Gini Dietrich

Six Tips for Better Public Speaking

By: Gini Dietrich | August 13, 2013 | 

Six Tips for Better Public SpeakingBy Gini Dietrich

I love Mexican food. If I could eat it every day, I would. I used to try to limit it to once a month, but I decided a couple of years ago, I exercise enough, I can eat it once a week.

When I’m in a new city or we want to try a new Mexican restaurant, I judge the place by their chile con queso.

I realize a “real” Mexican place this does not make, but I love me some chili con queso. If a restaurant doesn’t have chili con queso on the menu, I won’t eat there. If it’s not spicy, creamy, sit on the table for 15 minutes and not congeal, I won’t be back.

But if the chili con queso has just the right amount of spice and the chips are warm and salty, the restaurant is a winner in my book. An extra gold star if the entrees are as delicious and the margaritas have a kick.

Like the chili con queso test, we judge content with the same lassez faire attitude. It doesn’t matter if you’re the smartest person in the industry or the very best at what you do, if you can’t effectively express yourself in words, audio, video, or images, we judge you.

Have a crappy headline, an ugly image, or a crappy first paragraph and most of us won’t spend time with you. But if your content is spicy, teaches us a thing or two, and doesn’t fizz out by the end, we’ll gladly comment, share, and spread the word.

Conference Attendance

The same goes for public speaking.

I recently was at a conference where I had carefully planned the breakout sessions I was going to attend. While it’s not typical of me to plan attendance in that way (I’m not very good at sitting in a room for hours listening to anyone talk about anything), I decided to go with a different attitude. My goal was to get at least one blog post idea from every session. That would be a win for me.

The first day, I attended six sessions. I came away with two blog post ideas. The second day, I decided to skip a couple of sessions and attended only four. I came away with one blog post idea. Ten sessions, three blog post ideas. It didn’t even come close to my measure of success. Their chili con queso sucked.

It was pretty disappointing. The first day, I thought I was going to learn how to white label a mobile marketing program, gain new ideas to monetize content, and figure out which strategic hires to make next and how to invest into the business.

After all, that’s what the descriptions of each of those sessions promised.

Instead, the mobile marketing program was an ad for AT&T (I left after 10 minutes), in the second, the presenter read slides with bullet points with stats about content marketing (I left after 20 minutes), and the last was a panel discussion that meandered into only three questions and never got to what the session description promised. I stayed for that one, but only because lunch was included.

Public Speaking: The Chili Con Queso Test

The new black is to do public speaking. Even better if you have a book (Andy Crestodina has Content Chemistry; I co-authored Marketing in the Round with Geoff Livingston) because it allows you to increase your fee.

If you’re lucky enough to be invited to pack your clothes into a suitcase, fight the lines in security at the airport, fly for hours without any food or water, land in an exotic location like Fargo or Omaha at midnight, go on stage at 7 a.m. the next day, and then fly home, there are certain things you should remember as you plan what you’ll say for that hour you’re on stage.

  1. What is your title? Does it pass the chili con queso test? It should be compelling and interesting enough to get people to plan to attend your session ahead of anyone else. Remember, we definitely judge a book by it’s cover. This is your one shot to gain their interest.
  2. Does your description match your content? I always write my description after I’ve written my content. That way, I know for sure it matches what I’m going to talk about.
  3. Always include takeaways. In the description of your session, list a minimum of three things your audience will learn. And don’t just deliver those three things. Repeat them and repeat them again. Make them tweetable phrases and repeat them one more time.
  4. Death by PowerPoint. Your slides should be nothing more than images that support what you’re saying. If you have text on the slide, people will read it and you will have lost your audience. Don’t use bullet points, text (unless it’s a quote and you can make that look like an image), or stats.
  5. Think in tweets. Ask yourself what your audience will get from attending your session. Can they tweet what you’re saying? I’ve seen people put the tweets you should send on the screen with a little “tweet this” next to it  (Brian Solis does an amazing job of this). When you leave the session, a trained eye can tell the speaker spoon fed the audience just by looking at the tweet stream.
  6. Ask yourself if someone can write a blog post from your session. This may be my chili con queso test, but if you provide enough valuable content your audience can write blog posts later, not only will you gain your extra 15 minutes of fame, your content will live on forever.

