The 3 Levels of Public Speaking


A great public speaker isn’t necessarily a great leader, but every exceptional leader I know is an exceptional public speaker. It makes sense, since you can only influence people to the extent that you can connect with them.

Over the years, I’ve witnessed literally hundreds of professionals become better speakers. Along the way, I’ve observed three distinct levels of effectiveness. They each have to do with how people relate to their audiences.

I’ve found myself in each of these camps at different times, How about you?

Level 1: Talking At Your Audience. This is where most of us start. My first foray into public speaking was a talk to my high school Young Life club. To this day I can’t tell you what occurred during those 13 minutes of my life. It was all about me, not screwing up, not forgetting anything. I’m sure there was an audience but I honestly didn’t notice them.

Level 2: Talking To Your Audience. Once a speaker gains some confidence, they begin to notice their audience and actually speak to them. Though it’s a step in the right direction, speakers in this stage still think of public speaking as one-directional. I think the vast majority of people settle down and get comfortable in this stage. Having escaped Level 1, they mistakenly believe they’ve arrived.

Level 3: Talking With Your Audience. The best speakers I’ve ever seen—the elite few—talk with their audiences. They don’t scan the crowd as they speak, they actually have a series of one-on-one conversations with individuals in the audience. Of course the audience members don’t respond with words (usually), but the great speakers are listening intently, picking up body language and reactions from people—enjoying and encouraging them. The measure of a Level 3 Public Speaker? How well do they listen while speaking?

What do you struggle with when speaking in front of others?

20 thoughts on “The 3 Levels of Public Speaking”

  1. Totally agree Geoffrey! Becoming a great public speaker is an essential part of becoming an effective leader. And it’s not about flashy style or polish, it’s about caring enough (a) about the message so that it’s delivered with conviction and energy and (b) creating that heart-to-heart connection with each person in the audience so that your message is transmitted effectively. 

    Personally, I never thought I could become and effective public speaker. The first time I got in front of a crowd I was absolutely terrified. It’s something I vowed to work on and I have improved tremendously. Something as important as this must be practiced. Luckily there is Toastmasters International, which is an organization dedicated to helping people become better leaders through public speaking. Toastmasters has been a great help to me. Highly recommended.

    1. Absolutely agree, Danilo. I’ve seen it dozens of times: someone builds their confidence in public speaking, and all of a sudden that confidence spills over into other areas of their life. It’s a great lever.

      Toastmaster is doing great things for people, not the least of which is providing a safe place to practice. Though I’ve seen some groups get bogged down in distracting details (i.e. counting “um”s, sticking to a formula, etc.), it’s really effective when you keep focused on the points you’ve brought out—passion for your subject and passion for your audience. I’d add “being authentic” to the list too.

  2. Do you know of a club I can join here in NYC to work on this skill?

    I think I’m still at the early part of stage 2. There’s no real way to practice and get better at this on your own.


    1. Dan,

      I don’t know a specific club in NYC, but I believe you can look up local chapters on the Toastmaster’s website. When choosing a group, just make sure to note the cautions I mentioned to Danilo above.

      Also, if you’re in NYC, I’d highly recommend contacting my old boss, Carol Doscher, she’s the founder and CEO (Chief Encouragement Officer) at Graceworks, Inc. She’s a former Broadway performer turned presentation trainer/coach who is responsible for transforming thousands of speakers over the past 15+ years. I learned a ton working there—they have a great program for getting people to Level 3. 

      Her email is

  3. Geoff,

    Great topic. Speaking better in front of people will always in improve your leadership abilities, give you ideas a better overall chance to be heard by others. It works very well in our culture. So it is a skill that should be given effort on. The rewards are great.
    That said, there is a thing call “Soft Power” which was wielded by the likes of Gandhi, and mother Theresa. It has created movements like “MADD”. Which have fundamentally change the fabric of our lives. It doesn’t matter if the message comes as a shout of a wisper. What matters in the long run was weather it was true, and persistent the message is. That said, all things being the better speaker wins.

  4. You nailed it!  I do a lot of speaking in front of lawyers (very critical crowd).  Quite some time ago I invested in a one-on-one coaching engagement with Lenn Milbower (a former Disney instructor) at Learnertainment. It was extremely affordable and the best thing I could have done – I chose Lenn because I figured who knew more about ‘connecting’ with their audience than Disney.  He can be contacted at

  5. In an effort to overcome paralyzing shyness and an inability to think and speak at the same time while standing in front of more than two people I joined Toastmasters about 18 months ago.  I’m probably a Level 2 speaker now.  What I can say with authority is that I am a Level 3 listener.  I’m the person the Level 1, 2 or 3 speaker wants to have in the audience.

  6. This analysis is so true. When I taught speech classes years ago, getting students to move through these stages was difficult at times but always rewarding. I loved seeing how they progressed over the semester and how so many of them were truly engaging their audiences by the end. I tend to flip flop between 2 & 3 at times and need to work on getting my focus on 3. Usually, I’m in a distracted state when I go to 2. Needs to be more discipline (and prayer) on my part.

    1. I agree, Kari, there’s nothing quite like watching someone grow in humble confidence and find their voice. 

      As for me, I slip into Level 2 when I’m rushing myself.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *