Top Ten Lessons Learned from Mark Twain

If Mark Twain were alive today, he would have more followers on Twitter than Oprah Winfrey.  Why?  He was a master of epigrams: pithy sayings or ideas communicated in a clever and amusing way.  He is one of the most quotable individuals, and for good reason.

While many are familiar with his writings, he was just as accomplished as a public speaker.  However, it didn’t come easy to him.  In fact, he was a great storyteller who overcame stage fright early in his career. Proof that there is hope for all of us! He managed to live through that frightful experience and go on to enthrall audiences for the next fifty years. His speeches sold out everywhere he went and made his listeners laugh, cry, and, cheer—and his oratory skills were lavished with praise.

The following are the top ten lessons we can learn from the great Mark Twain:

  1. On storytelling (encouraging to us mere mortals): “The humorous story is strictly a work of art—high and delicate art—and only an artist can tell it, but no art is necessary in telling the comic and the witty story; anybody can do it.”
  2. On preparation: “It usually takes me more than three weeks to prepare a good impromptu speech.”
  3. On brevity: “No one ever complained about a speech being too short.”
  4. On stage fright: “If there is an awful, horrible malady in the world, it is stage fright—and seasickness. They are a pair. I had stage fright then for the first and last time. I was only seasick once, too. It was on a little ship on which there were two hundred other passengers. I—was—sick. I was so sick that there wasn’t any left for those other two hundred passengers.”
  5. On impact: “Right in the middle of the speech I had placed a gem. I had put in a moving, pathetic part, which was to get at the hearts and souls of my hearers. When I delivered it, they did just what I hoped and expected. They sat silent and awed. I had touched them.”
  6. On pauses: “That impressive silence, that eloquent silence, that geometrically progressive silence which often achieves a desired effect where no combination of words howsoever felicitous could accomplish it . . . For one audience, the pause will be short; for another a little longer; for another a shade longer still; the performer must vary the length of the pause to suit the shades of difference between audiences . . . I used to play with the pause as other children play with a toy.”
  7. On words: “The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.”
  8. On school: “I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.”
  9. On honesty: “If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything.”
  10. On career climbing: “The secret to getting ahead is getting started.”

Twain’s greatest words of wisdom are a reminder to challenge yourself to be different. Your success comes not from fitting in but by standing out. Find your own voice—a distinctive style that sets you apart from everyone else.  Learn more about how to find your distinctive style, assess your public speaking skills and I’ll follow-up with the help of the 10 Commandments of Great Communicators.