Public speaking isn’t the delicious, creamy, cheesy chili con queso we get in Mexican restaurants, but you can apply the test to both the sessions you conduct and those you attend.

Do they pass?

A version of this first appeared on the Orbit Media blog.

About Gini Dietrich

Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author of Spin Sucks, co-author of Marketing in the Round, and co-host of Inside PR. She also is the lead blogger at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro. Join the Spin Sucks   community!

  • karirippetoe

    These are some great tips, especially #3, #5 and #6 (I love to think of presentations in terms of the story it tells). But the presentations are only half the battle. You could have the spiciest, creamiest presentation in the world (that sounded slightly wrong), but if you as a speaker can’t deliver it so people eat it up, it doesn’t matter. That’s a skill that is very difficult to come by – some people are naturally charismatic and engaging, others have to learn it over time and trial by fire over and over again. I’m the latter of the two, but moderating and presenting webinars regularly over a number of months has helped me to gain more confidence.
    And that’s a big part of presenting – confidence. You have to look confident, act confident, and have complete confidence in what your presenting. Otherwise no one else will.

    • karirippetoe You’re absolutely correct. Mitch Joel and I talk about this a lot, in fact. Part of it is practice and part of it is really know your subject. If you spent all this time moderating and presenting webinars, it’s highly likely you know exactly what you’re talking about and what questions you’re going to get and how to answer them. That’s all confidence and it makes or breaks a presentation.

  • You had me at chili con queso

  • JodiEchakowitz

    I can’t remember the last time I attended a conference session where I actually learned something new. I find the biggest benefit from attending a conference these days is actually the networking and not the content. With that in mind, and perhaps as a follow on to #6, presenters also need to think about the audience: How much do they already know? What’s their reason for attending? What knowledge do I have that they don’t? What do they want to learn?

    • JodiEchakowitz It’s pretty sad, isn’t it? I got more value from that particular conference from the conversations I had in the hallways. It’s frustrating to pay upwards of $1,000 to attend something like that only to skip out on all the sessions because they’re so bad.

      • ginidietrich JodiEchakowitz I’m starting to filter the conferences I attend by whether I’m presenting there. I just can’t sit still for an awful presentation.

      • JodiEchakowitz

        ginidietrich It’s very sad, but the reality is it happens more often than not. Event organizers should make it a policy to have the audience complete a survey after each session so they can rank (and provide feedback about) the speaker, the content, etc. That way, they would do a better job at finding the right presenters and topics for their conferences.

  • I also like it when the presenter involves the audience in some way…whether it’s asking a question, or going into the audience with the microphone…breaking that barrier between the stage and the audience livens things up.

    • John_Trader1

      rosemaryoneill I agree 100%. Anytime you can get your butt out from behind the podium and engage the audience by walking around, they will have a more positive response. I once spotted someone napping in an audience I was presenting to and walked right up to them during the presentation, as I was speaking, and stood there in front of them until they realized what was going on. It added a measure of humor to the presentation and really kept the audience on their toes.

    • rosemaryoneill Yes yes yes especially if you’re presentation is after the rubber chicken (or rubber tofurkey for the vegetarians) lunch. So important to get the blood flowing at a time when people’s tendency is to be low energy.

    • rosemaryoneill You know who does this really well? Marcus Sheridan. It’s not my MO to go out in the audience (it’s hard enough to get on stage), but I do like making people stand up and down as I ask questions. If only to keep them awake!

      • ginidietrich rosemaryoneill OMG I totally remember when Marcus went charging into the Social Slam audience and scared the crap out of everyone. It was an awesome thing to behold.

  • Lara Wellman

    Having been to many conferences and run my own over the last three years I’ve noticed a lot of differences in the kinds of talks you get.  I particularly find panels often lack enough meat unless there is a REALLY good moderator (and they aren’t easy to find).  Also, there is nothing more frustrating than leaving a session thinking “that had nothing to do with the session description”.
    I’m trying to work on my speaking skills because I’d like to do more and more of it.  Maybe I need to write a book too 😉

    • Lara Wellman I agree! I think the audience needs to be taken into consideration when planning your presentation. What is their skill level? I have attended conferences that promised to be for “advanced” marketers only to realize that we’re learning the basics. Again.

    • Lara Wellman You should write a book! After September 2.

      • Lara Wellman

        ginidietrich lol.  yes 🙂

    • Lara Wellman Most panels are terrible! It does take a good moderator AND I think a lot of planning so that each panelist has his or her story straight — the piece they plan to contribute. Panelists should prepare like they’re giving an actual solo speech: here’s my main point, three key messages and a few good stories and anecdotes. Just my dos centavos.

  • SavvyCopywriter

    These are great tips! I love the idea of focusing on tweet worthy snippets from your presentation.  People have short attention spans. Focusing on twitter sized takeaways gives them the bite size info they want to walk away with. 
    I’d also add to focus your presentation around telling a story. People can relate to stories. They like listening to stories. After all, many people grew up reading them in school, with friends, and with parents. When you tell a story you bring your presentation to life and make it more interesting. Just listing statistics is boring. Listening to a sales pitch when you expect to get something valuable from the presentation is irritating. Your audience is much more likely to find the takeaway in your presentation if they can apply it to their work or daily life. AND they’ll be able to find their blog post from that.

    • EricPudalov

      SavvyCopywriter I absolutely agree with the storytelling element!  Stats can be mixed in, but they shouldn’t be the only element.

    • SavvyCopywriter I have a quick story. I did a presentation a few months ago and did a lot of storytelling. Every, single person in the audience gave me a 10 except one guy. He said, “She’s full of herself and I hated her stupid stories.”

      • SavvyCopywriter

        ginidietrich Well you can’t win them all I suppose! 90% is better than many presenters get. And chances are he stayed through the entire presentation but you had to leave the others because they were lacking in value.

  • Loved this the first time I saw it, Gini! I have been appalled when attending conferences made up of marketing and PR people and discovering that so many lack basic presentation skills. People are invited to speak because of their expertise, but they can’t give a decent speech and their message is lost.
    They don’t tell a story, they bury us in information without giving us a reason to care, their delivery is flat and their visuals sucks.
    I think presenting is the new writing. Years ago, it seemed, we were all shocked to discover so many industry people made it up the ladder without decent writing skills. Now I think presentations are becoming more and more important and this disconnect between expectations and reality is getting really glaring.
    This has gotten me so agitated that I’m creating a new presentation (and book) called The 11 Deadly Presentation Sins. </shameless plug>

    • RobBiesenbach I can’t wait to read this!

      • ginidietrich Read it? You’re soaking in it! (very old reference)
        I might like you IN it, actually. I may quote you.

  • EricPudalov

    GREAT post, Gini, and valuable information!  I had to do a speech a few years ago and I opened it with a slam poem, which really got the audience’s attention.  And the lines of the poem were relevant to the topic at hand.  Granted, this wasn’t a full-length conference, but I still feel the “involving the audience” factor was the same.

    • EricPudalov I’m impressed! You’re much more daring than me.

      • EricPudalov

        ginidietrich EricPudalov Thanks!!  I guess we all have our strengths, right?

  • debdobson62

    Great post ginidietrich and I’ll apply these valuable tips to those who present in Webinars.  I can’t tell you how many webinars I’ve attended (and only briefly as I left them quickly) that have turned out to be sales demos.  Let me just say, borrowing a quote from a movie we all likely have seen, if you don’t have me at hello or shortly after, you’ve wasted my time and those who have chosen to give the speaker an hour of their life.  Yeah, I can be a bit hard on public speakers.
    As usual, well done Gini.

    • patmrhoads

      debdobson62 ginidietrich These points may be even MORE critical for webinars, when it’s typically harder to hold peoples’ attention. Great thought, Deb!

