In the last several years, I’ve hosted over one hundred events for entrepreneurs.
I’ve spoken at another twenty startup and tech events often as a keynote speaker.
I still remember my first talk.
I was shaking.
I sped through the entire presentation that what was supposed to be forty minutes and turned it into fifteen. By the end, I could barely breathe.
I said the words and phrases “like,” “um,” “you know” a hundred times.
Yet, in the end I didn’t feel embarrassed.
I felt relieved.
I had done it, given my first talk and made it out alive.
Once I realized the downside of giving a bad talk wasn’t as awful as I’d thought, I made a choice to get better fast.
Along the way to becoming a keynote speaker, I learned these twelve valuable tips:
1. Host Events Before You Speak at Them
Without any speaking experience, no one wanted me on their stage. Not wanting to have the lack of experience hold me back, I created my own events. I founded a Meetup Group and a Facebook Group that supported local talks for founders. I then self-appointed myself as the host.
At the time, it felt like a risky move because I had zero hosting experience. Still, I knew just getting on stage even as a host would help me become a better speaker. After hosting many speakers, it not only improved my speaking ability but gave me insight into crowd reactions from each person that spoke on stage. By the time I had finished hosting one hundred events, I wasn’t even comparable to the young man who’d shaken uncontrollably in his first talk.
I was comfortable in front of audiences with hundreds of people, could make them laugh, and entertain them for a couple of hours.
2. Think About the Audience
One of the first pieces of feedback I got on speaking was from keynote speaker and Facebook marketer, Dennis Yu. He told me that if you think about yourself, you lose. Because the only thoughts that happen when you’re focused on yourself are self-conscious ones. You become worried about what you’re saying, what the crowd thinks about you, and how you look. Instead, if you focus purely on getting the audience their desired result, you’ll get yours, a brilliant presentation.
That’s why when I speak, I think about how I can get the crowd involved whether through questions, transferring energy, excitement, and laughter.
3. Own the Stage
Don’t be the person who stands behind the podium their entire talk. It makes you look self-conscious. Standing behind a podium is like putting your hands in your pockets. It says, “I’m too nervous to own the stage.” Often people who stand behind the podium read directly from their laptops as well. That’s a double-negative because it shows you didn’t take the time to memorize your presentation.
The idea behind presenting is not to have the audience focus on the screen, but on you. The screen is there to support you, not the other way around.
Rather than stand behind the podium, use the entire stage to your advantage. That means walking across the stage with enthusiasm while looking at different sections in the crowd. Feel free to be animated by moving your hands as you speak.
This shows your passion for everything you’re saying. If you feel hesitant, then remember that there’s a reason they give you a stage to walk on and not a chair to sit on.
4. Tell a Story
By the end of most presentations, you’re often asking, “What did I just learn?” The reason is speakers tend to cover many different points that don’t tie together well. There’s no storyline. There’s no beginning, middle, and end. Sometimes zero climax.
If you want your talk to be memorable, then you need a story that explains your points in a way that makes sense. Each one should be related to the one before. Keep in mind, even though you may want to include a hundred different stats and “cool” ideas on the presentation slides, the audience will only remember one. Don’t be the person with more than ten words on any slide like the guy who created this slide.
If you tell a story, it’s far easier to get one main idea across without having the audience forget what they learned every twenty seconds.
That brings me to my next point.
5. Stick to One Main Idea
Each slide of your presentation is not meant to impress the audience with a new idea. Think of a presentation as a journey to help better explain ONE idea. Don’t spread yourself wide; dive deep. Think about how many speakers a conference attendee often listens to – sometimes fifteen or even thirty if it’s a two-day event. They won’t remember what you said unless you dive deep.
6. Be respectful of Your Time Slot
The fastest way to not get invited back to a conference is to go past your time slot. If they have you booked for twenty minutes, don’t think twenty-two minutes is fine. It pushes the entire agenda they worked on for – possibly – an entire year out-of-place all thanks to you wanting a little more light on your ego.
7. Make Friends With the Organizers
Event organizers put in countless hours to make their event possible. Their work is often not appreciated as much as it should be. Their hours are completely irregular, they get little sleep, and are so tired that when they get to the main event day, they need to down several Red Bulls to push through.
The best thing you can do is send several notes of appreciation to a few people on the staff and the main organizers before and after the event. In fact, I open every talk appreciating the work they put into making it all possible. It’s a couple easy steps to getting invited back next year.
8. Let Your Excitement Guide You
When you feel the nervousness of jumping up on stage, don’t try to cool yourself. Roll with it. Let it guide you. After all, the audience doesn’t want to hear someone with a monotone voice. They want to hear someone with excitement in every word. And you’re going to need a whole lot of it if you want to transfer it to the audience.
9. Take Comedy Classes
If you want to be comfortable on stage practice by putting yourself in the most uncomfortable position, performing comedy. One of the main differences between an experienced speaker and a novice is their ability to swing the emotions of the audience. That means everything from excitement to laughter. If you can throw a couple of jokes into your presentation, people will think you’re a pro.
10. Get the Audience Involved
You’re often not the first speaker. The audience has heard several. This means they’re tired and need to get energized to pay attention. An easy way to do this is to get them involved with low-barrier questions. An example would be saying a phrase like this, “How many of you are founders? If you’re one, then raise your hand.”
It’s low-barrier because it’s easy to raise your hand. Depending on the audience, you might need to do this several times. To take it to the next level, you can call out people based on whether they raised their hand. If someone identifies themselves as a founder, then ask them what type of startup they have. This can give you material for your talk and shows your willingness to speak off the cuff making you look like a pro.
11. Roll With the Punches
Not every audience will laugh at your jokes or understand your ideas. I often get completely different reactions in European countries than I do in the United States. That’s okay. It happens. Don’t let it get you down. There’s only one thing you can do – that’s improve, adjust, and stay nimble. Whatever you do, don’t lose an ounce of confidence.
12. End on a Powerful Note
I’ve heard incredible presentations all the way through to the last sentence. Then it falls flat. They say something like this, “Well, that’s everything.” Don’t be this person. Be the person who ends on a sentence that vibrates through the audience with power and energy. Rule of thumb is if the audience can’t remember the last sentence you said, then it’s not the right one.
If you apply all these tips, you’re on your way to becoming a keynote speaker. Keep in mind, it takes time to develop the confidence. There’s only one way to do it, repetition. It’s time to start executing.