Do you own the words you speak or do you rent them?


Do you own the words that you speak?

Public Speaking Practice

Do You Own The Words You Speak?

Are you practiced?

  • Lawyers practice.
  • Doctors practice.
  • Engineers practice.
  • Architects practice.

Why don’t public speakers practice?

I’ve never understood why the majority of public speakers don’t practice. Ok, that may be a bit of a generalisation. It may be unfair to make that assumption. On the whole, it’s true. Argue with me if you like. I listen to lots of people speak, I get so frustrated when public speakers with outstanding content are unable to string words together in way that clearly, persuasively and inspiringly communicates the vision that hold within. They could do it, but they only rent the words. It take practice to own them.

What does it look like when you rent the words?

  • Too fast.
  • Too slow.
  • Too LOUD.
  • Too quiet.
  • Too stationary.
  • Too active, jumping around like a jack rabbit on speed.

When you have practised sufficiently, you own the words.
When you wing it, you rent them.

When you own the words you speak, it allows you to control the pace, to use pauses, to vary the pitch and volume of your voice, to be so fully present in the moment you are on your feet that you can sense exactly the right body language to use to hit your points home visually as well as auditory. Owning the words alleviates some of the fear of speaking in public. Renting them intensifies it.

When you own the words, you are a professional.
When you copy someone else’s style and phrases, you rent them.

What does it look like when you own the words?

  • You know the one key thought or idea that you want to communicate.
  • You know enough about the potential audience to be relevant.
  • You know that 1 A4 page at size 12 font is about 5 mins speaking.
  • You know the words that you will say will fill the time. (And no more.)
  • You know the words by over-learning a strong opening that grabs attention.
  • You know the words when your call to action will conclude the speech on a high note.

To fully own the words, you must practice! It takes one hour of preparation for every minute you will be on your feet.

A professional prepares, an amateur ad-libs.
A professional owns the words, an amateur rents them.

Do you own or rent the words that you speak?

If you are only renting the words, please don’t get up on your feet. It’s not fair to the audience. Your rented words are wasting the finite time they have on this earth. Don’t do it. Be the opposite of Nike – Don’t Do It! In most cases, practice would make the difference from a speech being average to astounding, from mundane to memorable and from rented to owning. Donald Pleasence was a professional and he was right when he said, ‘All the real work is done in the rehearsal period.’

Practice. The first time the word practice was recorded as being used was 1421. The earliest meaning was,‘to pursue or be engaged in a particular occupation, profession, skill, or art’. Public speaking is an art. Don’t practice and you kill the potential power of the words you speak.

This week I was able to attend New Media Expo and CES (Consumer Electrics Show) in Las Vegas, the whole gamut of public speaking and presentation skills was on show. But two speakers stand out for totally different reasons, one rented the words, the other owned them.

During Monday’s CES Show, action-movie director Michael Bay (Pearl Harbour, Transformers, Armageddon) proved that renting words can leave you looking amateur. Bay was on stage promoting Samsung’s new line of curved HDTVs. But there was a problem with that word renting machine called a teleprompter and he had a meltdown. If he had owned the words, despite that technical problem, and technical problems can happen, he could have continued, instead he walked off the stage. Though it’s hard to watch – you must watch it.

In contrast Keynote Speaker and Author, Scott Stratten gave a masterclass in public speaking at NMX. His presentation on the sometimes stupid use of QR codes was phenomenal. It’s possible to see many versions of his speech on the web (below is one of them) and his polished presentation comes to the forefront. But it’s obvious to see that many times before Stratten actually got on the stage, he owned the words through practice. The pacing of the phrases, the comedic body language and facial expressions that add so many layers to the speech was all born through owning the words and you only own the words through practice.

Winston Churchill was one of the worlds greatest speakers able to “speak off the cuff” at any occasion. His ability to do this was summed up by his great friend Lord Birkenhead who said, “Winston has spent the best years of his life writing impromptu speeches“.

Don’t rent your words, own your words through practice.

By Peter Billingham


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Posted on by Peter Billingham in Blog Posts, Leadership, Public Speaking, Speech Writing

About Peter Billingham

Leader, Learner, Speechwriter, Storyteller, Author. a.k.a. 'The Artful Speaker' Enjoy working on social action projects, Toastmasters, films & adventure travel.

8 Responses to Do you own the words you speak or do you rent them?

  1. Jared Easley

    Marshall Sylver owned his words.

    • Peter Billingham

      I never got to hear him live, but will listen to the MP3 when I get the virtual ticket. But, I would imagine he did. He is a professional. The issue is delivery … the content, well that’s another thing. Make me sad when people who have content that is of real value don’t put as much effort as people like Marshall do to communicate it. Thanks for the comment!

  2. dan obeirne

    Hi Peter, Thanks for this insight, very helpful and one I will use much in 2014 with a new wellness education project. best from Spain. saludos, Dan

    PS I’m over from Chris Brogan’s newsletter.

    • Peter Billingham

      Hi Dan – thanks for taking the time to comment. I really appreciate that you have made the link from Chris’s newsletter to my site, and left a comment, that is really kind of you. Glad that you found this helpful, and if there’s anything more that I can do in helping you become a better speaker in 2014, let me know.

  3. Peitho

    My goodness, I’ve stumbled upon treasure. This is an extremely well conceived, comprehensive and excellently penned post about such an important aspecr of good public speaking—PREPARATION—PRACTICE. It’s dangerous, very dangerous to do without it. Thank you, Peter Billingham, for pointing this out. I greatly look forward to following and reading whatever you’ll be serving up in the months and years to come.

    • Peter Billingham

      Thanks you for your very kind words and affirmation of the bog and my writing, really appreciate that! I can’t agree more that PREPARATION—PRACTICE is in my mind the most overlooked aspect of speaking and most people could make significant improvements by just rehearsing the speech content more. There will be lots more in the weeks and years to come, you can be sure of that! Thanks again for taking the trouble to write.

  4. Peitho

    P.S. “He who wants to persuade should put his trust not in the right argument, but in the right word. The power of sound has always been greater than the power of sense.” Joseph Conrad

    • Peter Billingham

      Another appropriate quote – thanks! I am fascinated by the power of persuasion and how it is developed.

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