9 Ways To Elevate Your Speaking To Black Belt Level

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Let’s say you know the standard speaking tips, tricks and fare. You’re good… you can get by. How do you elevate things to the next level?

Over the past few years, I’ve spoken at a lot of events. Beyond just speaking (and getting better at it by practicing), I am sharing the stage with many different types of speakers and speaking styles. It’s in the nuances that you learn how the masters do it. So, if you’re just getting started with presenting to audiences or if you’re looking to really up your game, here are some of the bigger nuances that will take you from being an everyday speaker to being star that people want to see.

  1. Limit the technology. All too often I see people with laptops, PowerPoint, DVDs, cued CDs, props and more. Kill it. You don’t need it. If you use slides that can augment what you’re saying, great, but you don’t need it and you should not rely on it. People are coming to learn from you. Know your content to the point that even if your slides don’t load or the video doesn’t play, it should not matter. Expecting the AV to get/know all of your cues and the intricacies of your presentation is putting way to much reliance on the audio/visual (and the AV guy). On top of that, asking for videos to play or music to play from the stage kills your story and flow. It’s like when an actor calls for a line. Also, having a lot of gear makes the organizers nervous (something could go wrong!) and can also make the speaker look like they’re high maintenance.
  2. Kill the Internet. Whether it’s a hard-line connection or wireless connection, going live to an Internet connection is a bad move. Don’t do it. If you really need to play something from the Web (like a video), use an online video downloading program and embed the video into your presentation. If you want to show a website, do a screen capture prior and embed it into your presentation.
  3. Don’t switch screens. A lot of speakers download the videos but wind up toggling between their presentation and the media player. Don’t do this either. It kills the momentum. If your presentation software does not allow you to embed video, switch to one that does.
  4. Invest in a remote. Too many speakers rely on advancing their slides from the keyboard or they rely on the AV team to either supply a remote or advance the slides for them. Invest in your own remote presenter. I’m a big, big fan of the Logitech Professional Presenter R800. This one gives you up to 100 feet distance (which is a lot), but it also has built-in digital timer that gives you a silent vibration when you have 5 minutes left and when your time is up (which is helpful if you present for different lengths of time). If you want something a little less discreet, try the Honeywell Power Presenter. This one has the basic buttons and is very small. The key to owning your own remote is that you will be comfortable with it. When this happens, your slide transitions become that much more seamless and professional.
  5. Don’t point. Many people who use a remote presenter (their own or someone else’s) tend to point it at either their laptops, the screen or the confidence monitor on the floor. Pointing the remote at anything is useless. It not only looks silly, but it draws the audiences’ attention away from you and towards the technology. Pressing the buttons harder doesn’t help either. The remote is not a gun. Don’t point it.
  6. No inside baseball. Don’t talk about your technical challenges. Don’t talk about the bad audio from the mic. Don’t talk about anything that has to do with the production or presentation of your talk. Focus on two things: the audience and the content. Talking about anything else is a distraction and it’s not important to the audience.
  7. Stand your ground. It’s fine to pace. It’s fine to stand still. Whatever you do, make sure to stand your ground. Don’t close up. Be open. One of the best ways to "stand your ground," is to go to the middle and front of the stage as soon as you are introduced and do (at least) your first five minutes just standing there. Much like a comedian, actor or musician, come out of the gates, be strong and own your content.
  8. No notes. No reading. The best tip I have? Know your content. Having notes and reading a speech is… well, it’s boring and it’s a little inauthentic. I’m sure many people will comment that some of the greatest Presidents read their speeches from teleprompters… I get it, but I wouldn’t do that if I could avoid it. Do your best to know your content. If you can’t, just remember your who, what, when, where, why and how questions, and ask yourself each question in your mind and then answer aloud to the audience. Here’s how this can work. Your topic is Twitter for business. Here’s how you can speak about it without notes and reading. Ask yourself these questions in your mind, and then answer them aloud: Who should care about Twitter for business? What do I need to know about Twitter before jumping in for my business? When is it best for a business to use Twitter? Where is the best place to learn more about Twitter for business? Why should any business care about being on Twitter? How can my business get started? If all else fails, use those questions as your framework or model. Whatever you say will be better (and more interesting) than reading something your wrote a few days ago. Remember, speaking is not reading.
  9. Clip-on mic. Holding a mic in your hand is an art form. I’ve never been able to master it and have rarely seen someone pull it off well. It’s better to have your hands free. Get a clip-on microphone (also known as a lavalier microphone). If you don’t own your own, ask the event organizer to arrange one for you a couple of weeks prior to your presentation.

Now, it’s your turn. What are some of your best advanced presentation tips?


