The Public Speaker's Master Toolkit

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What are the tools that can help you give an unforgettable presentation?

After several years of speaking in public, I’ve had to develop my own system to ensure that each and every presentation goes off without a hitch. And yes, there are some great tools and tips to ensure that this happens. This blog post is not about your content. I’m going to assume that the content rocks and that you know what you’re going to talk about.

The Public Speaker’s Master Toolkit:

  • The Rider. If you want to ensure that you have a great event, you have to ensure that all of your audio and visual requirements are met (long before you show up at the venue). I send along with all speaking contracts a rider of my audio and visual needs:
    • Projector and screen for laptop.
    • 3.5mm (1/8") plug for audio to run out of the laptop.
    • Lapel wireless microphone for voice.
    • Depending on venue – confidence monitor for Keynote slides.
    • Speaker does not require an Internet connection.
    • Laptop must be located on the stage and near the Speaker.
    • Speaker’s computer must be within 20 feet of the most distant point where the speaker will be presenting.
    • All podiums must be moved to either side of the stage. Speaker does not use a podium during presentation.
    • Podiums cannot remain in the middle of the stage during Speaker’s presentation.
    • Speaker will be using his own wireless remote presenter and will advance his own slides.
    • Speaker will be using his own, personal, laptop with the presentation pre-loaded on it.
    • Speaker’s computer is an Apple MacBook Air running Keynote software.
    • Speaker has both VGA and DVI dongle adapters for projector.
    • Speaker will not provide a digital version of the presentation in advance.
    • AC power must be within 6 feet of speaker’s computer.
    • If your event is using iMag, you must have two screens (one which always displays the speaker’s slides to the audience without interruption).
    • Computer stays in the speaker’s possession at all times. It will not be given the night prior for setup and it will not be surrendered on the day of the event. It stays in the speaker’s possession.
    • Speaker is more than willing to work with your team on a tech/sound check, preferably thirty minutes before the speaker presents.

Why is this so complicated?

It seems like a lot and very detail oriented, but here’s the thing: they’re paying me to give a great presentation and this is what it takes – from my experience – for me to deliver that. It also takes away a lot of the stress and anxiety that comes along with speaking when you know that things are set-up in a way that you’re comfortable with. I hate being in a venue where I can’t see the slides that audience is seeing (hence the confidence monitor), I like being in control of my laptop in case I have to skip a section or want to tinker with something at the last moment, and I hate showing up to an event and the entire stage is just a podium (I like to walk, engage and connect with the audience). In other instances, the AV team wants to control the cue remote (which is always slower than when I do it) or they have a video camera capturing the presenter on screen, and can’t move between the slides and the presenter fast enough, so you wind up not speaking to an important point, but everyone is just staring at you mug on a screen.

  • The computer.
    • I run a MacBook Air with both Keynote and PowerPoint on it. I always have versions of my presentation on both software platforms in case one crashes.
    • Caffeine is a great little app that sits in the menu bar and when it’s clicked, your computer will never go to sleep, screen saver or anything (just make sure to turn it off once you’re done). Caffeine makes it "always on."
    • I love the presenter’s view in both Keynote and PowerPoint, but you have to ensure that the output resolution to the projector can handle it, so test it by lowering (or raising) your screen resolution.
    • Apple also allows you to have the display information from your screen as an icon in the menu bar. This makes it very easy to toggle through different resolutions. Look for it in your display preferences.
    • e.ggtimer is a great little tool if you take breaks in your presentation. You can set the timer and show it on the screen, so that everyone in the audience knows when to be expected back in their seats.
  • The hardware.
    • Logitech Professional Presenter R800 is the best remote presenter out there. It not only has a hundred foot range, but it has a built-in timer that counts down and gives off a silent vibration when you have five minutes left and another one when you’re done with your presentation. In case you’re wondering, I’ve tried all of the remote presenters out there… this is the one.
    • Dongles. Make sure to have both VGA and DVI dongles on you. Don’t trust the venue and I’ve seen variances where new Macs don’t work with older dongles, etc… Have your own, so you never have to worry.
    • USB stick. Always have your presentations backed up on a USB stick and – when possible – ensure that the AV team has a copy too and can switch to their computer should you have a crash.
    • USB hub. If you’re plugging in multiple remotes and dongles, etc… it’s always good to have a thin and small USB hub (just in case).
    • Rocket stick. I don’t trust hotel and conference center Internet connections (wired or wireless), and when I do need to present something online, I much prefer to be doing so with my own access point. Mobile Internet is great to have in case you are relying on their connectivity and it goes down (which it does).
    • Extra power supply. Most laptops suck a lot of power and fast – especially when they’re plugged into a projector> Always bring your own power supply and plug your computer in. Do not trust the battery.
  • Extra goodies.
    • Podium Timer app. This is a paid app, but it allows you to set-up your own timer (with messages too) that you can either use on your iPhone so you can tell where you’re at, or you can daisy chain it to the HD version which is a more robust iPad timer.
    • Breathing Zone app. Whether you get nervous before speaking or not, this app is a great tool to get your breathing and heart rate into the right zone. If that doesn’t work for you, try this technique: Take A Breather.
    • HT Professional Recorder. This iPhone app is an amazing audio recorder. If you want to improve as a speaker, use this app to record all of your presentations, you can go back and listen to how you did.
    • Download videos. Don’t rely on a solid internet connection to show online videos. Here’s a simple way to download online videos (just be sure to embed them within your presentation and give credit where credit is due). If you add the word "sing" in front of "youtube" in the URL for a video that you like, you get redirected to a site where you can download the audio of that video.

