The 16 Undeniable Laws of Communication (2023) addresses the fear of public speaking. It offers tried-and-true techniques that can transform any beginner or average speaker into a trusted and effective communicator.
Introduction: Catalyze action and add value by applying the fundamentals of effective communication.
Few have described the dread of public speaking as aptly as American comedian Jerry Seinfeld. Quoting a study that listed public speaking as the worst fear of the average person, followed by death, he said people would rather be in the casket than deliver the eulogy at a funeral.
Yet everyone has something important to share – and the best way to transmit those messages is through public speaking, whether it’s at family gatherings, office meetings, workshops, community events, or political rallies.
On top of that, Harvard Business Review reveals that effective communication is the number one skill you need to get promoted. Beyond the workplace, effective speaking is also one of the most surefire ways to build lasting relationships and accomplish your goals.
In this summary to John C. Maxwell’s The 16 Undeniable Laws of Communication, you’ll learn the principles that guarantee great communication. Apply them, and your message won’t just propel you forward – it’ll inspire other people to take action and improve their lives as well.
Becoming a credible messenger
A woman who’d tried and failed to stop her little boy from eating sugar took him to see Mahatma Gandhi. Gandhi told them to return after three days. But when they did, Gandhi simply asked the boy to stop eating sugar.
Why had he made them wait three days for such a boring cure? Well, Gandhi said, he needed to give up his own addiction to sugar in order to instruct the boy with any conviction.
In other words, when the messenger is credible, the message becomes effective. Credibility starts with honesty from the inside. People intuitively sense when the message authentically reflects the person. Honesty definitely doesn’t mean presenting yourself as perfect. People will respect you for the things you’ve accomplished and love you for having the courage to share your blunders.
Another aspect your audience will notice is how comfortable you are in your own skin. Observe and learn as much as you can from great speakers you admire, but always stay true to your unique qualities and personality.
When you do speak, pick a subject you feel strongly about. This has a lot of advantages. First, you’ll be playing a field you know, and will likely have endless personal stories to draw on. Subjects you’ve mastered will also roll off your tongue with a lot more eloquence and conviction, which people connect with.
The law of credibility is the essential starting point on your journey to becoming an effective communicator. As much as possible, be authentic, self-aware, and speak to what you know – and you’ll be well on your way to engaging your core audience.
Prepare, prepare, and prepare
Winston Churchill once described his adversary as never knowing what to say before he spoke, never knowing what he was saying while he spoke, and never being sure of what he’d said after he’d spoken.
Churchill understood the value of preparation, and his diligent efforts made him one of the greatest speakers of all time. So before taking on a speaking engagement, do your homework. You can’t tell your audience what you don’t know.
Here are a few things you can do as you prepare your speech.
You’ve already learned that you should pick a subject you’re passionate about to gain credibility. Now take this a step further by applying any new written material to your life to test its validity.
While working on your speech, make sure to customize it to the specific audience you’re addressing. The tailored message is your best message. After delivering your speech, reflect on it and adapt it for a universal audience. This universal message is the one that’ll stand the test of time. Keep adding to and editing your broader message as your knowledge expands.
Another thing to do as you prepare your speech is to build a picture of what you want your audience to perceive or accomplish when they receive your message. Do you want them to believe everything is possible? Are you on a mission to inspire them so that they treat themselves and others with dignity? Or maybe your intention is to empower them to live more authentically. Whatever your goal is, knowing what you want to accomplish will keep you focused on delivering a message that works.
Preparation has the added advantage of improving your knowledge. As you work, you’ll find new ideas you can use or save for future projects. Always be on the lookout for speaking opportunities to test your ideas and improve your delivery.
Through practice, you’ll know what to improve about your message and style. It’s also how you’ll meet other speakers, mentors, and collaborators. Contrary to popular belief, public speaking is a team sport. That’s because you need honest feedback. Your collaborators will hone your ideas and help you generate new ones. They can help with research and form the backbone of your projects.
Put in the time to practice, hone your material, and work with others, and you’ll soon master the laws of preparation and collaboration.
Content is king
While Bill Gates was building Microsoft, he had an idea that seemed slightly odd in the ’90s era of celebrity tech founders. He felt so strongly about the subject that he wrote an essay about it, titled “Content is King.”
His prediction, published in 1996, was simple: those who created great content would ultimately overtake the tech founders. No wonder he’s still a prolific blogger!
So how do you create great content? Here’s a formula that works.
First, test your ideas to make sure they’re sound. You probably have countless things to say. But as much as you can, rigorously select only the most important things – the ones you believe your audience will really benefit from.
Next, summarize your thoughts into a single sentence. That sentence is your thesis. It should capture the essence of your message.
Once your principal thesis and supporting points are in place, draft an outline of what you’re going to say, starting with an introduction and ending with a call to action.
It’s important to capture the curiosity of your audience at the start of every speech. Begin with something interesting and memorable – like a story, question, or promise that they’ll learn something new.
Use your environment or audience members themselves to make your message relatable. Say, for instance, that you already have some influence. While this makes you credible, it can also make you inaccessible. In a situation like this, your audience might believe you – but think you have special abilities they don’t possess. It’s your duty to close that gap by finding common ground. Share a story of how you got to where you are. Put yourself in their shoes and imagine what they’re going through. You can also help close the mental gap by physically moving a little closer to your audience.
Another thing you should look out for is transitions. Use them like runners in a relay race, with one idea handing the baton to the other until your message crosses the finish line.
You can also inspire people’s imaginations by using picture words to color your message. When you heard about a relay race, did your mind immediately picture an actual race? Tricks like this can help explain an important concept or message.
Finally, add repetition to your skillset. Ever listened to Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech? It’s a great example of the melodic power that repetition can yield.
When your message is well researched, educational, interesting, and grabs the imagination of your audience, you’ll have perfected the law of content.
Connecting with your audience
In the last section, you learned about the importance of great content. Now imagine carrying that great content into a Zoom call. But midway through the meeting, someone has to comfort a crying baby. Do you continue through the interruption, or pause to show concern?
That, of course, was a rhetorical question. Taking a minute to check if everything’s OK, and acknowledging the participant as an attentive carer, will build a deeper connection and make your message resonate more.
It’s the same reason you excelled at tenth-grade math, which was taught by your favorite teacher. They weren’t necessarily better than other teachers in terms of subject matter. But you could feel that they cared. They paid more attention to your needs – and you responded with better grades.
Your goal is to build a transformational relationship with your audience. That often starts with a good first impression. So when you engage, be sure to be present. Give your audience your full attention. The moment you forget about yourself and establish a genuine connection, you start exuding charisma.
Everyone is gifted with their own capacity to reach people’s hearts. Some know how to use humor to make people laugh. Others are great storytellers. It comes naturally to other speakers to equip audiences with tools they can apply to improve their lives. Reflect and ask trusted partners what they think your communication strength is, and then amplify that superpower. Also, be excited about using your gift to change lives. Believing in your ability to help people will build anticipation among your audience.
Deliver your message with clarity, in simple terms your audience will understand. Don’t try to impress anybody. Instead, concentrate on transmitting your message. Vince Lombardi, the greatest coach in NFL history, once said his strategy was to knock the opponent down when his team had the ball – and to knock them down when his team was defending. Talk about clarity!
Visual aids can be great tools to support the clarity of your message. Often, the most accessible (and least expensive) aid is your own body language. Smiling, raising a hand to signal a pause, sitting down to make yourself smaller, and placing your hand on your chest are all ways to drive home your message.
You could also use a short video to start a talk or illustrate a point. Sixty percent of people are visual thinkers, and 80 percent of all sensory inputs have a visual element. When you create audio content, use sound effects and words that spark the listener’s imagination.
But remember, you’re not a performer. These devices are only useful if they can help you transmit your message. Your speech’s real power lies in your ability to connect, leverage your strengths, build anticipation, and deliver your message with clarity.
The power of storytelling
Let’s take a moment to talk about stories. Specifically, how do you tell a story that will captivate your audience and amplify your message?
It turns out there’s a simple formula to this ancient human tradition. The building blocks are your hero, their goal, a conflict, and a resolution.
Take the play Hamlet. Hamlet is the hero, and his goal is to avenge his father’s death by killing his uncle. But he’s plagued by uncertainty. He succeeds, and then dies – the story is resolved. In The Odyssey, Odysseus accomplishes his goal of returning home by overcoming storms and monsters.
People identify with the hero of a story. This gives you an opportunity to make them feel, learn, and resolve conflicts, just as the hero does.
Storytelling is a compelling persuasive device. When you tailor a narrative to your audience’s needs and pique their interest, it can transform your message into something much greater than the sum of its parts.
