Top Tips To Becoming that Quality Speaker

Top Tips To Becoming that Quality Speaker

13th February 2013

Yesterday we discussed what makes a quality speaker at conferences. The conclusion can be that becoming a quality speaker is hard work. And it will be even harder staying a quality speaker.

Today we are going to get into ways of becoming that top speaker you always dreamed you could be. With the help of Kevin Gibbons, Andrew Girdwood, Sri Sharma, Lee Odden, Bryan Eisenberg and Anders Hjorth you’ll get some top secret tips to becoming that quality speaker.

Think about your audience

It was mentioned several times before yesterday as well: what makes a great speaker is that he or she thinks about the audience, getting them involved and thinking about what they want to get out of it.

This is acknowledged by Sri Sharma, Managing Director & Founder Net Media Planet:

“I try to put myself in the shoes of the audience – what will they find interesting, new and importantly, what actionable insights can they take away?”

Andrew Girdwood of LBi agrees with that:

“I’m a geek, not a natural speaker at all but I happily agree to speak at events because I like to discuss the industry and share my discoveries. In particular, I like to discover useful tips and techniques. To make sure I deliver the best possible presentation I keep in mind what I would want if I was in the audience. My top tip is: be useful.


This however might be easier said than done. Understanding your audience is something which most companies don’t understand and unfortunately most speakers either. If you are speaking to an audience make sure you ask the organisers the following questions:

– how many people will be there?
– what are the job roles of the people in the room?
– what type of questions would you like to have answered in the presentation?
– which companies are represented in the audience?
– can you make an estimate of their knowledge level?

And there are more questions like this you can think of to figure out what the crowd is you are facing. A smart idea can be to ask speakers who have been at that specific event before about their experiences. They can pretty much tell you what to expect.

Do storytell

Gone are the days of bullet filled slide decks and presentations that are read out loud by the speaker involved. As you heard yesterday and in the TEDx tips post as well, storytelling is the way to go.

Bryan Eisenberg, a well known and very experienced keynote speaker says:

“The best presenters know how to educate and entertain their audiences. The best way to do this is to become a great story teller. All too often speakers don’t understand the structure of a story so they bombard their audience with facts, stats and less entertainment content that has their audience staring at their cell phones instead of paying attention to the speaker.”

Lee Odden, CEO of and a very experienced speaker, explains:

“I suppose the most important secret to giving great presentations is that there is no one silver bullet to be successful as a speaker. But since you’re asking for just ONE tip, I’d have to say, storytelling.

There’s a saying I learned in a past career about being persuasive: “Facts Tell, Stories Sell”. Of course it’s important to have compelling data in a presentation, but what people remember from a presentation is how they felt during it. Statistics, graphs and charts have their place, but nothing beats a great story.

Stories aren’t just good for the audience, they’re great for the speaker too. Instead of memorizing ridiculous amounts of pre-written text, statistics and quotes, focus instead on telling a story that reveals what you know about the subject matter. Heck, tell multiple stories. Include statistics and data to accentuate your key points, but make the information entertaining and interesting to listen to. Audiences will pay more attention, they’ll absorb more and feel great about the presentation and you. “

and Kevin Gibbons, Managing Director of BlueGlass Interactive UK, focusses on this as well:

“The more presentations I’ve delivered, the more I’ve released it’s about telling a great story. So I like to turn my presentation deck research into a mini-project where possible, which is what I’ve done for my SES London presentation about Google penguin.”


But again, the question is: how? Storytelling can be interpreted in many ways. Do you tell an anecdote? Do you showcase a business case? Both are good actually, but they only tell ‘half’ the story. A good story teller knows to create tension and expectations and makes the story ’round’. This means that a presentation is one whole story, not just many stories together.

Bryan Eisenberg has five points to get there and points at South Park:

1. Understand the structure of stories. Read this article and don’t miss this video from the creators of South Park [} (language is NSFW).
2. Pick a story structure that you are really familiar with like “A Day in The Life of an…” or “How to become a SEO hero overnight”
3. Most stories have 3 parts a beginning, a middle and an end. Make sure to spend most of your time on your first mental image of how you setup the angle of approach to your story and how you will end it. That is 90% of what the audience will remember.
4. Figure out what to leave out from the middle to keep the presentation engaging and to leave room for the audience to ask questions later.
5. Tell your story, make you the cornerstone of your presentation, not your slides.

To get this done writing out the highlights of the talk are important. You first write down what the message is you want to get across. After that you build your story around that. In my case mind mapping usually helps. It shows how much I can tell (usually too much) and will filter out what is important or not in one overview. Here’s for example a mind map around the topic of a sub-contious marketing talk I did for Thinkvisibility last year:


After the mind map you need to create the story: pick the topics, pick the order and make sure you have a beginning and end: start with the ‘why’ so people will understand and work up to the message you want to get across.

Sri Sharma again:

“I try to have to have a key theme to my presentation, a key point of view/s that I start from and then bring the audience back to at the end – something that brings the presentation together. I also try to bring real examples that bring a point to life – of what worked, what perhaps didn’t and what I’d do instead the future”

Andrew Girdwood is a ‘sketcher’:

“These days I sketch out a flow of slides on paper first, with a keyword or two in each badly drawn box and try and arrange things so there’s a good flow through the issues at hand that reaches a useful conclusion.”

Remember: Storytelling is not easy and requires proper preparation! 

Get comfortable

empty-roomThere have been many people who always say to me ‘you are never nervous before I talk, I am always extremely nervous’. They are right to a certain extend. I don’t get ‘nervous’ anymore before a talk, but I do have tension. You can probably compare it best with the tension a professional athlete has before he has to perform, or an actor or comedian. That tension usually is gone when you get on stage. At least, that is the case for me.

Knowing that already helps getting comfortable: realising there will always be some tension, releases the tension a little. But there is more you can do, as Anders Hjorth, from Innovell, points out:

“On the day of the event I make sure I can go to any Keynote speech on the day I speak and also attend the session just before mine as part of the audience. In this way I get an initial feeling for the ambiance, the buzz themes and mood of the conferences. If I have a chance for it, I walk up on the stage to get a feel for it. When speaking I try to make references to elements the audience have heard and seen in order to create a frame of references for them. I think this creates a much better connection with the audience once I am on stage.”

Getting comfortable is different for everyone. Some like to practice their talks with colleagues several times, others need to see the room they will be presenting in and again others need to drink a lot of coffee. But beware of that, you might need to run to the bathroom if you do that, happened to me as well ;).


Another big part of becoming a great speaker is off course your slide deck. But we will not go into that today, that is for some other day this week.

Any tips you would like to share? Drop them in the comments!

It’s Event Week on State of Search!

It’s event week on State of Search this week! We are looking at everything around events, looking forward to SES London and helping you make the best choices you can make when it comes to attending, speaking or choosing your events.
This week is sponsored by Marin Software


Written By
Bas van den Beld is an award winning Digital Marketing consultant, trainer and speaker. He is the founder of State of Digital and helps companies develop solid marketing strategies.
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