Posted by: George E Burney | May 23, 2014

How To Use a Pertinent Story


Stories are wonderful tools for public speakers. If the story is interesting, believable, and pertinent to your discussion, it can immediately convince your audience to accept the premise you’re advocating.

For instance, suppose your point is that when unexpected events occur, events that at first glance appear to be setbacks, we should avoid immediately setting out to overcome or undo them, but should instead look for the “silver lining in the cloud.” In other words, the best approach is to first calmly assess the true implications of the undesired changes. They may be blessings in disguise.

Tell a Pertinent Story

To support your point, you could give examples of well-known, beneficial inventions that resulted from blunders or mistakes. Or, you could tell a plausible story, perhaps one like “My Wife,” a short story by Guy de Maupassant.

In that story, several good friends are fondly reminiscing about their bachelor days. They all agree that one of them has a perfect wife, and her husband agrees with their assessment, but admits that he didn’t actually choose her, but married her against his will. He then tells them how he got his charming and delightful wife.

A confirmed bachelor, he was a guest at the home of a relative, along with others who were invited to his cousin’s wedding. His first day there, he was paired off with the young daughter of a retired army colonel, a girl who bored him to death, and whom he was determined to avoid thereafter.

That night, he attended a party a short distance away where he got so drunk he could hardly stand up. When he returned to his uncle’s home, he had difficulty locating the door to his bedroom. He finally found the door he was looking for, stumbled into the room, and collapsed into an armchair, where he slept soundly.

The next morning, he was rudely awakened and attacked by the colonel, who found him in his daughter’s bedroom. Despite his swearing that nothing had happened between himself and the girl, the colonel threatened to blow the young man’s brains out for ruining the reputation of his daughter.

The other guests, especially the mothers, decided that he must marry the girl, an outcome he frantically tried to avoid. Finally, he conceded that the best way to end the growing scandal (and to remain alive) was to ask for her hand in marriage. Her father consented, and now, he admitted to his friends, he had been happily married for the previous five years.

Connect the Story to Your Discussion

This story, or one similar to it, certainly makes your point. Notice that it doesn’t matter if the story is true or not. What matters is that your audience can relate to it, that it’s true to life, and that it’s pertinent to your discussion.

After telling the story, you could draw attention to the fact that the young man had every intention of remaining single, but was forced by circumstances to make what may have been the best decision of his life.

Afterwards, you need only connect that thought to the matter you’re discussing, stressing the point that our worst blunders sometimes lead to excellent results.

When you use a pertinent story this way, you nullify contrary sentiments, resistance, or reservations in the minds of your listeners, making your argument more persuasive.

Posted by: George E Burney | December 18, 2013

How to Develop Analogies

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According to the American Heritage Dictionary, Second College Edition, one definition of an analogy is, “Correspondence in some respects between things otherwise dissimilar.” Another is, “A form of logical inference based on the assumption that if two things are alike in some respects, they must be alike in some other aspect.”

What To Compare?

So, to frame an effective analogy, you must first find two things that are essentially dissimilar, but are nevertheless alike in some ways. The similarity you initially draw attention to must be obvious and irrefutable. Your audience must themselves see this similarity instantly, without much explanation from you, so that you merely have to mention it for them to accept it.

An Example

For example, suppose you wanted to emphasize to an audience of novice speakers that careful attention should be given to the introduction and to the close or conclusion of a speech.

Speaking to them, you could compare giving a speech to flying a plane, perhaps saying that in some ways, they are alike. The introduction is the takeoff, the body of the presentation is like the period spent at cruising altitude, and the conclusion is the landing.

Does It Fit?

That fits, right? Those two dissimilar activities correspond, don’t they? Yes, but do they correspond where it counts? Does that correspondence drive your point home? That’s the litmus test, so let’s see.

Your objective was to stress the critical importance of the introduction and conclusion in a speech. Te evaluate the effectiveness of this analogy, the question to ask yourself is: Are successfully taking off and landing critical to the success of a flight?

