The 9 Principles of Public Speaking From Carmine Gallo

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Talk Like TED" by Carmine Gallo. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

Like this article? Sign up for a free trial here .

Do you want to become a better public speaker? What are the most important principles of public speaking that can help you master the craft?

Being a strong public speaker is one of the most powerful talents you can possess. In his book Talk Like Ted, keynote speaker and business communication expert Carmine Gallo lays out nine principles of public speaking.

Keep reading for Carmine Gallo’s principles of public speaking.

9 Principles of Public Speaking

Effective public speakers can captivate their audience with new ideas and revolutionary concepts, inspire people to try new things, and even influence people’s opinions. According to communications coach Carmine Gallo, the key to becoming a good public speaker is applying nine key principles of public speaking, including speaking with passion, incorporating a shocking moment, and presenting something new to your audience.

Gallo formulated his nine principles of public speaking after watching hundreds of successful TED talks. His first six principles of public speaking address the content that you should include in your speech or presentation. The final three address the logistics of preparing and delivering an effective talk.

Principle #1: Pick a Topic You’re Passionate About

Make sure that the subject you’re going to talk about is something you feel enthusiastic about. For example, if you’re asked to give a presentation about one sale you’ve made this month, discuss the sale that excites you the most.

Choosing a topic you’re passionate about is important for three reasons:

  1. You’ll be so excited about getting to share your passion with the world that you won’t feel nervous about your talk.
  2. When you’re passionate about something, you’re likely to speak about the subject energetically. You’ll be much more interesting to watch than a lackluster speaker, meaning people are much more likely to actually pay attention to you.
  3. Studies have shown that feelings are contagious. Therefore, if you exhibit deep passion when speaking about your chosen subject, your audience will emulate that passion and listen intently to what you’re saying.

Sometimes, you may be forced to speak on a topic that you don’t feel passionate about—for instance, if your boss asks you to give a presentation on a prescribed subject. In such situations, don’t try to fake passion. People are good at discerning whether passion is genuine or not, and when they realize you’re faking, they’ll distrust what you’re saying. 

Instead, frame the topic in a way that does excite you and appeal to your passions. For example, if your passion is bringing added efficiency to your workplace, and you’re asked to give a presentation on a piece of dull accounting software that you don’t really care about, focus your presentation on how efficient the software is.

Principle #2: Tell Your Audience Stories

Using storytelling is one of Gallo’s nine principles of public speaking. Incorporate at least one of the following three types of stories into every speech or presentation you give:

  1. A story about your own life—for example, a challenging experience you overcame
  2. A story about someone else—for instance, an anecdote about a famous person
  3. A story about a product or brand—either a product or brand you’ve created yourself (for instance, telling the “origin story” of a new product you’re launching), or one created by someone else (for example, trying to convince your colleagues to adopt a new sales strategy by telling the story of how well it’s worked for another brand)

Including stories in your speeches and presentations is important for a number of reasons: 

  • Storytelling is much more gripping than many other methods of sharing information—for example, listing facts and figures.
  • People are more likely to fully understand a concept if you tell them a story about how it works in the “real world.” For instance, imagine you’re giving a presentation about a complicated new sales process. Your colleagues are more likely to understand the process if you tell them a story about how it’s worked for you, rather than just bombarding them with dry theory.
  • Stories can serve as “proof” that the claims you’re making are legitimate. For instance, if you’re trying to convince investors that your product is already popular, telling real-life stories about happy customers provides evidence that your claim is true.
  • Stories can influence your audience’s thoughts and emotions. When people listen to a story, they experience identical brain function to the person telling the tale. This neurological connection allows speakers to “plant” certain ideas and emotions in their audience’s minds. For example, if you want your audience to feel excited about a new product, tell a story that makes you feel excited about it. The audience’s brains will automatically mimic your emotion.

Make Your Story Gripping

Make your story exciting enough to keep your audience listening by incorporating these five attributes into the narrative:  

  1. Detail: Make the story so detail-rich that your listeners feel like they’re experiencing it themselves and want to stick around to see how it ends.
  2. Unexpectedness: Make the story take a turn that the audience didn’t anticipate. You’ll shock people into paying attention to what you’re saying. 
  3. Mystery: Keep your story’s outcome unknown for as long as possible. People crave the closure of knowing how a story will end and will keep listening until they get it.
  4. Heroes and villains: Give your audience some characters to root for and others to dislike. They’ll become engrossed in your story as they wait for the satisfaction of the hero triumphing and the villain getting their comeuppance. 
  5. Adversity: Make sure that the main character of your story overcomes adversity at some point in the narrative. Your audience will be inspired by this battle against misfortune, and will keep listening to find out whether the main character prevails.

