Always having fun in front of an audience.

10 pieces of advice to public speakers

Yay! Wow! Congratulations. Somebody has invited you to share your knowledge with an audience. Really, that’s awesome. Public speaking is a powerful way to share knowledge. But, now what?

Being on a stage with an audience in front of you is an exercise of power. With power comes great responsibilities. Here are some thoughts on how to make the most of your borrowed stage time, based on the experience of organizing five The Conference and talking a lot to our community about it.


You’re in the entertainment business now

The moment you enter a stage you’re in the entertainment business. Look to the audience, move, make gestures, change your voice, make some statements, push for reactions you don’t have to go all MC Hammer but you don’t want people to fall asleep. 
Advice: Go see a theatre play or watch a movie to learn from pros, and don’t forget to have fun.

Don’t waste other people’s time

Be humble and prepare yourself. Respect other people’s time. Do your best to phrase your knowledge in a way that is relatable and meaningful to the audience. 
Advice: Do the math. (15 min presentation x 500 people in audience = 7500 minutes (!) -> 125 hours -> 15,6 work days worth of collective time…).

Erik Thorstensson talking about prototyping at The Conference 2014.

Don’t pitch your business

Nobody wants to hear a sales pitch when in learning mode. Talk about what you learned in the process of making what you’re proud of. Use the results of your work as cases to an overall argument.
Advice: Include other people’s cases as well, this will make your argument more trustworthy and relevant.

Have one main take away

Think about what you want the audience to leave the room with. Really. Decide what the most important piece of knowledge or experience you have is and make sure it sticks. Repeat it over again if necessary. 
Advice: Finish your presentation with a summary that make your key argument clear.

Start with the obvious, move on quickly

In our era a lot of people read the same articles and listen to the same people. While it’s good to establish a common ground to discuss from, it’s even more important to avoid talking about the things everybody already know (yes, we all know that Oreos real-time marketing was great). 
Advice: Begin with the obvious and spend the majority of your time on stuff that only you know.

Laura Michelle Berman talk about wearables in the workplace at The Conference 2015.

The look of your slides matter

Although being a great assistant in getting a message through, slides are not meant to be a transcript of your talk. Make your slides emphasize your points and let them be keys to the audience’s memory of your points.
Advice: Use minimal amount of text on your slides.

Bring props

If you have physical stuff that relate to what you say, bring it! It will help the audience remember what you said.
Advice: A prop could be everything from a book you recommend to a childhood toy.

Kate Stone showing her super cool playable posters.

Take a deep breath

How you, as a speaker, perceive time is different from how the audience perceives it. What seems like an eternity for you is perceived as a thoughtful second to listeners.
Advice: Moments of silence will make you seem secure and thoughtful.

Rehearse with an audience

Whether being an experienced speaker or not, rehearsing is always a good idea. Make sure you do it from start to finish, that’s the only way to feel the flow of the presentation and get valuable feedback.
Advice: Borrow a room with a beamer, invite some picky colleagues and friends, do your presentation like it’s showtime.

Share your resources

After the talk make sure to make references and slides available to the audience. Slideshare is good for the latter and why not write a blog post with your argument including links to share references.
Advice: Make a list of resources while preparing the talk to make sure you have them ready when you walk off the stage.


Special notes to organizers

  • Prove that you care. Establish the feeling that “we are in this together”. If the talk is important to you, make the speaker feel it too. Ask for speakers’ time to prepare, introduce them to your community, be generous with food and hospitality.
  • Prepare the speaker. Share your knowledge about who’s in the audience, what the context is, what other presentations tie in to this one etc.
  • Introduce speakers to each other. If possible already in a Skype call before the event. This makes it easier for the speakers to understand the overall mission of your event and give them friends for life.
  • Make sure there’s a monitor in front of the speaker (often referred as confidence monitor), it will prevent the speaker from pointing at the presentation with the clicker and giving their back to the audience.
  • Have a big timer next to the monitor, it will help the speaker to adjust the presentation to the time available.

Thanks to The Conference Advisory Group for pointers and wisdom.

Further reading: