Scott Stratten's Tips For Becoming A Presentation Sensation

How to please your organizer, your audience, your wallet, even the A/V guys.

Speaking at events is a great way to generate potential business and position yourself as an expert in your field. However, problems usually occur when somebody speaks for free and needs to make money by selling from the stage. Those talks end up being a commercial, simply not valuing the audience’s time or providing any real content.

If you’re already a speaker, or thinking of getting into it, I have put together a collection of 18 tips that may help things go more smoothly for you on stage.

Be You

When you try to be someone else on stage, it makes you even more nervous. I dress like me, I talk like me, and I say what I think. I tell stories. That may not be your style. People will try to knock that out of you. Just in the past two days, one person said I should have better ‘‘hygiene’’ and wear a tie (I wear a black shirt and have facial hair). Another person said I was ‘‘over the top’’ with how I speak. What you don’t hear is the silent majority who like you being you and who are relieved that it isn’t another stuffed-up suit and tie on stage; and for some of us, ‘‘over the top’’ means really freaking passionate about what we say. I ain’t changing that for anybody. And neither should you.

But Remember, It's Not About You

Every time you take the stage in front of an audience, you need to be thinking about them. What are they looking for? Where are they in terms of how much they know and understand about your topic? I give a very different talk to a crowd who throws up no hands when I ask, ‘‘Who has a Twitter account?’’ than to a social media club. To make it great for every audience, you need to make it about your audience.

Don't Be A "Speaker," Be An Expert Who Speaks

Speakers are a ‘‘nice to have,’’ but experts are a necessity. There is a high demand for people who can both provide content and deliver it effectively from the stage. Some can do one of the two, most don’t do either, and a select few do both. Aim to be great.

Have Passion For What You’re Saying

If you don’t, your audience won’t, either. You are up on that stage for a reason.

Ask For The Conference Organizer's Mobile Number

Text them when you get in safely. A less stressed meeting planner/client means a happier one, too. This goes double if you’re the opening keynote the next day.

Make Your Organizers Feel Special

Record a video shout out to the conference’s potential attendees and let them get to know you. It can be only a minute or two long—just enough to allow the client to use the clip on its blog/site to help generate buzz for the event.

Change Your Presentation Every Time You Give It

Update stats; bring new examples. Own the content; don’t repeat it. This is especially true in a field like social media, where what ‘‘we know’’ is changing so quickly. You really need to be on top of things. Setting up a Google Alert on different topics will ensure you know about current related news stories and events. If you’ve given a certain presentation numerous times and feel it’s routine, either change it up or trash it. It may be the 20th time you’ve told a story, but it’s the first time that audience has heard it.

Do Some Pre-talk Connecting

If the conference has a #hashtag on Twitter, start finding people who are going to be there by searching with it. Talk to them, build relationships, and then track them down at the event to say hi. It’ll be like you already know them, because you do.

Do Some Pre-talk Research

Watch Twitter for mentions of your talk and let people know you appreciate them spreading your word. Post helpful tips that have to do with your content by using the same hashtag for the conference. It’s a great way to connect with your audience and also find out what kind of things they are looking for in your talk.

Arrive Early And End Your Presentation Early

It is always great to leave time for questions and/or feedback from the audience. You don’t want to have to rush off stage. Getting to know the audience beforehand and talking to them afterward to answer questions is a forgotten thing that brings the highest value.

The Power Is Not The Point

Slides are there as navigation points, not to be the content. If everything you say is on your slides, you’ve rendered yourself useless. Speak; don’t read. You should also be prepared to present without slides in case something goes wrong.
And then do it on purpose. Speakers are at their best during Q&A because they’re not handcuffed to a slide. Think about that.

Don’t Sell From The Stage

If you start every point with ‘‘In my book ...,’’ you’re doing a commercial, not a seminar. The best way to sell is to teach. I’m not saying ignore that you have a book, just simmer down a bit; we heard you the first five times.

Be More Interesting Than Angry Birds

You’re not their parent. Don’t tell them to put phones away; just ask as a courtesy to put the ringer on silent. I don’t understand speakers who tell audiences they can’t text or tweet during a talk. Make your content so good that people feel they have to tell others right away but great enough that they don’t want to miss a word.

Record Every Session You Do

Share the video on your blog and watch it yourself. Learn from it. This takes a single talk and makes it evergreen and scalable.

Ask For Testimonials

Don’t just assume the organizer will send one.

Keep Speaking

Once you start speaking, you are going to want to keep those talks coming. Social media is a great tool for getting the word out. Share videos; get to know other speakers online. Learn about conferences and get out and attend them.

And Last, Worth Saying Twice At Least: It’s Not About You

As with all parts of our businesses, let’s remember to focus on what our audience or customers are looking for and be the one they look to when they need it.

Excerpted with permission of the publisher John Wiley & Sons, Inc., from The Book of Business Awesome / The Book of Business UnAwesome by Scott Stratten (c) 2012 Scott Stratten.

Follow Scott on twitter at @unmarketing.

[Image: Flickr user Bryan Rosengrant]

Add New Comment


  • This article’s packed with neat tips and pithy quotes, so thanks for sharing them all Scott.

    I love the line “Don't be a ‘speaker,’ be an expert who speaks.” And texting the organiser to say you’ve arrived sounds like a good way to start!

    One point I’d make, though, is that sometimes it can be GOOD to show slides during Q&A, provided they reflect the part of the topic that each question’s about. It’s especially helpful when you present online, because online audiences get so distracted. But how CAN you when you don’t know what questions you’re going to get, and in what order?

    Here’s how:

  • Grubb_28

    Great advice in here. I'd love to see you present live! Just to let you all know, I've come across a great site which is great for practising presentations- it's called and let's you record a video of you presenting your slides. I highly recommend you all check it out!

  • Devin C. Hughes

    Great stuff Scott.  I saw you speak in Anaheim at an NSA meeting (Anaheim) and I still recall the looks on so many faces when you walked out in jeans and a t-shirt where the rest of us clowns were dressed for the prom. You certainly changed the way I did talks after the day.  It is so much more for me and the audience. Keep it up brother!

  • Dane David Miller

    The point about having passion regarding the subject is undeniable. We've all sat through the presentation where it's clear the presenter was given two ingredients; a topic and a set amount of time. How grating it becomes as an audience member when it becomes clear the author simply gathered enough detail to fill the time slot, but has no leanings at all on the topic itself. I put Scott in the same league as presenters like Guy Kawasaki. These are the guys you hang on every word, walk away filled with introspection, and get psyched for the opportunity to see them present with nothing less than the anticipation of a Broadway opening. How many of us who present as part of our professional roles wouldn't want that sort of rep?

  • J.T Dabbagian

    I just recently managed to wean myself off of bullet points! But I'm a BIG fan of audience participation. I like calling on audience members and doing activities when possible. Just remember, they're here to see YOU, not your PowerPoint. 

  • Charlie Wollborg

    I've been lucky enough to see Scott present a few times. He lives this expert advice. 

    Unfortunately, I've also seen hundreds of presenters that haven't got a clue. They make you ask "Is this a presentation or a firing squad?" Reading bullet points to your audience is cruel and unfortunately, usual punishment.Looking forward to reading Scott's new "Book of Business Awesome". And if you haven't yet read Scott's first book "Unmarketing" - pick them up together.

  • Tera McHugh

    For the last 6 years I've facilitated a monthly seminar event and I wish many of the speakers had this information!!  The speaking world is shifting & people are tired of being NLP'd to death.  Building relationships, providing valuable information & being a resource is where sales come from.  Great tips, thanks Scott!!