Principle #3: Present Something New

“New” content can take two possible forms:

  1. Information that was previously completely unknown to your audience—for instance, a little-known fact about your area of expertise. 
  2. An innovative new solution to an old and well-known problem—maybe even a fix for an issue that previously seemed unsolvable. 

Presenting something new to your audience capitalizes on the human brain’s love of learning new things. According to neuroscientists, when we learn something new, the brain releases dopamine—a hormone that makes us feel good. Because this dopamine rush is so pleasurable, people constantly seek out ways to replicate it: In other words, they look for sources of new knowledge. If you provide this knowledge during your talk, you’re more likely to keep people interested in what you’re saying. 

Likewise, because what you’ve said has made your audience feel good, they’re more likely to be receptive to you and your ideas. They’ll link what you’re saying with feeling positive, and they’ll respond with positivity in turn.

The Importance of Presenting Something New 

Presenting something new to your audience capitalizes on the human brain’s love of learning new things. According to neuroscientists, when we learn something new, the brain releases dopamine—a hormone that makes us feel good.Because this dopamine rush is so pleasurable, people constantly seek out ways to replicate it: In other words, they look for sources of new knowledge. If you provide this knowledge during your talk, you’re more likely to keep people interested in what you’re saying. 

Likewise, because what you’ve said has made your audience feel good, they’re more likely to be receptive to you and your ideas. They’ll link what you’re saying with feeling positive, and they’ll respond with positivity in turn.

What If You Have to Repeat Old Ideas?

Sometimes, it’s necessary to include widely-known facts or opinions in your speech or presentation—for instance, to provide background information before you move on to your main idea. To avoid boring your audience with this old information and consequently losing their attention, add novelty by packaging it in a fresh and innovative way. 

For example, an executive at SanDisk packaged old information (specifically, data about the popularity of high-capacity storage cards) in a new way by incorporating it into a story about his love of photography and need for such storage himself. This approach was so novel that his audience either failed to recognize they were being presented with old information or didn’t mind. Most of the audience members graded the presentations they viewed that day as either “very good” or “excellent”—including the executive’s.

Principle #4: Incorporate a Shocking Moment

A “shocking moment” is an event that your audience doesn’t anticipate, but which surprises, impresses, or moves them. Including a shocking moment in your presentations will benefit you in various ways:

  • The unexpectedness of the moment will grab your audience’s attention, making them more likely to absorb your ideas.
  • Your audience will tell everyone they know about the surprising thing they just heard or witnessed. In the process, they’ll spread information about your talk and your ideas.
  • Shocking moments stick in people’s minds—according to neuroscientists, they heighten our emotions and cause our brains to perceive and remember information more vividly. The more your audience thinks about the shocking moment, the more they contemplate the idea you were trying to get across—and the more likely they are to act on that idea.

How to Create a Shocking Moment

First, identify the most important point you’re going to make during your talk. Since this is the point that you most want your audience to remember, it makes sense to make it the subject of your shocking moment. 

Next, devise a surprising way to communicate this important idea. Here are six possible methods you could implement:

  1. Bring an unusual prop to your talk. For example, Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor brought a real human brain to her TED talk about neuroscience, which disgusted her audience. However, the brain’s presence also grabbed their attention.
  2. Give a demonstration. This method is particularly useful if you’re presenting a product. Showcase the item’s unique selling points. Your audience will hopefully be shocked by how impressive it is. 
  3. Include startling statistics. For example, when giving a TED talk on psychopathy, author and journalist Jon Ronson revealed that one in every hundred people is a psychopath—a shockingly high statistic that grabbed his audience’s attention. 
  4. Display a shocking photo or video. For instance, if you’re discussing the horrors of war, you could include images of war-torn communities to shock your audience into recognizing the pain that conflict causes. 
  5. Create a sound bite and use it in your presentation. A sound bite distills your main argument into a short, snappy, and memorable sentence. You can transform your sound bite into a shocking moment by making it particularly emotionally charged.
  6. Tell a surprising story. Stories that are particularly dramatic are effective at shocking listeners.

