By Joe Pulizzi published July 7, 2011

Developing Your Online Content Like Public Speaking

I’ve had the opportunity to speak publicly over 300 times in the past five years. I enjoy it…and always hope the audience takes something away from the presentation. Without realizing it until recently, public speaking has been critical to helping me fine tune my online content creation skills. In this post, I’m going to give away my secret to taking the best from public speaking into your writing process.

After a few speeches here and there in high school and during college, I formally started to take public speaking seriously by teaching it while at Penn State University. The best idea I can share regarding public speaking is to keep it simple. To execute that concept, I stole a page from Aristotle and taught this to my students:

  1. Tell them what you are going to tell them.
  2. Tell them.
  3. Tell them what you just told them.

You do two things with this method.  First, you set expectations.  The most important thing you can do to start a speech is to set expectations. For most of my speeches, I put a big #1 on the PowerPoint presentation and tell the audience my expectation for this speech is to have the audience take one usable idea away with them.  If they do that, I should meet their expectations.  If they get two ideas, then I surpassed their expectations and they should give me a high grade on the evaluation (say what you will, but this works to get high speaker marks).

Second, the repetition is planned.  You simply cannot repeat too much in a speech. If you want them to really take away your key concept, you have to repeat (just like a print advertisement, which works best with at least seven impressions over a 12 month span). You just need to keep repeating in different ways (new stories, new lists, new pictures, etc.).

Public Speaking to Online Content

Thunder::Tech, a digital marketing agency out of Cleveland Ohio, takes this concept a step further when teaching SEO copywriting best practices.

When looking at online content, we need to make sure that with each and every post/article we have a clear understanding of the purpose. If we leave anything up to question, then odds are that a search engine will not rank the post properly…and more importantly, the reader won’t get it either. To solve this issue, Thunder:Tech uses the Classic Essay Format.

Classic Essay Format

When writing an essay many of us were taught the five paragraph method.  This is where we outline our points at the start (one paragraph), discuss them throughout the paper (three paragraphs), and them summarize at the end of the paper (one paragraph), clearly restating themes and points covered.

The Strong Start

Start by telling your audience what you are going to tell them.  Use your primary keyword enough to help make your point, but not enough where it sounds unnatural.

Support in the Middle

Here we want to make sure that we adequately cover the topic in question…basically, this is where you discuss the meat of the story.  Use examples and images. During this time we want to use our keyword at opportune times as well. You must make sure that you clearly make your point before you close the post.

Finish Strong

Similar to starting fast, we must end on a high note. I’ve seen so many speeches that just end and move directly to Q&A.  What a missed opportunity?  Here is where you want to reiterate your point (and your keywords) by telling them what you just told them.

Don’t Forget the Calls to Action

Part of a strong finish means taking your reader the next step. A good call to action grabs the user/reader by the hand and doesn’t call them to action, but demands that action be taken.

Bad Example

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Better Example

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So, the next time you are preparing to write your next blog post, think of how you would present it if it were a public speech…and then think of these three steps.

  1. Tell them what you are going to tell them.
  2. Tell them.
  3. Tell them what you just told them.

To find out more about how to become a champion storyteller, simply attend Content Marketing World 2011.

Image Credit: Shutterstock

Author: Joe Pulizzi

Joe Pulizzi is the Founder of Content Marketing Institute, a UBM company, the leading education and training organization for content marketing, which includes the largest in-person content marketing event in the world, Content Marketing World. Joe is the winner of the 2014 John Caldwell Lifetime Achievement Award from the Content Council. Joe’s the author of five books, including his latest, Killing Marketing. His third book, Epic Content Marketing was named one of “Five Must Read Business Books of 2013” by Fortune Magazine. If you ever see Joe in person, he’ll be wearing orange. Follow him on Twitter @JoePulizzi.

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  • Marcus Sheridan

    I enjoyed this Joe. As you know, speaking is one of my great passions, and the writing thing came later. But if I was to add one point here, I’d say the key to a great speech is not giving a speech at all, but rather talking with and having a discussion with a group of people. The same holds true for writing good content. If we can learn to write like we talk, in a relaxed manner yet entertaining, our audience will build and build.

    Looking forward to September Joe. Be well.


    • Joe Pulizzi

      So true my friend…so true. See you soon.

  • Madeline

    I couldn’t agree more!

    Especially now that Slideshare is blurring the lines between PowerPoint and Social Media.

    I have been thinking about this so much lately in fact, I have started a project called “Persuasive Presentation.”

    I will be releasing a Slideshare on this “tell them, tell them, tell them” topic this weekend. In the meantime, you may enjoy the “Persuasive Presentations ~ 3 Hooks to Tackle Getting Your Audience’s Attention.”

    And I welcome everyone to join the Linkedin Group I have recently initiated – “Persuasive Presentations.”

  • Sid Jackson

    Enjoyed the post. As a public speaker myself I really liked the points you make about tell them, tell them again and then tell them what you told them. On another point I sometimes worry that the most rare public speaker will be the one that gets to look you straight in the face. With all these webinars, teleseminars and social media it’s difficult to have a clear picture of where public speaking is going. Your thoughts?
    Sid Jackson @

    • Joe Pulizzi

      Thanks Sid. In my opinion, the most powerful thought leaders are always the ones that do the in-person shows the best.

  • Davi Rodrigues

    I agree with with the structure of overview, body and summary. You have to repeat things for retention and focus. It’s also important to keep things brief without compromising explanation. As they say, our attention span nowadays are short, and with female audiences, it’s even shorter.

    My Blog – Lipolight

  • Sheila Maris

    It’s so true – good public speaking is getting the attention and the heart of the listeners. It is also essential to interact with your audience. Some use visual aids to help relay their ideas. A sign of a good speech or lecture is when the audience remembers one or two very good points.

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