Since they are, the analogy is effective. After making the above comparison, you might ask your audience, “If an airline disclosed that the pilot for one of their scheduled flights was terrible at takeoffs and landings, but was reasonably proficient while the plane was aloft, how many of you would rush to buy a ticket? Would that change if they offered you a discount because of his deficiencies?”

You could then drive your point home by saying, “Likewise, your introduction and conclusion are critical. A poor introduction or conclusion can ruin a good speech, just like a botched takeoff or landing can ruin a good flight.”

The above is an excerpt from my new eBook, Creating and Using  Stories, Examples, and Illustrations in Public Speaking, available at For more information, click here:

Posted by: George E Burney | November 8, 2013

Is It Possible To Overprepare?

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When it comes to research, probably not. The more you know about your subject matter, the better. You want to know much more about that subject than you can ever say in any one presentation. That reserve fund of knowledge, just waiting to be tapped if necessary, gives you the feeling of confidence, of mastery.

Too Much Of A Good Thing?

A beginning speaker may find this hard to believe, but when it comes to rehearsing a presentation, you can reach a point where it may be advantageous to “give it a rest.” Let’s discuss several reasons why this might occur.

We’ll start out with the assumption that the speaker is working from an outline, and will speak extemporaneously.

The Speaker Loses Interest

When you have gone over your material so many times that you are thoroughly sick of your presentation, you should back off. There is little to be gained by forcing yourself to rehearse it ad infinitum. Your speech will lose its freshness and will sound canned. Just read over it from time to time.

Someone may object by saying that once you’re in front of a live audience, the presence of the audience will enliven you and your speech, since you’ll be conversing with people. There’s some truth in that.

On the other hand, you will also have stated your points so many times and in so many different words while rehearsing, you’ll start to feel that you have exhausted all the possible ways of expressing those ideas. That won’t be literally true, but that’s how you’ll feel. No matter how you state those ideas, they will seem “old hat” to you.

The problem with reaching that stage is this: You’ll feel that because you’re tired of saying the same things over and over again, your audience will feel the same way. I know that’s not logical, but when you’re tired of saying something, you naturally feel that others are tired of hearing it, too.

In reality, they have never heard you present those ideas, so what you have to say may seem fresh and novel to your audience. Nevertheless, you’ll struggle to do your best in presenting because you’re no longer excited by either the information or your way of expressing it.

Accidentally Memorizing It

Another danger is this: Without meaning to, you may learn your speech by heart. If you do, it will lose freshness and spontaneity because eventually, with infinite practice, you’ll reach the point where express yourself the same way each time you rehearse it.

By then, you will have decided how you prefer to put things, and you won’t deviate much from those words. Without trying to, you will have  developed a manuscript discourse – not on paper, but in your mind. When you give it, it will sound canned and lifeless.

Then there’s the potential problem of actually giving it from memory, since you know it so well. You’ll naturally feel free to speak to your audience without bothering to consult your outline, until you forget what you should say next! That moment of piercing anxiety will be followed by a long, embarrassing pause while you frantically search your outline for the place where your memory failed you, to remind yourself of what you should say next.

So like most things, preparation (in the sense of rehearsing) can be overdone. You have to know when to take a break.

For a comprehensive discussion of public speaking, please see my eBook, How To Master Public Speaking, Quickly and Easily, available at For more information, click here:

Posted by: George E Burney | October 16, 2013

Master Your Main Points

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When organizing a presentation, you eventually reach the point where you’ve done your research and prepared your outline. You’ve listed your main points and the minor points which support the main points. You may even have prepared your introduction and your conclusion. Now you’re ready to learn your presentation. You’re ready to rehearse it, right? Perhaps, and perhaps not.

Do You Really Believe It?

There may be another matter to consider before settling down to rehearse the presentation. Ask yourself: How sold are you on the main ideas you’ll present? Yes, you’ve created the framework of a presentation and you could now move on to rehearsing it. But if you skip the step I’m recommending, you’ll miss a golden opportunity to develop rock-solid confidence in what you’ll later share with an audience. That type of confidence in your presentation helps you to approach the podium (the elevated platform) and the lectern (the speaker’s stand) with assurance.

