Presentation Tips

Was Don Draper cool or not?

Elsewhere, I’ve held up Angus Young, admiring him for his complete lack of detachment.

Today, I hold up the opposite, a King of Cool, Mad Men’s Don Draper. When you need to be cool and collected in a hot environment, channel your inner Don Draper.

But now that I think of it, Don Draper wasn’t cool, collected, and detached at all. In fact, in one of my favorite scenes (a video of which I’ll share in a few days, because in less than two minutes it displays some of the most critical presentation tips ever), he’s almost crying over slides of his estranged wife, and even his product naming idea was inspired by his heartfelt desire to go back to a simpler time.

What do you think, do Don Draper and Angus Young have something in common? Was Don Draper, the famous man of coolness and detachment, more “plugged in” than we give him credit for?

Let your freak flag fly

Look at that guy. He’s sweating, he’s drooling, he’s desperately sucking oxygen through a tube. He’s the uncoolest guy that ever existed. And yet…

There are tens of thousands of fans calling his name, straining to touch him, like he is a god.

You don’t need to be perfect. You are already the expert on your subject. That’s why they asked you to present.

The pressure is off, even if you don’t seem to realize it. All you need to do is show up and tell them what you think. That’s all they want from you.

Yes, there are things you can do to optimize it, and that’s why we’re here.

But don’t forget:

You are the expert on your subject. That’s why they asked you to be there.

Key flagging phrases

Flagging is a way for you to call attention to the main point of your message. There are some key words and phrases that wake people up and tell them to listen carefully. Here are some of them:

If you take just one thing away from this, it should be…
The most important thing to remember is…
What it all boils down to is…
The bottom line is…
The most critical issue is…
At the end of the day…
That’s a really good question. The answer is…

You can also use:

The best part is…
The focus of the debate should be…
First and foremost,…
The key thing we’re focusing on right now is…

Kill your darlings

Before all the other important stuff you might want to know about presenting, the single most important step is a brutal one:

“Kill your darlings.”

This phrase, often attributed to author William Faulkner, means get rid of the things that mean a lot to you, but that are harming the greater good of your presentation.

Your presentation probably describes a key part of your work, your blood, sweat, and tears. It’s tempting to get up there and talk about all the little details that you think are important.

And those details are important, but they’re important to you, not to the mission of your presentation. They are not important to the second of The First Three Questions (what do I want my audience to do), and so they need to be cut out of your presentation.

Not having the discipline to kill your darlings leads to weak presentations and bored audiences. A good rule of thumb is that if your presentation is taking up more than 66% of the time allotted to you, you haven’t killed enough of your darlings.

Killing your darlings will be difficult for you, but your audience will appreciate it.

It’s not that faces are good or bad

It’s not that faces are good or bad, it’s just that they’re very distracting.

One thing that we see often in almost every corporate presentation is there’s an introduction of the company. In that introduction, there will usually be a couple of slides with pictures of human faces.

We call these slides “happy workers slides.” A “happy workers slide” often shows an ethnically-diverse assortment of smiling people holding clipboards or gathering around a conference call speakerphone.

While this slide is up on the screen, the speaker will be introducing himself (“Hello, my name is XYZ. I work for company ABC. Blah blah blah.”).

The thing to keep in mind is that the human eye is naturally drawn to faces. It’s a human instinct with millions of years of evolution behind it.

And remember that you’re competing for attention with your slides.

So if your slides include faces of people, it’s almost guaranteed that you’ll lose in that competition.

No amount of presentation brilliance is going to allow you to overcome the pull of that instinct to look at other faces.

It’s not that human faces on a slide are always good or always bad, and it’s not that eye contact with your audience is always good and things that interfere with it are always bad.

Just keep in mind that if there is a slide showing a human face looking at the audience, it is almost guaranteed, as long as that face is up there, that the audience will look at that face, not at you, and, for a few seconds at least, will not listen to what you are saying.

Yes, X, but the bigger picture is Y

When you want to persuade somebody to choose your argument over another, one of the things that you can do is tie your argument to a bigger picture.

For example, we had a client recently who worked for a European bank, and there was an internal debate within the bank about whether to close the branches in Pakistan, since those branches were unprofitable.

However, our client wanted to argue, we should keep the branches open, because customers in the surrounding countries say that one of the things they like about the bank is that it has branches in the region, and so they know the bank is committed to the region.

Our client wanted to point out that if the bank closed the Pakistan branches, it would save X, but it would endanger another business line worth 10X, since the customers would question the bank’s commitment to the region.

Our client ended up winning the argument, and one of the reasons he won the argument was he tied his perspective to the bigger picture. “Yes, the Pakistan branches are losing money, but the bigger picture is that having them protects business that is 10x larger, and if we close them we risk losing that larger business.”

The key phrase to use in this argument is “but the bigger picture is.” You have to use that phrase. Don’t just think it, actually say it.


Very few people would say that they are small picture people. In fact, I have never in my life met a person who said, “Yeah, the big picture is nice, but I’m a small picture kind of guy.” So when you use this phrase, especially when there are multiple people in the room, it causes people to begin to favor your argument, because if they don’t, they might look like small picture kind of people.

The argument is basically, “Yes, X, but the bigger picture is Y.”

Fielding challenges from an angry audience member

Sometimes when an emotionally-stated challenge comes from an audience member, as much as 50% of the emotion behind the challenge might be the audience member feeling unheard. They don’t feel like their opinion is understood or being listened to, even if you think it is.

You, the speaker, start to feel under attack now too, because not only is someone asking you a challenging question, they’re doing it in an angry way.

Often, you can calm their anger by structuring your response like this:

1. I hear you. / I understand you. / That’s a good point.
2. Repeat their concern in your own words.
3. But we also have to… / But in order to… / But at the same time we…

The first two parts, the opening sentences, defuse the situation. They tell the angry person you understand their opinion, you know they disagree, and in fact you understand their opinion well enough that you can put it in your own words, you are not just saying an empty “I understand you.”

Then the third part, the “meat” of your response, shows the other side of the argument and tells them your position.

Sure, you will still have to deal with the substance of the challenge. But the explosive emotional part will be defused. You might even find you have a new friend in the audience, someone who just seconds ago was an angry protester.

“Stories are good” is not actionable advice

“Stories are good, you should use them more often. And it’s important to put yourself in your stories.”

That’s good advice.

But these days a lot of people pass out advice like that, and then you ask them to explain themselves, and they tell you stuff like, “It makes you seem more authentic. It makes you seem more vulnerable.”

They use a bunch of words that nobody understands. Nobody really knows how to implement the advice.

There’s a simpler and more direct reason that stories work well, and that is just that people are social animals and they like to see how other people interact with other people.

So sometimes a story is as simple as, “I walked down the street and I went to a restaurant for lunch, and I learned about XYZ. After lunch, then I had to go to get a haircut, and I learned about ABC.”

Maybe the actual point of your speech is to teach people about XYZ and ABC. The reason that you’re using a story to do it is because it holds people’s attention longer. A well-told story can hold attention for pretty much ever.

Of course, keep in mind what your audience is there for and what they want. That’s the golden rule. In a business presentation, your audience probably wants to know something like the quarter’s sales numbers. They don’t care about your daughter’s boyfriend’s personal hygiene challenges.

Maybe in a personal story, you’re going to talk about your daughter’s boyfriend’s personal hygiene challenges because people want to know about stuff like that and how that affects you, but with business audiences, your stories are probably going to be shorter and they’ll often just be three or four sentences.

The “political changes” question in emerging markets

A question that often comes up in investor conference calls, especially with emerging markets companies, is “How are political or regulatory changes affecting the business environment?”

The way your company chooses to answer this question is a stylistic difference. There is rarely a right or wrong.

There will be some companies who have the CEO answer that question, and there will be some companies who have the CFO or one of the other officers of the company answering it.

Again, both styles are completely valid, but one thing to keep in mind is how they affect the deep bench question.

If the CEO answers the question, the CEO’s answer might be very knowledgeable, but the audience might wonder, “Is the CEO the only one who understands and knows how to deal with this issue, or do the other officers understand it and know how to deal with it, too?”

On the other hand, if the answer is given by one of the other officers, then it answers the deep bench question well. It shows that the other officers of the company understand the political changes and what they will mean for the company.

However, it might leave the audience wondering how well the CEO understands how the political environment is affecting the business.

One other thing to watch out for is if you have the chief legal officer answering regulatory questions, the answer might be the most accurate, but the listeners might start thinking, “Is the chief legal officer the only one who understands this, or does the bench understanding run deeper?”

Again, like most things related to investor conference calls, there is no right or wrong answer. It’s largely a stylistic question. The thing to keep in mind is that no matter what method you choose, it will raise questions in the audience’s minds, and you need to come up with a game plan for addressing those questions.

They don’t know nearly as much as you think they do

Our clients often think that when audience members are high up in the industry or in the company, they already know everything.

This is completely wrong.

Yes, they are experts in something you are not. But you are an expert in something that they are not. That’s why they hired you.

They need you to explain your world, and what you’re going to do about it, clearly.

For starters, they probably know 70% of your jargon. But that means they don’t know 30% of your jargon. Explaining things with jargon and theories might work with your buddies back at the office, but it’s not going to work with these people.

What these people are almost always looking for is people who know they have the Curse of Knowledge and know how to overcome it.

Here’s what the Curse of Knowledge is, and six excellent tips for what you can do to overcome it.

Matt’s personal favorite is #6, using stories and specific examples. Click here to read more.

Get to work

Steven Pressfield, the author of The War Of Art, one of my favorite books, once said:

“The amateur believes he must first overcome his fear; then he can do his work. The professional knows that fear can never be overcome.”

Since you’re a professional, you know what Pressfield knows: nothing conquers fear quite like taking action.

Acknowledge the fear, then set it aside and get to work.

This goes double for public speaking. Your audience wants to hear from you. Your duty is to speak to them. You will never stop feeling fear, so learn how to deliver your message anyway.

A related video: You’ll probably never not be nervous

The most effective presentations are not presentations at all

The most effective presentations aren’t presentations at all. They are conversations, and you probably already have all the skills you need, they just need to be unlocked.

Let’s say the Big Boss from Headquarters is coming to your regional office for a full day of all the department heads presenting their annual plans to him, or their major initiatives for the next year.

Your end goal is that you want to stand out in front of the Big Boss. The best way to stand out is to do what other people are not doing.

Start by imagining what the other department heads are doing. What they’re usually doing is, if their presentation is to be thirty minutes, they start out with about an hour of content, and then they gradually cut things out until they get down closer to forty minutes. They they cut some more until they get to thirty minutes, or at least they try to.