    • debdobson62 I know you’re hard on public speakers because I always get the emails about how much they suck. LOL!

  • “I stayed for that one, but only because lunch was included.”- almost a spit take on that line… 
    Alright I love this for many reasons, and not just the cheese. At heart, I am an educator and will always remain so. (The fact I use my knowledge to sell is only slightly inappropriate, right?) We learn a lot about lesson planning- how to package and present our content for maximum engagement and retention. Most people doing public speaking, pf course, do not have such training…and ti shows. 
    Your steps basically outline a method that in teaching we would call “design back planning”- starting with the end in mind. To me, the first thing to think about is “what are the 3 things I want my audience to be able to do/think/discuss after my session?”. From there, you can work to your title, or in teaching we would say “hook”.  By focusing on the actual take aways you wish your audience to gain, you will keep your focus on THEM and their learning.
    Next I’ll start teaching you some comprehension strategies…but that’s…another story.

    • RebeccaTodd Pete the Tapeworm loves food. I can’t help it!
      Methinks there is a foliow-up blog post to this authored by you.

      • ginidietrich RebeccaTodd Methinks youthinks correctly…

  • douglaserice

    I had to stop and think about the advice not to use stats in PowerPoint. And, it’s counter-intuitive, but I definitely think you’re right. If you do use stats, they should always be displayed visually–as graphs or charts. Otherwise, they are no different than text. Great article! Wish more people followed this protocol!

    • douglaserice They work if used sparingly and (like you said) visually. But, for the most part, numbers are hard for people to remember and they spend time trying to make sense of them instead of paying attention to you.

  • webby2001

    Something I rarely see, but welcome (I’ve always done it for clients, and have even done it at a conference or two) is the use of handouts. If I have a data slide that is too information-dense for Powerpoint (which, let’s face it, it most of them) that data is better suited to a table that people can reference as needed, rather than on-screen in Helvetica 8-point. 
    Where I often fall down is #6–I’ll work harder on that. Thanks, Gini!

    • webby2001 Oh Tom. You provide SO MUCH value when you speak, #6 isn’t an issue for you. People can probably get 10 blog posts from spending one hour with you.

  • Love these tips, especially 2, 4, and 5. Especially number 5 because during presentations I like to tweet out snippets of valuable information. I have a terrible memory, but presentations that make snippets short and sweet are great – especially if you’re live-tweeting a webinar/presentation/at a conference.

    • yvettepistorio You don’t have a terrible memory! I disagree!

      • Lara Wellman

        ginidietrich yvettepistorio I once did a Twitter presentation where every slide had 140 characters or less on it and included the event hashtag.  It got a lot of good feedback, both by people tweeting what I wrote and people tweeting about the fact that my slides were all tweetables 🙂

      • ginidietrich Oh, it’s bad – I remember only really important things or I have to write everything down.

  • merylvdm

    An easy way to avoid number 4 if you have an iPad is to use the Haiku
    Deck app. Presentations are quick and easy to do, look gorgeous and
    can’t be overloaded with text. I believe they are going to make it
    available on other platforms soon too.

    • merylvdm I hadn’t heard of Haiku. It’s very cool — the image library alone makes it a really valuable product. When I do presentations in KeyNote my “template” is the blank page option.

      • RobBiesenbach merylvdm Ohhhhh! I hadn’t heard of it, either. I’ll check it out!

    • EricPudalov

      merylvdm I’m not familiar with Haiku either; is it easy to learn if you’re not a “Mac person”?  We use iPads at the company I work for, but don’t get to take them home to practice! 🙂

      • merylvdm

        EricPudalov  Extremely easy. The app only gives you the features you really need which makes using it a cinch. One neat feature is the ability to easily search for photos from withing the app (ones you can use legally). Of course, you can use your own too. I teach middle and high schoolers and have been using it for most of my lessons. Much faster than Powerpoint and looks better too. And real easy to upload to Slideshare, embed on a blog etc.

  • EricPudalov

    I also was once suckered into attending a recruitment conference for a multi-level marketing company.  The presenter was *overly* aggressive, and while he had some interesting points to make, I felt as though I was being shouted at the whole time.  I ran from the building halfway through!

