When you are asked to speak, or make a presentation, then you have to ask some basic questions. Here’s one not to ignore – how should I speak in this room, to this audience, in this setting?

First, the assumption: you have something worthwhile to say (otherwise, you would not have been asked to speak). But, after that, all bets are off.

How many times have you heard a speaker with great things to say, but after the event, you described the session (whether to yourself, or others) as “boring?” Good material – but not a very scintillating, engaging presentation.

If you corner me, it is not possible to answer which is more important. Is it the content? Is it the delivery? Yes! — it is both. Definitely both. (Read this earlier post: 2 Ways to Guarantee a Failed Presentation).

In other words:


But I have a hunch that many speakers/presenters work much harder on their content than they do on their delivery. It is as though delivery is optional; not all that important. The attitude seems to be “I’ve got some important information here. It’s the audience’s job to pay attention.”

Big mistake!

So, here you go – assuming you have important, good, well-developed, useful content, then… here are some Speaking/Presentation Tips 101, with slight tweaks for different speaking circumstances.

#1 — The Basics – (these are “always” tips)

  • Sit up straight, or stand up straight. Posture matters.
  • Speak your words clearly, loud enough for the folks in the back to hear you easily.
  • Never speak in a monotone! Learn to use vocal variety and verbal punch.
  • Sound a little-to-more-than-a-little excited about your material. (Hint: it helps to actually be excited about your material).
  • Look your audience members in the eye. Aim for eyeball-to-eyeball contact.
  • Put your mouth right up to the microphone. Make sure you are projecting well through the sound system.

And, a big, big hint – all of this requires practice and rehearsal.

#2 – Some Variables

  • The bigger the audience, the wider the room, the more important it is to use big, really big, gestures. Small gestures in a big room seem…small. (In a big room and setting, with a big audience, you almost have to turn from a “presenter” to an “orator”).
  • When on a panel, make every opportunity to speak its own little presentation. Lean forward; “look excited that it is your turn to speak.” Seize the floor when it is your turn. Then relinquish the floor gladly when you finish your turn, waiting for your next opportunity.
  • Oh, by the way, look at your fellow panel members when they speak, and look like you care about what they are saying. (It helps if you actually do care about what they are saying).
  • Even when seated (behind a table, or on a stool), lean forward when you speak. Gesture plenty (not with as big a gesture as when you are standing to speak to a large, full room audience – but gesture!).

#3 – About PowerPoint/Keynote slides, or other visuals.

  • Remember this principle – as much as possible, take charge of where the eyeballs of your audience members focus. If a slide is visible, they are looking at the slide, not at you. Thus…
  • Darken the screen when you want the audience members looking at you.
  • Use more images, bigger fonts – much less small print. I’m not a fan of PowerPoint “outlines.” Use PowerPoint as “visual AID,” not as the “presentation.” (Read this earlier post: A Set of PowerPoint Slides is NOT a “presentation” – a rant). (I personally prefer physical handouts to on-screen outlines).
  • And, use props; physical objects – not just slides.

I suspect this is just a beginning. What else would you add to this list of recommendations?


I’ve embedded two videos here. Yes, both with Steve Jobs.

In the first, notice how Steve Jobs uses props and slides. (Carmine Gallo points this out effectively).

In the second, notice how Steve Jobs almost looks like he is about to spring right up from his stool. He is very engaging, energized, even when seated as he responds to a question.

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