There are few times in life when you are totally alone — like just before you make a five-minute speech. Or if you doubt the concept of eternity, try to make a five-minute speech.

Let’s start with my basic premise: Everyone is a salesperson whether they want to admit it or not. Why? Because from the time you get up in the morning until the time you go to bed at night, you are continually communicating, negotiating, persuading, influencing and selling ideas.

When you can get up on your feet and talk extemporaneously on a variety of subjects, this instills confidence, develops poise and breeds conviction. You become more convincing in your meetings and your encounters.

Also, you become a better leader, manager and salesperson.

The best-kept secret in the world is Toastmasters International, which started in 1924 and today has 357,000 members in 143 countries and more than 16,600 member clubs. I am a proud graduate. Toastmasters changed my life. And it can change your life, too.

Another organization that can dramatically change your life is Dale Carnegie Training, which boasts a century of proven success in professional training and development solutions. I am also a graduate of Dale Carnegie.

After years of taking the podium in front of Fortune 1000 companies and community groups, I developed a very useful tool to make speaking easier. It’s called the Harvey Mackay 35 To Stay Alive. It’s one of the many handouts available free on my website,

Let me share a dozen key tips from the Mackay 35 that will help you give a good speech.

The three most important keys on giving a good speech are: Room size, room size and room size. You want the excitement and chemistry of a standing-room-only, bumper-to-bumper crowd. Extra space is a killer. Avoid it at all costs. Where possible, try to avoid high ceilings. Have the first row set very close to the stage. Too much space between the speaker and the first row can destroy chemistry with the audience.

Studies show people remember more and laugh more in brightness. Turn the lights up full blast, unless you are showing slides.

Practice, practice, practice. Know your stuff. Don’t ever give another speech without it being entertaining as well as educational.

Outside noise from the adjoining rooms and hallways is the No. 1 killer of meetings. In fact, if another event is being held in the rooms adjacent to my talk, I will make every effort to book another venue. If you can’t hear a pin drop, you’re in the wrong room. A quick phone call to the catering manager will ensure total quiet.

Never, never, never end your program with a question-and-answer session. You cannot control the agenda or the quality of the questions. Start the Q&A five minutes before the end of your talk, then end with a good story.

Find out who the group’s last three to five speakers were and how they were accepted. Ask why they were successful or why they failed.

Always request that a technician be in the room during your entire talk in case of microphone problems.

Contact the Chamber of Commerce of any city you are to speak in. They will give you loads of information to familiarize you with the local surroundings and help you personalize your remarks. Above all, you must know your audience.

Never mispronounce a person’s name. If you’re not sure, check with the sponsor. Then double-check.

Stick to your allotted time and don’t exceed it.

If you don’t have a smashing “opener” and “closer,” go back to the drawing board. And, don’t step up to the microphone until you do.

And finally, debrief yourself within 24 hours of a speech, and take 10 minutes to write down what you could do better the next time. Try something new every time you speak, and you’ll never become stale.

I estimate I’ve given well over 2,000 speeches and presentations over the years. I will confess, I still get butterflies before I speak. When those butterflies flit away, I will know it’s time to walk away from the podium. Because I am quite convinced that if I get too comfortable, my audience will too — just before they fall asleep!

Mackay’s Moral: The best way to make a speech is to have a good beginning and a good ending — and to keep them close together.


Harvey Mackay is a Minneapolis businessman. Contact him at 612-378-6202 or e-mail