Pine nuts: One man’s notes for a public talk |

Pine nuts: One man’s notes for a public talk

McAvoy Layne
McAvoy Layne

I don’t pretend to know the secrets of a good public talk myself, but I have been in the company of good public talkers for many years and have learned a good deal from them. Here is a little of what I have learned…

People don’t want a message; they want a story. So if you wrap your message in a story it will be like wrapping your dog’s medicine in a treat.

First, work your client’s special interest into your opening remarks, then work your client’s special interest into the middle of your talk, and finally, in thanking your client, work your client’s special interest into your closing remarks.

This discipline once prompted the following acknowledgement, “What a wonderful coincidence, Mr. Twain, that you played bridge in the Civil War and on the Overland Stagecoach, and here in Virginia City!  We are all bridge players!” Well, that was no coincidence, but we never let the truth stand in the way of a good story.

Draw mental pictures in your story as often as possible. Chuck Jones, by his own admission, came up with the cartoon series, “Wile E. Coyote and the Road Runner,” after reading Mark Twain’s description of the coyote and the jackass rabbit in his book, Roughing It.

Then, while it is still fresh in your mind, go over your material as soon as possible after delivering it. A reporter who once intended to interview Arnold Palmer immediately after Arnie had won a tournament was frustrated to find Arnold out on the driving range, practicing. Be like Arnie, and make improvements while the subject is still warm.

Fear public speaking? A young lady once confided to me that she would rather have a coyote gnaw on her arm, than to speak in public. Have confidence that your personality, sincerity, and your parent’s faith in you, will see you through. Speaking from the heart will always win the house.

As you are called up to the podium, picture the sunny-side-up eggs you are going to have for breakfast the following morning. This will serve to ground you, let you look past the moment, and put your mind at ease.

Practice setting bookmarks in your program in case you are asked a question, or a thought comes to you that you want to touch on, and you will be able to return to the exact spot where you left off without missing a beat.

Try to leave time for a few questions from the audience. I always thought of it as my favorite part of the program, for if you don’t have an answer, at least you can come up with an opinion.

And finally, perhaps foremost, when you are once again alone with your thoughts, and have gone over your program to your satisfaction, give yourself a much deserved pat on the back, because talking in public ain’t easy…

Learn more about McAvoy Layne at

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