What often ends up happening is they get to under forty minutes and then they say we can’t cut anymore, so they take that forty minutes and they try to cram it into thirty minutes.

These people end up trying to go too fast and barely having time to say what they walked into the room to say. They’re not doing their specialty, not doing what the company is paying them for. They’re doing something else, presentation skills, or, more correctly, what they imagine those presentation skills might be.

Their presentations are almost certainly going to be terrible. The Big Boss is going to be in pain. By the end of the day he’s going to be aching to get out of there. His head is going to be ready to explode.

So go the other way. Do what the others are not doing:

You know your subject better than anybody in the world, so distill your subject into a couple sentences. We’ve even seen one of our clients distill his message into six words.

The others will get up there and start presenting to The Big Boss, and their message will get lost. They’ll be trying to do a million other “presentation things,” but they won’t be doing what they’re really good at, which is talking about the subject they’ve spent years working on.

You, however, get to walk into that room confident that you can sum up your message in just a few words if you need to.

You get to get up there and talk about the things you’re really good at, using the skills you’ve already been practicing everyday for you whole life, because the “presentation things” aren’t getting in your way.

Yes, it’s a little counter-intuitive, but the best way to present is the way that unlocks the skills you already have: the communication skills you’ve already been practicing your whole life, and the subject matter expertise you bury yourself in every day at work.

Now, this does not mean you get to be lazy, or that you’re going to oversimplify things. You’re not going to walk into that presentation room, magically deliver your entire message in 15 seconds, and then confidently strut out of the room while everyone says, “Oh my god, that was the most amazing presentation I ever saw!”

No, on the contrary, the reality is that you’ll probably need the whole half hour, but the difference will be that The Big Boss will be asking you questions, asking you to dive deeper and brainstorm with him right there on the spot. He will remember you as the one who electrified his brain when everyone else put him to sleep.

Wherever you look…

Wherever you look, your audience is probably going to look there too.

This is a human trait. You’re not going to get around it. There’s no amount of presentation training that is going to help you overcome it.

If your audience sees you looking at your slides, they will probably also look at your slides. That doesn’t mean that looking at your slides is inherently bad, but it does mean that, since you compete with your slides for attention, when you look at them you are almost guaranteed to move the audience’s attention off of yourself and onto your slides.

Another way that this plays out is when people are participating in panels. When you are on a panel, even when you are not speaking, you are basically performing. Wherever you look, the audience will look too. If, while you are not speaking, you look at the floor, or at your hands, or at the ceiling, your audience is also going to look at the floor, or your hands, or the ceiling, too, and not at the speaker. You are distracting the audience.

So keep in mind that when you are on a panel or when you are using other people on your panel, that you are performing the whole time, not just when you are speaking. Wherever the audience should be looking, you look there too.

By the way, we recommend that you run a little test, just so you too can see how natural and unavoidable this little human quirk is:

Get a couple friends. Go out on to the street. Look at the sky.

Chances are pretty good that people passing by will also look at the sky. If they’re busy and they’re hurrying to get somewhere they might only look at the sky for a second or two, but they’re going to look at the sky.

The CEO on the conference call: Stick to your style

Every CEO has a different style when it comes to handling investor conference calls (for example, an annual earnings report).

The styles lie on a spectrum.

On the one end, you’ve got a Jamie Dimon style, which is where the CEO will just say two or three sentences about the big picture and then throw it over to the CFO to go into the details.

Then there’s the other end of the spectrum, where you have a CEO who will go into a great level of detail, and may actually deliver large portions of the report himself, and may talk about revenue numbers and distribution changes, and may mention customer names during the call.

Then there are CEOs who move back and forth, even in their opening statements. Their opening statement might begin with big picture stuff, but then it might transition to more detailed stuff, mentioning the earnings numbers, etc.

You often hear the more detailed approach at companies that have recently begun doing conference calls.

Every CEO has his or her different style, and there’s no right or wrong answer.

Keep in mind that the listeners on the conference call are often just listening to see what is the style of this particular CEO.

Then they’ll ask themselves questions. For example, if they hear a CEO who’s big picture, they’ll be looking to see, does this company have a deep bench?

If, on the other hand, the CEO is going into a great level of detail, they’re going to be wondering, “Okay, is there evidence that the CEO is delegating things, or every time there’s a problem, does somebody run into the CEO’s office?”

Almost every style is going to kick off some questions in the listeners’ brains. The key is not to look for a perfect style, because there isn’t a perfect style. The key is to know or to anticipate what kinds of questions your style might be kicking off in the brains of the people listening on the other end of the call.

Reader question: “Can you do an unplanned talk for 10 minutes?”

The other day a reader said, “My boss asked me if I could do an unplanned talk for 10 minutes. What do I say, how can I organize my thoughts?”

Here’s what we suggested…

“Two things humans almost always find fascinating:

“1. Change or movement (think of early humans out hunting, watching the savannah horizon: Fixed things, like a tree, don’t get much attention, but a moving lion or tiger, the humans will watch that and discuss it for hours).

“2. Will these changes or will this movement affect me?

“So if things are changing at [your organization] or with [your program], just spend your 10 minutes talking about that. Start with a general principal, and then give a case study / example / story about how clients are responding to that change.

“For example:

“Over the past half year, I’ve seen a bunch of things evolving, but here are the biggest three things you should probably keep your eye on…

“Thing-I’ve-seen-change-recently #1. For example, a couple months ago we saw a client run into this issue during their experience with [your program], and this is what happened (you describe the challenge, and then you tell the audience how it got resolved).

“Then there’s Thing-I’ve-seen-change-recently #2. For example, a couple months ago we saw a client run into this issue during their experience with [your program], and this is what happened (you describe the challenge, and then you tell the audience how it got resolved).

“Then there’s Thing-I’ve-seen-change-recently #3. For example, a couple months ago we saw a client run into this issue during their experience with [your program], and this is what happened (you describe the challenge, and then you tell the audience how it got resolved).”

“From the audience’s perspective, you’re giving them advice on what to look out for, and how others are solving it. The [audience members] get to take that knowledge back to their own people, and use it to help their own people prepare for [your program].”

Cultivating audience participation

When the speechwriting is almost done, it’s time to move on to the delivery training.

Why do we say “almost done”?

Because we need to make sure the speech we’ve written is going to work in real life, and we can’t start to gauge that until we start the training. Does the speech hold up when it gets into a more dynamic “stress test”-sort of environment? Does it sound right coming out of the mouth of the speaker?

There are many facets of delivery training, but one is particularly important for lead generation activities:

Cultivating audience participation.

An audience that knows it’s okay to participate is an audience that is more likely to come up to you after the speech, or at the breaks, to introduce themselves and find out more. If you don’t break the barrier between speaker and audience, that barrier will remain and you will only get about 30% as many opportunities to follow up with potential customers afterwards.

There are many ways to drum up audience participation, but here we’re going to mention a couple in particular:

1. Start with a time shift phrase

We all recognize time shift phrases from the stories of our childhood: “once upon a time,” “way back when,” etc. And so we’ve been trained all our lives that whenever we hear a time shift phrase, it’s time to sit back and listen. Time shift phrases put us in listening mode.


–Last year, we noticed that…
–Two weeks ago, when I was cleaning out the trash…
–Yesterday, someone asked me why…

2. Open a question

The human brain is a question-solving machine. It’s so obsessed with solving questions that it will invent patterns and answers that don’t really exist. Sometimes, that obsession causes us to do stupid things, like vote for the wrong presidential candidate or date the wrong person.

However, a speaker can (and should) use that tendency to his/her own advantage.

Plant a question in the audience’s minds. Better yet, if you know your audience well, you already know the questions on their minds. So ask one of those questions, and let the audience watch and learn as you journey towards an answer.


—Profit margins at many agencies are falling. Why?
—Stock levels at wholesalers are typically much higher than they need to be. The technology to bring them down exists, but still they stay high. Why is that?
—The boards of many companies tend to be too quick to support the CEO’s decisions. You might think you know why, but today I’m going to float another theory past you.

Often, there’s a tendency to want to answer the question quickly. After all, you may be thinking, you’re an expert, and shouldn’t you know the answer already?

And in fact, you probably do know the answer already. But the audience already knows you know the answer. That’s why they asked you to speak. They want to see how you think, how you go about solving problems, how well you can understand a situation.

So resist the temptation to answer the question immediately. Let it hang out there, unanswered, for a while. Your audience wants to know what you did between the time you asked the question and the time you answered the question. They want to learn from you. Don’t disappoint them.

On a related point:

Make the question a little more complicated than you can answer completely during the presentation. Leave some possible answers unaddressed. Not too many, because then you might seem like you don’t understand the complexity of the issue. But enough so that audience members come up to you at the break and say things like, “Yeah, but what about XYZ?” And then you get to talk about XYZ and cut the conversation short and say things like, “I’ve got to go, here’s my business card, call me and we can discuss this more.”

By the way, when we say in the sessions “open a question,” we mean “ask a question.” When we say “close the question,” we mean answer the question.

3. The list goes on and on. There are many ways to enhance audience participation. For a deeper study of them, consider signing up for our Communications Tuneup weekly course. Studying and practicing those techniques is a big part of what we do in there.

But the main takeaway to remember at this point is that 80% of those ways, including the two you just read about here, are structural. They are not personality-dependent. They do not rely on some magical charisma that allows you to work a crowd like god knows what.

Some charisma helps, sure, it never hurt anyone. But the truth is that most audience participation techniques rely on seeds that were already planted in the audience’s minds years ago. There’s no magic to stirring audience participation. It just takes a little practice so you know where to find the existing triggers and how to pull them.

Reader question: How to ask difficult questions?

A reader asks, “How can I ask difficult questions?”

You know the kind of questions, the ones where you wonder beforehand if you dare ask them, the ones where you stop first and think things like is that question too forward, or too bold, or is it too early in the relationship, etc.

Yes, asking questions like that is risky, but the upside payoff is huge. People almost never make it to the C-suite unless they’ve shown they can ask difficult questions well. Also, if you’re an outside consultant, your clients will almost never see you as a trusted advisor unless you know how to ask difficult questions.

So knowing how to do it well is an important skill to have.

Here are three tips for doing it well:

1. Keep your eyes lower than the other person’s eyes.

Not lower as in “look down at the floor, away from the other person” but lower as in slightly below the other person’s eyes in elevation. In fact, to avoid confusion, let me restate that: Keep your eyebrows a little lower than the other person’s eyebrows.

And it doesn’t have to be a lot lower — in fact, keeping your eyes a lot lower would probably seem funny. And if both people are playing the same game, there will be a ridiculous-looking competition where both people will slouch lower and lower towards the floor until both people are practically falling out of their chairs to see who can get lower.

2. Keep your body loose. Remember mirror neurons and the tendency of people to act like people around them? You want the other person to stay loose and relaxed when you ask them the difficult question, to keep their defenses down, so you need to do the same.

3. And probably most importantly, use the other person’s words and phrases, not your own. For example, if the difficult question is how do you achieve “A” and “B” at the same time, even though they are mutually exclusive, get the other person to say “A,” and then to say “B,” and then you say, “Wait a minute, I don’t understand something, a few minutes ago you said A, but you also say B, and those seem like they are kind of contradictory, so how do you do both?”

Once you’ve asked the initial question and a couple followup questions, and no one has died, you can relax a bit and begin digging deeper into the difficult subject, knowing that you’ve been accepted into the club that gets to talk about that stuff.

Swim in my ocean, or splash in my puddle

Before they realize there is huge power in deep preparation, some of our clients at first resist the idea of practicing a lot. They think practicing a lot is going to kill the spontaneity in their speech.

What they haven’t realized yet is that you will never give the same speech twice. Every time you give the speech, dig deep and find something fresh and new to give the audience. Maybe the “dig deep” that you’re going to do is explore a part of the story you’ve never explored before. Or maybe the “dig deep” is experimenting with humor, and seeing if you can get the audience to laugh out loud at that one particular sentence that they’ve never laughed at before.

Audiences love this little bit of extra attention from speakers. Not only have you shown that you respect their time by preparing for them, you ALSO show them that you care enough to find something special just for them.

The thing is, most people can’t explore a speech that deeply the first time they give it. They’re just trying to hold it together — to not explode on stage, basically.

Michael Phelps didn’t show up at the Olympics and say, “I didn’t swim at all this year, because I wanted to be fresh.” He also didn’t show up at the Olympics and say, “I’m going to swim this race exactly like every other race I’ve ever swum.” He showed up at the Olympics and said, “I’ve been training for this for years, AND I’m going to dig deep and find something new to say.”

Stories happen in the listeners’ heads


The title of this segment is The Story Happens In The Listener’s Head, Not In The Teller’s Head.

There’s a story about Ernest Hemingway.

Ernest Hemingway is in a bar and there are a bunch of other writers at the bar. They have a little bet, a little challenge.

They say, “How many words do you need to tell a story?”

One of the writers, he says he can tell a story in 10 words. Another writer says, “I can tell a story in 9 words.” Somebody else says, “I can tell a story in 8 words,” “7 words.”

Ernest Hemingway says, “I can tell a story in 6 words,” so there’s silence at the table. Ernest Hemingway, he tells a story in 6 words.

What is that story? He says, “For sale, baby shoes. Never worn.”

Notice that that story did not take shape until it had some time to rattle around in your head. That story did not have any shape when it came out of my mouth. It only took shape, it only took life, in your head. Stories take life in the heads of your listeners …

The moral of the story

Here we dive deeper into one of the five elements of story structure. This one is perhaps your speech’s most important element, but it’s usually the most difficult element to communicate clearly…


HGOMM (5 points of story structure)
Jesse Jackson speech (repeating the moral — listen for the repeated phrase, “Rocks, just layin’ around,” starting at about minute 4:40)


The five components of a story HGOMM, hero or H stands for hero, G stands for goal, O stands for obstacle, the first M stands for mentor, the second M stands for moral. HGOMM, the five components of the story.

Usually the first four, the hero, the goal, the obstacle, and the mentor will be pretty clear and pretty easy for people to pick out. If they’re clear for you, the storyteller, they will generally be clear for the audience too.

But this last one, the last M, the moral, that’s a danger point because the audience is often not nearly as clear on the moral of the story as you are, you being the storyteller.

For you, the moral of the story, why you’re telling the story, what is your point, in your mind, that’s usually abundantly clear.

But for your audience, it might not be nearly as clear. They might be sitting out there listening to you tell your story and wondering what is the point of this story, why are we listening to this guy, what’s he trying to say.

With this last one, the moral of the story, it is especially important that you go the extra mile in terms of closing the gap between what’s in your head, the vision that’s in your head, and the vision that may or may not exist in the heads of your audience.

There are a couple ways that you can go about that.

One is to have a key phrase that is either your moral or is very closely related to your moral. Actually come to think of it, ideally that phrase is your moral and I’m going to link to a speech, a Jesse Jackson speech from the 1980s where he does this very well.

The second thing that you can do is you can end your story with that same key phrase. People are generally very good at remembering the last thing that comes out of your mouth. If the last thing that comes out of your mouth is the moral of the story, then when you shut up, when you stop talking, that last phrase is probably the one that they’re going to remember.

If you can combine those two techniques, that’s the best of all scenarios. That’s it for now. Thanks for listening. Talk to you later.

The fastest way to say more

Go slow and speak less.

Yes, I know it’s counterintuitive. I can barely believe it myself, even though I see it happen almost every day.

Here’s an example:

These days I’m helping a client prepare for a speech at a major committee meeting. It’s an important meeting, and an important speech, but it’s a short speech — about 8 minutes.

When he first started practicing, it was almost impossible to cram everything into his 8 minute time limit. He was rushing, and the words alone were taking 10 minutes, and then there was a video too, and some slides, and it just didn’t look possible.

So I listened to the little voice in the back of my head, the one that was saying “Tell him to go slow and see what happens.”

He did, and within three practice rounds the speech had fallen to 5-1/2 minutes. I don’t think I’ll ever forget the feeling of surprise and amazement that I had, sitting behind the camera, listening to the final few words fall out of his mouth, watching the timer: 5:19, 5:20, 5:21, 5:22, 5:23, press stop.

I think what happens is that when the speaker slows down, the mind clears. The brain focuses, and the fat is cut, naturally and easily.

Reader question: example of a marketing story

One of our readers had an excellent question about HGOMM…

(HGOMM: the five elements of a marketing story, outlined here:

His question: Can you send an example of a short marketing story with these 5 components?

Yes, of course. An example…

There was a guy, Can. He was making the rounds, speaking at Rotary clubs, hoping to spread the word and generate some business. But he wasn’t getting the results he wanted — his audience seemed to be falling asleep whenever he would talk. So he called us. We helped him restructure his speech and work on his delivery techniques. They weren’t easy changes for him to make, they were a little bit out of his comfort zone. But it worked, and now when he speaks he gets the results he wants.

Hero: Can
Goal: Wants to use speaking to get more business.
Obstacle: People are falling asleep at his speeches.
Mentor: Us
Moral: If you want results you haven’t gotten before, you’ve got to do things you haven’t done before.

The first four, HGOM, are usually pretty easy to express. But that last M, the moral, is more difficult. Different audience members will see different morals, and sometimes it’s hard for the speaker to express the moral (as he sees it, at least) clearly. Here are a couple tips for getting over that:

Reader question: feel sense describe about numbers

One of our correspondents had a very good question.

She watched the Feel Sense Describe video, and asked, “That’s nice, but how do I do that when I’m talking about numbers?”

Good question. Here’s a voice response with two suggestions:

By the way, we love to get followup questions, we answer all of them, and sometimes we even record our answer (like this) for all to hear. So if you have a question, don’t be shy, ask us. We promise we won’t use your name in the recording, unless you want us to!


One of our tips and tricks subscribers emailed me. She watched this video Feel Sense Describe. And she asked me, “Okay, Matt, that’s nice but how do I do that when I’m talking about numbers?” And that’s a very good question. We get that question a lot. It’s a very common question. And I’ve got two things to suggest.

One is, don’t think of the numbers themselves. It’s almost impossible to get emotionally excited about those numbers. You know, when you say a number like 1,263, or 9,300,200 and blah, blah, blah … it’s almost impossible to get emotional about that. Instead, think about the humans or think about the people behind those numbers. Think about, you know, the kid who went to a funeral, or think about the graduating student who just graduated from university, and she paid for university because her father had a life insurance policy, or something like that. So think about the humans behind the numbers. That’s suggestion number one.

Suggestion number two is about mirror neurons. And mirror neurons are very strong in any social animal, like humans. By mirror neurons, here’s what I mean. Some years ago, there were some researchers, and they had, let’s say, five groups of monkeys. And they had all of the monkeys, they were wired up to some computers that showed their brain waves or whatever. And so anyway, monkey group number one did something. I don’t know, they picked up a stick, or they picked up a piece of food, or something like that. And the researchers looked at the electronic brain waves that were happening in these monkeys, and they saw the electronic brain waves happening. The thing is that the researchers also noticed that the monkeys in groups two, three, four, whatever, those monkeys they weren’t actually doing anything, they were just sitting there watching the monkeys in group number one. And the exact same electronic brain activity that was happening in group one, was happening in groups two, three and four also.

And what the researchers realized was that, just by watching other monkeys feeling an emotion, the monkeys in groups two, three and four, they also feel those same emotions. And so, one way you can use that in a presentation is whatever emotion you want your audience to feel, dig deep into yourself and find the source of that emotion, and display that emotion yourself. So if you want your audience to feel excitement, then dig deep into yourself and find something that excites you. If you want your audience to feel happy, or sad, or angry, or patriotic, or whatever, dig deep into yourself and find the source of that emotion.

And that brings me to point number three. I’ll finish here with point number three. Point number three is kind of a bonus point. I hadn’t planned on mentioning it. But point number three is that, whatever that source of emotion is in you, you don’t actually have to talk about it. You don’t actually have to mention it in your presentation, cause the point is not to mention it, the point is just to show the emotion on your face. So, if you show the emotion on your face, even if you’re not talking about why you’re feeling that emotion on your face, your audience members will see that emotion on your face and then they’ll start to feel that emotion too.

And then point number 3.5, and then I promise I’m going to finish up. I could go on for hours about this subject but I promise I’m going to stop. So point number 3.5 is make sure that the emotion that you’re showing on your face or in your body language, or whatever, make sure that its real. Dig deep until you find a real, genuine source of that emotion in yourself. People are really, really good at seeing fake emotions. And so, if you try to fake an emotion, your audience is going to see that and there is no way that they are going to feel that emotion too. In fact, they’ll probably think you’re not worthy of trust or something like that. So make sure that whatever emotion you want them to feel, dig deep until you find a real and genuine source of that emotion in yourself, and then connect with that emotion.

