Why you shouldn’t begin your conference presentation by talking about yourself

Excerpt from An Open Letter To Speakers by Scott Berkun:

Drop your bio introduction. If you are on a stage the organizers have granted you more credibility than nearly anyone else at the event. And 95% of the time your bio is on the website or in the program. The audience can get it if they want it, right there, on their phone, at any time. If you must, 30 seconds is enough time to say your name, profession, and why you care about the topic. Anything more is likely wasting their time.

(1) Scott writes elsewhere in the article “Most speakers forget they’re providing a service to the audience, not to themselves.” This is why providing a detailed bio at the beginning of your talk is a mistake.
(2) For two other things to remember when starting a presentation, see How NOT to start a presentation and A talk or presentation is an opportunity to be generous.

How to combat Powerpoint fatigue

Edited excerpt from Seven Secrets for Public Speaking Success by Dr. Nick Morgan:

Try turning off the slideware. You are probably preparing slides as a primary way to get ready for your presentation. Here’s a thought: don’t use slides as wallpaper, visible all the time. Try using them sparingly, only when you have a compelling image, only when it really helps your speech. What to do the rest of the time? Put in a black slide, so that the audience can focus on you, and not split its attention between screen and speaker.

(1) Has anyone tried this? Does it work?
(2) Cf. If you must use Powerpoint…
(3) One of the advantages of walking meetings is that neither party can use slides. See: (i) Walking meetings and (ii) Two benefits of walking meetings.

How NOT to start a presentation

Edited excerpt from 8 Bad Habits That Ruin Good Presentations by Geoffrey James:

Don’t start with an apology. You’re late, your equipment malfunctions, you don’t have your materials, or whatever. You apologize in advance for how this might affect your presentation. This is a mistake because an apology sets a negative tone that may affect the entire meeting and makes you seem like a victim. Nobody wants to do business with a victim. Instead, start on an upbeat note, as if nothing is wrong. This communicates that you’re cool under pressure–the opposite of being a victim.

Don’t make personal excuses. You downgrade the audience’s expectations by offering an excuse in advance for your poor performance. (E.g., “I’m so tired”; “I got in late last night.”) This is a mistake because you’re giving yourself an excuse so you won’t feel so bad if you fail. Plus, nobody wants to hear you whine about your problems. Instead, regardless of how you’re feeling, show enthusiasm for being there and make your best effort.

(1) Maybe better to start with a story.
(2) And then end with love?

How to make your talk or presentation gripping and memorable

Excerpt from How To Tell If Someone Is Lying: 5 Research-Backed Secrets by Eric Barker:

Your brain is wired to respond to stories. Neuroscience research shows nothing beats a story when it comes to convincing you of something.

Keith Quesenberry at Johns Hopkins reviewed over 100 Super Bowl ads to see what the most effective ones had in common. The answer? They told a story.

(1) Contrast this with the more functional approach to public speaking — focus on the change you want to catalyze, keep presentations tight, and avoid “and’s”.
(2) Story telling has greater emotional resonance; cf. By the end of your talk or presentation, you should be talking love.

How to answer questions after pitching your product or startup

Edited excerpt from How To Demo Your Startup by Jason Calacanis:

Short answers are best.

When taking questions about your product answer questions shortly. This is a very challenging thing for many people–including myself–to do. If you’re like me, you’ve probably thought out your startup’s issues a thousand different ways. Answer the question with the most concise answer.

(1) In Nick Morgan’s words, “Too many speakers dump way too much information on the audience. Restraint is key.” See: For speakers: three tips to avoid tiring your audience.
(2) For more on demos to VCs and investors, see: (i) How to demo your startup, and (ii) A better way to demo your product.
(3) For more on demos to potential customers, see: (i) Demos can win sales if you do them like this, and (ii) How to demo your product to a potential customer.

By the end of your talk or presentation, you should be talking love

Edited excerpt from The Twelve Rules of Good Public Speaking No One Tells You About by Dr. Nick Morgan:

You get attention by identifying a problem and playing it up. Look at the current American presidential candidates; you’d be pardoned for thinking that Armageddon was around the corner if you took them seriously.

But by the end of the talk, you should be covering what it is that you love and what’s working in your world. Long-term careers are based on positive trajectories, not negative ones.

(1) Cf. Ideas spread inside a company due to positive energy; 8 ways to increase it.
(2) Cf. A simple litmus test for great managers.

A talk or presentation is an opportunity to be generous

Edited excerpt from Seven Secrets for Public Speaking Success by Dr. Nick Morgan:

Indulge in some generosity. Compliment your rival. Give something away. Offer free help. Share the spotlight with an audience member. Give credit to others. There are many ways to be generous from the stage, and few speakers remember to be as generous as they can be as often as they should. You are the hero of the hour, but heroes play nicely with others. It’s part of how we define them.

For speakers: three tips to avoid tiring your audience

Edited excerpt from Seven Secrets for Public Speaking Success by Dr. Nick Morgan:

1. Tell the audience something it doesn’t know, but don’t tell it everything you know. Audiences love to learn a little insider knowledge, or a factoid that adds a bit of depth and complexity to a well-known story. But we only crave a little extra knowledge. Too many speakers dump way too much information on the audience. Restraint is key.

2. Keep track of where you are. One of the kindest things you can do as a speaker for an audience is to let it know where you are in the presentation. Number your points. Tell the audience what it is in for. Make your progress clear.

3. Finish two minutes early. The key to finishing on time is rehearsal. Only with a real rehearsal can you know precisely where you are in the presentation and how long it will take. As the old saying has it, no one ever hoped that a speech would go longer. But you also don’t want to undershoot in a big way.

(1) Re. “Tell the audience something it doesn’t know, but don’t tell it everything you know” — I love this advice. It seems obvious, but it addresses our insecurity of wanting to prove ourselves by showing how much we know.
(2) Re. “Keep track of where you are” — Audiences usually know how long a presentation is supposed to last. If that’s not the case, make sure you tell your audience up front how long your talk will be. Same applies to meetings and phone calls. An easy way to do this: “My time frame for this presentation / meeting is 45 minutes. Does that work for you?”
(3) Re. “Don’t tell your audience everything you know” — cf. How to keep presentations tight.

How to handle public questions you don’t know the answer to

Edited excerpt from How To Demo Your Startup by Jason Calacanis:

Take a moment to think about the question. You can even say “Hmmm… that’s a good question. Let me think about that for a second.” Folks appreciate a little consideration when someone takes a question.

If you don’t have an answer be honest and say you don’t. The worst thing to do when you don’t have an answer is to b.s. the person. No one has an answer for everything, except a b.s. artist. So, feel free to say you don’t know –- folks find it refreshingly humble and honest. There are many ways to say this including: “I’m not really sure, I’m going to have to think about that for a bit and get back to you,” or “I’m not sure to be honest. What do you think?”

Feel free to think out loud and brainstorm with the person. You can do this by saying “I’ve never really considered that. Perhaps you can expand the question a little and we can explore it right now.”

If you must use Powerpoint…

Edited excerpt from How To Demo Your Startup by Jason Calacanis:

Do not make slide after slide explaining your business in bullet points, because it’s really, really boring. Powerpoint slides that are not boring include charts, product shots, feature set tables and the like. Things that explain big concepts with ease and grace are great, but bullet points of obvious facts show that:

a) you don’t have the ability to create a compelling story with data

b) you don’t think that much of the person being presented the information

I’m not a huge fan of “funny slides” or lots of graphics for graphics sake. You’re not pitching your company to get laughs–unless you’re on stage–you’re doing it to raise capital, close a partnership or get on stage at a conference. Keep it focused and to the point.

How to demo your startup

Edited excerpt from How To Demo Your Startup by Jason Calacanis:

Show your product within the first 60 seconds. Most folks start their presentations with information like the size of the market they are tackling. The longer it takes for you to show your product, the worse your product is. Folks who have a kick-ass product don’t spend five or ten minutes “setting the stage” or “giving the background.” Folks with killer products CAN’T WAIT to show you their product. Their demos start with their homepage and quickly jump into the users experience.

The best products take less than five minutes to demo. The better the product the LESS time it takes to demo. If your product demo takes more than five minutes to demo, it probably sucks. All the tiny little features that matter to you are of course important. However, when presenting your company, you don’t have to show them. Leave people wanting more.

Talk about what you’ve done, not what you’re going to do. Weak startups and their leaders seem to immediately start talk about “what’s next,” as opposed to focusing on the core product. Who cares what you’re going to bolt on to your startup? What really matters is the core functionality of your startup.

A simple rule for pitching your startup or product

Edited excerpt from My Golden Rule for Pitching Your Startup or Product by David Cancel:

There’s a simple rule I use when pitching a product or even a company to someone. I call it No “and”s. You have to be able to describe your idea in a single sentence without using the word “and.”

The problem with using “and”s is that they often confuse ideas instead of clarifying them. The “No Ands” rule is a simple constraint that you can use to focus your pitch. It will teach you to clarify your positioning and, hopefully, result in fewer glazed-over eyes and confused recipients.

(1) The “No Ands” rule is powerful because it forces you to prioritize and focus, and doing few things well is the key to startup success. What is your customer’s job to be done? What is your core value proposition? Answer those questions with no “and”s.
(2) “The “No Ands” rule is a simple constraint that you can use to focus your pitch” — cf. Embracing constraints.
(3) If your pitch isn’t clear, your strategy isn’t clear, because conversations about messaging are really about strategy.
(4) Cf. (i) Building a valuable product — a checklist of questions to answer and (ii) Clarifying your strategy using a simple template.

How to overcome fear in public speaking

From Seth Godin:

Speaking in public: two errors that lead to fear

1. You believe that you are being actively judged
2. You believe that the subject of the talk is you

When you stand up to give a speech, there’s a temptation to believe that the audience is actually interested in you. This just isn’t true. (Or if it is, it doesn’t benefit you to think that it is).

You are not being judged, the value of what you are bringing to the audience is being judged. The topic of the talk isn’t you, the topic of the talk is the audience, and specifically, how they can use your experience and knowledge to achieve their objectives.

The members of the audience are interested in themselves. The audience wants to know what they can use, what they can learn, or at the very least, how they can be entertained. If you realize that you have a chance to be generous in this moment, to teach and to lead, you can leave the self-doubt behind and speak a truth that the audience needs to hear. When you bring that to people who need it, your fear pales in comparison.

The key to great presentations

From Every presentation worth doing has just one purpose by Seth Godin:

Every presentation worth doing has just one purpose: To make a change happen.

No change, no point. A presentation that doesn’t seek to make change is a waste of time and energy.

Before you start working on your presentation, the two-part question to answer is, “who will be changed by this work, and what is the change I seek?


Every element of your presentation (the room, the attendees, the length, the tone) exists for just one reason: to make it more likely that you will achieve the change you seek. If it doesn’t do that, replace it with something that does.

And of course, you can’t change everyone the same way at the same time. One more reason to carefully curate your audience with your intent in mind.