honors. Since retiring, he volunteers with nonprofits, spends time with family, travels, preaches occasionally, and enjoys reading and writing. Contact Steve at (859) 866-5693 or at

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