Okay, so I promised I would stop there. So I’m going to stop there. I love these questions. Whenever you have a question about anything that we send to you, just email us, or call us, or whatever, and ask us the question. We’ll answer the question and, if it’s a good one, we may even do like here, do a recording. Okay, over and out. Take care. Bye-bye.

More on stories happening in the listeners’ heads

In another blog post, we mentioned that stories happen in the listeners’ heads. In presenting, do not underestimate the power of this dynamic. It is a special talent pretty unique to humans. It allows us to organize into groups of millions (nations), or even billions (religions).

Your job as a presenter is not necessarily to describe your idea, it’s to plant your idea into the heads of the audience members. It is to plant a seed in the heads of your audience, a seed that will grow into something larger than you alone could make it.

Your audience members, if they are humans, have a special power. Let that power work for you.

More on this dynamic (the revolutionary ability of humans to see and develop the ideas of other humans, even when those ideas are abstract) is in this great TED speech:

A key part of the speech:

“What enables us alone, of all the animals, to cooperate in such a way? The answer is our imagination. We can cooperate flexibly with countless numbers of strangers, because we alone, of all the animals on the planet, can create and believe fictions, fictional stories. And as long as everybody believes in the same fiction, everybody obeys and follows the same rules, the same norms, the same values.

“All other animals use their communication system only to describe reality. A chimpanzee may say, “Look! There’s a lion, let’s run away!” Or, “Look! There’s a banana tree over there! Let’s go and get bananas!” Humans, in contrast, use their language not merely to describe reality, but also to create new realities, fictional realities. A human can say, “Look, there is a god above the clouds! And if you don’t do what I tell you to do, when you die, God will punish you and send you to hell.” And if you all believe this story that I’ve invented, then you will follow the same norms and laws and values, and you can cooperate. This is something only humans can do.”

Work the crowd

Three tips for working a conversational style into your presentation:

1. In the first 30 seconds of your presentation, ask a couple audience members a simple yes or no question related to your topic (If you are speaking about nutrition: “Murat, did you eat breakfast this morning?” “Ayşe, how about you, did you eat breakfast this morning?”).

The reason: This signals to the audience that they need to listen, that this presentation is going to be like a conversation, and they might need to talk at any time. If you don’t do this, the audience might quickly go into a passive listening mode (or actually, a non-listening mode, where they’re thinking, “Oh thank god, I can go to sleep now, the speaker is going to do all the talking.”). Later, when you need them to start answering questions, they’ll be asleep.

2. If you are going to ask the same question to multiple people, sprinkle your question randomly through the audience. Instead of starting at one end of the room/table and moving predictably from person to person, mix the order up and point at random, unexpected people.

The reason: If you follow a predictable order, your audience will often stop paying attention. The ones who haven’t spoken yet will start silently rehearsing in their heads (“There are three people ahead of me, I better figure out what I’m going to say.”). The ones who finished speaking will be thinking, “Thank god that’s over, I wonder if I did okay?” The only ones paying any attention will be you and the current speaker.

3. If you use a conversational style, you need to focus your message much more.

The reason: You’ll have less time to talk. If your normal talk time is 20 minutes, for example, you might only have 10 minutes to deliver your message. Plus, you’ll be busy steering the audience (letting them talk freely, but not going too far from your topic). If you don’t focus your message, it’ll be like you’re juggling with too many balls in the air.

If a presentation is part of your sales funnel, a conversational style will often double your conversion rate for that particular stage. You’ve already been practicing this skill in one-on-one situations all your life, but transferring this skill to a presentation environment requires a lot of deep practice. It definitely pays off though (no pun intended).

The Curse of Knowledge

The “Curse of Knowledge” is the inability to clearly explain something to another person, because you know the subject so well.

Not a clear explanation as defined by you. A clear explanation as defined by the other person.

Why is it so hard to clearly explain something you know so well? Because it’s easy to forget what it was like to not have that knowledge.

For example, we regularly work with bankers whose field is so specialized that in a city of 15 million people, they can hold industry-wide networking meetings in someone’s living room.

When they tell each other what they do (“I do X”), they understand each other immediately. But when they try to explain what they do to others, no one can understand. One of them even told us once, “I’ve been married to my wife for 10 years, and even she doesn’t understand what I do.”

That’s the Curse of Knowledge. No matter how many times you try to explain yourself, no matter how well you know the other person, you… just… can’t… get… your… point… across.

But don’t worry, there are 6 very specific things you can do to overcome the Curse of Knowledge.

By the way, the benefit of overcoming the Curse of Knowledge can be huge. It becomes so much easier to explain your ideas clearly. It becomes so much easier to get the support you need. When you overcome the Curse of Knowledge, you can see the lights go on in your audience’s heads — “Oh, THAT’S what she’s talking about!”

What are those six things? They are:

  1. Make your message simple. Strip it to its core. A tip: use things people already know about. For example, if your audience knows the movie Die Hard, you could describe the movie Speed as “Die Hard on a bus.”
  2. Say it in an unexpected way. Humans like to think in patterns. Break those patterns, and your audience will pay attention while you put the pieces back together. An example: flight attendants at Southwest are famous for doing something different with the mandatory safety announcement.
  3. Make your message concrete. Use simple, sensual, tangible words. Use words and phrases like “bicycle,” “cherry,” and “rotten smell of garbage,” instead of abstract words like “justice” and “liberty.”
  4. Click here for an example of “make it concrete”…

  5. Make your message credible. Ideally, of course, you could say things like, “I understand rocket propulsion, because I am a Harvard-educated rocket scientist,” or “I understand this law, because I am an attorney.” But what do you do when you can’t say that? Use an anti-hero (tell a story about a dying smoker to strengthen your anti-smoking speech), or use the audience’s own knowledge of a subject (everyone is an expert on himself): Ronald Reagan’s famous campaign line, “Are you better off than you were four years ago?”
  6. Use emotions. You don’t have to cry on stage. Just make people care. Why are people in the room with you? What problem do they want to solve? What will their lives look like if they solve that problem? Telling people they’re going to make more money is good (almost everyone wants a bigger house, a nicer car, etc), but don’t forget the emotional power of reminding them of their sense of duty, or how nice it feels to get an admiring gaze from one’s spouse.
  7. Use stories. People tend to remember stories much better than abstract facts. For example: “Subway sandwiches are healthy. There are 6 different sandwiches with less than 7 grams of fat each.” Compare that to: “Jared was really fat, and he couldn’t get a date to save his life, but he ate Subway sandwiches every day for a year, and now he’s thin and he has a hot girlfriend.”

It’s easy to list these 6 things, or to say, “Yes, of course, that’s good advice.” But it’s very hard to actually do these 6 things, and people can almost never do them alone. That’s why we work on them intensively with our face-to-face clients.

By the way, there’s an excellent book about overcoming the Curse of Knowledge, Made To Stick, by Chip and Dan Heath. In fact, these 6 tips were taken directly from that book. We highly recommend that book. Thank you Chip and Dan!

Click here for Method #7. It’s one of Matt’s personal favorites!

Actually, attention spans are not shrinking…

At about minute 34:45 in this speech…

…Kevin Spacey makes a very good point: Many people complain about their audience’s shrinking attention span, and yet people still find 12 hours to binge-watch a TV show.

So instead of trying to trim things until you can meet an impossibly short standard, think of it this way:

There’s a lot of crap out there, and people are really good at sorting through it quickly. Attention spans are not shrinking, not at all. In fact, people have almost unlimited attention spans for things that are important to them.

If your audience is looking at their phones, the problem is probably not their attention spans. The problem is probably that you didn’t find out what was important to them before you opened your mouth.

Start with a joke. But how?

You don’t always need to start with a joke. After all, you are probably not a professional comedian, and no one expects you to be. And starting a speech with an irrelevant joke, no matter how funny it is, like “Two men and a dog walk into a bar…” is almost guaranteed to make you look like a fool.

But if your natural sense of humor wants to come through, let it. Especially if the joke applies to you or to your immediate surroundings, and especially if you are making fun of yourself, like Guy Kawasaki is here.

Boy meets girl

American author Kurt Vonnegut diagrams some basic, but very classic, story structures…

Believe it or not, the structures he outlines here even work for speeches about corporate debt and global financial crises.

When you use video in a presentation

Videos can make an excellent addition to your presentation. Most of the time they work, but every once in a while they don’t, and then you’re left there on the stage feeling embarrassed and saying something lame like “Hey, there’s supposed to be a video here, but I guess Murphy just walked into the room.”

So how can you avoid that embarrassing moment?

Insert a black slide before the video slide. Then insert the video slide. Then insert another black slide.

So the sequence looks like this: slide #1: black; slide #2: video; slide #3: black

If the video works, great! If it doesn’t, slide #2 will be black. You’ll have three black slides, and the audience won’t even know there was a problem.

Pro tip:
The standard way to introduce the video goes like this, for example: “Mountains are beautiful, here’s a video about that…” [switch to the video slide, and pray that the video works]

But even better, just say, “Mountains are beautiful…” and then switch to the video slide. Notice that you didn’t announce the video, so if the video doesn’t work, you can just stand in front of a black screen and tell a story about going to the mountains when you were a kid, and the audience will never know there was a video problem.

You’re going too fast!

A common issue we see is people speaking too fast, trying to cram too much content into too little time.

Fortunately, there’s a very natural way around this. It’s something we’ve been practicing our entire lives, and we do it so naturally we don’t even realize we are doing it.

That is, watch your audience, talk to them, find their rhythms. For some reason, when people get onto the stage, they think they’re supposed to do all the talking. If someone spent the entire time at a party talking, you’d probably think, “What a jerk!” Why do we think that’s acceptable behavior when we get on the stage?

The best way to slow down is to shut up and let your audience do some talking, too. Make them answer questions, let them voice their opinions. Pause and smile at someone, they’ll probably smile at you too! (humans tend to do what they see other humans doing)

Do the same things you do when talking to people at a party or chatting with them in the hallway at work. Finding the rhythms of other humans and matching those rhythms is something you’ve probably been practicing your entire life. Use the same exact skill when you get up onto the stage.

Another perspective on speaking slower…

The Fastest Way To Say More.

