Breaking the Rules of Public speaking

Many people are of the opinion that there are a number of sacred rules in public speaking that should never be broken. You should never race through your speech, you should never hold the lectern and you should never turn your back on the audience.

I would like to challenge the validity of these rules.

I have been a Toastmaster for over 13 years, and have often pushed these rules on others. But I firmly believe that there comes a time when you must break the rules to reach the audience.

Case in point: The rule that you should never turn your back on the Audience while speaking.

At face value this seems like a good rule to follow as it helps you to engage the audience more.

However, it is possible to turn your back on the audience and engage them even more than when you are looking at them.

Recently I competed in the District 73 Toastmasters annual convention in Perth Australia. I was competing in the Table Topics competition final. About 2000 people from across Australia had competed in this impromptu speaking competition, and I was one of just 7 people left standing. In this competition, you are given the topic and expected to start speaking on it straight away. The only preparation time you have is while you are walking across the stage.

The topic we had was:

“If you obey all the rules, you miss out on half the fun.  Is this a good philosophy to live by?”

As I walked across the stage, I decided that I would break some rules myself. As I approached the centre of the stage, I turned and put my back to the audience and started speaking. I spoke about the rules that we should not break when speaking. The main rule was about keeping eye contact with your audience. I then proceeded to make fun of the rules about ensuring that you move across the stage so everyone sees you. Next was my favourite rule – the need to pause. I paused so long that even I forgot what I was going to say next. However, the audience laughed hearterly as I broke the rules that they all held so closely to themselves.

Whats more, when the judges returned their decision, I was the winner! From speaking to the others in the audience (and not just my friends!) I was a clear and unanimous winner.

So, it just goes to show, you don’t need to follow all the rules to achieve your objectives.

However, might I suggest that you have a good understanding of the rules of Public Speaking and know how they operate before you go out and break them. If you don’t understand the rule and how it operates, you may be doing your cause more harm than good it you decide to break the rules!

There is a copy of my presentation on YouTube.  It goes for 5 min and can be viewed here



Posted in humour in presentations, public speaking, public speaking tips, Understanding your audience

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