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40 Quick Tips For Speakers

I’ve done the “speak for free to five people in a room that holds 100” thing (proof), I’ve been paid keynote fee’s and everything in between, I figured it was time to share what I’ve learned.

1. Don’t be a “speaker”. Be an expert who speaks. Speakers are a “nice to have” but experts are a necessity

2. The power is not the point – slides are there as navigation points, not to be the content

3. If everything you say is on your slides, you’ve rendered yourself useless. Speak, don’t read.

4. There is a high demand for people that can both provide content and deliver it effectively from stage. Some can do one of the two, most don’t do either and a select few do both. Aim to be great.

5. End your presentation early.

6. What new ideas/skills will your audience have when they leave your session? If the only answer is “they’ll know more about me!” You need to start over.

7. Be prepared to present without slides if something goes wrong. And then do it on purpose.

8. Its not about you.

9. No matter how many times you remind people, someone’s cell-phone will go off during your talk. Get over it.

10. Make sure your own cell phone is off before speaking 🙂

11. Speakers are their best during Q&A because they’re not handcuffed to a slide. Think about that.

12. Stop walking in front of the projector. Seriously, how do some people not know this?

13. Use a hand-held clicker for slides instead of using the laptop. And when they don’t see the hand clicker, you look like Obi Won Kenobi when the slide progresses on its own. I use Kensington 33374 Wireless Presenter with Laser Pointer (affiliate link)

14. Don’t apologize to the audience about something they wouldn’t know was wrong. Saying “I was supposed to have a video here” doesn’t help. Keep going.

15. Have passion for what you’re saying. If you don’t, your audience won’t either.

16. If you use feedback sheets, there will always be somebody who didn’t like you. If its in the majority, you need to consider what’s said. If its in the minority, ignore it.

17. Be early and stay late. Getting to know the audience beforehand and talking after to answer questions is a forgotten thing that gives the highest value. (Great post by my man Olivier on this)

18. Speaking for free is a great lead generator and a quick way to go broke. Get value one way or another because you give it. Get conference passes for others, barter for product or services or at least a wheel of cheese.

19. Videotape every session you do. Share it on your blog and watch it yourself. Learn from it.

20. Change your presentation every time. Update stats, bring new examples. Own the content, not repeat it.

21. Ask for testimonials, don’t just assume the organizer will send one.

22. If you start every point with “In my book…” you’re doing a commercial, not a seminar. The best way to sell is to teach. I’m not saying ignore that you have a book, just simmer down a bit, we heard you the first five times.

23. It’s not about you.

24. If the conference has a #HashTag on Twitter, start finding people who are going to be there by searching with it. Talk to them, build relationships and then track them down at the event to say hi. It’ll be like you already know them, because you do.

25. Send out helpful tips that have to do with your content by using the same hashtag as above.

26. Watch Twitter for mentions of your talk and let people know you appreciate them spreading your word.

27. You’re not their parent, don’t tell them to put phones away, just ask as a courtesy to put the ringer on silent. I don’t understand speakers that tell audiences they can’t text/tweet during a talk. Make your content so good people feel they HAVE TO tell others right away, but great enough that they don’t want to miss a word.

28. If you’ve done a certain presentation numerous times and you feel it’s routine, either change it up or trash it. It may be the 20th time you’ve told a story, but it’s the first time that audience has heard it.

29. It’s not about you.

30. If you use feedback sheets, create two check-boxes at the bottom. One that says “I would like to be subscribed to your newsletter that provides [insert awesome benefit]” and the other says “I know of a group/association that would benefit from your talk, drop me a line”. Extend the contact past the session.

As always, your comments make the post 10x better! I’ve added some of your tips below, taken from the comments. Be sure to leave your own!

31. Speaking kits and demo reels are all well and good, but in my experience, it is all about contacts, personal brand, posturing and social proof to get booked at gigs. (from Dean Hunt Site / Twitter)

32. When the introducer says, “Please give a warm welcome to Jim Smith,” don’t start your talk with “Hi I’m Jim Smith.” An don’t thank them for the warm welcome or start listing all the organizers you want to thank. You can weave that into the talk. Start with a powerful statement, an intriguing question or other compelling beginning that will rivet their attention. (from Randy Gage Site / Twitter)

33. Tell great stories (your own, not someone else’s), and be funny. Don’t tell jokes, but use humor. (From Ava Diamond Site / Twitter)

34. Know your audience. There is a big difference between talking to 5th graders and mid-level corporate execs. The more that you know and tailor, the better the speech will be. (From David Siteman Garland Site / Twitter)

35. When a participant asks a question, remember to repeat the question for the audience. There’s a chance that others, especially those at the back, didn’t hear it. (From Sherine Clarke)

36.  Ask for a cell number of the conference organizer if you have to travel to speak there and text them when you get in safely. A less-stressed meeting planner/client means a happier one too 🙂 This goes double if you’re the opening keynote the next day.