  1. Best advice is ‘don’t start too high because there is no where to go’. I heard a hockey play by play announcer talk about a mistake he made early in his career when calling an event at the summer Olympics. He started with an artificial level of excitement in his voice (and a high pitch) and that left him with no room to build.
    It applies to presentations – if you start with an artificial level of excitement or with a high pitch – you have no where to go. You need to work on a natural speaking voice that projects. Don’t rehearse your content in your head – say it to an empty room. And say it as if people were there and you were trying to explain your content to them. And then go and do just that. Be engaged and involved in a natural way.
    Great post Mitch.

  2. All good points. Speaking of points, or pointing, I like point 5. I like to fashion my presentations so that I can deliver almost without ever turning to look at the screen. Appropriate and minimal use of builds will offer the emphasis you need which often precludes the need for a pointer.

  3. An amatuer practices until he gets it right; a professional practices until he can’t get it wrong.
    Another drumroll 🙂

  4. That empty second when the speaker is staring at the screen and saying to themselves, “what did I want to say about this slide?” is brutal. It’s almost as bad as when they start off by saying, “on this slide, I wanted to tell you…”… also brutal.

  5. Great tips, thanks for this. However, no notes is very, very hard! What do you think of small cards with cue words, or even one card with a framework or bulleted list on it to keep the speaker who, like me, is very easily sidetracked, on topic and on focus?

  6. If you must, I think a single sheet of paper with notes on the podium are fine, just don’t rely on it, point them out or make it too obvious (and don’t stay stuck to the podium either). It is a lot of hard work, but think about the time, money and effort that the audience is giving to you… you owe the same back.

  7. Great post, Mitch! I second your points, particularly about minimizing the technology. Your slides should be there to *emphasize* your points, not detract from them. Also, you are there to tell a story – make sure your materials don’t give away the story before you get to to the relevant point (for instance, slides with multiple points you will be covering). You want their attention on YOU and what you are saying, not the surrounding materials.
    Totally agree on owning your pointer. I am a control freak when it comes to speaking and so I always have my own tech, my own adapters, backups of presos on USB drives, everything like that.
    Three other points I would add:
    1. Practice your presentation speaking out loud. Find a room and deliver it in your “speaking voice”. Sometimes what you think may work doesn’t sound as good in the cadence and delivery of your presenting style. Do it several times until you have the timing down.
    2. Think of the close. What is the final point you want people to remember? How do you want to end?
    3. Think of “tweetable” moments. Are there certain short catchy phrases that fit within your talk? Some short, specific memorable stats? If you looked at the live-twitter stream of your talk afterwards, what would you hope it would say?
    Lots more… but that’s a start. Again, great post! Thanks for writing it.

  8. I agree about technology!! I would add one point…add humor. Don’t be a jester or stand up comic (unless that’s what you do) but add a little light humor.

  9. I’m just getting started with public speaking so thanks for the tips!
    I highly recommend reading the book “Winning Body Language” by Mark Bowden. It’s an easy read with lots of practical tips on engaging an audience with simple body cues, breathing and tension levels.

  10. Great post, Mitch. I’ve heard you deliver presentations live, and you always hit a home run.
    I must admit that I don’t mind audio/visual, especially when it is entertaining.
    Example: I saw Geoff Ramsey from emarketer at the ACE conference early this fall. He was fantastic, and he had a killer powerpoint presentation, full of fun, engaging, points that really drew you in. He obviously spent the time to develop this. And to your point about owing your audience who spent time / money to be there, it’s nice to know the speaker also did his/her homework. Plus many people absorb information in different ways, some are more visual than others.

  11. Remember to breath. Land a sentence and then if that was a big idea, allow a moment to have the idea get absorbed. The millionmilesaminutespeakersoundslikethistoanaudienceanditsincrediblyhardtofollow. Give words and the ideas a space to be out there, so they can get from you to them and understood.

  12. When it comes to technology, I have learned to count on nothing. Example: I gave a speech today and they said all I needed was to bring my flash drive. They had the computer, projector, even the remote. Guess what? The computer could not run the latest version of Powerpoint. Was I screwed? Nope — I had saved an older version just for this situation. Count on nothing working!
    Very good list Mitch!

  13. Here’s one from the presentation skills training room: If you’re using a slide deck, a nice finesse during your presentation is to begin talking about the next slide before it appears. When done well (and not necessarily on every slide) it creates great fluidity in the performance. Try it while rehearsing your next presentation.

  14. Mitch, I disagree with two of your early points, those are just pet peeves, and hardly qualify as black belt tips in the vast universe of public speaking.
    “Asking for videos to play or music to play from the stage” doesn’t kill your story and flow; top professionals do it successfully all the time, on stage, on TV, at awards shows, etc. This is questionable advice, at best.
    “A lot of speakers download the videos but wind up toggling between their presentation and the media player. Don’t do this either. It kills the momentum. If your presentation software does not allow you to embed video, switch to one that does.” Who really cares if you toggle? You’re the only person I’ve ever heard mention this. Ever. With all the mistakes that speakers make before, during, and after a presentation, this just cannot logically qualify as a black belt tip. It might be a pet peeve of yours, but eliminating the toggle will not take “you from being an everyday speaker to being star that people want to see.”

  15. The best talks are those that involve the audience. I try to get the audience to do something about every 10 minutes (according to the excellent book Brain Rules by John Medina).
    No audience can connect for 45 minutes, not even 20, so involving the audience in one way or another keeps them alert to what you have to say (it’s a #brain rule).

  16. Admittedly, I have a hard time practicing my content aloud in an empty room. I’ve never been good at it and I just stopped doing it. I find that taking a blank sheet of paper and writing out the flow and stories gives me the focus and flow I need.

  17. I’m not big on humor because it’s very hard to pull off and not everybody has the same sense of humor. Some people say to start off with a joke, I am very leery of that as well. If you’re funny and it’s natural, great… but forcing humor or trying to be funny is one sure way to watch a room fall flat.

  18. My top speaking books are:
    – Presentation Zen by Garr Reynolds (his new book, The Naked Presenter is going to be stellar too!).
    – Slide-ology by Nancy Duarte (her new one, Resonate, is also amazing).
    – Give Your Speech, Change The World by Nick Morgan.
    Reading anything by these authors will get you set.

  19. I love audio visual… I just hate it when it’s used as a crutch vs. adding to the presentation. Geoff is an amazing example of someone who does it so well. The problem with it (as I mentioned in the Blog post) is when people call it out, point to it or ask the av people to initiate it.

  20. Wow, am I ever terrible at that. I’m all about speed, speed, speed… but it works for me (I think). So long as the content is authentic, I think people can get the speed/motion of the speaker. In a perfect world, you’re right… and I’m working on it 😉

  21. If there’s one thing you’ll never be able to control in a speech it’s your computer. Be aware of that and don’t rely on that. The best thing I ever saw? A computer died in a presentation and the speaker’s response was, “that’s ok, we don’t need that stuff anyway…” and just kept going, the crowd ate her up!

  22. It’s also one of those techniques that subtly validates to the audience that you truly understand your content. A good way to do this is to use a “presenter mode” in your presentation software so you can see what the next slide if before the audience does.

  23. It’s fine to disagree with me. Which makes it fine for me to disagree with you. I think the world-class speakers don’t need to tell someone to cue a video or change their slides. I also think that a world-class speaker doesn’t walk over to their computer mid-thought and story to start toggling their computer and fumbling with the mouse.
    Both instances break the pace and flow of what they are trying to say and it changes the audiences focus from the story to the technology/production.
    Just because no one has never mentioned it before doesn’t mean that it does not have merit. These are both things I see frequently, and when other speakers don’t do it (by controlling everything via embedding their audio and video), it makes their presentations way more pro.
    My two cents.

  24. The dynamics of this are very powerful. The trick and mastery comes from knowing the audience and understanding the size of the audience as well. Smaller audiences are sometimes shy and bigger audiences can be challenging as well.

  25. When I worked for an angel investing group, I had a friend managing a start up that was looking for investment. Despite only being 20, this guy could go through both his 10 minute and his 30 minute pitches forward and backward from memory, no slides needed, no notes, no looking at the screen. When he came to present at our group, the immediate response once he left the room was, “Well, that is by far the slickest presentation I’ve ever seen,” which was echoed by pretty much everyone else in the room. The group had been a little lukewarm on his company when they saw it on paper, but once they saw him present, nearly everyone (with experience in that vertical) was interested.

  26. Thank you for the excellent tips. A few I already practice, the others I’ll be implementing.
    This advice is particularly helpful to me. Every aspect of my professional life involves speaking:
    1. Director of Commercial Development
    2. Film Actor
    3. Volunteer Speaker to gang members/at-risk youth regarding goals, poor decisions, prison, early death, etc..
    Thank you for the professional insights.

  27. Interesting. My experience has been that when I speak the words, sometimes I find that the flow works better in a different way than what I wrote down for an outline. We’re all different, eh?

  28. I would agree with Dan. Have a great ending. I used to just finish and there was a sense of “is that all there is.” Now I always plan an upbeat finale.

  29. Great advice. I you you were talking more about tips and tricks versus content but one thing I would add is the WIIFM Factor. “What’s in it for me?”
    I work with a lot of authors and speakers. One of the things I see a lot is that many new speakers don’t focus enough on making the content about the audience and what’s in it for them (from a practical takeaway perspective).
    A good balance of stories, humor, etc is great but not at the price of the meat. I’ve some really high potential speakers, in their style of delivery, bomb because they don’t focus enough on the WIIFM.

  30. If you’re having trouble standing still, curl up your right big toe in your shoe. Instant power stance.
    Also, if you say “*fake laugh* Modern technology!!!” when your technology doesn’t work, you’re a loser. There, I’ve said it.
    Great posts Mitch – Still remember your presentation well from 3 years ago.

  31. This is BRILLIANT Mitch. Practicing in the empty room just doesn’t do it for me. Writing it out = such a better technique for me.
    It also helps you to own the content.

  32. Great blog, Mitch. Lots of good advice — especially #6, that it’s all about the audience and the content. Here’s one I would add: Audiences come into a presentation asking why — why should I care, why should I pay attention. You should answer that question with a high-level framing statement, statistic, or story right at the outset. Once you answer the question why audiences will start asking how — how do I do this, how do I get started. That’s your job — take the audience from why to how.

  33. Hi Mitch,
    Nilofer expressed the jist of my point which was – slow down.
    Especially for newer public speakers (but us old timers too) – talk slower. When you think you’re talking slow enough, slow down some more.
    We’re all so cognizant of our content, our audience, our flow of information that we are each a bundle of nerves (in a good way, mostly). Nerves show up the most in our pace of speech.
    If we each try to remember that one trick, we will all be better communicators. I’ve been doing it 27 years and I STILL have to remind myself (talk about practice)!
    Best always,
    – Peter

  34. My preference, if I’m using power point, is to not use it for words, but for pictures etc. Seth Godin is a master at this.
    When I start my presentation, I tell people I will give them a handout at the end with all the relevant points on it. I make sure I have all the urls I mention, info about books and some added points, just to ramp up the value. It also allows me to make sure everyone is leaving with something of mine in hand.
    My biggest challenge is I want to jam as much in as I can and I end up speaking too quickly and overwhelming people with info. I keep reminding people that they will get a handout.

  35. Some of my speaking clients use turning point technologies. This is an audience response system that facilitates contests or games within the audience. It’s a great way to engage the audience. I think technology can assist a good speech if it is well executed. I think the real key to blackbelt speaking is using stories. The audience will remember stories that make them laugh or cry or change their perspective. A good video can be inspiring. All of your points are valid as well Mitch. Cheers.

  36. Great post – I love practical, common sense tips like these. The tools never matter, only the content and the delivery (the connection with the audience).
    For more great thoughts and insights on this, I highly recommend Scott Berkin’s book Confessions of a Public Speaker. It’s filled with greats stories, honesty, and fantastic advice about pubkic speaking.

  37. Hi!
    Great tips. I’m not big at public speaking, but I do give som presentations from time to time. When it comes to involving the audience, how would you recommend I should do that. Often its just a big silence if I for instans ask for comments, ask a question or invite the audience to ask questions.
    I’m from Norway, and maybe this is a cultural thing, because when I’ve been to America for instans, the Q&A part is much more vibrant and easy going.

  38. Hey Mitch – I didn’t see much chatter about the content of any slides you might use – my advice here of course is use fewer words and more images to tell a story – of course get Nancy Duarte’s Slide:ology if you want the master course on this idea.

  39. I might be bold to say that if you need notes you 1) shouldn’t be giving the prezi or 2) you’ve not prepared enough. Perhaps latitude on the first delivery of new content.

  40. I’d also add to be flexible with your content & know your audience. I will often share different stories depending on the audience and what relates to them. You also don’t want to be up there using terms that are foreign to that audience.
    Great stuff as always Mitch!

  41. Thanks for the great tips and list. I went to a presentation not long ago where the presenter spent a half hour reading from her slides. Absolutely horrendous.
    More people need to practice in some way before presenting. It really is a skill and an art. Some are naturals but most need to practice, practice, practice.

  42. Hey Mitch, thanks for the tips, it’s not everyday that good speakers give tips of their own! It’s appreciated!
    I just listened to podcast #224 with John Jantsch and I have to mention that, like you, I have been questionning myself for a while about the size of businesses. Some company refuse to grow simply because they are feeling good in the size of business they have. We must always remember that growing also means risking a lot at some point. You can be quite confident about your product and your brand but you might not feel like risking it all for a few more bucks a day.
    Anyways, thanks for everyhting!

  43. Notes are an important crutch if you don’t know your content perfectly. They are acceptable (to me) so long as they’re not seen as a crutch by the audience (hint: make it look like you don’t have notes… even if you do!).

  44. As I have said before, Nick, if people have not read your books (and your Blogs), then they have a long way to go to be a great presenter. I don’t consider your comment a black belt tip though (sorry)… if you can’t answer the question you’re asking, don’t even bother taking the stage or offering to speak in the first place.
    Thanks for reminding me (and all of us) to ask that critical question first – before doing anything.