    • EricPudalov Oh people. That makes me laugh, though. I’m sorry to laugh at your pain.

  • KevinVandever

    Great tips! I struggled with #4 when I was presenting on deeply technical topics. I would always include code in my powerpoints. Even when I was able to demonstrate a technique, the audience still wanted to see the code behind the solution. I knew then that it made for potentially boring content and presentations, but hey, we’re talking programming presentations so I already get the joke. 
    I dislike chili con queso and will do everything I can from this point forward to disassociate it from public speaking.

    • KevinVandever HOW DO YOU DISLIKE QUESO?!?!

      • KevinVandever

        It’s really just the jalepeno chiles/cheddar combo. (bad experience at work a long time ago that i’ll explain another time). Everything else about it: the butter, garlic, shallots, sour cream, cheddar cheese on its own, etc. I can handle…and even like. So my public speaking association will be Chilli con Queso without the chilli.

  • alliteespring

    Ha – of all the metaphors/puns of mexican food (the fajitas were a “missed steak)….Anyhow – good tips! I’m part of this fellowship called Venture for America and we had a 5 week bootcamp this summer with speakers everyday – some absolutely blew our minds, some put half the group into a sleepy haze.  The good ones used about a 80/20 ratio of pictures/words. The best ones made us get up and do something. You’re right with the “think about it in tweets” part…especially with younger people the attention span.
    I actually got a lot more out the two acting classes I took in college than any of the three or four public speaking classes I took.

    • alliteespring agree re: the acting!

    • alliteespring Missed steak. LOL!!
      RobBiesenbach is also a big advocate of acting classes to make you a better speaker. That idea terrifies me

      • ginidietrich alliteespring @biggreenpen Oh, yes. ACTING. Gini, you think the idea of acting is terrifying, you would HATE improv. Totally giving up control …

        • RobBiesenbach alliteespring I would hate improv. I already know that.

  • patmrhoads

    Great! Now I’m hungry for chile con queso! So much for the healthy lunch I brought in today. Thanks a lot, ginidietrich!
    On a more serious note, these are fantastic reminders. The session title and PowerPoint items I already knew and adhere to. With the description, I sometimes write that first to keep me focused on what I’m supposed to be making my presentation about. But intentionally presenting in a tweet-able progression and making sure people could walk away with a blog post idea – those are awesome points. (I usually try to present info in small pieces, but not necessarily consciously organizing it in a progression of tweet-able points so someone following an attendee on Twitter would walk away with all the major information.)

    • patmrhoads There is going to be a rush to hole in the wall Mexican joints for dinner tonight!

  • Enjoyed this when it ran on Orbit last month. Gini, so Google Panda doesn’t punish as long as you add “A version of this first appeared on…..” or similar word,s plus a link back to the original  posting?

    • joeldon Yep…it’s all about authority. Probably this will rank higher in search results because Spin Sucks has more authority than Orbit. BUT Andy has more authority than me (he’s better at getting out to other blogs than I am) so it would rank higher in search results if he wrote it.

      • ginidietrich I´ve just received my copy of Andy Crestodina ” Content Chemistry”. I am so looking forward to reading it. Thank you for recommending it.

      • ginidietrich I actually was referring to Google punishing sites that duplicate content.  That’s new in Panda. No concerns?

        • joeldon ginidietrich I’ve looked into this a bit and I’m no SEO professional, but I think what Gini is saying is right — if your site generally has authority and original content, the Panda update isn’t going to penalize it just for having a couple duplicate articles. The duplicate content penalties in Panda are intended to penalize sploggy sites that just republish content and don’t produce a substantial amount of original content. Google isn’t dumb — it knows there are legit reasons for content to appear in multiple places.

        • jelenawoehr You may be correct, but there are a lot of posts that say you should not do it at all without linking back to the source and clearly identifying that the post is a reprint or excerpt. Regarding your reference to Google’s intelligence quotient, I have two words: Google Reader.

