For the last 13 years I've been doing some form of presenting, starting with debate in high school and now moving into professional speaking at conferences and private company events. Over the years I have been continuously improving and refining my process based on what I've learned along the way.
Below are the biggest "golden nuggets" I've picked up along the way. It's a shit ton of work, but that's what it seriously takes to put together a powerful presentation that inspires and drives your audience to action.
I WISH I would have known years ago. Enjoy
v1.0 - Notebook Entry Last Updated 11/1/2015.
Gray Text = Notes are a work in progress (subscribe and check back for updates).
Public Speaking 101
I'm not going to dive too deep into the beginner's side of presenting. There are a million great resources (google search) that will help you get your feet wet.
But here are a few quick tips:
But here are a few quick tips:
- Get out there - The best way to get better at speaking is to get out there and do it. Period. You may be horrible when you first start... that's cool.... but get out there. No amount back room practice can substitute for speaking in front of real people. Hustle your ass off and get as many speaking gigs as you can fit into your schedule. Make a goal to do a minimum of one per month.
- Speaking is a lot like starting a band - When you first start out, you have to take anything you can get (local, small, not great fit, etc), often having to pay your way. I did this for my first 2 years, speaking once a month (note - no one knew who I was... if you already have an established personal brand, it may be quicker).
Then you'll get some good experience under your belt and start developing an impressive speaking "resume" that will allow you to at least get paid
- Find your local Toastmasters - If you're not great at speaking, Toastmasters can be a good, encouraging environment to help you get the ball rolling.
- Find 2-3 speakers you really admire - Find a few speakers that you really admire and study their performance. Watch as much as you can possibly find on them and take notes on everything they are doing from talk structure, openings/closings, body language, etc.
- Don't let your slides be a crutch - Ask yourself, "Could I give this talk with no powerpoint slides?" - if the answer is no, then you have to work harder. People are there to hear your thoughts, ideas and feelings... not to have you explain a slide to them. Many of the best presenters don't even use slides (eventually I'll do a zero slide talk).
- DO NOT start by thanking the crowd and explaining how excited you are - You typically have the MOST audience attention in the first few minutes of your talk. For the love of god, please DO NOT waste their attention by starting off by thanking the crowd or explaining how excited you are. This is what most speakers do and it's a easy sign to show they are a noob.
Start out with a "Dramatic Pause" and "Power Opening" (see below) that will mildly shock the audience and grab their attention.
- Build your personal brand - This is a whole topic on itself for another day. In the mean time, read Gary Vaynerchuk, "Crush It! " - Tim Ferriss' blog on Personal Brand and start with a simple website.
Develop a page on your website that is your "speaking resume" and treat this page just like a career resume. Include conference experience, style, testimonials, video examples etc. You can see my (work in progress) speaking page here.
... More public speaking 101 tips coming soon.
Next Level Tips & Tactics
Now that you have the ball rolling, everything below should help you take your presentations to the next level.
Don't try and do them all at once, pick a few nuggets to work on and once you have them down, pick a few more.
Don't try and do them all at once, pick a few nuggets to work on and once you have them down, pick a few more.
- Define your personas - Get a deep understanding of who you're trying to speak to. As obvious as this is, so many people (including myself when I started) forget to do this. It's critical to help make sure your talk is spot on, but also to help identify which events are the best fit to even speak at.
- Dig into the challenges those personas are facing - Your talk should solve (or teach them how to solve) a big challenge they are facing. Start with that challenge and build the talk around that.
- Find a topic no one else is talking about - No one wants to hear the same regurgitated talk over and over. Be creative in your approach and find something unique.
- Align with your speaking goals - Make sure both the people you're talking to and the topic align well with the goal of why you're speaking in the first place.
- Test your Idea - Before you sink a ton of work into a talk, take the lean approach and test your idea in a small way. A good way to gage interest is to find a social media platform that your personas hang out on and make a post about it. If you want to take it one step further, write a blog post or guest blog about the topic and see the reaction.
When doing this you can also have a two way conversation with people and ask them questions. As you ask questions, it will help dig deeper and discover even more great ideas to include in your talk.
- Confident, yet scared when first pitching it - If you've picked a good topic, you should be a little scared to talk about it. If it's a novel, new idea that not a lot of people are talking about... of course you're going to feel a little uneasy talking about it.
However, you should also feel confident in sharing it as you know it will help solve that person's challenge and you've tested it out already.
- Stick with 1-2 Topics Max - When I first started out, I would try and get any speaking gig I could. This caused me to create a different talk for every event and at ~40-50 hours of work for each talk, this was exhausting. It also never allowed me to refine and improve because I
Pick one (or maybe two) talks that you're very passionate about and stick to those.
- Start with developing a story board - Treat your talk almost like you're writing a story and take the time to develop out story board drawings of the whole talk.
- Audience Mood - Under each story board image, note the emotions the audience should be feeling at that particular point in the story.
- Add Tension - A good story always has some sort of cliff hanger or tension moment. A good technique is to start the talk off with the story, then right when you get to the cliff hanger... cut the story and dive into the "meat" of the talk. Then revisit the cliff hanger at the end and continue through the story.
-Add in Novel / Shocking items every 15 minutes - No matter how hard you try, we are biologically wired to only have a maximum attention span of around 15-20 minutes.
While mapping out your story board, add in hooks that are novel, mildly shocking, includes motion (video / demo) or get the audience to participate. These items will activate the part of the brain (Reticular Activation System) that controls attention. This is also why shorter is better. (a skill I'm desperately working on)
Yes - Story boarding takes extra time... but will really help create a killer flow in your talk and will probably end up saving you time later down the road when developing your slide deck.
- Write your entire speech out in a script - Although time consuming... This was a game-changer for me and took my talks to a whole new level. Using your story board as a guide (but before putting your deck together), write out your entire talk in a script.
Writing it down first gives you the ability to review, edit and change what you're going to say. Much like a sculptor molds clay, you can really work out the best ways bring your ideas to life. You should also give your script to someone who's a great writer and have them edit and help you develop out the script.
Now, you don't want to simply be reading a script when presenting. You need to make sure it feels natural and you have flexibility to adapt what you say as you're saying it. So as you're getting better at memorizing the talk, create a second deck with just bullet points of the 1-2 major ideas for each slide.
Pro Tip - You can repurpose your script into ebooks, blogs, etc.
- Build in Periodic Rapport Checks - When an audience is in Rapport they will be hanging on your words and it will feel like you're having a connection and conversation with them. This is what we want. However, audiences often either never get into rapport in the first place or slip out mid-talk. To get a pulse if the audience is in rapport, build in "rapport checks" into the talk.
I'm going to write a longer post on rapport (and neurolinguistic programing (NLP) techniques), but here's a great talk by Tony Robbins breaking down rapport and some NLP techniques. (also good just to observe is mastery at speaking)
My favorite one (and the one I use) is taken from a page of Tony Robbins (one of my "mentors" - he's a killer speaker). Tony's check is to explain something and then say, "If this sounds familiar raise your hand and say I". If the audience is in rapport, they will say I and follow Tony's lead and raise their hands.
Here's and example video from his famous TED Talk. Notice his use of "Say I"
To do this, return back to your original rapport check and do the check without telling the crowd to follow... If they follow, you have killer rapport. A rapport check is when you actively engage the audience and see how they react. If they are in good rapport, they will eagerly follow along.
Pro Tip - Pacing and Leading with Rapport - The real gauge of rapport is when you don't even have to ask the crowd to do an action, you simple do it and they follow (almost like they are hypnotized, in a good way).
With Tony's example, he returns back to his "if this is familiar say I" ... But this time he doesn't tell them to raise their hands, he simply does the action and sees if the crowd follows: if they all raise their hands without asking... He knows he has amazing rapport. (this is called "matching and mirroring" in NLP)
If you're not in rapport, there's a few thing you need to do to gain it back. Each situation is different and will require a different approach, but what we're trying to accomplish is to make ourselves seem as similar to the audience. Here are just a few ideas to play with:
- Tell a personal story that the audience can relate with
- Pick someone out in the crowd and star to ask them questions, then spin their responses into explaining on how you can relate
- Create a Power Statement - Take your entire idea and boil it down to one phrase that you want to ingrain in the memory of the audience. Here are some pro tips to consider when crafting your power statement:
Use complete opposites: Draw contrast by using complete opposite statements at the beginning and the end
Use rhyme: either internal rhyme or nursery rhyme
The echo effect: repeat specific words or phrases)
Phrase reversal: say the negative phrase, then the positive phrase (when the goings get tough, the tough gets going)
Use Alteration: multiple words starting with the same letters/sounds (use a thesaurus)
Metaphors: use them to create imagery or to to make a concept real
Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. - If possible, repeat your power statement again and again throughout the talk to really ingrain it into the audiences mind.
A great example of this comes from one of my other speaking (and life philosophy) "mentors" Simon Sinek in his famous TED talk where he repeats over and over his power statement: "People don't buy what you do, they buy why you do it."
Pro Tip - Set it up - You will also need to setup your power statement. Create a setup sentence that snaps the audiences attention on just before you deliver your power statement. For example, "if you leave here with one thought, it would be..." -or- "This idea really hits home for me..."