  45. I have no issues with technology like that. It depends on the audience and the content. Beyond that, I get nervous and I don’t trust it (it’s a personal thing). It’s usually a lot of work and there are often times when this sort of stuff doesn’t work as well as we play it out in our heads (or rehearsal).

  46. That’s also key with why I love that Logitech Remote Presenter. It forces me to “stick the landing.” I too hate speakers who go over on their time. They rarely realize how much that messes up the timing and flow of the entire event.

  47. No argument from me about any of these excellent tips (except perhaps calling them “advanced”! These SHOULD be basics! 🙂 )
    To add my own…. Black slides. It’s a way of shifting attention and controlling focus.

  48. It tends to be on a case by case basis. Know this: all audiences are different. From size and mood. You have to feel it out. If they’re chatty, engage them more. If they’re more quiet and reserved, focus your energy on making them warmer and give them the content they came for.

  49. Garr Reynolds book, Presentation Zen, also tackles this issue (Slide-ology is just awesome too). It’s funny many people mention Seth Godin as a reference on this and I remember both Tom Peters and Kevin Roberts using very similar techniques early on (namely one point per slide) as well.

  50. I never understood that. Just email it to me prior and we can all show up and either have a conversation about it or do Q&A. Trust me, I can read a lot faster than someone reading the slides to me. Those are always brutal… just brutal.

  51. So true. The other side is this: if you’re good, it doesn’t matter how big you are, so long as you stay good. It’s when a company grows and the quality drops that the problems begin to arise. Either that, or scaling becomes the challenge.

  52. Funny you should mention “black slides” – I do this a lot and have found that it freaks the av team out… they think something happened or broke. They panic over black sides. My thoughts? Too bad for them… it changes the focus and creates a better story 😉

  53. Wow, what a great post with terrific comments too. And those of us who’ve seen you in action know that you walk the talk, Mitch. I totally agree with not relying on technology as a crutch, and with using a remote. Drives me nuts to see someone walk across the stage to his PC to press a button to advance the slides. (I also don’t like to see people toggling outside the preso. It’s distracting.)
    I do like to use visuals to help tell my story. And it should be a *story*. Like Dan York, I am a fan or rehearsing. I do need to say my piece out loud, because it will show me where the holes are, and where I need to add more content or move things around. (For very big speaking gigs, I will sometimes do my talk to a smaller group first, to test it out.)
    Another commenter mentioned Mark Bowden. I interviewed him today and am looking forward to his appearance on Dec. 1 at our Professional Independent Communicators meeting, IABC/Toronto.

  54. Excellent post Mitch. I especially agree with your first suggestion – powerpoint is basically pointless, for reasons I argue in my blog post (my name is hyperlinked).
    The upshot is that how we present influences what is presented. Also it seems that when it’s time to do a presentation – one typically thinks “Powerpoint!” These terms are used interchangeably way too often.

  55. I would never come close to saying that PowerPoint or Keynote are useless. In fact, in some instances, I think it is critical to the success of a presentation. I just don’t think you can rely on it or use it as a crutch.
    My analogy is this: you’re in a rock band. You’re the guitarist (think about being The Edge from U2). His sound effects, etc… make the song, but if the electricity stopped and all that was left was a vocal line and an acoustic guitar, the song has to stand-up for itself.

  56. Mitch, I think that’s right on target, and I think I oversimplified my own blog post! The post’s title is “Why powerpoint earns few points” – not ”no” points. The upshot is that traditional powerpoints, with too much text and those that commit the errors you mention, risk serving as a crutch.
    I invite everyone to take a look at the post.

  57. Great tips! I did a presentation recently that relied on both Internet and crazy video and notes, and I can’t wait to give it again after removing all that garbage. Technical difficulties are a speech-killer for me at any conference. My immediate thought is, “Geez, didn’t they do a quick ‘test, test’ before this?” When, in reality, it’s more like the speaker has way too many pieces to the AV pie.

  58. Think like you are on the radio – alone. this is a great way to practice as it makes one talk to a close friend (so to speak). you have to work hard at it, but I’ve found that people at a preso come away with a sense that you are one of them.

