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7 Public Speaking Proverbs To Enlighten Your Presentations

Written by: Howard Dean Lettinga Jr.

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.

 

“Actions speak louder than words.” “A chain is only as strong as its weakest link.” “The squeaky wheel gets the grease!” Don’t you love the enduring wisdom of proverbs? At Noblahblah, we do. In fact, we keep a venerated list of public speaking proverbs in our corporate archive and share them generously in our coaching and training sessions. Here are 7 of my favorites.

Proverbs are brief, memorable phrases about meaningful truths. They are observations about shared lessons that guide us in our decision-making.


In this article, I share 7 of our favorite public speaking proverbs. We hope they enlighten the persuasive power of your next presentation and help you guide your audience through the Noblahblah Zone.


And remember, the pen is mightier than the sword.


Proverb No.1 Never change a winning theme


You know the saying “Never change a winning team”. For public speaking, we happily change that to “Never change a winning theme”.


The most successful presentations choose a single idea and develop the whole presentation around that message. Just like the best TED talks are based on a single “idea worth spreading”.


So how do you define your theme? Answer the question, “What do you want your audience to remember or do as a result of your presentation?” Then state your answer in a short, easy-to-repeat phrase or sentence, preferably in the imperative mood as a command or request. Such as…

Stop using non-recyclable plastic.

Donate to your local animal shelter.

Volunteer at your local community center.

Whatever.

Now make sure every word and visual and emotion in your presentation persuasively supports your theme. Be disciplined. Be consistent. Never change a winning theme.

Proverb No.2 The delight is in the details


Most of us know the proverb, “The devil is in the details”. So negative!


When it comes to presentations, storytelling and persuading, “The delight is in the details”.


In a recent presentation training, we gave the exercise to modernize the fairytale Little Red Riding Hood. One student nailed it with creative details. She told us about the red iPhone 13 Little Red was toting. About the “How to spot a wolf in Grandma’s clothing” app that Little Red downloaded. About the Thomson & Thomson dental floss the wolf preferred because it is “a textured, silky floss with advanced fluoride coating that fits extra tight teeth”.


Delightful.


These details captured the attention of the audience and took them straight into the Noblahblah Zone, hanging on every word the speaker said.


Proverb No.3 If you want to draw a crowd, start a fight


Some attribute this saying to P.T. Barnum, the great American showman and founder of the Barnum & Bailey Circus. Others dispute that source. But whoever said it knew what they were talking about.


Presenting and persuading are all about getting and keeping the audience’s attention. Nothing gets attention like conflict.


Conflict is “the soul of story” according to Robert McKee the great screenwriting lecturer. “If it bleeds it leads” is the mantra of journalists around the world, meaning that if a story involves conflict and violence, it gets the attention of readers and top billing in the medium.


Villains come in all shapes and forms. So, who’s the villain in your story that creates threat and conflict?


If you want to convince your audience to stop using non-recyclable plastic, the low price of plastic could be your villain. The low price makes it too easy for us to keep using it. The plastic soup threatening our oceans could be your villain.


How do we defeat these villains? Make sure that battle plays a strong and central role in your story.


If you want to draw and keep a crowd, start a fight.


Proverb No.4 Always dress a little bit better than your audience


People often ask us for advice on how to dress for a presentation. Our response? “Always dress a little bit better than your audience.”


The key word here is “audience”. Who are you addressing? The young entrepreneurs club? A group of software developers? A group of bankers?


You get the picture, right? Want to connect with the bankers? Then a suit and tie and black shoes are probably the way to go. Want to connect with the young entrepreneurs? Then you probably want casual and trendy: sports jacket over a tee shirt with a profound saying or visual. And don’t forget the flashy gym shoes.


Whichever group you are addressing, be true to your persona. Find the sweet spot between how the audience dresses, and how you should dress as the authority on your topic.


What’s more, be sure to wear something comfortable that makes you feel professional and confident.


Proverb No.5 A great opening is more important than a great ending, and vice versa


One of the great American baseball players of the 20th century was Yogi Berra. He was not only a great player. He was famous for his expressions and turns of phrases.


“When you come to a fork in the road, take it.”

