Top Ten Tips for Talkers

I saw this article from Nancy Duarte the other day and had a quick read – it’s only a few minutes long. It was well timed, I had a speaking slot at a conference coming up in a few days time and, like most folk, I’m not immune to performance nerves so was more than happy to pick up any tips that could be useful.

One of my own strategies for dealing with those nerves is to attempt to prepare for as many of the common gotchas as I can. I realise that there’s likely to be a surprise at every event and that I can’t simply magic them away through preparation – but what I find is that I can cope with the unexpected better when I’m confident that I have the basics covered.

I’ve ended up with a checklist of sorts.

I noticed that there are things on my checklist that I’ve not seen on others so I thought I’d publish it in the hope it could help someone else out. And so I can find it again:

Before leaving home

Check your Structure

What type of venue are you speaking at? What type of audience is attending? What type of session are they expecting?

There’s nothing new here, basically try to avoid turning up with an interactive workshop prepared only to find you’re in a steeply banked theatre with an anonymous, backlit, 30 rows of shadows to play with.

Tell a Story.

I won’t tread on Nancy Duarte’s toes here – courses are great and highly recommended.

Finish Strongly.

Make sure your audience knows when you finish – and not just because you flash up the ‘Thanks” slide. In music it’s called ‘resolving’ and it’s great to keep it in mind for your presentations too. It gives your audience the comfort of knowing for sure when you’re completed and avoids that awkward silence that hangs in the air when you’ve not been completely clear. A key phrase “and a final sentence from me…”. Body language, picking up your notes, a nod of the head. The closing graphic. They’re all useful, try not to rely on a single one.

Know your Timings.

Ever been in a session where the speaker is 5 minutes over time, oblivious to the poor organiser who is jumping up and down at the back of the hall like an angry chimp, and isn’t showing any signs of wrapping up? Please don’t be that speaker.

Rehearse your timings diligently. Aim to know throughout your session whether or not you are faster or slower than projected and be prepared to adjust. I put my intended timings onto my notes at a few key points. When I remember to start my stopwatch I know how my timings are going. When I remember.

When you get there

Get there Early

Obvious really. I like to spend a little time in the venue getting a feel for it. It also helps the logistics setup, see below.


“You just have to download this little app, then our big screen will just work”. <shudder>

Where’s your Media?

Mine is on my desktop. And on a USB stick. And on a cloud drive somewhere,

Notes on Cards

My ultimate backup! Index cards with a few keywords on each. If everything else fails I can still get the message across without having to rely on memory or technology.

Moving Pictures?

What’s your plan if your embedded video won’t play? Much better to know beforehand than get a surprise. And don’t forget the sound too…


Be prepared to be surprised.

I know – that doesn’t help at all.

Don’t read

It’s tempting, but resist. If your notes are based on keywords you can’t really read them anyway.

Move around a bit

It can feel safe behind the lectern, but I like to move around and give the audience different viewpoints. It helps to stop them dropping off, especially if you make eye contact with them.

Slow down and drink water

A sip of water is a great way to gather your thoughts. It signals a legitimate pause, rather than that awkward silence as you try to remember what ‘VUCA‘ stands for (Yep – that was me the other day…). It’s also a good way to prevent the dry throat coughing fit that can catch anyone out. Note that that is ‘prevent’ not necessarily ‘cure’!




The observant amongst you will notice that the reference to ten tips in the title isn’t really borne out in the text.  You have no idea how hard it is for me to write a title like that and not enumerate precisely underneath it!  Thanks for reading, please leave your own tips as comments…

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