  59. Mitch, it’s unfortunate that your only response to my comment is to lock more strongly into your own POV, refute my point with lazy logic and re-assert your points with the same argument that seamless video/no toggle is “way more pro” and the cliché “my two cents” (as if your blog is anything other than just a collection of your strong opinions).
    So, if I may: if you’ve read any of Nick Morgan’s work, you know that authenticity and a salient message trump all, and the point I was trying to make (perhaps not clearly enough) is that if you think your audience isn’t tuning in and out, if you think their minds aren’t wandering all over the place during a 1hr talk, and if you think they aren’t focused on things other than your presentation while you’re talking, then by all means your comments make sense.
    But if you’re more realistic about speaking, and recognize that your audience members drift in and out (for all sorts of reasons including things you may do that draw attention to your production), then your comments make much less sense, especially as black belt tips. Could seamless video and no toggle be considered “best practices”? Sure they could. Is removing everything that could take their attention away and break their focus a good idea? Sure it is. But take that idea to its logical conclusion and you’d have to remove all the wires in front, your laptop, the presentation remote, the lavaliere mic, the screen, the projector, the list goes on; and we know that’s just not feasible – at least not in 2010.
    So I think it’s disingenuous to talk about betraying the production when for the VAST majority of speakers, it’s probably more important to get a good night’s rest before you speak, be interactive (which means more than just asking an audience “how ‘ya doing this morning” and “I’m really excited to be here” right as you get up – they’re the two most trite opening lines in public speaking), connect with them authentically on their terms (not yours), and even more importantly, be a human being up there, because by virtue of being human (one toggle, one call to video), and not a slickly-produced paid public-speaker type, you can authentically invite your audience to share an experience with you, which allows you touch them with your story. Because at the end of the day people want to be touched by the truth, but there’s a catch, it has to come from someone they know and like, someone they can trust, and all the seamless video and no toggle in the world won’t get you there. That’s why I disagree with those tips of yours, because they’re more about production and less about connection. (You may think they’re about enhancing the connection, but they’re not.)

  60. I don’t think I mentioned anywhere that audiences do not fade in and out (that’s a given… and yes, I’ve read Nick’s work and – if you read the comments – you’ll see that he reads my work as well). I just don’t see a reason to force people to lose your attention (because as you’ve said, it’s going to happen on the things we can’t control).
    If you can avoid toggling (by embedding the video) you are ensuring that everything will work, you avoid an awkward pause/break that is not needed and it by no means makes you seem less “human”. I would add that because you can do these things simply with the software, it actually makes you look more pro/caring to the audience because you took the time to make everything flow better (which is the point of this post).
    The same goes for calling out cues to an av person vs. using a remote and doing it yourself (after all, the speaker will know the transitions way better than the av person/assistant).
    My point is, that it is the little tweaks and slight things that any speaker can do to take them from average to pro. These were just some of the minor things that I’ve seen that go a long way. It’s fine if you don’t agree, I consider getting a good night sleep and being human on stage the basics. If you’re not doing that out of the gate, why bother in the first place? My tips were to augment the basic framework of what creates a great speaking experience, and yes some of those are production based. People have a hard time connecting to content when the speaker is fumbling all over their technology and production.

  61. So many great comments! I love the tweetable moments, too! I do two things not mentioned in your list: I always get out from behind the podium (that’s when the clip-on mic comes in handy) and I always use funny images in my presentation so I can get people to laugh, even if they don’t think I’m funny. It breaks the ice and they tend to laugh at my jokes after that.

  62. If you ever get the chance to see Julien Smith speak, you’ll get a kick out him. He also uses random/funny slides which definitely works. I think that tactic depends on the type of speaker you are and your ability to really deliver it… if you can do it, more power to you.
    And yes, if you’re standing behind a podium it’s going to be a long presentation – for both you and the audience.

  63. Your response to Mitch doesn’t make any sense. You’re choosing a good night’s rest and being human over tweaks to make the overall production of the show better? It’s not one or the other.
    And, I’m not here to just take sides with Mitch, but he happens to be right. These are more advanced tips, tricks and little things that will only work and augment a presentation if you already know why you’re giving a presentation in the first place and you’ve spent the time to develop content or relevance and deliver it in the best way you can (so, sure, a good night’s rest is key).
    My last thought was, “why would I would want to do more things to distract an already distracted audience?” Your argument against Mitch’s points actually reinforce how smart they really: a pro speaker should do everything they can to remove any MORE distractions than people already/naturally have… and that seems to be the bug crux of the Blog post in the first place.

  64. I think you’ll enjoy it very much (I did).
    Hey, Mitch, how can I get email notices on these comments to prompt me to return after you or others continue the conversation? Most other sites do that, but I haven’t figured out how to do it here…. Is there a way to subscribe to your post comments?

  65. Mitch, thanks for taking the time out to respond. Best to you. I think we are in fundamental agreement about speaking and what it takes to connect with an audience. My taking issue with a few of your tips is meant as a reminder that some of these little defects do not ultimately detract from one’s overall impression in any where near the proportion that you so virulently protest them. It’s really a matter of degree, so that’s my dispute. Because sometimes, as you know, a presenter needs to show a clip twice or three times and with slideware today, sometimes the embedded playback falters, hence the need to toggle and run it yourself (or do an av call), as opposed to taking the risk of faulty playback. Now before you jump in with a classic “update your software,” let me say I’ve used PowerPoint 2007 and 2010, and yes they sometimes fail to play the media correctly. And before you respond “well, then, switch to a Mac and use KeyNote,” allow me say I’m working on it.

