The Number One Rule Of Public Speaking

From the fruit of a man’s mouth his stomach is satisfied; he is satisfied by the yield of his lips. Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits (Proverbs 18:20-21 ESV).

Someday, somewhere, you will give a speech.

Pollsters estimate that 77 percent of the population has a fear of speaking. Many would rather buy their worst enemy lunch, than speak for 15 minutes in public.

I was in high school when our teacher told us that the next week we would all give a speech under a minute in length. We would be graded on one thing only – whether we got the class’s attention.

Her point:  If they aren’t listening at the beginning, they won’t be listening at the end. Or in the middle!

Instantly, my stomach dropped.

For the next week, I considered feigning illness, running away from home, and how to get kicked out of school without being grounded for life. Eventually, I came to my senses.

The experts call this condition glossophobia – or fear of speaking publicly. It is the number one phobia in America, above the fear of heights and also of bugs.

I discovered my fear in high school. Unusual for me, as others studied physics and chemistry, I majored in being funny. I had witticisms for all occasions. But considering my first speech – nothing, no thoughts, but fears, too many!

Considering my first one-minute speech, I imagined snide remarks, losing all my friends, and the principal announcing from the PA the next morning that Grant Edwards would never be allowed to speak again.

Late one night, unable to sleep, I thought, “HHHHMMMHHM, the teacher said to do something to get the class’s attention.”

On speech day, I stood and asked the class, “How do you call a duck?” Then I stood tall and shouted at the top of my lungs:

Hey, Duck!

The teacher was silent, and the class was stunned. Previously they had endured a dozen unfunny jokes, one chemistry student drawing a formula on the chalkboard, and another choking her words so badly that the teacher considered the Heimlich Maneuver.

By the time I stood up, most were asleep or writing notes back and forth. The teacher was regretting her assignment and fearing her job tenure.

Hey, Duck!

I shouted it again, then again, then again. At 28 seconds, my first public speech of two words was over and I sat down.

The students stood to give me a standing ovation. The teacher got over her shock and gave me one of the few “A’s” that I received in high school. After the class, students and teachers were in the hallway asking what had happened.

I got the class’s attention and the entire school’s. I think those words “Hey, Duck!” are still lingering in space over the Clarence J. Brown Reservoir in Springfield, Ohio.

Recently, I reviewed my file of sermons written before the computer – all scanned type-written pages from sermons in the 1970s and early ‘80s. I have spoken over 1,500 hundred sermons on weekends through the past 49 years and thousands of other speeches between weekends.

In foreign countries, I speak four or five times a day, often extemporaneously, not knowing what I will say until I start speaking. Now, I teach leaders by Zoom conferences, often an hour and a half for each session.

I always remember the Number One Rule Of Public Speaking:

Hey, Duck!

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