Research usually means that you’ve found out what others, perhaps those recognized as experts, have said or written on the subject. But that tells you only what they think. The question still remains, what do you think? Do you agree with them, and if so, why? The authors of your source materials gave reasons for their conclusions, but are they convincing to you? Remember, it’s very difficult to convince others if you’re not thoroughly convinced yourself.

Analyze Your Main Points

Test the validity of their ideas by asking: Could the opposite be true? Is there another, a better way of viewing it? No? Why not? By doing this, you’re training yourself to analyze the ideas. If you can come down squarely on one side of the issue and you can support your conclusions with proof that satisfies you, that idea is now yours.

You now master that idea, for all intents and purposes. You’re not presenting some other person’s thinking, you’re saying what you’re convinced is true. The opinions of the experts now simply support what you believe. You can use those ideas in your presentation with confidence.

You may quickly find that you’re completely convinced of each of the main points in your outline. If so, great. You can now move on to perfecting your delivery. On the other hand, if you’re doubtful of the soundness of any main point, you shouldn’t use it. If additional research and thought don’t erase that doubt, remove that point from your outline. The only honest way to use it would be by saying, “On this point, you’re free to decide for yourself. Here are the pros and cons….”

Master Your Main Ideas

To master public speaking, you don’t need to try to master the audience. Instead, focus on mastering the ideas you’ll present. Know them well, so well that you could say them several different ways. Are you able to simplify each main idea so that everybody can easily understand it? If so, do that. How well you can explain a point is an excellent indicator of how well you understand it.

That brings us full circle. Make sure you understand and believe everything you say, and your reasons for doing so. Then, if you share what you believe with enthusiasm, you’re likely to give a very convincing presentation.

Posted by: George E Burney | September 13, 2013

Imagine How You’ll Feel

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I’m sure you’ll agree that, when it comes to giving a speech, there is no substitute for thorough preparation. Just possibly, there may be someone, somewhere, who can speak brilliantly on some subject without thorough preparation, but I have my doubts.

He may not have prepared with that particular speech in mind, but over time, he accumulated the information he presents, so he really was prepared, wasn’t he? After all, even the most brilliant speaker can’t share information he doesn’t possess.

In any event, you and I need to prepare. But things don’t always turn out the way we want them to, do they? Sometimes, even with the best of intentions, we don’t spend nearly as much time preparing or rehearsing a speech as we should. What then?

It’s pointless to waste the little time we have remaining, by wringing our hands over what we should have done. We’ll have enough time after giving the lecture to promise ourselves that we’ll never again be inadequately prepared. Right now, we have to make every minute count.


Here’s where you can put your imagination to work. In a couple of previous blog posts, I discussed some of the benefits of visualizing. As the word suggests, that involves seeing yourself, with your mind’s eye, as you successfully present your speech to your audience.

Visualizing also includes “seeing” in advance the platform, the room, the audience, etc. The objective is to become familiar in advance with what you’ll actually encounter when you deliver your speech. The underlying purpose is to sharply reduce your anxiety when before your audience.

A similar effect can be produced by practicing what you want to feel. One mistake speakers sometimes make is worrying about an upcoming speech. Thinking about it is one thing – worrying is another. When we worry about something, we imagine all sorts of things going wrong. That’s a misuse of our wonderful ability to imagine. It is really a rehearsal of sorts. We’re preparing to feel anxious.

Practice Your Feelings

Don’t imagine standing before your audience and feeling so nervous that your stomach is in knots, beads of sweat are forming on your brow, your collar suddenly feels too tight, and so forth.

Try something different. Imagine yourself feeling completely confident, smiling, and enjoying your presentation. Imagine feeling calm and relaxed as you speak. Dwell on those feelings and intensify them. Enjoy those feelings while simultaneously “seeing” your imaginary audience. Expect to feel that way when before your audience.

By employing both vivid visualization and intensely imagined feelings, you’ll significantly increase the likelihood of giving a successful presentation. Also, your anxiety level when you mount the platform will be reduced tremendously. Do they eliminate or reduce the need for thorough preparation? Of course not.