Game tape: Guy Kawasaki, TEDxBerkeley

Guy Kawasaki speaks at TEDxBerkeley, about the 10 points of innovation…


  1. Local references: In this speech, he makes a lot of references to local universities [Stanford, Cal (local nickname for University of California Berkeley), USC (University of Southern California)]. In fact, his very first sentence is about graduating from Stanford (a university near San Francisco). He is speaking in Berkeley (a city, also near San Francisco), and the audience is probably filled with university professors and students, or at least people close to the community. They will understand any university references very quickly, and they will feel a bond with him because of that.
  2. Self-effacing humor: At 0:20, he tells a joke/story. In this joke/story, his wife gives him a friendly, funny insult. So, within the first 30 seconds, he establishes a bond with his audience (the university comments) AND he makes them laugh.
  3. Body language, smiling: Guy Kawasaki smiles a lot during this speech, but that is typical body language for him. It is good to smile at your audience, to be conversational and friendly with them. But don’t think you need to smile as much as Guy Kawasaki. That’s just his normal, personal style — he smiles a lot whenever he talks.
  4. Outline the speech: There are many ways to open a speech. One way is to tell the audience what you’re going to tell them. Here, Guy Kawasaki tells the audience there are 10 points to innovation, and I’m going to tell you what they are. In the introduction, he doesn’t tell the audience what those 10 points are, he just tells them there are 10, so they can track the progress of the speech.
  5. Speaks quickly: He is speaking to an audience that:
    • probably already knows him,
    • probably has even seen him speak before,
    • probably already knows the topics he speaks about,
    • and probably lives in one very small area (towns near San Francisco).

    Since the audience is already very familiar with him, and with his topic, he can afford to speak very quickly. In fact, it sounds like he is taking a 30-40 minute speech and trying to cover all the material in 20 minutes. In most situations, this would probably be a mistake. But in this situation it works okay.

Do the Flesch-Kincaid

As a speaker, there are a couple numbers you should know.

One is your average WPM — how many words do you speak per minute (the average human speaks about 120-130 words per minute). You do that so when you are writing a speech, you know about how many words you have to express your idea (for example, “I speak about 120 wpm, and my speech is 5 minutes, so my speech needs to be about 600 words).

Another number you should be aware of is what grade level do you typically speak or write at? Can a university student understand your speech? A high schooler? A middle schooler?

Speaking only so highly-educated people can understand you is not necessarily something to be proud of. In his famous product keynote speeches, Steve Jobs spoke at a middle school level, and sometimes even lower.

How can you get “your number”? Do a Flesch-Kincaid test. They’re free and easy. Go to Google and type “Flesch-Kincaid test” — you’ll get a results page filled with free F-K calculators, like this one:

Copy/paste your text into the calculator, hit enter, and watch the score magically appear.

I love Flesch-Kincaid tests so much that sometimes I paste in a speech, just for fun…

I grabbed the transcript from one of my favorite speeches, a Ken Robinson TED speech, and checked it out. What did he get? 5.7. This is one of the best speeches ever, but even a 6th grader could understand it.

Then I grabbed a Wikipedia article on nuclear fusion. Its score? 13.5. Oh, no wonder my brain hurts! You’ve got to be a university student to understand this one!

Sidestepping the bomb

Here’s a tip for those times when you’re speaking to a potentially hostile audience, or coming dangerously close to a hot, explosive topic:

In your opening sentences, remind the audience you share common ground with them, but also acknowledge the debate.

It’s important to do both.

Remind the audience of your common ground, so they remember you ultimately have the same goals as them. Remind them that you are their friend and ally.

Acknowledge the debate, because often, about half of a person’s hostility comes from simply wanting to be heard. Often, only about half of a person’s hostility comes from the debate topic itself. Acknowledging the debate won’t make it go away, but it will reduce the strength of the hostility in the room. People will know you hear them, even when you don’t agree with them.

Here’s an example of how you can start a speech like that:

“Thank you for inviting me today. Common ground, blah blah blah, paint a picture of the common vision, blah blah blah. Yes, there are debates, debates about whether to A, or B, or C, but in the end we want similar things for our company. That said, today I’d like to stick to… (begin discussing your topic here).”

Sometimes, the purpose of your speech is to try to resolve the debate, and then you probably have no choice but to run towards the bomb and let it explode.

But sometimes the resolution is for another speech, at another time, or maybe for another person, and you just don’t want the bomb to explode in your face while you’re on stage talking about your thing. This technique is for that.

When you can’t avoid the avalanche

Yes, you compete with your slides for the audience’s attention. When the audience is looking at your slides, they aren’t listening to you. So we preach, over and over, keep your slides simple, keep your slides simple.

But in real life, you don’t always control the design, or even the timing, of your slides. Sometimes a committee does, or a board, or maybe your boss. You might feel like the slides are too heavy with data (charts, graphs, numbers, etc), but what can you do?

Here’s a tip:

When those data-heavy slides flash on the screen, there will be a moment, at the very beginning, where your audience will be confused. They’ll be thinking, “Oh my god, what do I do with all this information? And there’s this person speaking too! Where do I look, what’s important?”

Seize that moment of confusion. Tell the audience that you are going to stick with the big picture, and reassure them that the details, via handouts, will be available to them later. Try this:

“Thank you everyone for coming. Yes, I know this is a lot of data to absorb. But have no fear. I will stick with the big picture, and then, if you really want to dive into the details, don’t worry, you can take the slides home with you and spend all the time you want tonight looking at as much detail as you want.”

Right at that moment of greatest confusion and panic, when your audience is looking like deer in headlights, that’s when you grab them with this. A drowning man is so happy to have a floating lifesaver ring to grab onto. Be that ring for your audience, and they’ll listen to you, not the slides.

The Sullivan Nod

Here’s a body language tip:

It’s called the Sullivan Nod. When you are talking to an audience, and you are listing three or four or five options, smile and nod when you’re describing the one you want them to choose. Chances are pretty good that they’ll choose it.

The “Sullivan” of the Sullivan Nod is Jim Sullivan, a restaurant consultant. He says, “Whenever servers suggest a beverage, have them smile and slowly nod their heads up and down as they make the suggestion. Body language is powerful, and research shows that over 60% of the time, the guest will nod right back and take your suggestion!”

Sullivan doesn’t suggest that you excitedly jump up and down and frantically nod your head and scream, “Yes! Yes! Yes!” He just suggests that you subtly demonstrate the physical response you’d like the audience to take.

Humans are social animals, and they tend to mirror the actions of those around them. When we smile, people around us tend to smile. When we lean in towards another person, they tend to lean in too. And when we nod and say yes, they tend to nod and say yes, too.

Review of a Jesse Jackson speech

In this speech Jesse Jackson, campaigning for US President in 1984, speaks at a church. There are two things I would like to point out in this speech, and they both have to do with point #3 in overcoming the Curse of Knowledge (make it concrete — use simple words and clear imagery):

1. At 1:45, he discusses economic policies, but he does not use academic, brainy terms like “balance of trade,” “equilibrium,” or “investment deflection.” Instead, he uses simple words and clear imagery: cars, vodka, and airplanes.

He says:

“When you buy Honda and Toyota, that’s foreign policy. Russian vodka, that’s foreign policy. (unintelligible), that’s foreign policy. Mercedes-Benz, that’s foreign policy. As a matter of fact, we came here on a foreign policy [Matt: he’s probably referring to Airbus].”

2. At 4:48, he discusses election campaign tactics, and he starts mentioning numbers.

It’s easy for people to get lost with numbers — a number that is significant to the speaker might not be significant to the audience, and vice versa.

But Jesse Jackson punctuates the numbers with a simple image between each number:

“…[state, numbers, blah blah]…rocks, just layin’ around. [State, numbers, blah blah]…rocks, just layin’ around. [State, numbers, blah blah]…rocks, just layin’ around. [State, numbers, blah blah]…rocks, just layin’ around.”

What does this mean for the rest of us, those of us who are not running for US President?

Examine your words closely. Use the simplest, clearest imagery you can.

Think about how you would express your theory in pictures, and then describe those pictures.

When you are talking about numbers, make those numbers real — give them an image, and, if you can, repeat that image often. Most of your audience will forget the numbers, but they’ll remember the image.

By the way, in this speech Jesse Jackson speaks very quickly, but don’t worry: even though I am a native speaker there were words I could not understand, or had to listen to multiple times before I could understand.

Reduce your ahh count

For you, as a listener, what’s easier to understand?

“I… went… to… the… store…”


“Uhhh, I, uhhh… went, uhhh… to, uhhh… the, uhhh… store, uhhh.”?

Which one was easier to understand? Probably the first one, right? Both of them took the same amount of time — the first one wasn’t any faster — but the first one was a lot easier to understand.

Your audience members don’t like “uhh’s.” We call them “filler words,” words or sounds that mean nothing. They make it hard to listen. If you use a lot of filler words, people describe you as “tiring,” and “hard to understand.”

So we’d love to get rid of those filler words, right?

But ask around, ask a bunch of people why they say uhh, and 9 out of 10 of them will say, “Because I need time to think.”

Thinking is good. There’s nothing wrong with thinking. Audiences love listening to people who think.

So what if there was a way to get rid of the uhh’s, but still give you time to think?

The answer is yes, there is a way, a couple of ways actually, and I’m going to show one of them to you right now.

It’s speak slowly. Breathe. Watch this example:

The point of this exercise is to become comfortable with pauses, comfortable with speaking slowly.

Of course, you’re not going to talk like this in real life, in front of other people. But this isn’t real life.
You’re just practicing alone. You’re alone in a room by yourself.

When one of our clients tries this we ask them, “How did it feel?”

Usually they look at us, and they’re unsure, and they say, “Boy, that felt really slow, I don’t want to sound stupid. I feel like if I talk fast, people will think I know my subject.”

But then we turn around, and we start asking the audience members, “How did that feel for you?” And pretty much every time, they say, “The slower version was so much easier to listen to, AND I felt like the speaker must know their subject really well, they seem like they’re in better command of their thoughts.”

Let me say that again: The speaker thought they sounded dumb. But the audience had the opposite reaction. The audience thought the speaker knew their subject better.

Remember, the audience is the one that matters. They’re the ones whose opinion matters the most.

So when you’re speaking, go slow. Breathe. Go slow. Breathe. Think during the silence; your audience needs you to give them time to think, too.

Stick to the delta

When you’re organizing your presentation, the Rule of Three is a good place to start. For example:

  1. We’re going to do A.
  2. We’re going to do B.
  3. We’re going to do C.

The human brain loves things that are organized into threes. It tends to forget point #4, but it can always remember three things. Hit your three points, and only those three points, and then sit down.

But what’s another organizational technique you can use?

You can stick to the delta.

What does “stick to the delta” mean?

I don’t mean delta as in “the place where a river reaches an ocean.” I mean delta as in “change,” or “difference.”
When I say stick to the delta, I mean describe the change.

For example:

  • This is how things were before, and this is how they are now, OR…
  • This is how things are now, and this is how I want to change them.