Principle #5: Use Humor

The fifth of Gallo’s nine principles of public speaking focuses on humor. At some point in your presentation, try to make your audience laugh (or at least smile). Incorporating humor into public speaking is important because, according to research, it increases your likability. Ultimately, the more your audience likes you, the more likely they are to listen to and support what you have to say.

Types of Humor to Use (and Avoid)

Incorporate these four types of humor into your speeches and presentations:

  1. Sharing an anecdote: a short, amusing story about an experience you—or possibly someone else—had
  2. Making an analogy: humorously drawing attention to the ways in which two different things are similar (for example, “Attempting to run Congress without encouraging social relationships between its members is like trying to drive a car that doesn’t have any motor oil!”) 
  3. Quoting someone else’s funny comment: anyone from a friend to a famous person
  4. Showing the audience a funny video or picture: one you’ve produced yourself, or one produced by someone else

Meanwhile, avoid doing these four things when trying to make a talk humorous:

  1. Making your humor crass, lewd, mean-spirited, or discriminatory. Many people find this type of humor inappropriate, if not outright offensive.
  2. Trying too hard to be funny—for instance, telling a relentless stream of jokes. You’re there to inform or persuade your audience, not entertain them like a stand-up comedian.
  3. Including humor that people have heard before. If you fail to be original with your humor, you’ll quickly bore your audience.
  4. Aiming to get a huge laugh as soon as you start your talk. If you fail, your confidence will be shattered for the rest of your time on stage.

Principle #6: Present Content That Triggers Multiple Senses

Aim to trigger a combination of the senses of hearing, sight, and touch when making a speech or presentation. It’ll help your audience to remember what you’ve said: Research has shown that multisensory experiences are much more memorable than single-sense experiences. 


While you may assume that you can trigger this sense simply by talking to people, remember that just because you’re talking doesn’t mean that people will actually listen. To truly trigger your audience’s sense of hearing, you need to make your speech interesting enough to grab their attention. There are three ways to do this:

Method #1: Be highly descriptive. For instance, if you’re talking about how you created a product, discuss every detail about the moment you came up with the idea—where you were, who you were with, even what the weather was like that day. By painting a vivid picture with your words, you’ll immerse your audience in your topic and pique their interest. 

Method #2: Repeat key points multiple times. For example, if the main argument of your talk is that “your product is unique,” make this point in almost every sentence you speak. The repetition will signal to the audience that you’re making an important point, thus encouraging them to listen to what you have to say. 

Method #3: Incorporate other people’s voices into your speech or presentation. For instance, if you’re making a sales pitch, play a video in which happy customers give verbal testimonials. The brain starts to lose interest and “switch off” when it hears the same person’s voice for a long period of time. Incorporating other people’s voices into your talk, even briefly, circumvents this issue and keeps your audience engaged.  


The easiest way to trigger this sense during a presentation is to create a visual aid to accompany your spoken words: in other words, presentation slides. When creating slides, minimize the amount of text you include. Your audience will struggle to both read a block of text on a slide and listen to you speak, meaning they won’t fully take in your ideas.

A better approach is using a combination of short phrases and pictures on your slides. Research has demonstrated that people are more likely to recall visual information if it’s presented in this way, rather than just in written form. Likewise, other studies have shown that people will remember 65% of the information presented to them if they both listen to it and see a related image at the same, compared to just 10% of the information if they only hear it. 


Sometimes, it’s possible to trigger this sense directly. For example, if you’re pitching a product, you could pass a prototype around your audience. 

However, if you’re talking about an idea rather than an object, there may not be a suitable prop for you to hand out. In such cases, you can stimulate the sense of touch by asking people to imagine how it would feel to touch or be touched by something. For example, in a 2011 TED talk on chronic pain, Dr. Elliot Krane asked his audience to imagine how it would feel to have someone touch your skin with a blowtorch. 

Principle #7: Keep Your Talk Brief

The next of Gallo’s nine principles of public speaking covers length. Whenever possible, you should limit your presentations to 18 minutes—the length of a TED talk. Doing so is important for three reasons:

  1. It prevents your audience from becoming too tired to listen to you. The brain uses up glucose as it absorbs information. If you talk for too long, you risk depleting your audience’s glucose levels so much that they don’t have the energy to keep listening.
  2. It takes the pressure off your listeners. Studies have shown that the longer a speaker talks, the more anxious their audience becomes as they realize just how much information they’re being expected to absorb. Sometimes, this anxiety becomes so overwhelming that the audience disengages entirely. By keeping your talk short, you can avoid this situation.
  3. It promotes discipline as you craft your talk. If you know that you only have a limited time to talk, you’ll put more effort into only expressing your key ideas and cutting out “fluff.” 

