Afraid of Public Speaking? Here’s a Book for You

Review: 'Winning Your Audience: Deliver a Message With the Confidence of a President' by James Rosebush
April 6, 2020 Updated: April 7, 2020

Finally, after a lifetime of waiting, there arrives a book for all of us who’ve dealt with the dreaded prospect of having to stand before an audience and deliver a speech. And what a wonderful book it is. It would have been the perfect complement to the most valuable class I took in college.

I’ll never forget that day I stood before a classroom full of freshmen, myself a senior, shaking like a leaf as I had to read a paragraph from a sheet of paper. It was the first in a series of 14 increasingly difficult exercises in a required public speaking class that I’d managed to put off for four years. By the time the course concluded, I was able to deliver an entertaining, informative 30-minute presentation on the proper technique for washing your dog.

The class was taught by an amazing teacher, the stern yet kind Robert Leo Sheppard, who spent 56 years as the “Voice of Yankee Stadium.” Over his long career, he announced over 4,500 Yankee baseball games. He was also the stadium voice of New York Giants football games and a movie and television voice actor. But perhaps his most selfless work was as a professor of speech at St. John’s University in Queens, N.Y., where I had the pleasure (and fear) of being his student.  Professor Sheppard was a remarkable man, who over many decades taught countless frightened undergraduates the art of public speaking.

Now comes a superb new book that Professor Sheppard could easily have assigned as a textbook to accompany his class, written by an equally decent, talented, and engaging individual, James Rosebush.

Rosebush learned his craft of public communications from that most talented of communicators, President Ronald Reagan, for whom Rosebush served as deputy assistant, as well as chief of staff to Nancy Reagan.

james rosebush
Author James Rosebush. (Courtesy of James Rosebush)

A Tour de Force

The book, “Winning Your Audience: Deliver a Message With the Confidence of a President,” is a tour de force of not only public speaking, but public presentation. Rosebush has selflessly taken a half century of highly developed talent, honed in the rarefied halls trod by presidents, prime ministers, and corporate titans, and condensed it into a remarkably comprehensive and informative book written for everyone.

Eminently readable, it intersperses anecdotes from Rosebush’s time in the Reagan White House, with historical references, to Greek orators and vignettes from students Rosebush has taught as a speaking coach over the years, with soup-to-nuts lessons in everything one must consider when delivering public speeches.

He takes us from the consideration of the proper attitude to adopt when being invited to speak to a given audience, to clothing choices, lighting and audio considerations, voice projection, audience eye contact, research on the speech attendees, speech content and structuring, to question-and-answer period suggestions (avoid them whenever possible!).

As valuable as his tips are for the mechanics of good speechifying, however, just as importantly, Rosebush conveys the philosophy of effective public speaking. He describes, for example, the criticality of the personal connection between the speaker and his audience. Oftentimes, Rosebush explains, an invisible wall is erected between public speakers, often consumed by their own egos, and their audience. This barrier, of which they are not consciously aware, is perceived by their listeners and prevents them from hearing, or being convinced by, the argument offered by the speaker.

Epoch Times Photo
“Winning Your Audience: Deliver a Message With the Confidence of a President” by James Rosebush. (Center Street Publishing)

Authenticity

Rosebush goes on to explain the importance of authenticity on the part of the speaker, which Rosebush does an admirable job of explaining is the most critical factor in a speaker effectively persuading his listeners of the merits of his case—whether the purpose of his speech is to sell a policy idea, a product, a service or a political candidate. As he writes:

“Finding your authentic self and your success at public speaking are cause and effect. Understanding who you are in relation to a profession, performance, skill, or life experience can help turn you into an effective speaker. And this in turn will materially increase the level of your performance at any of these jobs, or as a platform speaker or salesperson, preacher or webinar educator. Your genuine authenticity is what will ultimately win your audience.”

Indeed, it is Mr. Rosebush’s own authenticity which so clearly calls out from every page of this volume. A highly regarded public speaking coach and CEO of a Washington, D.C., consulting firm, Mr. Rosebush served throughout the Reagan administration, working with his advance team in staging the president’s public appearances, which were highly orchestrated affairs. He writes, “Reagan’s communications team was larger than that of any of his predecessors. The stage management of Reagan’s speeches was extensive, intricate, precise, ambitious.”

The Power of Imagery

President Reagan understood the power and importance of imagery perhaps better than any president since Lincoln, and he would use that understanding to great effect. Whether it was delivering his “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall” speech in Berlin, mourning the Challenger astronauts killed in the space shuttle explosion from the White House, or saluting Lenny Skutnik at the 1983 State of the Union speech for heroically diving into the icy cold Potomac River to rescue passengers from the Air Florida jet crash, Reagan grasped the raw popular emotion that could be galvanized at moments in time through speech. James Rosebush touches on all of these as examples of Reagan’s brilliance to connect with a vast audience.

Many of us go through our entire lives without any formal training in, or having read any books about, effective public speaking. That is a tragedy, given the importance of this skill in so many occupations, or just in everyday life. I was fortunate to have had Robert Leo Sheppard as a speech professor. And now I’m fortunate to have read James Rosebush’s “Winning Your Audience,” due for public release in hardback and audiobook on April 7.

William F. Marshall has been an intelligence analyst and investigator in the government, private, and non-profit sectors for more than 30 years. He is a senior investigator for Judicial Watch Inc., and a contributor to Townhall, American Thinker, and The Federalist.