37. Record a video shout-out for the conference to potential attendees to get to know you. It can be a minute or two, but allows the client to use the clip on their blog/site to help build up buzz for the event.

38. Right before you go on, clarify what time they need you to wrap-up your talk at. If you were told an hour originally, and the previous speakers run over their time, it’s up to you to see if they need you to compress your talk or go the full hour. Nothing is more stressful for a conference than one that is running late.

39. Don’t use video/flash/audio in your slides. Your slides should be able to play on a Commodore 64. Don’t be “that guy” with custom fonts, and dancing babies on the screen unless you’re bringing your own laptop. If you do insist on using your own laptop, then arrive early enough so it can be set-up properly. And for the love of the late Steve Jobs, bring a dongle, MacFanBoy.

40. If you walk in front of the audio speakers, or don’t come early for the sound check, don’t throw the look of death at the A/V people when your mic doesn’t work right away. Those A/V people have seen 1,324 speakers this year already, they don’t need “Mr. Death Stare” throwing them under the bus to the audience when it wasn’t their fault in the first place. My goal is to make the A/V crew enjoy my talk. If you can please them, you can please anybody in that room. Oh, and if they don’t like you, they can make you sound “less” pristine.

41. Be you. When you try to be someone else on stage, it makes you even more nervous. I dress like me, I talk like me and I say what I think. I tell stories. That may not be your style. Don’t force funny. People will try to knock that out of you. Just in the past two days one person said I should have better “hygiene” and wear a tie, because I wear a black shirt and have facial hair. Another person said I was “over the top” with how I speak. What you don’t hear is the silent majority that like you being you, that are relieved that it isn’t nother stuffed-up suit and tie on stage, and for some of us “over the top” means really freaking passionate about what we say. I ain’t changing that for anybody. And neither should you.

And thanks to the awesomely wonderful Pam Slim for this post which contains some of the best tips for preparing for presentations I’ve ever read. (and her book isn’t too shabby either)

On a panel? I also wrote a post about those!

  • This is an awesome list   “What new ideas/skills will your audience have when they leave your session? If the only answer is “they’ll know more about me!” You need to start over. ”
    wise words to live by Thank you!

  • Burgettdawn

    Great tips! I have to do a presentation/Training for a class next weekend and these are the best tips I’ve seen so far!

  • Thanks for the great tips!  Very nice.

  • I agree David.  Kicking myself for not thinking of that also.

  • Great Post Scott! To date, you’re one of the best presenters I’ve seen. 

  • Greaat post with so much common sense that is probably uncommon!

  • It’s so annoying. In UK it is routine at networking events. Drives me nuts

  • Ofili

    Great information! Love love love it!

  • Great tips!  You were an awesome presenter at e-connect, even sick your a fantastic speaker

  • Marty Coleman

    Great feedback! I have learned a few of these already but many of them I haven’t and I am grateful to think about before the issue arises!

  • Louis Sokol

    Never show a slide if you will comment on it to the audience by saying “I know you can’t read this but”. If the audience can’t read it, don’t show it! How obvious is that?

  • Scott, always love your advice Although, now after reading your book and articles, each time I think up of a clever new idea I have to ask myself, “If I do this, will Scott say I’m being ‘That guy’?” very frustrating and confusing sometimes – maybe your next article/book should be “How Not to be THAT Guy.” Michael

  • Great list! Tip from my last engagement: prepare a written intro for the emcee, and be prepared to give your own introduction if there isn’t an emcee.

    And my all-time favorite tip: don’t assume the audience knows what they are getting into.  I have been hired to talk by people who found my website, received my speaking kit, etc., who still didn’t quite know what I was all about (not sure how).  They were expecting a “leadership keynote”, but I do a one-man half-comedy half-message show.

  • Thanks for spreading your awesomeness in this great post Scott! Excuse my ignorance but what the heck is a ‘dongle’? It sounds a little, er…obscene!

  • I think you demonstrated another great tactic, if you do reference something someone else said or created – give them credit!  Great tips!

  • Lisa Tremolada

    Great information.. Love Pams post as well.  Skirt splitting under the desk… oh no.  lol 

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  • Great tips Scott. Thanks!

  • Great !! Tips to be followed.

  • Stephanie

    Excellent advice, Scott. I especially liked #5. FAR better to end early than to run “a few minutes late.” 

  • The one tip that struck me the most is to make a Youtube video before you speak.  One that organizers can use for promotion.  Great idea. 

    There a few on the list I need to do a little more of as I travel – such as video tape every session. 

    One thing I recommend to every speaker is to know your talk well enough that you don’t need slides.  Only use simple slides as visual cues.


  • Awesome post! I love the fact that you mentioned a Commodore 64 in this post! We actually had one of those when I was growing up!

  • martin atkins

    you forgot the most important – Throw Blueberry Muffins!

  • Totally cool. My favs?

    It’s not about you.
    Speak, don’t read.

    Thanks for this timely article.