        • joeldon It’s always a good idea to identify the post as a reprint. The biggest rule that works for what I do (manage a community of a few hundred thousand Web writers) is don’t try to trick Google… eventually they will figure it out and penalize you. So not identifying a reprint = trying to be smarter than the machine = will bite you.
          And hey, I’m a Yahoo, I’m not going to tell you not to criticize Google’s intelligence 😉

  • Central theme: think about THEM. And maybe bring some queso.
    I get flubbed and nervous when I’m speaking or presenting or pitching. It’s not b/c I don’t know my stuff – I do; it’s b/c I put that pressure on to really deliver. I’ve been to events where a few of us hung in the back, discussing that we coulda got better queso at home, w/ less work and for free. So as part of #3 + #6 = my #1 rule – make it worth it. Showing up has to have its privileges, its perks; the audience can play along at home but those that made the effort to be there live and in color need to get something more. FWIW.

    • 3HatsComm If you are speaking and you provide me queso, I will give you a 10 across the board!

  • Hi GIni, 
    I agree with you and I absolutely love the last point “Ask yourself if someone can write a blog post from your session”. This is the way I think when attending an event, conference, etc. And yes, you have to think about your audience and what you leave them with. It has to be interesting and engaging.

    • @corinamanea How did you make your comment bold?! I want to do that!

      • ginidietrich You have a pen on the left on the comment box. Click it and you can see the bold option.

        • @corinamanea ginidietrich No way! Woo hoo!

        • ginidietrich corinamanea  Let us boldly go where no commenters have gone before! Options rock.

  • Love the “Think in tweets” – it will help me to talk in tweets. And yes, description (and for me – the title) are always last things written. I  wish we could arrest presenters for “deceptive descriptions” . . .

    • Aptdoctor I wish we could arrest presenters for a lot of things.

      • webby2001

        ginidietrich Aptdoctor Selling from the stage should earn an immediate ass-whupping.

  • LA has the best Mexican food in the country, hands down.

    • rdopping

      Joshua Wilner/A Writer Writes which country? Ever been to Hernandos Hideaway here in TO?

    • Joshua Wilner/A Writer Writes I don’t know…I think Albuquerque has pretty good Mexican food.

  • Umm, from a Texan who loves mexican food – margarita…THEN chile con queso. I’m still an enchilada and rice/beans guy because I’m convinced we make better guacamole and fajitas in the Vickery house. 😉
    I especially liked #5 and #6 – nowadays, I think you do have to provide some nuggets that instantly get tweeted/RT’d. And how awesome would it be if folks are now writing blog posts based upon what they learned in YOUR presentation. Now THAT is thought leadership and influence. Oooh, I said the “I” word.

    • dbvickery I just read an article in Bon Appetit that says you should never order food out that you can make at home. So never order fajitas out!

  • charmaineclancy

    Very good. I probably learned something, but all I can think is ‘I know what I’m having for dinner tonight!’ Chile con queso is my fav’ Mex food too! Especially when washed down with Pina Colada 😉
    Giving people tweetable quotes is a golden idea.

    • charmaineclancy LOL!! I was quite proud of myself for coming up with something this clever.

  • Just got a chance to sit and read this. My family loves Mexican food! Between my sister and I inviting each other out we have been known to go the same restaurant 2 or more times in the same week 🙂 
    Back to thinking about what I read and not Mexican food. I really love #4 I hate when I’m in a presentation and all they do is read the slides.. I also think that #5 is a really great idea in this day and age if you tell people what to say you have a better idea of what they will say about you and it makes it easier for them to put out a post.

    • aimeelwest I think we should just talk about Mexican food!

      • Just let me know when & where 🙂 the place by us knows that our group of 4 can turn into 12 or more rather quickly.

  • Since we are still talking about Mexican food here are links to two of my favorites:
    And now I have to fly home because I am hungry. 😉

    • Joshua Wilner/A Writer Writes I’ll meet you there!

  • andreat76

    Well said! I’ve been to many a conference and you’re right on.

    • andreat76 Part of it might be we put non-speakers in speaking roles. But even speakers can evolve the way they present.

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