Did I miss anything? What would you add to this list of master tools?


  1. This is an amazing post, Mitch. Very practical. I like how you make everything explicit (e.g., your computer in your possession at all times, your wireless remote).
    The first time I spoke at a big event, I wanted to use my computer from the stage but there were technical difficulties with the cabling (no signal). My presentation got loaded on a computer at the rear of the room and I got a wireless remote. I couldn’t see the slides without looking at the screen. The font sizes got messed up on a few slides. Also, there were two big screens at either side of the stage. All this was unnerving for the first few minutes. I could have used a breathing app 🙂

  2. Great post Mitch,
    1) I found “BNI Timer.” A free timer alternative. I do a good job.
    2) How do you deal with event organizers. Do they treat you like a Diva because you are firm on your demands?
    Denis François

  3. That’s where the rider comes into play. They have my av needs when they sign the contract, so when I come in, it’s usually, “the projector plug and audio cable are at the stage, as per your requirements.” It makes everything better.

  4. I don’t think you can call me a diva. To me a diva is someone who is making demands that only benefit themselves. The reason these av needs are in place is because I know what it takes for their audience/guests to have a great time. My goal is their happiness. No diva in that 🙂

  5. Mitch, have you been able to get the Logitech remote working with your Macbook Air? I ordered it once, but couldn’t get it to connect. Have you had success? (I’d love to travel with one!)

  6. Great post Mitch.
    …except it’s a LECTERN you mean in most of those examples. (Speakers stand ON a podium and BEHIND a lectern.)
    In my rider, I insist that the A/V crew has a Mac VGA or DVI dongle at hand. I always bring my own, but if Air Canada loses my bag or my adapter somehow breaks, there’s always a backup on stage.

  7. BRILLIANT and important information! I did not know about the CAFFEINE app to keep from sleeping! Checking it out now–thank you for this great post! One other tip for nerves… MEMORIZE the first 60 seconds verbatim. It is usually that first minute that you are most nervous and starting strong and confident will help you kick off a stellar presentation!

  8. Oh, I wish I would have had this list a couple of weeks ago. They wanted to have my presentation “in advance” to have on their laptop and then gave me “their remote” to run the pps from the back of the room. So uncomfortable not seeing the slides. I am not a “newbie” but this list will now appear in my letter of agreement. Thanks SO much!

  9. Mitch, appreciated this post especially because I also have a MacBook Air and use Keynote. A couple of questions: can you say more about using presenter view and whether the projector can handle it? I didn’t realize that could be an issue.
    Also, have you ever had a problem with the external screen display being dark? If so, how have you solved it?

  10. I’ve never had an issue with the external screen being dark.
    As for presenter view, I’ve found that older projectors simply can’t handle the output from the Mac at a higher resolution and running presenter view. My only solution is to push down the computer monitor resolution to 800×600. I hope that was helpful.

  11. I have been speaking quite a bit lately, I am actively trying to do more. This rider is very helpful Mitch. Thank you for sharing it.
    The tip on the remote is a great one. I recently ran into an issue with my iPhone and the Keynote app not playing well together. I solved the problem, but it’s good to know of a great alternative. Thanks!