  66. Mike, you clearly didn’t bother to appreciate or understand what I wrote before typing out your aggressively-toned response. To wit: I’m not suggesting it’s one or the other, what I said was one was way more important than the other, not that they’re mutually-exclusive. The rest of your silliness and aggression I’ll chalk up to post author defense, despite your claims otherwise.
    I’ll also repeat and rephrase what I briefly mentioned to Mitch – that sometimes it is these human touches that allows us to connect, as opposed to being the additional distractions you think they must be. I’m also not saying to add them if you have the choice not to. But sometimes, you don’t have that choice.
    If properly rehearsed and practiced, these video toggles and av calls to the av guy can actually humanize a presentation. I’ve seen it happen, time and time again. Pros do it all the time, and it doesn’t have to distract; it can actually enhance. In other words, sometimes what you think is a distraction is actually part of the “show.” That you don’t believe it’s possible doesn’t mean it isn’t, so in the meantime, use your imagination.

  67. Thankfully, in my 60-80 presentations a year over the past five years, the only time I’ve seen an issue is when I have not embedded the video – hence the tip.
    As for Mac and PC? They both have done the trick for me.
    Also, keep in mind – it was only 9 tips – not the only tips… and my tips may work for some and not for others.

  68. Right now, you can subscribe to the comment feed via RSS. The ability to do so via email is coming… or so my team has promised me (we’re inundated with client work, so that always take priority).

  69. Mitch, weighing in late here but I really enjoyed your list of tips. They are SPOT ON. The single biggest challenge for me as a speaker is forcing myself to REHEARSE REHEARSE REHEARSE. I do find the “empty room” using my real speaking voice to be the best way to do this. Oh and BTW I’ve always loved your slides.

  70. You should re-read your response to Mitch. The reason I responded the way I did was because you came out of the gates being extremely insulting to Mitch (and, by the looks of the comments, he’s more professional than both of us and simply rose above your rude response).
    Putting that aside, I’m still siding with Mitch and the many other comments here (including people like Nick Morgan and Debbie Weil). Just because someone does those things and just because we – as an audience – accept it doesn’t do anything to humanize a presentation because a good presentation (and human one) doesn’t require stunts or tech foibles that can be avoided to work.

  71. On top of rehearsing the words, it’s also important to rehearse the performance (which includes the technology – if you’re using any). You would be surprised by how the flow of the slides, transitions, etc… can change from when you create them to working them out in the wild.

  72. One quick note to Mitch: you’re a really engaging speaker and that’s what has kept me tuned in for a while (saw you a couple years ago at a barcamp). Glad you are sharing your tips! First time commenter, here goes…
    This is a big one. I see so many speakers with great content and think, ‘If only they slowed down a bit to let us process, these ideas would make a bigger impact.’
    That said, it’s incredibly difficult. I’m still learning, for sure, but the only success I’ve had comes from practice and knowing the material backwards and forwards. That way I can relax enough to intentionally place a pause without sweating the silence.
    In some ways, it’s the sacrifice a speaker makes to help the audience connect with the material.

  73. Well, this has brought me to one of my main points – use Presenter View. You have to turn away from the audience to look at the screen and, IMHO, that is a no-no. Also, Presenter View affords you the opportunity to have notes, not to read but to help you remember the points you want to cover on the current slide.
    One other point. Some may suggest that you need to face the screen to use your laser pointer. Very briefly, maybe, but if you have to use your pointer extensively, it could be that you have too much material on your slides.

  74. Presenter view is great (the new PowerPoint got it right too – this time!)… so long as you don’t use it as a crutch. Also, one warning: some projectors at bigger venues bypass it even when it’s initiated, so be sure that you don’t – 100% – have to use it, in case it doesn’t work.

  75. I find that one step up from the black slides is the the magic “B” button. There are so many people using Powerpoint and yet hardly anyone knows about the magic “B” button…
    The “B” button blanks the presentation slides and completely focuses the audience attention back to you, this can be done at anytime during the presentation, it doesn’t have to be planned like black slides. It can be very effective when you feel that the audience is having trouble with a point or if a question has taken you off into an interesting direction, you can put the slides on hold and continue later.
    And the great thing is that remotes usually have a button that does this….