But when you’re running out of time, you’ll find these to be among the best tools imaginable. The only tool which would be better at that point would be the ability to somehow turn the clock back, but we’ll never have that, so we do our best with what we have.

Posted by: George E Burney | August 23, 2013

Use Vivid Visualization

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The value of visualization lies in the fact that it’s the “next best thing to being there.” If done properly, it’s the best substitute for actual experience. It’s synthetic experience.

Vividly Imagined Experiences Resemble Reality

In his book, Psycho-Cybernetics, Dr. Maxwell Maltz states that a person’s nervous system can’t distinguish between a real experience and one which has been vividly imagined. This means that, to your nervous system, a lifelike, imagined experience is nearly the same as a real experience.

You’ll note that he was referring to an experience which is vividly imagined. Therefore, if it is to be effective, it must replicate, or at least approximate, actual experience as much as possible.

Actual experiences involve thousands of details, even if we don’t consciously pay particular attention to most of them. Nevertheless, we see and hear much more than we focus on. As proof, stop reading and look at any object. While doing so, notice all the other impressions your eyes take in simultaneously. Also, what are you now hearing, but not actively listening to? Those sights and sounds were all experienced while glancing at the one object you focused on.

Likewise, to approximate reality, an imagined experience which is convincing to us would need to include as many small details as possible, including the colors, shapes and sizes of objects, as well as sounds and feelings. It would need to be as vivid as we can make it.

How Do You Benefit?

Since nervousness about speaking to an audience tends to diminish as your speaking experience grows, you can reduce your nervousness greatly by vividly visualizing future speaking engagements. The idea would be to supply as many details as we can imagine, to “create” the experience before it actually happens. Repeating this process often would give you that “been there, and done that” feeling of familiarity.

It can also affect the quality of your presentation. By preparing well and supplementing this preparation with detailed mental previews of the success of your presentation, you’ll do well.

How to Use Your Amazing Ability to Visualize

In this movie you’re creating, you’ll hear yourself being introduced, and see yourself calmly preparing to speak. You pause momentarily, smile and begin giving your introduction in a clear, steady voice.

As you speak, you observe the way members of the audience are dressed, and the faces of the individuals in the first few rows. See them smile and notice how some nod their heads in agreement as you speak to them.

You’ll also supply the way you want to feel when addressing this audience. Imagine yourself enjoying your presentation. Savor the confidence you feel as you share the information you have diligently prepared.

This process allows you, to the extent humanly possible, to write the script for the success of your next presentation!

Posted by: George E Burney | August 5, 2013

Overcoming The Fear Of Eye Contact

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Some speakers recommend that beginning speakers who experience difficulty in making eye contact with members of their audience look at their foreheads instead. Or the back wall, or just above the heads of those in his audience. I disagree, since this means not dealing with the root cause of the problem – the speaker’s fear.

We might illustrate it this way: If you had a cancerous lesion on your skin, would you simply cover it with a Band-Aid? True, you can no longer see the lesion, but have you effectively addressed the core of the problem?

What’s the Real Problem?

The beginning speaker is usually consumed with concern about the audience’s reaction to his speech. In other words, he is afraid, not of the audience itself, but of what people in the audience will think about his speech. To narrow it down even more, he is concerned with what they will think of him as a speaker.

Two Changes to Make

A novice speaker with this fear should change the way he views his audience, since that’s likely to be at the heart of his problem. He must overcome the feeling, for instance, that the audience consists of critics who are assembled for the sole purpose of taking delight in his shortcomings as a speaker. Usually, they are there to benefit from what he has to share. Viewing matters from that perspective diminishes fear.

The second change has to do with his view of himself, and of the role he plays in the process. His fear is further reduced if he shifts his focus from himself, as the speaker, to his presentation. The information he presents is of primary importance; he is merely the messenger.

That makes sense when we consider the speaker’s purpose. His objective is twofold. First, to assemble and organize pertinent information needed by the audience. Second, to prepare and present that information in a clear and convincing manner. His purpose should not be to cover himself with glory.

Breeding Confidence

Thorough preparation of the presentation breeds confidence. When added to the changes recommended above, this will eliminate the fear which makes it difficult, if not impossible, to make eye contact during a speech.


For a comprehensive discussion of public speaking, please see my eBook, How To Master Public Speaking, Quickly and Easily, available at For more information, click here:

Posted by: George E Burney | June 28, 2013

Convincing By Reasoning

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“A man convinced against his will remains unconvinced still.” Perhaps you’ve heard that expression, or some variant of it. It suggests a sensible thought … that conclusions a person chooses to reach carry more weight with him than those he  prefers to ignore.

How We Resist

When someone else states something as a fact, we may or may not accept it. Even if he presents reasonable supporting data, we may still reject the conclusion he reaches.  One way we do this is by suspending judgment until we see where he’s going with his argument. This allows us wiggle room, an “out” if we want one.

That process gives us the freedom to reject the entire argument he presents, simply because we don’t want to arrive at the conclusion he seems to be driving at. While doing so, we believe our position to be perfectly objective and reasonable.

What  enables us to deceive ourselves like that? The fact that we didn’t commit ourselves to any of the points he made along the way, and certainly not to a series of points. If we had done so, we would, in spite of ourselves, sense the inconsistency in our thinking and begrudgingly acknowledge that his viewpoint has some merit.

We’re not alone in doing this, others do the same when you’re speaking. So the antidote is to get your audience to commit themselves to an unbroken chain of ideas, of their own volition and in their own minds, along the way. If you do that, you’re well on your way to a successful presentation. When they finally arrive at the final, overall conclusion you want them to reach, they’ll do so without resistance.

How can you make practical use of that observation in public speaking? By using devices that stimulate thinking and reasoning by the members of your audience. For example, consider rhetorical questions.

Rhetorical Questions

Timely rhetorical questions, followed by appropriate pauses, can be very effective. They make people take a stand on the issue you’re discussing, even though it’s only in their own minds. The person who mentally answers your question  (as most do) is committing. A series of such commitments can lead them to an unavoidable conclusion.

Pausing briefly after asking your question is essential. You have to allow people time to think and arrive at a decision. Then, without supplying the answer, you simply move on to your next point.


Illustrations are also excellent devices to get your listeners to make mental commitments to the points you make. You may make a point, or several points, and then say, “Let’s illustrate this … ” or, “We could illustrate it this way …” Then, use an appropriate illustration. As you present it, if the parallels are obvious, your audience is already beginning to see how it relates to the discussion.

The beauty of this approach is that when you state the connection, your audience is already there. Your application simply states something they’ve already concluded. The key point is that they reached this conclusion themselves. As a result, they are thoroughly convinced.

For additional information, please see my e-book entitled How to Master Public Speaking, Quickly and Easily, at:

Posted by: George E Burney | May 24, 2013

How To Eliminate Word Whiskers

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“Word whiskers” are expressions or sounds a speaker makes that serve only as place holders or time fillers. Speakers sometimes use them when they are searching for a particular word, or when they are unsure of what to say next.

Some Examples

They’re expressions such as “ah,” “um,” “and ah,” etc. If you speak publicly only occasionally, and consider yourself a novice, don’t worry about eliminating these – yet. There are probably other issues you’re working on, and those are likely to be more important.

If you’re more experienced, you should eliminate them as soon as possible. Why? To begin with, they’re useless. No, they’re worse than that – they’re annoying and they detract from your presentation.

Give Them What They Want

Who are especially annoyed by them? Your most attentive listeners. The people in your audience who are particularly interested in your presentation. Those who are most eager to hear what you have to say. They are hanging on to your every word. You break their train of thought and frustrate them when you interject nonsensical expressions.

Remember that others can think a lot faster that you can speak, and that’s true even when you’re speaking fluently, with no word whiskers. However, they are willing to stifle this ability if you hold their interest. However, when you interrupt the flow of ideas, they become mentally restless.