Follow the Rule of Three

One way to keep your presentation brief is to follow the Rule of Three, which states you should only communicate a maximum of three ideas in any one talk. 

Following this rule will naturally reduce the time you spend speaking since you’re setting restrictions on the amount of information you’re going to communicate. It’ll also increase the likelihood of your audience absorbing everything you say. Research suggests that the maximum number of ideas that the brain can process at once is three: Add any more ideas than this to your talk, and your audience simply won’t remember them. 

Principle #8: Plan and Practice

Effective planning involves working out exactly how you want your speech or presentation to unfold. Your talk is much more likely to run smoothly if you have a clear idea of what you want to say, rather than making your points up as you go along.

One planning tool you could use is a message map: a one-page summary of everything you want to include in your talk. Creating a message map involves three steps:

  • Step 1: At the top of a sheet of paper, draw an oval. In the oval, write a short “headline” that summarizes the main message of your talk. 
  • Step 2: Draw three arrows pointing down from your headline. At the end of each arrow, write a sub-point that will support your overall argument. For example, if your overall argument is that buying your product will benefit customers, write three reasons why this is the case.
  • Step 3: Below each sub-point, write all of the supporting material you’re going to include when discussing it. For example, are you going to tell a story that proves your sub-point is valid?
Practice Again and Again

Once you’ve fully planned your presentation, practice it again and again. If you don’t rehearse before you speak, you won’t know your talk’s structure or content very well. As you present, you’ll spend all of your mental energy contemplating logistical issues such as when to move on to the next slide and what’s actually on the next slide. Consequently, you won’t have the focus required to state your ideas clearly and smoothly. 

There are three specific elements of your presentation that you should practice:

  1. The speed at which you talk. Keep rehearsing until you’ve perfected talking at a speed of 190 words per minute. This is a conversational rate of speech that seems natural.
  2. Confident body language. Examples of confident body language include standing up straight, holding your head high, and making frequent eye contact with your audience. If you fail to appear confident in what you’re saying, your audience will trust you and your opinions less. After all, why would they believe what you’re saying if you don’t seem certain of it yourself? 
  3. Hand gestures. Use gestures to add emphasis to what you’re saying. For example, if you’re talking about how much a problem has grown in size, create a small circle with your hands and expand it. Studies have shown that making hand gestures will increase the audience’s confidence in you and what you’re saying.

Principle #9: Be Yourself

The last (but not least) of Gallo’s nine principles of public speaking is to let your true personality shine through as you speak. For example, if you’re a naturally enthusiastic presenter, don’t tone down this element of your personality because you feel you need to be “serious” in professional situations. 

Being yourself is important because, just as people can tell when you’re faking passion, they can also tell when you’re pretending to be someone you’re not. When they realize that you’re faking, they’ll start to distrust you, and they’ll be less willing to accept your ideas.

Part of being yourself during a speech or presentation is allowing yourself to be emotionally vulnerable: giving yourself permission to express your true emotions as you speak. For example, if you tell a personal story during a speech, be honest about the emotional impact of the events you’re relating.

Many professionals resist doing this. They worry that showing emotion will make them seem “weak” and result in judgment from their audience. However, allowing yourself to be emotionally vulnerable is important because it shows your audience that you’re a human being who has feelings, just like them. Your listeners will relate to the emotions that you express and will feel connected to you. When you develop a connection with your audience, you increase the chances of them listening to and agreeing with what you say. 

The 9 Principles of Public Speaking From Carmine Gallo

———End of Preview———

Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best book summary and analysis of Carmine Gallo's "Talk Like TED" at Shortform .

Here's what you'll find in our full Talk Like TED summary :

  • The 9 key principles to good public speaking
  • How to apply the public speaking strategies of popular TED talks
  • How storytelling enhances your appeal to audiences

Darya Sinusoid

Darya’s love for reading started with fantasy novels (The LOTR trilogy is still her all-time-favorite). Growing up, however, she found herself transitioning to non-fiction, psychological, and self-help books. She has a degree in Psychology and a deep passion for the subject. She likes reading research-informed books that distill the workings of the human brain/mind/consciousness and thinking of ways to apply the insights to her own life. Some of her favorites include Thinking, Fast and Slow, How We Decide, and The Wisdom of the Enneagram.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.