The 3 C’s to Being a Better Speaker

The 3 C’s to Being a Better Speaker


Public speaking classes in schools often teach a checklist of “to-dos” when it comes to being a successful speaker. Make eye contact. Speak clearly. Be organized. Use gestures, but not too frequent. Move around, but purposefully. Smile, but not too much.

It is exhausting!

I’ve made a living speaking and training. If you put my style up against the traditional college public speaking class checklist, I’d fail. Yet I’ve appeared in front of thousands of people and achieved great results for and with audience members and participants.

So how am I successful as a speaker?

It has to do with the three C’s.

In their book Understanding Communication, Adler and Rodman lay out the three C’s of professional speaking. If you want to be a good speaker, you need to deliver with competence, character, and charisma.

What I really like about the three C’s is that there are infinite ways that you can achieve them. Each person will manifest each C in a way that is natural to him or herself.

Let’s break these down a little further and find out how everyone can bring these C’s to the table.


The literal definition of competence is to be able to do something successfully or efficiently. When it comes to having competence in public speaking, it means being able to execute a presentation with confidence in yourself and confidence with your subject. You can take classes and workshops on how to gain confidence in your delivery (by checking off may of the boxes mentioned earlier) but true confidence in self comes from within.

A good way to test your competence is to use a speaking outline. Write down your presentation by using only 5-7 bullet points, each bullet point being 1-5 words maximum. Then, practice with this outline. Each time the actual words you use to describe a point will be different. This shows mastery of your subject, and will translate into competence in delivery.

Another way is to throw your topic out to a group of peers and have them fire questions at you. If you can field questions with authority and definitive answers, you’re demonstrating competence. When you are genuinely passionate about your subject, and knowledgeable about your topic, competence emerges naturally.


Your character is your credibility. By character I mean the whole package—mental, physical, and emotional—you bring the to the table. With your character you relate to people and your audience can actually build trust with you because they feel that they understand you and know who you are as a person. I like to call this establishing the human touch.

While you may not physically reach out and touch each member of your audience, your audience needs to feel embraced by your words. Demonstrate your character by speaking with authenticity and hugging your audience with your words.

Having character doesn’t mean that everything about your delivery needs to be textbook-perfect. Having character does mean that everything about your delivery needs to be genuine and true to yourself and the situation. Your character doesn’t change much over time. Be true to who you are, and let that shine through in your delivery.

I once had a business executive client tell me that he was just a naturally reserved individual and that projecting just his opinions to an audience didn't feel natural to him, even when he needed to lead his team in a specific direction. To accomplish the goal while remaining authentic to his personality and character, we incorporated an engagement and response element into his staff presentations so that he could feed off of the interactions with people in the room, and let others’ ideas rise to the surface. He was able to be true to his character with this approach, while still delivering the corporate message. A true win-win for everyone involved.


The third C, which may seem a little mystical or elusive, is charisma. Charisma is the often-intangible quality that a speaker possesses that inspires action by others. If a speaker is displaying charisma, she has a somewhat enchanting presence, a true comfort with self and purpose, and the ability to move people to action because she has sincerely built a connection with her audience.

One way to establish this connection is to understand the needs of each audience (in smaller groups, the needs of each individual and the team as a whole). Do your homework before a presentation. Know who will be in your audience, what each member’s motivation for attending is, and what each participant needs to achieve as a result of attending.

Charisma is built on trust. If people trust you, they are more likely to act on your message. And you build trust by being competent in yourself and your message, and my demonstrating consistency of character. Enact these three Cs in tandem and watch your presentations transform.

For more, check out these short videos on the Three C’s and Speaking Outlines.

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