Using real-time feedback to improve delivery
To end, let’s go back to Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I have a dream.” One of the greatest speeches of all time wouldn’t have happened the way you know it if King hadn’t been good at getting real-time feedback. As he spoke on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on August 28, 1963, he felt he could do better.
As King paused, he heard gospel singer Mahalia Jackson encourage him to tell the world about the dream he’d shared before at smaller events. Picking up this feedback, King soared into a climax that changed the course of history.
In short, King understood the law of the thermostat. Even before the nudge from Jackson, he’d read the crowd and felt they deserved more. So as you speak, gather feedback from your audience to switch things up or ride a wave.
This actually starts before you even begin speaking. Visit the room, hall, or theater where you’ll be presenting, and experience the lighting, seating arrangements, and acoustics. Study the distance between where you’ll be standing and your audience, and think about how to close the gap.
What’s your audience’s age group? Are you going to give an energetic performance, or have a conversation? If people have been forced to attend your event, you might need to warm them up before you dive into the esoteric stuff.
And when you start speaking, watch their faces – are they smiling, bored, or attentive? Let them stand up, move around, or take a bathroom break if they look tired. If you’re the fifth speaker, they may have been sitting too long. Get interactive to raise the energy levels and liven the mood. Add variety and excitement to your delivery to shake things up.
When you’re able to pick up on clues like King, and switch to a different gear mid-speech, you’ll realize you’re no longer talking at your audience – you’re having a conversation with them.
Anyone can overcome fear or inexperience and become a powerful public speaker by learning the rules that govern effective communication. Before you start your public speaking journey, strive to live the values you preach – this will help you build credibility and talk with conviction.
Next, prepare yourself and your message through frequent practice and diligent research. That’s how you build excellent content. Delivered with emotion, this content will connect with listeners and inspire your audience to take action.
Your ultimate goal is to add value to people’s lives through your words and example. You can reframe their thoughts so they treat themselves and others with dignity, and to mobilize for the greater good.
About the author
John C. Maxwell is the #1 New York Times bestselling author, speaker, coach, and leader who has sold more than 35 million books in fifty languages. He is the founder of Maxwell Leadership®—the leadership development organization created to expand the reach of his principles of helping people lead powerful, positive change. Maxwell’s books and programs have been translated into 70 languages and have been used to train tens of millions of leaders in every nation. His work also includes that of the Maxwell Leadership Foundation and EQUIP, nonprofit organizations that have impacted millions of adults and youth across the globe through values-based, people-centric leadership training.
John has been recognized as the #1 leader in business by the American Management Association and as the world’s most influential leadership expert by both Business Insider and Inc. magazine. He is a recipient of the Horatio Alger Award and the Mother Teresa Prize for Global Peace and Leadership from the Luminary Leadership Network.
Maxwell and the work of Maxwell Leadership continue to influence individuals and organizations worldwide—from Fortune 500 CEOs and national leaders to entrepreneurs and the leaders of tomorrow. For more information about him and Maxwell Leadership, visit maxwellleadership.com.
Communication Skills, Management, Leadership, Career Success, Self Help, Nonfiction, Business, Personal Growth, Motivational
Never Be Afraid to Speak to a Group Again
It’s been said that public speaking is the number one fear of most people, with death being second. “This means,” said comedian Jerry Seinfeld, “if you have to be at a funeral, you would rather be in the casket than doing the eulogy.”
How can you overcome fear or ineffectiveness as a speaker? Learn the Laws of Communication!
John C. Maxwell has been a public speaker and motivational teacher for more than fifty years. He is one of only eight people on the planet who have been awarded Toastmaster’s Golden Gavel and been inducted into the National Speakers’ Association Hall of Fame. In The 16 Undeniable Laws of Communication: Apply Them and Make the Most of Your Message, he shares everything he’s learned from a lifetime of communication.
Learn how to
- Speak from conviction
- Prepare your content and yourself for speaking
- Find and use your personal and communication strengths
- Focus on your audience and connect
- Tell better stories
- Read the room and create energy and anticipation
- Add value to people
- Inspire people to take action
Everyone has a message to share. Whether you want to improve your ability to inspire employees, speak at PTA meetings, report to a board of directors, teach students, deliver a sermon, address a small group, speak from a stage, or communicate to an arena full of people, this book can help you.
Learn from one of the best communicators in the world and start making the most of your message today.