Customers Rock!

A blog about customers, their experiences, and how businesses can make sure their customer experiences rock!

Speaker Tips

Posted by Becky Carroll on November 28, 2007

speech.jpg Many of us are often called upon to give speeches.  I do it on a regular basis and find it quite fun.  Others of us are not too keen to get up in front of an audience, whether at a conference, a customer presentation, or at an end-of-year employee gathering. 

C. B. Whittemore, blogger extraordinaire at Flooring the Consumer, came up with 10 Tips to Not Trip Up a Speech.  I especially like her first one (also applies if you are doing any singing!):

1. Never eat a banana immediately before a speech. For that matter, avoid dairy products, too. Both contribute to a distracting need to clear one’s throat during a presentation.

Here are my tips to add to her list.

  1. Find a friendly face in the audience.  You should “work the room”, of course, but in so doing you might find a face or two that are frowning.  Don’t take it personally!  Find a friendly face and keep coming back to that person for encouragement.
  2. Always keep a mint or hard candy with you at the podium.  Sometimes a sip of water doesn’t clear the “frog” in your throat!
  3. Minimize the number of bullets on each slide.  No one can read a slide with too many words on it!  Three bullets of short phrases are all that is necessary.
  4. Include something humorous at strategic points during your speech. A light laugh is always good to keep people focused!
  5. If you are comfortable in front of the crowd, get out from behind the podium lecturn!  A bit of wandering makes your presentation more visually interesting. (I know, C. B. had this one, too, but I think it is worth mentioning again.)
  6. Turn off your lavaliere microphone if you go to the bathroom before your speech.  ‘Nuff said.

All you public speakers out there, what are your top tips for a successful speech?  Add them to the comments or to C.B.’s post, and let us know what makes you shine!

(Photo: tomml)

11 Responses to “Speaker Tips”

  1. Peter Kim said

    I’ve always been told to bring warm, not cold water on stage. The theory being that cold water constricts your vocal cords, which leads to drinking more. True?

  2. Hmmm. One tip–be human! Even though you’re up there as the ‘expert’, make fun of yourself, laugh a little, ask for input/comments/questions. In my opinion, there’s nothing worse than the stuffy, know-it-all presenter. Yawn.

  3. Becky, thanks for amplifying this conversation! I love your additions as well as those of Pete and Suzanne.

    Pete, I personally prefer warm/cool water; hate ice; must have lemon. Your theory makes sense + dislike having ice fall out of my glass as I’m trying to get to the last drops in the glass…

    Suzanne, you are so right! It’s amazing how being willing to laugh at yourself can break any ice and establish rapport with the audience.


  4. Great tips so far!

    Peter, as far as warm/cold water goes, sometimes swallowing something very cold may make you have to clear your throat or cough. Warm water won’t do that. I prefer water which is room-temperature, unless the stage/room are very hot (for example, under hot lights on a stage). No ice; I agree with CB on that one. The ice makes too much noise in the mike, anyway. Good question!

    Suzanne, being human is the only way we will actually connect with the audience. I agree that we should not be a “know it all” speaker, but as the expert, we still want to come across confidently. I like opening with light humor (not too many Dilbert cartoons, please!), then sprinkling it throughout via pictures or in my comments. A conversational speech, where you can get the audience involved in show-of-hand polls, throwing questions out to be answered, or even taking questions can keep the energy going. Thanks!

    CB, thanks for bringing your clever ideas to the conversation over here at Customers Rock! I am looking forward to the day when we can present together… hey, how about at a conference in Anaheim or Orlando? 😉

  5. I’d add a few tips that work well for me.

    1) Smile wide and pause to see who smiles back – This small gesture can help you find your friendlies in the audience, and these are the folks you can go back to when you need an energy boost.

    2) S-l-o-w d-o-w-n when making important points – Take the time to breathe when you’re making your most important points. I would even encourage you to stop periodically to give people’s brains a chance to catch up.

    3) Use a “quote slide” to make a point – In my presentation, I talk about the power word of mouth can have to ruin your business. I’ve got a great Jeff Bezos quote that I put in there to make my point even stronger than I could myself.

    4) Don’t be afraid to change the background color of your slides to make a transition – Who says all slides have to be exactly the same? Change it up in the middle, then go back to your template.

    5) Better yet, don’t use a template at all, just put a picture and a few words on a slide.

    6) My last tip I’ll share is from Guy Kawasaki: Remember the 10-20-30 rule.
    10 slides max
    20 minutes max
    30 point font
    Sure, not perfect if you’ve got a 2 hour slot, but if you’ve been given 45 minutes, be ready to shorten it to 20 minutes in case the CEO of your host company decides she/he wants to share some of your time on the platform to make some important points to her/his company.

  6. Phil, thank you for lending your expertise to this topic! Your smile is indeed contagious; hard to believe you wouldn’t have an audience filled with “friendlies”!

    I like to keep my template simple – a few words/bullets, and a nice picture to keep it interesting. Quotes are very useful and lend credibility, as do the right statistics.

    I shy away from multimedia, as there are just too many things that seem to go wrong with sound, etc! Anyone else use videos successfully?

    Thanks, Phil!

  7. Susan,

    Recently I blogged about The Book, The Exceptioal Presenter.”
    I highly recommend it. The key point I learned from the book: When planning your presentation, start with your key points, not with Powerpoint. Since I read the book, I don’t even consider Powerpoint until after I’ve fleshed out my key points. Then I decide how to best to emphasize them. When the answer is “use visuals,” then I decide if Powerpoint is the method I want to use.

    BTW, you don’t stand behind a podium, you stand ON the podium. That thing holding up your notes is a lecturn.

    Thanks to Susan and the commenters. This is a great post I’m adding to my bookmarks.



  8. ARRRGGHH!!!

    Becky, my apologies for calling you Susan. I had just finised reading a blog by Susan Sabo and was attempting to watch a football game at the same time.

    My humble apologies. I will now devote my entire attention to the game.


  9. Brandon said

    Thanks for the great ideas, Becky, C.B., Suzanne, Glenn and Phil. I find these all to be very helpful when presenting. My most useful one seems to be a combination of several of these suggestions. I find two or three people in the room that are (or at least appear to be) interested in what I am saying and speak to them. That way, I am focusing on several areas of the room and not sweeping across everyone with my eyes.

    It helps me to feel more like I am having a conversation with just a few people and relaxes me. Of course, if you are only speaking to a handful of people, this is a moot point. 🙂

    Thanks again everyone, I love these suggestions,


  10. Glenn, thank you for adding your tip about planning before plopping into Powerpoint! And I “stand” corrected about lecturn vs podium. No problem on the name, either. 🙂

    Brandon, finding a few friendlies really does help, I agree! Thank you for your perspective. What a great conversation this has turned out to be.

  11. […] no straightforward answer. And there’s lots of great advice on public speaking and presenting out there. Some people recommend memorizing a script and practicing it intensely for […]

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