  • Alex

    Great tips here, thanks! One that’s worked well for me: when engaging an audience and having them get behind you on a point you are passionate about, ask an encompassing question that positions them with you. For example, when I speak to a group of budding/hopeful entrepreneurs, I might say, “Could we all agree that owning your own business is the real job security?” OR “We could all figure out what to do with another income stream, right?”

  • Cam

    Thanks for the tips!

    As a sound tech for more than half my life, I really like #40. It is very true.

    also really appreciate #35. Too many presenters simply don’t understand
    this. If you are in a room with 50 people, it is obviously needed for those in
    the room — so do it. If you are in a room with 1-10 people, they might
    all hear you, but the recording you *should* be doing won’t — so do it in
    those cases too!

    Thanks again for sharing!

  • Gosh, this is good.  Thank you for compiling tips and for penning so many of your own.  And thanks for actually practicing what you preach.  I’ve heard you speak a couple of times, and I found myself wishing that your time would never run out.  There’s so much to read and so many speakers to hear on virtually every subject–I appreciate an author/speaker who is compelling, which you are in spades.

    The only other thing I’d add is to actually look at people in your audience, not over their heads or at the A/V booth or the clock on the wall.  People want to know that a soeaker cares about their experience.  And if he doesn”t, he probably needs to see #8 and #23.

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  • Jason Repovs

    Hey Esther, thanks for the tip!  I’m going to be on my first panel tomorrow night, so I’ll be sure to keep that in mind.

  • N Cumming

    Hey Scott, loving #36! LOL!  If only all speakers could see and believe in your tips…have you shared them with Cathy?

  • Keris

    Great, great list. One that I would add (that seems like a no- brainer but see ALL the time). Don’t talk to the screen! Presenters even with remote clickers and or with view of their presentation on a laptop tend to look behind them at the screen to click, laser point and yes read-forking so puts your back to the audience. YIKES!! Following the rule about being able to do the presentation without your slides as well as not being “stuck” behind a podium or the laptop will help reduce “speaking to the screen”. And your audience will thank you for being present and engaging!

  • Heather

    Need a couple more ‘it’s not about you!’ lines!!

  • Jan-Jaap In der Maur

    Comming from a mediator/MC:

    Rehears! Do it out loud, because mumbling you will be faster than out loud.

    Save 10 % of you speaking time for improv. If you stick to the original story and end 10% earlier then expected: no one will complain!

    Save 25 % of your time-slot for interaction: Q&A at the end, or preferably winthin your performance.

    Be a hero: only speak for 5 minutes, deliver your key-message and then turn to Q&A. And be surprised by the audience: they will ask you exactly what you wanted to tell them anyway .. and feel like they thought of it first.

    Use social media to ask your audience waht they want to hear from you, what their worries are … and then tailor your speech.

    Yes, be friends with the AV-people. And then suck up to the mediator/MC: if he delivers the perfect intro and ask you the perfect question, you will shine even more (and that’s what he’s there for)

  • Great list, but keep in mind you should try out your presentation and demo stuff.
    Here’s a good list on how to prevent a sore throat during or after hours of presenting ppt:
    It is a shame if you lose voice during your session.

  • Curt

    reverse type creates drama and is hard to read – from advertisements to slides – if slide content is important then make it easy to read – the “show” should be you not your slides. 

  • I saw your first Blogworld keynote, and I remembered your “this is me, take it or leave it” style. Over a year has passed and I still remember your core message: Don’t waste peoples time with anything less than awesome. (Or something like that). 

    I agree with you, there is a lot of value in being yourself; as long as your not a billboard for your own ego.Anyway, just wanted to say well done! I get to present a new design to our CEO today, and I’m pumped. I hope you too are feeling inspired today. Take care Scott. 

    • Thanks Martin! Let me know how the meeting goes with your CEO!

  • Valerie Holamon

    whats a good way to get speaking engagements

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  • MargieAnalise

    Scott, thanks for the great info here, and thanks for including tips from your readers too!

    It’s the little things that make a big difference… sometimes easy to lose sight of the audience perspective!

    Many thanks!

  • LaTonyaJohnson

    I can tell from the date that I am late to the party, but you are a hoot!  I love your sense of humor.

  • You know those moments when you realize you’ve stumbled upon someone or something that will greatly impact your life? That’s my moment right now. Scott, you, my new friend, are the real deal. If I could kiss your feet (after a thorough shower) I absolutely would!!! As a fairly newbie teacher in the speaker world, your insight, immense passion and undeniable knowledge is exactly what the Dr ordered! Curtsy’s to you!

  • Chris

    All great and valid points. I like point #32 which says not to repeat your name after you have already been introduced. This is especially important for first-time, inexperienced, and young speakers who can start their speaking endeavors in a better light by avoiding this fatal flaw.

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  • I never practice, that’s my tip. If I practice, it makes me nervous, and if you know what you’re talking about, there’s no real need to rehearse anyway.

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