Why does this work? Remember the earlier lesson, Lesson #3, about the Curse of Knowledge. Remember that the human brain thinks in patterns, and one of the best ways to hold an audience’s attention is to break the patterns, and then let the audience watch as you restore order to the world. Describe how things are, and then how they’ll change; then describe how things are, and then how they’ll change; etc etc.

If you combine these two organizational techniques (the Rule of Three and “stick to the delta”), you get the best of both worlds: a pattern of threes, which the human brain loves, and enough activity, motion, and change to keep it interested.

For example:

  1. This is how A was, and this is what A’s future looks like.
  2. This is how B was, and this is what B’s future looks like.
  3. This is how C was, and this is what C’s future looks like.

What should I do with my hands?

When you’re on stage, what do you do with your hands?

It’s one of the most common questions we get. Personally, I suspect you already know what to do with your hands, but the best answer is actually kind of zen, so we reserve it for more advanced courses. In the meantime, here are two quick tips to get you started…

First, hold them up to the sky and start praying.

Just kidding.


First, bend your elbows and hold your hands close together. Don’t raise your hands so high you touch your nose, just hold them a little higher than your elbows, kind of like you’re discreetly praying. Be careful about clasping your hands — once you get up on stage, you might get really nervous, and your hands will end up desperately holding onto each other, and that tightness will spread through your body.

Here’s the second tip:

Drop your hands to your sides. Touch your index fingers to your thumbs.

And here’s a third, bonus tip. Perhaps it’s the best tip of all, the start of all that is good:

Hold your hands in front of you, about belly height, and face your palms up. In almost all countries, this is a gesture of openness, of invitation. It invites your audience to participate in your speech, not just listen to it.

Combine that last gesture with some eye contact, and you’re golden. Your audience will be eating out of your palm (no pun intended).

Why is that the start of all that is good? Well, that’s a more complicated issue, and so we reserve it for more advanced courses.

Chat with a couple audience members

Before your speech, meet some of the members of your audience. Talk to them, get to know them a little. It’ll make you a lot less nervous when you’re speaking, because you’ll be talking to friends, not a bunch of nameless, faceless strangers.

How can you do this?

At almost every conference, there’s a coffee break a couple times a day. At one of these coffee breaks, spend a few minutes chatting with some of the audience members.

Remember, your audience members are people, and they probably get nervous speaking in front of groups, just like you do. In fact, while you’re making small talk and thinking about how nervous you are, they’re probably thinking, “I wish I had courage like this guy, he’s going to get up on stage and give a speech, but here he is, coming up to me and saying hello.”

Get to know your audience members in the same way you would if you were at a party with them.

You wouldn’t say, “Hi, my name is John, what’s your company’s biggest pain point?”

You would say, “Hi, my name is John, where are you from?”

“What brings you here?”

“How has the conference been so far?”

“There’s a big dinner and dance tonight. Are you going?”

Make small talk like this with a few of the people before your presentation. You’ll be less nervous when the time comes for your speech. You’ll know some of the people in the audience already.

In fact, you can even reduce your nervousness by greeting your new friends when your speech starts. “Thank you for inviting me here today, I’m going to talk about XYZ. But first, let me say hi to a couple people. Bill, where are you? Hello Bill, welcome, good to see you again. And Susan, where are you? Oh, Susan’s not here, she probably had to step out to take a very important call from her boss. Anyway, we’re here today to talk about XYZ, so let’s get started…”

Video yourself

Have a friend video you while you’re speaking. And yes, watch it!

I’ve never met a person who liked to watch himself speaking. Not once. But there’s something magic about it. Every person who ever watches himself on video decides to become a better speaker. It’s like it lights some huge fire inside of people. It’s amazing.

How do they become better?

First, they become more aware of themselves.

You see, beginners tend to think they’re a lot better than they really are. They don’t realize what nervous habits they have. For example, they don’t realize that when they get on stage they pace back and forth like a caged animal. Or they don’t realize they stand ramrod straight, like an old tree.

When you’re speaking, time goes all weird too. For example, you might be thinking, I held my hand up forever. When you watch the video, however, you see you only held your hand up for a fraction of a second. Or you might be thinking, I stood still the whole time. In the video you’ll see that you were practically running in circles on the stage.

Watch yourself on video. You’ll become aware of what your body does, how your arms move, how your voice sounds, what your feet do. You’ll become aware of embarrassing quirks, weird little tics, like that weird thing you do with your hair for example. You’ll learn stuff about yourself that you would never, never, never learn if you just asked yourself, and others, afterwards, “How did I do?”

The second, and perhaps more important, benefit of watching yourself on video: You’ll start to learn one of the most useful, yet most difficult, lessons of public speaking: The audience is almost never thinking the same thing as you.

We see it happen again and again: Clients watch themselves on video and realize how radical is the difference between what’s going on in their heads and and what’s going on outside their heads.

And that’s just one step away from realizing that what’s going on inside your head is radically different than what’s going on inside your audience’s heads, and that’s just one step away from stopping listening to your own fear and nervousness, and listening to your audience’s desires instead.

Practice 25 times

When professional actors prepare for a role, they usually rehearse for hours, or days or weeks, learning how to make a particular facial tick appear at just the right time. When she was preparing for the movie Gravity, Sandra Bullock practiced one of the moves for five months, in order to make it look natural and unrehearsed. One tiny move, over and over and over, for five… MONTHS!

Even improv comedy actors practice. They don’t practice their lines, of course, but they practice the skills of improv. Rest assured that behind every brilliant impromptu skit is hours, days, months, perhaps years of practice.

Trust me, for years I’ve heard people say, “I’m better when I don’t practice,” or “I sound more natural when I don’t practice,” or even the seemingly logical, “If I rehearse I won’t look spontaneous.”

And then they stand up to speak and they show themselves to be painfully awkward amateurs. The audience often responds by taking out their cell phones, at first pretending to respond to “urgent” text messages, but then moving on to simply refreshing their Facebook page. After all, they’re thinking, if the speaker didn’t respect us enough to prepare, why should we respect him or her enough to listen?

Practicing doesn’t mean practicing a little.

For a 10-minute speech, most people need to practice 10 times before their body develops “muscle memory” — the ability to physically deliver the speech even when distracted.

After those 10 practice runs however, they usually find that their spirit is gone. Their body remembers the words, but they feel like a piece of wood, a bag of boring flesh with no spirit, and they are usually quite correct.

It might sound strange, but the key to getting your spirit back is to keep practicing. Think of crossing a river. If you are going to cross a river, go all the way. Don’t go to the middle, say, “I don’t like being wet,” and then turn around and go back.

For most people, the spirit starts to come back in practice rounds 10-15. However, during those practice rounds (10-15), your brain and your spirit will fight for control. You might get tired during the speech. You might even feel like you are doing worse, and it might be true — you might actually start getting worse.

But keep going. Push through these practice rounds.

Usually, around practice round 16, your brain will start to relax and surrender. Your spirit will take over, and your natural body language will return. Now you’ll be even more relaxed though, because you don’t have to think about the words anymore. Your spirit can express itself freely.

Keep practicing, even though you’re feeling better. In practice rounds 16-25, you will be teaching your spirit how to fly around the room. You will be teaching it to look into people’s eyes, to watch their faces, to get into their heads and their hearts. You will be teaching it how to make them smile, or frown, or laugh, or cry. And then, around practice round 25, you will realize you have taught your body and spirit how to do something they didn’t know how to do 25 practice rounds ago.

The audience will watch your speech and marvel at how great it is, and they will wish they could stand up there and speak like you do. They’ll remark on how natural and spontaneous you are, and, unless you tell them, only you will know that the reason you look so spontaneous is because you practiced so much.

The first three questions

Opening PowerPoint is one of the first things people do when preparing a presentation. However, it’s the wrong place to start. Opening PowerPoint first is like buying paint for the living room before you’ve even started building the house.

Asking three particular questions is a much better place to start. Here’s the first one:

“Who am I talking to?”

It sounds obvious. “I’m talking to my boss,” or “I’m talking to a bunch of students,” or “I’m talking to the King of the World.”

But be careful. If you think this question is obvious, it is highly likely that you are about to bore your audience.

Will you be speaking to one person? 10 people? 100 people? More?

Are all the audience members the same, or are some of them a little more important to you than others? Sure, you’re talking to 10 people, but 3 of them are board members, and they are going to take your message back to the boardroom, and you want them to persuade the other 9 board members to fund your project.

So you’re not talking to 10 people, you are talking to 3.

And you’re not talking to 3 board members. You are talking to Joe, who already thinks your project is a complete waste of money, and you are talking to Karen, who thinks your idea is good, but she worries about your ability to manage the project, and you are talking to Mark, who is preoccupied with thinking about the fight he had with his ex-wife yesterday when he dropped the kids off.

That brings us to one of your first constraints: You can address the concerns of Joe and Karen, but you are never going to get Mark’s attention. Mentally at least, Mark is not in the room. You’re not going to hit 3 out of 3 no matter what you do.

And so the pressure to be perfect is off. Maybe later Mark will ask Karen and Joe what they thought about your presentation, and he will be swayed by them. But for you, right now, he is lost. Don’t worry about him. Focus on Karen and Joe.

You’re not speaking to 10 people anymore, you’re speaking to 2. Of course, don’t stare at those two people and ignore everyone else. Do whatever is normal in the culture in which you are speaking. In most countries and at most companies, that means talking to the other people in the room too. Sure, you’ll probably spend more time talking to, and looking at, and fielding questions from, Joe and Karen, than any other two people in the room. But you won’t be giving everything to those two, and completely ignoring the other eight. That would just be rude.

That brings us to question #2:

“What do I want them to do?”

Again, perhaps at first that sounds like an obvious question. But often, when we ask people to ask themselves that question, they get a surprised look on their face, and they say, “Well duh, I want them to…”, and then they drift off and start mumbling, or they start making an aimless list of the first things that come to mind.

Have you seen that movie Blow, with Johnny Depp and Penelope Cruz? It’s one of my favorite movies, and I love so many scenes in that movie, but right now I’m thinking of one scene in particular. Johnny Depp flies to Colombia to meet with some potential business partners (or, more specifically, drug dealers). He visits them at their palatial estate, and three of them (Johnny Depp and two Colombians) meet in the veranda out in the garden to talk business. They’re going to arrange a little test project where Johnny Depp will smuggle a couple suitcases of cocaine into the US.

One of the Colombians, the main businessman, starts asking Johnny Depp very specific questions:

“Tell me, what are you going to put in the suitcase?”