“The future ain’t what it used to be.”

“It ain’t over till it’s over.”


All from Yogi. Another Yogi saying was “Good pitching will always stop good hitting, and vice-versa.”


That’s the inspiration for our Public Speaking Proverb No.5 “A great opening is more important than a great ending, and vice versa.”


Cicero said you give a presentation to change the mind, mood or actions of your audience.

To achieve that, what’s most important: a great opening or a great ending?


The Opening enthusiasts say no great opening, no audience attention, no persuading.

It’s that simple.


The Closing enthusiasts say even if you have a great opening, if you lead them to a weak ending, it will undermine your whole presentation. Hollywood and Bollywood spend billions on films each year. We watch them, and if it’s a great ending we say, “What a great film”. If the ending is bad, we say “What a rotten film”.


So who’s right? Good question!


To demonstrate the shortcomings of logical reasoning and provoke enlightenment, we offer you this 5th proverb in the spirit of its Asian cousin, the great Zen Koan.


Once upon a time. The end!


Proverb No.6 Always compliment your audience


“The only reason to give a speech is to change the world,” said John F. Kennedy, the 35th president of the United States. In other words, the goal of any presentation is to persuade your audience of the value of an idea.


Large bodies of research prove the persuasive power of compliments, including Robert Cialdini’s research into reciprocity, shared in his book Influence. The psychology of persuasion. When you compliment someone, you are being kind to them. This makes them want to be kind to you in return. Countless studies prove this.


So here are three tips to give great compliments.

  1. Something they work hard for and don’t often hear. Recognize skills or behavior in which the person has invested time and energy to achieve something of value that they bring to the table.

  2. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. When you imitate something another person does, you show that you admire that person and value their skill or behavior.

  3. Use the most powerful word in our language: Help! Asking for assistance or advice is a powerful compliment. Everyone feels valued when they see they can contribute something.

Want to make friends and influence people? Always compliment your audience.


You can read more about the power of compliments in this Brainz article.


Proverb No.7 Always leave them wanting more


Some wise public speaker once said, “The goal of a business pitch is to get a second date.”


We totally agree.


Be sure to avoid a dead end. What’s the call to action to make sure your theme lives on in the minds, moods and actions of your audience? What’s the clincher to help you get a second date?


Maybe you invite the audience to sign-up for your Non-recyclable plastics newsletter. Maybe you invite them to join your online community and action group.


End by opening the door for the next steps. At Noblahblah, we say “the end is only the beginning”. There’s that affection for Zen Koans again.


As mentioned, we have more venerated public speaking proverbs in our corporate archive.

If you want to explore their enlightening and philosophical power of persuasion, we’d love to continue the conversation.


Get in touch.

Howard Lettinga, Managing Partner & Executive Trainer, Noblahblah

Howard Lettinga has more than 30 years of experience as a speechwriter and communication specialist at one of the largest high-tech companies in the Netherlands. He has written hundreds of presentations and worked with hundreds of speakers. He is also the former head speaker coach and current curator of TEDx Venlo, and an experienced speaker on Presenting with Impact, based on his “TED Tools for Life” TED talk. He is a specialist in marketing communications, story development, connecting with the audience, presenting business information with impact… and proverbs!






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Noblahblah, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine

We are on a mission to save the world from blah blah blah.

Noblahblah was founded in 2018 as a training company to support better public speaking. Today we offer a broad range of trainings and coaching that help our customers develop their full potential by communicating with more confidence and more fun, on stage, online and in person.


Noblahblah trainings provide professionals with new skills to present more persuasively, to define and communicate their unique personal brand with more impact, and to literally shine online by building and engaging their LinkedIn network. A special focal point is harnessing the power of diversity and inclusion by cross-cultural trainings and through our Women Shine with Personal Branding workshops and our Women Raising Women interviews.


Our customers include Fortune 500 companies, universities, start-ups and scale-ups.

Based in the Netherlands, our five executive trainers, from the United States, the Netherlands and Germany, bring a diversity of skills and experience.


While our core activity is communication trainings, we offer a range of related services, from speechwriting and copywriting to executive speaker coaching to corporate events design and moderation.

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