Tips for presenters and keynotes – add your best ideas!

So after sharing my pain about a not-so-great presentation (The bad dress rehearsal) the other day, Allanah King commented:

For the first time in my life I have been asked to keynote a conference and almost balked at the thought of it. The whole ball game changes when you are the person at the front rather than than the tweeter at the back!

I have decided to give it a go and hope that I will be up to the task.

Apart from backing everything up twice and bringing a stand alone electricity generator have you got any tips for me??

So I think the best thing to do is to crowdsource this – what are your best ideas for presenters and keynotes? Please share in the comments!


21 Replies to “Tips for presenters and keynotes – add your best ideas!”

  1. As Chris Bell (@CBell619) told me, speaking is just like teaching. Think of it that way: you are just teaching to your fifth period class.

    From my own experience speaking, do not worry if people look like they are not paying attention, they actually could be tweeting, blogging, or looking up a resource you just mentioned.

    Use lots of visual images! Don’t read your slides to the crowd! Pick up “Presentation Zen” by Garr Reynolds – that book rocked my presentations and the way I present information in my classroom!

    Also, relax and have fun. They have asked you to present for a reason: you have great ideas and can communicate them effectively and efficiently.

    Good luck and let us know how things go! 🙂

  2. I’ve only given one keynote address so far, but I’ve presented a bunch. The common element among all of the best presentations/keynotes I have seen is this: the story.

    Slides are nice and pretty, cool tech works well too, and stats can make people’s say “wow,” but if you really want people talking about your presentation, tell a compelling story. Watch Larry Lessig. Watch Chris Lehmann. They tell stories that they believe in.

    The only keynote I’ve given, I tried to do just that. I found out that it was much easier to prepare to tell a story than to prepare to speak in front of 300+ people.

    Best of luck to Allanah, and we’ll be sure to follow her blog to see how it goes.

  3. Be prepared! Know your audience and use stories/examples they can relate to. Have something of substance to say and plan how you’re going to get your points across. Nothing worse than a keynote speaker who rambles or who relies on text-laden slides as a script. If you don’t care enough about what you’re saying to know it cold, why should your audience? Finally, people should remember your message more than 20 minutes after the keynote is over. Think about how you will make that happen.

  4. If you have time to read a book before your keynote presentation I would recommend ‘Made to Stick’ by Chip and Dan Heath, It is a book about why some ideas survive and others die. I found many of the stories very interesting but they also provide practical suggestions on how to make ideas stick. SUCCESS is their acronym – Simple, Unexpected, Concrete, Credible, Emotional and Story.

    Good luck!

  5. It is very similar to a classroom. Are you there for them or there for you? If your audience knows you care and can relate than you will have them engaged the whole time.

  6. Learn something from the crowd. Most people can only offer 2-5 minutes of attention towards a presentation. You can always find a way to get others involved. Backchannels can help when the room is too big for conversation.

    Stories work well to build empathy. The crowd needs a visual to connect complex theory with rel life.

    Rule of three. Never introduce more than three concepts. Acronyms work, but short sound bits make it into lunch room conversation.

    Smile. Each presentation gives you a chance to change the world. You’ve got to earn the right to be on the stage.

    Hope this helps,


  7. I am not an expert and have never given a keynote but have presented to teachers about curriculum, technology, and libraries. I feel letting people see you as someone, they can relate too, through your personal stories helps. They will be relaxed and in turn it will be less stressful for you. Remember you are presenting because the organizers believe in you and in what you have to say. Best of luck and here’s to many more keynotes, Allanah.

  8. I am so pleased you asked for this advice, Sylvia. I am giving a keynote and a 1 hour presentation in May and I am so nervous. I have not presented in front of anyone other than my staff and then rarely. There are some terrific suggestions so far-thanks to those people for taking the time to share their experiences and knowledge. It is most appreciated. Cheers all 🙂

  9. I think the best piece of advice is to share YOUR story. That way it is ‘authentic, real and relevant’.

    The biggest turn off for a keynote is to read text off slides…If you can control your slides from a remote (i.e. clicker, or iPhone or iPad) then do that, it means you can walk around, and for some people that is a lot easier to walk around than to be tied down to the podium.

    Breathe….your speech/keynote will come out more relaxed and will sound relaxed (rather than mickey mouse high pitched.

    Share your is always evident when keynote speakers share their passion, you want to find out more about that topic…
    Best of luck..
    Megan Iemma

  10. What a great collection of advice… thanks, all! I, too, will be giving the opening talk at a conference in 2 weeks. This will be a first for me, but I have taught and presented for years. I welcome opportunities to keep stretching, learning and improving.
    I agree with all of the advice above, particularly (i) Be Passionate, (ii) tell a story, and (iii) read Presentation Zen!
    Thanks — and best or luck.

  11. My best suggestion would be to put most of your efforts into the content of your presentation and not into the presentation itself. The best presentations I’ve seen would have been just as good if there were no slides. The slides were very simple and served only to reinforce what the speaker was saying, not as the primary delivery method for the ideas.

    Once I figured that out, my presentations (none of which could be classified a “keynote”) became very simple and I stopped worrying about losing the slide show. If I can’t present from my computer, I pull the pdf version (every computer seems to have Acrobat Reader) from my web site and go from there. Dropbox is a good option as well. These days I’m getting even lighter and presenting from my iPad.

    The point is to free yourself from being tied to any particular software or platform and concentrate on what you want the audience to understand when you finish. To thunderous applause, of course. 🙂

  12. after i write something, i cut it by at least 25%. sometimes more.
    the less said, the more to ponder.

    and i believe one interests or bores an audience in the first couple of minutes, and it is hard to reverse course if i lose them to boredom.

  13. I just presented for the first time and was a bit nervous. What made the difference though was my realization that I was the expert on what I was presenting. No one in that building (or anywhere) knew more. That made me much more comfortable. Remember you are the expert 🙂

  14. Oh my gosh…this blog is such a great idea!

    My colleague and I presented to a group of teachers last summer for the first time. We decided early on that whatever we shared or created would be something that we would want to sit through ourselves. We’ve sat through enough professional development seminars, where we’ve had to listen to people talk at us and tell us how wonderful they are…we wanted our session to be very teacher centered…we provided them with tools and ideas they could take back with them immediately. Our session also had a flair of collaboration with the teachers who attended and we just got word from the superintendent that they want to have us back again…so we must have done something right! 🙂

  15. Garr Reynolds writes, “Sometimes, you just have to take a risk and be your natural self. Amazing connections happen when you take a chance and throw yourself into your presentation without concern for failure or success. Your only concern should be making a contribution and engaging in an honest conversation the best you can in that moment… Ask yourself this: If you could remove all the fear, what would you do differently?”

  16. I can tell that you will be fine because you are asking for advise. Here are my suggestions, although they repeat much of what has been said:

    Stick to the basics, so that it sticks with your listeners. Keeping it simple makes it easy to follow.

    Ask questions of your audience, especially ones that have them thinking of their own questions. Challenge them to really think about what you are saying.

    Telling a story throughout offers continuity to your presentation. A relevant funny story or joke goes a long way to making a connection with the crowd.

    Knock ’em dead!

  17. Thank you Sylvia for promoting my initial comment for discussion.

    And thank you to all of your collaborators who have contributed their ideas.

    What a great resource to help me with the task ahead.

    It’s a scary prospect but you have given me some ideas to work on.

    Can’t wait to hear your keynote at Learning at School.

    I will try and introduce myself at some stage.


  18. I have presented many times and my backstop reading is a book called “Presenting with the brain in mind” It has some top ideas about making stuff practical and getting people to engage and think about your material and ideas.

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