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If you regularly speak at conferences the chances are that you know something about how to give a good talk. As I see the good, the bad and far too often, the ugly, I’ve decided to share some nuggets which will make you shine even brighter

Before you start planning your talk ask yourself the following:


Why are you doing it?

What’s the one thing you want to leave your audience thinking?

What are the three main points you want to hit?

How do you want people to feel after they hear you?

What’s your personal story? What is the thing which emotionally connects you to the content you are presenting?

Why do you care? If you don’t know why you care, chances are the audience won’t care either


There are so many reasons why you might decide to speak at a conference: to position yourself or your organization in a certain way, to drum up business, to spread awareness etc… You should know why you are doing it, but much more importantly if you want to resonate, you should understand why your audience is listening to you speak in the first place. Consider who they are and why they are there.



Of course you respect your audience, you just need to make it obvious that you do, so that they like you and want to listen to what you have to say. Get to know who they are before you start. You can’t cater for everyone, nor should you try, but having a general understanding of who you are talking to is the most important factor in delivering a talk which will resonate. It’ll help you understand what level of detail to dig into, how much knowledge you can assume your audience has, how much to simplify and how to give them something useful.



Unless they are closed door events, most conferences are filmed and posted online and some are livestreamed. With the caveat that unless you are speaking at TED, a few talks get lots of views, some get some views and the rest barely get watched. I have LOTS of theories and opinions about this, but I won’t bore you with them now. I will just say that as a speaker you should think about your potential digital audience every bit as much as you think about the live one. If you want your talk to live on, then try to make sure the content is evergreen. Think about the attention span of the average viewer. To capture online attention you have to be way more captivating than in person, because you are losing the energy of the live event.



It’s much easier to engage an audience with a story, than by just presenting facts alone. To find your story lay out the elements which make up your topic and then pull out the moments which are inspirational, and lessons learnt and craft those as central pieces to your story. If you are stuck, find someone to talk it over with, they may see something which you don’t.



I find that the most engaging talks are ones which have an element of the personal, the real and the vulnerable to them. No one is suggesting you need to bare your soul to a room full of strangers, if you’re able to connect on a personal level and let down your guard, the audience tends to sit up and listen that bit more. Without getting into your whole autobiography give the audience a sense of what personally connects you to what you are talking about. This will help to ignite in them the same passion that you feel.



You may feel that 30 mins or even 10 mins is not enough time to convey all the brilliance you have to impart on the world, I promise you it’s enough time and often way more than you need. I wouldn’t say that there is an ideal talk length, I’ve seen great 5 mins talks and others which are equally brilliant at 20 mins. What the best talks have in common is that they are punchy, focused and leave the audience wanting more. Don’t try to say too much and if you can, try to say each point in a single sentence. Back to respecting your audience, cut the waffle and show them that you respect their time.



It’s a writing principle which stands the test of time. If you want something to stick in the mind of someone else, put it in a series of three. The effectiveness of the rule also translates as a talk. Come up with the top three points you want to make in the presentation as a whole, then use the rest of the time to reinforce those three points with facts and examples.



Use slides only if they are visually compelling. Slides should not be used as a crutch, they are there to help you tell your story and engage your audience deeply. A picture is worth a thousand words. If you need text to help you with your talk then use presenter view – you can see it, your audience can’t.

I may have hammered this point a bit and despite the era of TED talks, even the most seasoned presenter can be guilty of throwing a bit too much information onto that one slide. It’s tempting, I get it, don’t give into the fear!



You might be a naturally gifted and well-seasoned presenter, but even the slickest of presenters get tripped up, especially if you are delivering new content to the audience.

Ideally you will practice with the conference curator or speaker coach if you have one available. If this is not an option, then find a colleague or friend who you trust to give you honest feedback. It is HARD to tell someone that their presentation is not good or needs work, so find someone you know who has no problem being straight with you. Another tip – film yourself delivering your talk and watch it back to get an idea of what it looks and sounds like.

Go forth and spread the wisdom!

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