What’s the solution? First, if you have this problem, acknowledge it, even if only to yourself. Then, decide to eliminate word whiskers. If you’re not sure whether you use them or not, ask someone to listen to you as you speak and note whether you have this problem. Or, you could record your speech and listen to it afterwards.

How To Eliminate Them

How do you eliminate them? By focusing on thoughts, not words. Groping for just the right word may trigger the use of a word whisker, because what you’re doing is stalling for time while you try to think of the right word.

Don’t do that. Instead, use whatever word comes to mind. It’s the idea that counts. The particular words you use are important, but not as important as the thought itself.

This underscores the importance of never writing your presentation out verbatim or attempting to speak from memory. When that’s done, emphasis is often placed on using some “perfect” word or expression you came up with during preparation. If you can’t remember that “perfect” word when presenting, or if you can’t quickly find it in your notes, your mind will hesitate and you’ll resort to nonsensical expressions as a delaying tactic.

Just Say It

So, get the idea in mind, and just say it. Use your notes to remind you of ideas, and get engrossed in expressing those ideas. If you need a second or two to think of how you’ll say something, just pause. When you’re ready, speak.

Singing requires you to use words when the beat calls for them, whether you’re ready or not. Speaking is different–it allows you to stop momentarily, collect your thoughts (it takes only a second or two to formulate a thought), and proceed.

By the way, pausing briefly is much better than uttering nonsense. Pauses often create anticipation for what will follow, so instead of interrupting the train of thought, they really help the audience to follow you.

In summary, the keys to overcoming this problem are:

1.  Make a firm decision to eliminate word whiskers

2.  Train yourself to focus on the thought you want to share

3.  Express that thought and nothing else

4.  Move on to the next thought

By persisting, you’ll soon find that you’ve completely eliminated this bad habit. Your speech will be fluent and much more persuasive.

For a comprehensive discussion of public speaking, please see my eBook, How To Master Public Speaking, Quickly and Easily, available at and other e-Book retailers. For more information, click here:

Posted by: George E Burney | May 10, 2013

As You Make Progress, Commend Yourself!

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As you make progress as a speaker, take time to commend yourself for every improvement, regardless of how small. You’ll find this to be a satisfying way to grow as a speaker. You’ll also progress faster.

Look  At What You’ve Accomplished

Developing the ability to speak well is not very difficult. Even so, it requires sustained effort for a period of time. How can you motivate yourself sufficiently to persevere until you reach your goal? Regular recognition of what you’ve already accomplished will fuel your efforts and encourage you to continue.

Determined to succeed, we get into the habit of looking only ahead. As we do so, we see a mountain of obstacles before us. Put differently, we see the long and apparently endless road we must travel to reach our destination. That can be discouraging. What we forget to do is this: We don’t look back to see how far we’re already traveled.

How To Conquer a Mountain

I once read an article discussing the value of conquering a mountain of challenges by tackling one matter at a time. I read it “back in the day,” so the illustration used is somewhat dated. Back then, before the days of dishwashers, people washed dishes by hand. Still, it made the point very well then and still does, as far as I’m concerned.

It stated that a housewife, by washing a few dishes daily, was likely to wash a mountain of dishes during her life. That was not a huge problem in her mind, since she only washed a few at a time. On the other hand, if on one occasion, she was shown all the dishes she would wash in her entire lifetime, she would be so discouraged that she’d never start on that pile!

Take Pride in Incremental Progress

That illustrates the value of incremental progress. By progressing a little at a time, we make major gains over time. So the key is to persist, to persevere. But how do we keep ourselves going? A little commendation goes a long way!

So every so often, we should briefly glance back to see how much ground we’ve already covered. Don’t compare that to how far we still have to go. Instead, take a moment to enjoy the feeling of having made progress. It follows that if we’ve made progress, we can continue to progress, since that requires only that we continue to do what we’re already doing!

The effect will be that we’ll enjoy the journey. If we enjoy it, we’re more likely to persist. That persistence, in turn, will lead to significant progress over time.

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