  76. Mitch,
    It’s a great topic and we can all get better … but I disagree with many of your points.
    I think it is important to use visual media to support your presentation. In virtually every case where I’ve seen a speaker attempt to speak for an hour or so without that support, it didn’t work at all. There may be rare occasions with exceptional speakers but it’s not applicable to most speakers.
    In most of those cases, it’s clear that the speaker hasn’t taken time to learn even the most basic technology and thus intends to adopt what I think is a lazy approach. It takes time to put great presentations together and the evidence is overwhelming that our learning has powerful visual components. Steve Jobs is considered an excellent presenter by most and you’ll never see him without visual support, using simple but compelling images to help get his points across.
    Likewise, I don’t think of “pointing” as drawing attention to the technology rather than to the speaker. Rather, it can be powerfully used to draw attention to an image that will reinforce what you’re saying and give the audience one more tool to fully grasp what they’ve heard. Hearing AND seeing is a more powerful combination than just listening. Besides, the presentation shouldn’t be ABOUT the speaker but about the subject and what unique insights the speaker brings to inform his audience.
    I also wouldn’t equate having notes with reading a speech. No good speaker is without notes. Winston Churchill used notes extensively, and his reputation as a powerful and compelling speaker is unchallenged. The audience wants us to make our points clearly and concisely and while they will permit a little wandering, they expect a clear and concise presentation. Once again, most public speakers need notes to ground them, keep them on track and keep them from overlooking key points they want to make. One of the most effective speakers I know is exceptionally articulate, but he still has at least one 3×5 index card in his hand just to make sure he doesn’t leave out a key point that he’s worked hard to think through.
    Yes, there are always exceptions but for the vast majority of speakers, I think these guidelines apply.
    Thanks, again, for highlighting this valuable topic. There are a lot of different ways to make it work and I appreciate the hearty dialogue about the approaches and techniques that work best.
    Best regards,

  77. Allow me to be more clear.
    – I never said to not use visuals. I said to not rely on them. I also prefer visuals over people reading bulletpoints. I use visuals all of the time. That being said, the content should be able to work without it… the visuals add candy… they should not be the meal.
    – I did not mean pointing in the way you described it. I meant pointing your remote at the screen to click the button as if the screen is where the input is for the remote. Using hand gestures and pointing is critical to creating impact and making a point.
    – We may differ when it comes to notes. I’m just not a fan. If you need your notes, it’s because you don’t know your content well enough or because it acts as some sort of “safety blanket.” This is fine for the majority of presenters, but the real pros don’t need them. I don’t count politicians in this group – they are a beast unto themselves. They are – essentially – always reading the work of their team.

  78. Hi Mitch,
    Thanks for your response. I’m glad we agree about the power of visuals and the need to “point” in the way you clarified.
    We’ll have to agree to disagree about the “notes”. It’s a rare speaker that can go for an hour without notes. If you’ve done a good job with the visual side of the presentation, perhaps those visual clues will perfectly serve that purpose. For me, it’s not about not knowing the content well enough, it’s about being able to recall it at the optimal moment and being certain to impart all of the content you worked so hard to create. It’s a rare individual that can recall all of that in their head at the perfect time.
    We certainly agree on one thing, although maybe not for the same reasons … politicians ARE a beast unto themselves … most of them have never had an original thought to share!
    Best Regards,

  79. Great post. I don’t use power point so i can’t comment on that. As far as notes, I use a mind map that talks around a point that is connected to the Main objective ( what i want the audience to do differently). Each spoke ( off the main center objective) has it’s own way to reinforce the main point.
    It is visual and a great way to remember information. If my speaking time is cut short, all i do is take a “spoke” out.
    I am most engaged in the content i deliver only when i know what I am saying. If I know what is coming next, how much content i have to cover and time left i can relax and ad lib and have fun with the audience, ask rhetorical questions and get their input. I never memorize a speech word for word but i need to really know the concepts ( spokes on the mind map).
    I think a great speaker also knows their audience and tries to cater each point( spoke on your mind map) to the audience language and values.

  80. I agree – it is rare for a speaker to go for a hour without notes… that’s why these are the “black belt” tips. Watch people like Simon Sinek, Tom Peters, etc… they do it… easily. Anthony Robbins? He can 2.5 hours plus. Black belts are never easy to get and they are rare.

  81. Yes, it is OK to use an over-sized index card. While I agree with Mitch that hands-free is better, having a note card handy in case you have a brain freeze is often the way to go.

  82. When I running my web business, I got the opportunity to speak at a local SBA chapter about web marketing. Although I knew the subject well, I had never given a presentation about it to an audience.
    As I wrote out what I wanted to say, I realized that I was actually writing an article. So rather than thinking about writing “notes” for my speech, I simply wrote all my thoughts as an article that someone would read. Then I studied and re-read my own article until I knew it so well I could talk about it with minimal notes. (You might even say that I gave a speech about my own article.)
    A secondary benefit was that I published the article on my website and referred the audience to it for further information.

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