  12. Great tips! Smart to things all spelled out in one list … will compile one like that to give to my future meeting planners. I actually present using Keynote on my iPad2 now & it’s simplified my tech issues tremendously! Using either of my Mac laptops, I would never know if the projector was going to sync up right the first time. But ever since I switched to the iPad last year, it’s been plug & play with every projector. Keep in mind that the iPad requires its own adapter and you can’t use every font or special feature from your traditional Keynote file, but once you design accordingly, it’s a gem!

  13. I originally read this post when it came out before all these wonderful comments. I came back today because I wanted to download one of the apps Mitch suggested. Thank you Mitch for this incredible post. In response to the question above, I wanted to say that I organized the #140conference Montreal, ( ) and approached Mitch to open our event. The 140 is almost like a grass roots community event, for those who do not know the background. Mitch was anything but a Diva, he’s a true community member. He was gracious, kind, engaged the audience, and treated me and all others involved wih the planning of the event from start to finish like superstars. I am most greatful to Mitch and his awesome manner.
    No, Mitch Joel is no Diva.
    He’s a team player, he believes in his vision, he is a member of the community and I can say this first hand. Thank you Mitch, your involvement meant a great deal to me and youre A+ in my books all the way.

  14. If anyone happens to read this far down in the comment section, it’s obvious that Mitch’s requirements are not the requirements of someone speaking to 30 people on a Wednesday evening. To make these kind of expectations a “a hard and fast rule” would be foolish, I suggest, unless you are clearly of the caliber of Mitch – Mitch Joel speaks frequently to diverse groups like Wal-Mart, Starbucks, Nestle, Procter and Gamble, Unilever and has shared the stage with former President of the United States, Bill Clinton, Sir Richard Branson, Malcolm Gladwell, Anthony Robbins, Tom Peters and Dr. Phil.

  15. Mitch,
    You’ve got a really great and comprehensive list here! I agree that you’re not a diva at all, but would caution speakers below your caliber to slowly build into this much of self sufficiency.
    If I may make a completely unsolicited suggestion from the viewpoint of a professional Technical Director of events akin to the ones you’re used to speaking at: Try and trust the AV crew with a digital copy of your presentation. We spend hours upon hours setting up these events and calibrating Back-Of-House technical rigs: throwing in a rouge computer (any computer that hasn’t been tested, adjusted, and retested) can be a headache, and sometimes a recipe for disaster (there are certain video switching systems that macbook airs particularly hate – HDCP gets mad, viewing the switcher as a recorder, which it is not). Sometimes we have had to wrap the hell out of the video signal to get it where it needs to be on the screens. Additionally, we also have at our disposal remote systems such as the Perfect Cue, with a more bulletproof frequency allotment than the Logitech series (some car remotes can interfere with them, among other things). Trust us, we do this for a living, and are bound by NDA agreements too,. If the crew is worth their weight, they will provide your presenter view/slide view in the downstage/confidence monitors. We’re really here to make this the best experience possible.
    I do completely understand that you may have been burned by sub-par crews in the past. Thank you so very much for preaching the virtues of downloading video content locally, bringing tested dongles for your machine if you must use your machine, and never trusting the in-house internet service!

  16. Great post, Mitch. Thanks.
    I, too, use a contract rider. My booking agent goes over it in detail with the event planner. I also hit the high points in my pre-event call with the event planner or sponsor. Still, I’d say 30% of the time, I get to the venue and they have not complied with some aspect of the rider. My road manager is left scrambling, trying to fix the problem before I take the stage.
    This tends to happen more at conferences and trade shows where there are a lot of speakers. I have not found it to helpful to whip out the rider and say, “Not only did we discuss this previously, but you signed my Contract Rider!” I am usually frustrated in this situation because I don’t have any leverage at this point, apart from refusing to go on, which would make me look like a diva. It’s not the state of mind I want to have as I begin my speech.
    Have you found yourself in this situation? What do you do? Maybe I am just missing something in my process.
    By the way, these are event planners who are paying me a lot of money. You’d think they would make the relatively small additional investment to get the production stuff right!

  17. I find that it doesn’t affect my performance or headspace to reiterate why I have the rider in the first place. More often than not, they are paying me to bring my “a game” and the rider is there to ensure that. When things get all wonky, I simply let them know what it could – potentially – mean to my performance and the net result. If they want to chance it, it’s their show. I’ll do my best with what they have failed to act upon. Sadly.

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