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Public Speaking Tips from Socrates

By Joey Asher

Category: Tips from Celebrities

Socrates said “I know nothing except the fact of my ignorance”.  But while the Greek philosopher may have touted his lack of knowledge, we can learn much about presenting ideas from his wise words.

Do not do to others what angers you if done to you by others.

The Golden Rule is great it to keep in mind when crafting a presentation.

I worked with a real estate lawyer who had put together 40 busy slides for a CLE event.  I flipped through the deck and paused. “Would you like to sit through this?” I asked.

He admitted that the answer was, “no.”

Here’s my version of the Golden Rule. Present unto others as you would have others present unto you.

“Beware the barrenness of a busy life.”

I’m not sure if I agree that being busy is a bad thing in general, but it’s certainly bad when it comes to presentations.

I worked with a construction firm as it prepared for a large new business pitch.  Their original message had 10 major points.  That’s way too busy. Nothing stood out as important.  Ultimately, the team focused on three messages and had more impact.


“Be as you wish to seem.”

For help, rely on video.

Let me explain.

As Socrates suggests, there is often a distinction between how we actually are and how we “wish to seem.” That’s certainly true when it comes to presentation style.

At a workshop recently, I urged a banker to smile more and gesture with more energy.  He tried to up the energy level. But when he saw himself on video, he was amazed that he came off so low-key.  He saw that he needed to exaggerate the energy to reach the desired level of intensity.

This just highlights the importance of watching yourself on video to help improve your presentation style.

You can’t “be as you wish to seem” if you can’t see how you actually are. To help, use that video-camera built into your smart-phone to critique your next presentation. The one in my iPhone works great.

 “Nature has given us two ears, two eyes, and but one tongue — to the end that we should hear and see more than we speak.”

Extending that idea to public speaking: great speaking starts with great listening.

One of the real keys to giving a great presentation is to take the time to listen, getting to know the audience in advance, and understanding what they want to hear from you.

The 92nd Street Y in New York City once refunded tickets to angry patrons that showed up to hear an interview with comic/actor /author Steve Martin.  Attendees apparently expected to hear him talk about his extraordinary life. Virtually everyone was disappointed to get a discussion of the art world.

Perhaps Mr. Martin should brush up on his Socrates. He needed to listen to his audience.

Speechworks is a communication and selling skills coaching firm. We teach professionals how to craft and deliver complex messages in a simple, persuasive manner. Since 1986, through workshops and one-on-one instruction, we have helped countless individuals become better presenters and communicators. You can reach us at 404.266.0888, or on the web at

Joey Asher

Joey is the President of Speechworks, a communication and selling skills coaching firm. He has worked with thousands of professionals, helping them learn to communicate in a way that connects with clients and audiences. He is also the author of four books on communication skills: “15 Minutes Including Q&A: a Plan to Save the World from Lousy Presentations,” “How to Win a Pitch: The Five Fundamentals That Will Distinguish You from the Competition,” “Selling and Communication Skills for Lawyers,” and “Even A Geek Can Speak.” He can be reached at 404-266-0888 or


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