“I don’t know, clothes.”

“What kinds of clothes? Whose clothes? Your clothes?”

Johnny Depp starts getting angry. He’s probably thinking, “Who are you to ask me all these obvious questions? Of course I can carry two suitcases through an airport, anyone can do that!”

The thing is, when you’re giving a presentation, you have to ask yourself even basic questions like this.

Do you want them to call you tomorrow? What do you want them to say when they call you? Do you want them to say, “I have that problem too, can you fix it?”

Or do you want them to tell friends about you? Do you want them to say, “I saw this guy give a speech, and he really opened my mind”?

One of the most common reasons for giving a presentation is because your boss asked you to. There’s nothing wrong with that. If your answer to the question “What do I want them to do” is “I want my boss to be glad she asked me to do this,” that’s perfectly fine.

Maybe you just want one person in the audience to think you’re smart. That’s fine too. If you’re talking to 20 people, but you just want Bob to think to himself afterwards, “That guy’s smart,” there’s nothing wrong with that.

There are a couple reasons to ask yourself this seemingly obvious question:

First, the content of what you say, your message, is going to be directed at making this thing happen. You aren’t talking in front of those people just to kill some time. You will feel a lot more confident, and your presentation will be a lot more coherent, if you know why you’re doing it.

Second, after the presentation, you will probably be swimming in a sea of emotions. You might feel a little embarrassed, because you get nervous standing in front of people. You might feel a little relieved, because it’s over.

When all of this is happening, your answer to this question serves as your “One Thing.” If you wanted them to call you, and they do, you met your goal. If you wanted them to give you their email address, and they did, you met your goal. If you wanted Bob to think you’re smart, and he does, you met your goal.

It doesn’t matter how you feel, and it doesn’t matter what else happens. If your “One Thing” happened, you got what you wanted.

That brings us to the third question:

Why should they care?

“Because I want them to,” or “because they should” are not good answers. They may be true, but they’re not good answers.

Why is this question so important? This question is important because it will tell you how to hook your audience. It will tell you what button to push, what lever to pull, so your audience members take the action you want them to take.

Here are some examples:

  • If you are presenting your department’s annual plan to the regional GM visiting from headquarters, he might care because he has a boss too, and he’ll look good in front of his boss if his people (you) are organized and know what they’re doing. He’ll care because if you do well, he’ll do well.
  • If you are describing the competitive landscape to potential investors from Spain, they might care because if your company is successful, they will make more money, and they’ll be able to send their kids to better universities.
  • If you are telling German industrial lubricant manufacturers that local lubricant manufacturers in Egypt are using low-quality raw materials, they might care because they are losing market share, and therefore money.

Let’s review:

Before you start your preparations, ask yourself these three questions:

  1. Who am I talking to?
  2. What do I want them to do?
  3. Why should they care?

Have you heard of that quote from Albert Einstein? “If I had an hour to solve a problem I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about solutions.” Channel the spirit of Albert Einstein. Spend 55 minutes thinking about these three questions. Everything will come easy after that.

Doing the Bob Dole

We all have “tics,” little things that we do, little habits. Some presentation trainers tell people to get rid of their tics, but tics aren’t always that bad.

Take, for example, Bob Dole. Bob Dole was a famous United States Senator in the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s.

He fought in World War II. During the war he hurt his right hand, and it never healed completely. For the rest of his life, he couldn’t use the hand much. He felt a little self-conscious about it, and so, in public, he almost always held a pen:

No one says, “That Bob Dole, he could have been great, but he held a pen all the time.” To be a great speaker, or a great leader, you don’t have to be perfect. Don’t spend so much energy trying to get rid of all your tics that you forget to spend your energy where it’s needed most: connecting with your people.

Be aware of your tics, and yes, get rid of the worst ones. But your job is not to be perfect. It’s to connect with your people, to connect with your audience. Tics are only a problem when they interfere with that connection.

To change the world

President John F. Kennedy once said, “The only reason to give a speech is to change the world.”

When I first heard that quote, I thought, “Wow, that’s a high bar to set.” People who change the world are people like Winston Churchill, or Nelson Mandela, or Mahatma Gandhi. Not me.

The thing is, “changing the world” doesn’t have to mean changing it in some big, profound way. Sometimes it just means, “changing the world immediately around you.”

Here’s what I mean:

I have a friend. Let’s call him “Murat.” Murat is almost the head of a big department at a big company here in Istanbul. I’m sure you’ve heard of the company. Anyway, Murat has been working in his profession for 20 years, and he’s been working at this particular company for more than 10 of those years. He knows his subject better than just about anyone else, and he knows this particular company better than most of the other people who work there.

If anyone is qualified to be the head of the department, it would be Murat. And yet, he got passed over for promotion, not once, but twice. His new boss is younger than him. Less experienced than him. What does she have that he doesn’t?

She knows how to present to the Board.

You see, this isn’t just any department at the company. It’s a high-profile department. It’s a department the Board depends on to keep things on track when they’re not around. The Board wants to know someone with experience is leading that department, but experience alone is not enough. It’s just the basic price of admission. The Board doesn’t meet every day, and when they do meet, they want to hear from someone who knows how to communicate clearly and confidently.

And so they promoted someone, but it wasn’t Murat.

What would Murat’s life look like if he had gotten that job? For one, he’d be making a lot more money. He wouldn’t be reporting to a boss with half his experience. A driver would show up at his door each morning to take him to work, and he could sit in the back seat reading a newspaper instead of fighting the traffic.

Murat would know that his career was still going strong, and that 5 years from now, he would be even better able to provide for his family than he can now. He would wake up in the mornings more intellectually excited by the challenges of the day before him. He wouldn’t have that nagging feeling that maybe there’s more to life, that maybe his talents are being wasted.

He would be a happier man, and because he would be a happier man, his relationship with his wife would be happier, too. His children would be happier, because Murat would be happier around them. And the positive effects would ripple out from there.

The company might even be better off, because key decisions would be made by Murat, not someone 10 years his junior, not by someone with half of his experience.

“Changing the world” doesn’t have to mean changing the world on a grand scale, like Winston Churchill, or Nelson Mandela, or Mahatma Gandhi. “Changing the world” can just as well mean changing the world immediately around you. That’s how John F. Kennedy’s quote applies to the rest of us.

And then we did this, and it was cool

Recently I was watching a TEDx speech video with a client of mine. The speaker was a designer with a doctorate from MIT, talking about research he’s doing into innovative mechanical solutions. Here’s the video:

Neither my client nor I liked the speech. We both came away with a vague feeling that the speaker was missing an opportunity.

A lot of TEDx speeches tend to be structured like this: “We did this, and it was cool. And then we did this, and it was cool. And then we did this, and it was cool.”

That’s great if your audience is already like you. If they are like you, they already know what problem you are trying to solve, and they already understand why your approach is special.

But most people aren’t like you, so they don’t understand why your approach is special. If all you do is tell them that you did some stuff you thought was interesting, they’re not going to know how to apply your way of thinking to their own lives.

So what opportunity was the speaker missing? He was missing the opportunity to send hundreds of people home thinking, “Wow, I like the way that guy thinks, I could apply his learning to my own life.”

All he had to do was start his speech with the question, “How do we interact with the world, and can we make it better?” and then everyone in the audience would know why he was talking about magnetic shoe displays and moveable knobs on neon tables.

Then he ends his speech with a vaguely puzzling image of two coffee cups on a wooden table. In my opinion, if he combined that image with closing words like “After all that work, the best we can come up with is probably something we already have,” his ending wouldn’t be weak anymore. The people in his audience who AREN’T techie designers from MIT would walk out of his speech thinking, “Wow, that guy had an interesting perspective on life,” not, “Who was that guy, and what was he trying to say?”

Don’t stare at people

People are like dogs. If you stare at one long enough, he’ll attack.

When you are giving a presentation, if an audience member gets aggressive and starts challenging you, resist the urge to spend too much time looking at that one person. Address his questions, but look at the other audience members, too, while you’re doing it.

When you keep the larger group involved, most individual attackers calm down. Their challenging questions might not end, but their hostility often will. They will relax, and you’ll keep a stimulating discussion from turning into a knife fight.

The famous 70%

The other day, a few of a client’s employees went to a presentation skills training. The trainer told them 70% of presentation is body language, voice tone, etc. My client asked me if I agree. This is what I told her:

That 70% figure is bullshit. It’s not bullshit because it’s inaccurate. Maybe that 70% is true, maybe it isn’t. I don’t know, and I don’t care.

That 70% figure is bullshit because of the effect it has on people. It causes them to think their ideas don’t matter. It causes them to get lazy with their content.

It causes them to think the key to a good presentation is having good posture, or good voice tone, or lots of eye contact.

Those things are important, of course. But the key to a good presentation is having something to say. If you have nothing to say, you’re just a pretty face up there on stage, a well-trained performing monkey at best.

In our trainings we typically spend the first few sessions working on nothing but content: what are you going to say, and why will your audience care?

Those first few sessions are the hardest. But if you don’t do that hard work up front, you can get the other 70% perfect, but your speech will be empty, forgotten by the next morning.

Say something that needs to be heard. A roomful of people are listening to the words coming out of your mouth. Rock their world. If you’re not going to do that, you’re wasting everybody’s time, including your own.

Like saying, “If the sex is bad…”

There are many ways to start a speech. One of them is outlining what you’re going to talk about. Watch how Guy Kawasaki does it in the first 90 seconds of his speech…

He tells us that he’s going to cover 10 points, and that telling your audience you’re going to cover X number of points signals to them that even if you’re boring, you’ll only be boring for a little while.

Starting a speech with an outline (“Here’s what I’m going tell you”) is common and familiar. However, personally, I think it’s kind of a weak way to start a speech. It’s like saying, “Honey, if the sex is bad, don’t worry, it will only last a few minutes.”

I like to see my clients take a little bigger risk, to challenge themselves a little bit more. But I understand why someone would start their speech this way. It’s safe. It’s logical. No one ever got killed for saying, “I’m going to tell you 10 things, and then I’m going to sit down.”

Reader question: Is it possible to be a good speaker without perfect language

Put politics aside for a second. Listen to the patterns in this guy’s speech, there are a couple things I would like to point out…

Below is an anonymized version of the email that points those things out…


I agree completely, you don’t need perfect language to be a good speaker. If you have something interesting to say, and if the audience wants to hear your opinions, you could probably send smoke signals into the air, or use some other incredibly inefficient communications technique, and they would still listen with great attention.

As long as you have something they want, people will allow almost anything. That’s one of the most important jobs in good communication: find out what the other people want.

