November 23, 2010

How to give a pain free, highly customized talk

Many of my friends are frequent presenters, often asked to tailor their talks. 

Building on Chris Brogran's recent post related to this subject, I want to offer an alternative to the "death by power point notes" approach that most speakers take in this situation.  Sure, it's hard for you to remember all the details of your talk, especially if you are integrating research you've done for this talk.  There are new terms, statistics that will be fact checked and unique points you want to make.  You may not be comfortable shuffling notes around in your hands, and it's true, you look less professional when you do. 

While you are adding value by giving a one-of-a-kind talk, asking the audience to read and listen to you makes the presentation long and according to Nick Morgan, straining on the audience.  When you use 'overhead-notes' you are making your memorization problem your audience's as well.  I'm talking about those text-heavy slides with bullet points and builds.  They require many audience to have what I call the eye-exam-keynote-experience.  

OK - you actually know that words on screen is a crutch and not a visual 'aid' for the audience.  How can you possibly remember your points without using power point slides as your prompts? 

1 - Rehearse, Rehearse, Rehearse.  Give your custom talk at least two times (all the way through) prior to giving it for your audience.  Give it one time the day of your talk, even if that means you have to get up at 5:30!  If you really want to commit this to memory, give your last yourself in the mirror. 

2 - Create an outline on 11 x 17 paper, much like a set sheet that a band uses.  Use bold magic marker, and write down cues (see the picture above, from my recent talk for Rich's Products).  The audience won't notice you are occasionally looking down at them, all they know is that you are giving them a talk that's written for them. 

3 - Make every power point slide beg for it's life.  In my situation, I only use slides that illustrate a point graphically.  The acid test is this: Can I make the point without showing the power point.  NOTE: If a picture saves a thousand words, that's also a good use of power point.  Karl Meisenbach (HDNET) and Seth Godin do a great job in this area.  

4 - Carry around a one page outline of your talk (mine from today is here) and read it from top to bottom for the last hour before you go on.  Test yourself, reciting the bullet points absent your notes.  Include any key words that are new to you. 

The audience, like a customer, responds to a good experience.  When they get to listen, and only view essential images, you are maximizing the experience.  But to quote Pine and Gilmore, customization is the ultimate experience! 


Posted at 1:30 PM in Public Speaking  |  Permalink  |  Comments (5)  |  TrackBack (0)



Yes, I think that you are making a great point. You'll see that I showed you some love in a NOTE on the post (edit).

BTW: To all that are reading these comments, find and follow Karl Meisenbach. He was one of my cube mates at, and offers great advice on HD marketing AND Objectivism.



Thanks for this post. I recently gave a talk to students at my alma mater and not going crazy with slides thing was really key part of it. One thing I found to be effective was to use pictures to make my points instead of bullet point slides. I found that had a really powerful effect. Great tips and I'll definitely be referring back to your post as I get ready for my first speaking gig in my industry.


I use ppt/keynote but the slides are 100% Images/ Pictures of my story. My story uses the images to help relay the information and engage the audience. Images can relay information that would take too long with words.


Great tips on giving a talk Tim.

I've seen you give three talks live, and they have all been spectacular.



Hi Tim! I read the book, Real Leaders Don't Do PowerPoint and loved it. I want my audience to focus on me, not on some screen...okay I'm a narcissist. But really, how many boring PPT slides do we have to live through? I much prefer mesmerizing them with a story. I can weave in statistics, if I have to and send them notes upon request.

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