- Develop a "Digging Deep" Question - take your whole argument and boil it into one monster question that causes the listener to really think. Also could be a series of questions in a row
- Have Someone Edit It - Many times we get wrapped up in our work and can't really see how to edit it. Give it to someone who has an outside perspective to edit and develop. It may also be a good exercise to tell them you need to cut out 10 minutes and ask what they would recommend cutting out. (this will help when you are working to simplify or shorten the talk)
- Add in famous (but not cliche) quotes
- Make it sound like a poem... Not just like you're reading an article to the crowd
- Want to try and gain leads/email sign ups - Don't throw all your ideas in your talk, then explain there are X topics you didn't talk about and have CTA to download/sign up to get the other topics.
- Make your Words Active (not passive) - Your words of advice should be said in an "active voice" vs. a "passive voice". For example: Active: "The company ran into the ground". Passive: "The company was run into the ground"
Audit your talk and make sure your message is framed in an active tone that excites and encourages your audience to take action. Our brains simply don't get excited and inspired by passive voice.
It's also important they you're explicit about who is doing the action. For example, say "When YOU leave here today, You will ..." Direct it towards the audience and make it crystal clear who's carrying out what actions.
- Double down on CRUSHING your closing - It's well worth the time to spend extra effort building an emotionally powerful last 3-5 minutes.
Use all of the techniques above to really refine and develop your ending. I'd especially focus on dramatic pauses, facial emotions, slow speed and powerful & loud voice.
- Make a "Short" and "Long" Version - I would recommend figuring out how to develop both a short and long version of your talk. Each event will give you different speaking lengths and you need to be flexible to adjust to each. I usually find it's either a 30 min spot or a 50 minute spot.
Pre-plan out what to include/cut for each length and validate you're cutting the right items by checking in with someone else or doing another beta run (see below) for each length.
- Building your Deck - More coming on this. For now, start with checking out Presentation Zen style (it's awesome).
- Do a Beta Run - Find a dozen or so people who are willing to do a beta run of your presentation with a goal of collecting constructive feedback (tell them that's the goal).
Give them sheet with questions for them to fill out during the talk. Questions could include:
- What did you find confusing?
- What were two big "light bulb" moments
- On a scale 1-10, how would you rate the opening and why?
- Where did you start to get disinterested, bored or check your phone?
Then have a discussion after where you can ask similar questions, but dig in deeper. Also have someone there to help you to take notes and observe everyone's body language during the talk. This person can take notes on when people perk up, lose interest, check cell phones, etc.
- Practice a shit ton - Practice until you can recite it off the top of your head. This means to practice a LOT. Block off recurring time a few days a week to run through your talk leading up to the event.
- Record Yourself - Invest the time in video recording yourself as if you were actually giving it at an event. This will really help you take an outsider's view of your body language, tones, postures, "ummm", "ands", delivery speed, etc. These things can be hard to spot when in the moment speaking.
Take notes about the talk as if you were critiquing someone else and then incorporate those items into your talk.
Pro Tip - Make sure there's good audio quality when recording. Then rip the audio from your recording into an MP3 file that you can put on your phone. This will allow you to listen to an audio version of your talk during commutes, exercise and whenever you want to practice but are too tired to run through the whole deck.
As you listen to the audio version, say the words along with it and visualize the slide that would be showing on the screen. This will really help lift your dependence on the slides themselves.
- Get the Phone App - Whether you're using powerpoint (gross) or keynote, there is a phone app that you can use to sync with your computer and use as a slider. This is EXTREMELY helpful when practicing because on the phone it will show the presenter notes and the next slide.
I would suggest getting good enough that you don't need to use this when speaking. I've run into many situations where I can't use my own computer or the connection fails and you can't use your phone. It's a great tool to use while practicing and when it's available, however, your goal should be to not need it to actually present.
Pro Tip - The biggest thing this will help with is transitions between slides. You can start talking about the next topic before changing slides in order to have a very intriguing and smooth transition between everything. This will pull the audience's attention to what you're saying and not get lost in slides. Otherwise what typically happens is your click to the next slide during a long silence... look at the slide for a second... then start talking and during this time the audience's attention is now reading the slide and not on you.
When I got good at speaking about the next topic pre-transition and then making smooth transitions to the next slide, it took my "game" to the next level. This takes practice, but the phone helps a lot when starting out.
- Technology - I've learned over the years that you need to be very flexible with different types of technology.
- Make sure you have your deck ready to go in both keynote and powerpoint.
- Have it in 16:9 and 4:3 ratios
- Have everything backed up on Google Drive or DropBox and have it ready on a flash drive
- Have all the various adapters and connectors - if not order them
- Make sure to check with the event ahead of time to get all the technology specifics for that event.
Night Before Activities
- Tailor for the Audience - If you haven't already, make sure you tailor the talk for the specific audience you'll be speaking to. The more tailored you can make it the better, however, you will need to practice whatever content you're changing so you're comfortable with it.
- Pro Tip - Spend some time on the twitter stream (or other social streams) of the event. Look at the conversations going on, read the people's profiles and check out their companies. This will give you a great sense of the audience and how to tailor to them. Bonus points if you use one of them as an example in your slide deck.