Of course, if everything else is equal, perfect language will win. But everything else is almost never equal, and, in fact, it’s almost always all of our jobs, no matter what our industry is, to make sure that everything else is never equal.

And actually, perfect language can get in the way sometimes, because audiences like to see effort and thought on the speaker’s face. Maybe the effort is coming from language, but the audience often doesn’t know that. The speaker might be digging deep for a vocabulary word, but the audience just thinks the speaker is thinking deeply.

That İbrahim Kalın speech you sent is a great example. He has lots of ahh’s and umm’s in there, but they actually add to his speech — the effect is “this guy is speaking genuinely, because he needs to slow down and think.” Having too many ahh’s and umm’s is usually a problem, but the magic number seems to be about 6 per minute — if you use a lot more than that, it makes the audience’s brains hurt, but if you use less than that, the audience thinks you are genuine/thoughtful.

Another thing he does very well is he doesn’t stress every word. He relaxes his stress for a few phrases, and only stresses a few words per sentence. The result? The audience gets a chance to relax too, and instead of getting tired because they have to listen to 10 words and decide which 10 words are important, İbrahim Kalın is already doing that work for them.


I feel camera-shy

One of our clients asked what he called a “million-dollar question”…

He asked, “I feel very shy in front of a camera. How can I improve? Any tips?”

Here was my response:

“Here’s what I do, try this…

“Humans naturally relax and light up when they talk to other humans they know. So before you sit down in front of the camera, visualize the face of someone who relaxes you. Imagine them standing next to you. Talk to them (silently of course — otherwise other people in the room will think you’re crazy).

“Then sit down in front of the camera, and pause for a moment to make sure their image is still in your head. Imagine them sitting on the other side of the camera, right above the camera lens. Then talk to them, not the camera lens.

“Whatever is going on in your head will drive your facial expressions more than the outside environment. So your inner mental game and visualization skills are where to look for answers to the “camera shy” question.

Related to inner mental game and visualization:

What do you want your audience to do?


Rule number two.

Something to remember before you even start outlining your speech.

Rule number two or question number two is what do you want your audience to do at the end of your speech.

The other day somebody said, “Oh you mean, what’s my goal?”

I said, “No, that’s not the question.” What’s your goal is not the question.

The question is what do you want your audience to do.

The reason the question is phrased that way is because a good speech does not happen in your head.

A good speech happens in the heads of the audience members. Before you outline your speech, you need to ask yourself what do I want them to do? What do I want going on in their heads, and what words am I going to choose so that they take that action?

Eye contact is good, but not always

As presentation trainers we tell our clients over and over, “More eye contact, more eye contact.” But sometimes you’ve got other stuff to do, and it’s okay to look away. Not to read your slides or look at your shoes, no. But to visualize something you’re talking about.

Like when you’re telling a story. Sometimes in order to tell a story really well you’ve got to look into the distance and visualize it. See the people. Run your hands across the fabric on the furniture, or feel the grass. Remember what people said, hear their voices, see the dirt in the corner. Feel how you felt. And when you do these things, your audience will realize there is a reason you are not looking in their eyes. They will know it is because you have transported yourself to another time and place, and they will come with you.

Remember that the point of making eye contact is not just to make eye contact for eye contact’s sake. The point of making eye contact is to connect with your audience, to bring them into your head, into your heart. And if your head and heart are busy telling a story so vivid that your audience has decided to come with you, you don’t need to make eye contact. Look at your audience every once in a while to make sure they are as interested in your story as you are. But don’t feel the need to make eye contact just because experts told you to make eye contact.

When you are visualizing your story, it is highly likely that you are serving eye contact’s purpose better than eye contact would.

No soggy noodles

The other day I was working with a client on her PowerPoint slides. We looked at the first slide, then the second slide, then the third slide. She asked me what I thought. “Should we add this?” “Should we take that out?”

The thing is, she had an even more basic problem: her slides were interfering with the story she was telling. The slides had all the graphs and data and charts you “should” put in a business presentation, but all that average, “should be there” data was drowning the story coming out of her mouth. It was a fascinating story, a story the audience would love to hear. It was a story of brilliance and creativity and hard work, but the slides were saying, “Oh, by the way, there’s nothing special here. I am giving you exactly what everyone else does.”

In a presentation, you have a huge opportunity. A bunch of people are sitting in front of you, waiting to hear what you have to say. If you are about to rock their world with a brilliant story, do not sabotage your story by wrapping it in a soggy noodle of an average slide deck.

Spill your blood onto the floor

There’s a scene I love from the movie Cadillac Records. Beyonce plays Etta James, and she is in the studio recording the famous tune “All I Could Do Is Cry.” The producer tells her it’s not good enough, that she isn’t putting enough emotion into it. Beyonce (Etta James) records it one more time, this time with just a little more feeling than she’s comfortable with. She actually tears up during the song. The producer deems it a good recording, and they use it for the record.

It doesn’t matter what you’re talking about. It doesn’t matter where you are. Maybe you’re delivering a dry quarterly sales report. Let your geek flag fly. Take a little risk. Dig a little deeper than you’re used to. Give your audience just a little more than you feel comfortable giving. They will appreciate your effort, and they will start looking for that passion in themselves, too. You might feel embarrassed and exposed, but your audience will be thinking, “I wish I could do that, too.”

You’ll probably never not be nervous


People make a big deal out of being afraid of public speaking.

When somebody tells me that they’re afraid of public speaking, I just want to tell them, “You know, you’re never going to get over it.”

I’ve been going to Toastmasters meetings for 5 years or more, and I still am nervous as hell every time I get up there and speak.

You will never get over your nervousness of speaking.

The reason for coming to a Toastmasters meeting, or the reason for coming to a public speaking practice club, at all, isn’t to get over your fear of public speaking. It’s not to stop feeling the fear. It’s to train yourself to speak anyway. That’s why we come to Toastmasters.

Don’t wait for some magic day to come, when all of a sudden you’re not afraid of speaking anymore. Get up there while you’re afraid and speak. Then, get up there tomorrow and speak. Then, get up there the next day and speak.

Five years later, it’s okay if you’re still afraid of speaking, because you probably will be.

The thing that you want to accomplish is not eliminating that fear. It’s just training yourself to get up there and say what you have to say anyway. Because people want to hear what you have to say. You owe it to them.

Talk to the wall


Talk to the wall.

What does that mean? Sometimes when you’re doing a speech, before you’re even writing the speech, when you’re just at the very beginning and you’re outlining the idea, sometimes a real rational approach, a really well-thought out approach, works really well. A top-down thing. What do I want to say? What’s the moral of the story? Then you fill in the spaces later.

Sometimes, it doesn’t work that way, and sometimes you’ve just got to fill in the spaces first and let the shape come later.

That’s why I say, talk to the wall, because sometimes the best speeches come when you talk to an inanimate object. Talk to the wall or talk to the couch, or talk to the cat, or talk to a plant, or whatever.

For a couple of days, just tell a story and talk to whatever that object is. Somewhere along the way, the story will start to take shape.

When you first start out, it might feel awful and you might think this story is so uninteresting and it has no point at all.

I’m sorry, but you’re just going to have to go through that for a couple of hours, feeling like that, before finally, something starts to take shape.

At the end, you’re going to end up with a speech that’s probably better than any one that you would have rationally thought about beforehand. It requires more creativity and patience at the beginning, but sometimes the results … You’ll get results that a rational approach won’t get you.

Feel, sense, describe – don’t just tell!


When you’re practicing and when you’re standing right there on stage, imagine the stuff that you’re talking about.

Visualize the things you’re talking about, see them.

When you’re talking about flowers, don’t just say, there were some pretty flowers and they were all nice colors and they smelled good.

See the colors, see the bright yellows and the reds and see the purple and describe those things to your audience.

See them while you’re talking.

When you’re talking about the smell, don’t just say, those flowers smell nice. Smell the flowers.

Doing these things will help you with a couple of things.

One is, the body language will come naturally. You will naturally show people a smile on your face when you look at all of these colorful flowers.

You will naturally … When you sniff in the smell, you will naturally have that expression on your face of imagining that smell going in to your head. You’ll have the body language and also the vocal variety.

When you are talking about how you’re seeing something or how when you’re smelling something, you will naturally slow down because it’s not your words doing the job anymore, it’s the senses. You will naturally slow down to show people what those senses are like.

Don’t just say, visualize what you see right there for your audience, because they will visualize along with you.


Put some Tuba in it!


This one is called, “Put Some Tuba in It.”

When you’re mentoring somebody, I recommend that you tell your mentee to put some of them into their speeches.

If their name is Ayşe, or Mehmet, or David, put some Ayşe in it. Put some David in it. Put some Alper in it. Put some Tuba in it.

The reason that I recommend that is that people see famous quotes from famous people all the time. A quote from Gandhi, or a quote from Abraham Lincoln, or a quote from Einstein, people see these quotes all the time.

You can go on Facebook, and you can see 900 quotes from famous people. People see those quotes, and they go, “Oh, yeah, that’s brilliant,” and blah, blah, blah, but then they’ve seen those quotes before, and they forget about them, and they move on, and there’s no change in their lives, at all.

When someone speaks to them from their own heart, and uses their own personality and their own words, even if those words aren’t as beautiful or as profound as the words that came out of Gandhi’s mouth, or Einstein’s mouth, just the fact that those words come from their heart and are stamped with their personality, will mean more to the audience than any famous person’s quote.

I highly recommend, when you’re working with one of your mentees on a speech, tell them, whatever their name is, Tuba, or Alper, or Gandhi, tell them, “Put some Tuba,” or, “Put some Alper in it,” and speak like that. Forget about the famous people. Forget about their quotes.

Talk to the dog

The other day, I was helping a client with a presentation. He was an engineer for a solar power company, and he was going to introduce his company to some potential investors.

Other engineers would have loved his presentation. They would have picked him up, put him on their shoulders, and carried him down the street while singing at the top of their lungs.

Potential investors, however, would be completely uninterested in what he was saying. He was working so hard on his presentation, but it was going to be a complete failure. It was painful to watch him practice.

So I told him, “Talk to the dog, in the language of the dog, about the things that are important to the dog.”

I didn’t mean people are like dogs. I didn’t mean disrespect people, or look down on them.

I meant, remember that most people are not like you. They don’t see the world the same way. If you want their support, you need to talk to them about things they care about, using language they use.

When you are preparing a presentation, think about your audience. Think about how they see the world. Think about what THEY want. Next, think about what you want them to do, and what will cause them to take that action.

THEN you can go prepare your presentation.