How to present like a keynote speaker

How to present like a keynote speaker

Public speaking is hard. Here's how I cracked it. It's a work in progress.


I'll level with you right now. I used to hate public speaking. It’s still not one of my favourite things.

It has taken me years of coaching in storytelling and stagecraft to counter nerves and achieve a moderate level of competency.

Good presentation skills are critical if you want to get on in your career. They are as important as basic literacy and numeracy.

Presentation is an important form of communication internally within an organisation for team meetings, and reporting. It's critical externally for customer engagement, sales meetings, financial reporting, conferences and media.

Here's the distilled wisdom of the coaching and practice that I've had over the past 25 years.

Wisdom of the crowd

I'm going to crowdsource tips from my network. It was an incredible way of sourcing writing tips.

If you've got suggestions for public speaking please share them via this Google Form or leave a comment below. I'll write up a blog if there's sufficient interest and content.

#1 Who’s the audience?

It's a very simple question but one that a lot of people don't ask. The answer will help you decide whether you're the right person, and determine if the opportunity is aligned to your personal or organisation's goals.

#2 Are you the best person?

Put your best team forward. Is there somebody in your team that would be better suited to present to your investor or client?

Expertise and knowledge will almost always trump presentation skills. It's how I managed to get away being a lousy presenter for so long in my career.

#3 Diversity

Events and meetings should represent the public that they seek to engage. Challenge the line up for an event to ensure fair representation of ethnicity and gender.

Judy Gombita and Sarah Hall have both called me out for contributing to the gender imbalance at male dominated events.

#4 Value exchange

Public speaking needs to be a two-way street. Gemma Griffiths introduced me to the notion of value exchange as a means of qualifying speaking opportunities. She's ruthless in testing gigs for both her clients and herself.

Your purpose, whether it be profile, relevant relationships, sales, or simply payment, should be aligned with the conference. If it isn't don't be afraid of saying no, or seeking out more appropriate events.

#5 Planning

You need to plan for a presentation in the same way that you'd plan any other piece of work.

Allot time for messaging, developing your story, building content, and rehearsal. I also try to build in time to publish a piece of follow-up content or call to action.

#6 No room for ego

If you're invited to present to a customer or at a conference  it's because you've earned the right to be in the room.

Do not spend the first five minutes of your session explaining your personal or career history. Anyone that is interested can read your biography.

#7 Animals, demos and video

I avoid all of the above because the potential to screw up is too high. If something can go wrong, it will go wrong. Use props and pictures, and avoid doing anything that's outside your control.

#8 Personal stories

The best presentations all have two things in common in my view. They have a simple message and they're authentic. The presenter uses personal stories and creates a relationship with the audience through empathy.

#9 Rule of three

The arc of three is a useful structure and can help deliver a narrative.

Beginning, middle and end.

First point. Second point. Third point.

Here's what I'm going to tell you. This is my story. Here's what I told you.

#10 External review

Share an extract of your presentation as widely as you dare.

David Gallagher taught me this technique. He starts planning weeks ahead of a session and invites comment from colleagues and relevant people in his network throughout the process. It always improves the end result.

#11 Preparation

Penni Blyth worked with me for around 12 months as a coach and mentor when I left Speed.

We came to the insight that I was confident sharing knowledge and telling stories but fell apart if I had to speak about a topic where I didn't have expert knowledge. Learning has since become a key part of the content creation for any session.

#12 Media

PowerPoint is a lousy form of media. More often than not it’s used as a crutch rather than an integral part of a presentation.

Whatever you put on a slide it needs to contribute to the story that you're trying to tell.

Photos with a caption work well. Densely typed text is guaranteed to lose your audience. They'll focus on reading the slide rather than listening to you.

#13 Practice

An hour of preparation and practice per minute of live presentation time is a good metric for preparing presentations. Rehearsals with constructive critics are the single biggest way to overcome nerves. In time you'll significantly reduce the amount of preparation that you require.

#14 Participation

It's typical for people following a presentation to be sharing titbits via social media such as Twitter.

Start by reinforcing the hashtag, and provide soundbites for sharing. I try and make the headline for each slide a shareable summary of my content.

#15 Working the crowd

There's a second point to related to participation.

It's tough to maintain attention on a speaker for more than 15 minutes.

Look for ways to involve and engage people following or even during the presentation. Questions and polls are good.

#16 Theatre

The best presenters use stage craft to engage people during a presentation.

Dramatic pauses, movement around a stage, and varying pitch and volume are all ways to create breakthrough moments during a presentation.

This level of competency takes time but it's wonderful to watch someone that has mastered the craft at work. Ketchum's Peter Fleischer is my teacher.

#17 Timing

Always have less content than you need for the time allotted.

You may start late and need to recover time. You also need to allow time for questions.

Question and answers are the most valuable part of any presentation. It allows you to build a relationship with people watching and listening, and enables them to engage on their terms.

#18 Publish

I try and publish and share my deck and summary of my presentation as soon as I'm done.

It enables anyone that has followed the session either in the room on social media to get in touch. It's my single biggest source of sales leads and work.

#19 Stay behind

I used to run off stage as quickly as I could after a session, relieved that my presentation was over.

David Meerman-Scott taught me to hang around. People that haven't asked a question but maybe wanted to, will seek you out.

It's an excellent opportunity to build new relationships.

#20 Evaluation

Ask conference organisers for feedback and access to data from survey forms.

If your session has been videoed make sure that you review it to see how you can improve.

I learnt about pacing myself during a presentation, and the best colour to wear, after watching videos of myself presenting.

Your suggestions

I'd love to hear your tips. If you've got suggestions for improving public speaking skills please share them via this Google Form or leave a comment below. I'll publish tips from my network in the next week or so.

#FuturePRoof is back to assert the value of public relations

#FuturePRoof is back to assert the value of public relations

Public relations theory and practice toolkit

Public relations theory and practice toolkit