- Schedule Social Posts - Schedule out a few social posts leading up to the talk, quotable items for during your talk and a big thank you for after your talk. Don't have to go crazy, but to have a few scheduled is always nice.
- Back Everything Up - Both online (G-Drive or DropBox) and on a flash drive. Don't forget. Also double check you have your charger and all of the required adapters / hookups.
Day of Activities
- Practice the first and last 3 minutes - The day of make sure you run through the full talk at least once. If you're feeling good about it, still practice the beginning and the end over and over.
- I've found that if you crush the first 3 minutes it's HUGE to get you into a flow state for the rest of the talk.
- Stickin' the end is critical as well as it helps really drive home your message and will be key in leaving the audience excited and hungry for more.
- Develop a Pre-Talk Ritual - Because speaking is such a mental "game", being in the right state of mind is critical to having a stellar performance. Although everyone's ritual will be unique to themselves, I'd recommend developing on that incorporates all five senses and reminds you of a previous time you were in a peak state of mind.
I'm a firm believer in Nerolinguistic Programing (NLP) and the benefits it has on mental training. I've developed a pre-talk ritual using concepts from NLP and would highly recommend them. I'm going to write a notebook entry on this topic, so make sure to subscribe and I'll send it to you once it's up.
Whatever you end up using at your ritual, make sure to use this ritual each time you practice as well. It should be part of what you do every time you speak.
Day After Activities
- Reflect and Iterate - Take some time after the event (on the flight home) to reflect on what you did well and what you could have done better. What parts of the talk did it seem like you lost the crowd?
Have a journal where you can make notes after each talk and if you start seeing patterns, take the time to revamp that portion of the talk. An even better option is to have someone sitting in the crowd you know do this as well (similar to your beta talk)
Make sure to keep version #'s on your slide decks and back up your old decks in case you ever need to go back and refer to old slide deck. I wouldn't ever delete an old version.
- Get out of Your Head - Once you have your presentation down so well that you can do it in your sleep (this is where practice matters), you should move your thoughts out of internal dialog and focus on the external audience.
As your speaking on "auto-pilot" be looking at each person's face and take a pulse on their level of attention, interest, confusion, etc. Not only will this help with developing a personal connection with your audience, it will give you a pulse on how the crowd is doing so you can
- Double down on Body Language and Stage Presence - Once you have the content itself nailed down, it's time to continue running through practice runs but focusing specifically on body language and stage presence. Here are just a few (of many) pro tips to work on:
Change topic, change your spot on stage - After you complete a topic and are transitioning to a new topic, walk to the opposite side of the stage. This will make the transition much more clear.
Be Passionate & Powerfully Animated - Letting you passion and power shine through is key and body language is critical in doing this.
Show the Emotions you Want them to Feel - Inside our brains we have these things called "mirror neurons" which cause our brain to fire in similar ways to people we are watching. This is where empathy comes from and why we involuntarily cringe when we see someone fall on a skateboard.
Knowing this, make sure both your slide visuals and your own body/facial language portray the emotions that you're setting out to evoke in the audience. As they see your emotions on your face, they will be filled with similar emotions.
- Weave in Creative Voice Inflections - They say 60%+ of communication is non-verbal and in addition to the above body language, you can use voice inflections, speeds and pauses into your talk to take it to another level.
Watch the recorded video of your talk and take notes about how to weave in the below items into your delivery. Use your original story board with the emotions mapped out to show what emotion the audience should be feeling and then use the below voice "tools" to help build on that emotion.
Dramatic Pause - this is by far one of the most powerful ways to amp up your talk. Find areas that you really want to build up the intensity and pull in the audience's attention
I'm working on always start the talk with an uncomfortably long dramatic pause. Get on stage, look at the crowd in silence, connect with them eye-to-eye and after 6-10 seconds start your talk with your power opening.
Speed / Timing - Speed and timing of delivery can really add to the emotional feel of the talk. When you want to build tension, talk quick and choppy. When you want to relax the audience, speak slow and mellow. If you deliver a joke, work on the timing of the punch line and pause after to give it full effect.
Volume / Pitch - Along with the speed and timing listed above, changing your volume and pitch can be very helpful in evoking specific emotions.
I would recommend always delivering any of your "power" items (statement, question, opener, etc) along with your closing in a very loud and powerful tone. Command authority and attention with it, almost like you're trying to bounce your energy off the back wall.
Here are some great resources I've vetted out and highly recommend (in order I would check out):
Tony Robbin's internal team training video (old-school but awesome)
Tony Robbin's internal team training video (old-school but awesome)
- How to Deliver a Ted Talk
- The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs
- Presentation Zen
- Skill Share - How to Present Ideas that Inspire
- Speak Like Churchill, Stand Like Lincoln