What would you do? – The room

What would you do - the room

As speakers and trainers, we always want to arrive early. There are just so many potential things that need fixing that I want to have at least an hour, just to be on the safe side. Projector, audio, light, microphones: they usually take the bulk of my time. But there is also the room itself.

Recognise this?
You walk into the room where you are going to give this inspirational workshop, full of interaction and participation, and… it’s a square, or U-shape of tables. Blocking interaction, taking up your valuable space, basically set up ideally for the attendants to zoom out as fast as possible.

The tables need to go.

We need space – to walk around, to see and be seen, to interact, to be creative.
But sometimes it’s hard to get them out of the way.

Last Thursday I gave a training in a small, cosy and creative room. Full of table. People could hardly reach their chairs. The tables needed to go. But where? No place to stack them, no hallway to move them to.

But here was a balcony. And with the help of some volunteers, that’s where they went. We had a fun workshop.

That was an easy one.

Just the day before I arrived early at another venue to prepare for a full day workshop. I walked into a horror. The picture above is from the actual room.

This room was booked within an organization with a standard booking system. You need a projector? Sound? Lecture room 4. Not that the other lecture rooms were any better. Or even available.

That room may have a great setup for computer classes, but I don’t do computer classes. For presentation skills this is, let’s say, slightly less than optimal. So…. what would you do?

What did we do?
We moved.

We managed to find a small cosy conference room. Without projector, but with a flip chart. I had to give up my slides, but that was a small price to pay. Priorities are priorities.

There’s a lot more to say on setting the room, but for now, let me close with these 3 tips:

Tip1 : ask for pictures of the room
Tip 2: arrive early to change things to your liking
Tip 3: have someone from the organisation arrive early

Bonus tip: stay flexible, stay creative!

Before your presentation – the road towards it

Before your presentation - the road towards it

Never make the mistake to think that your presentation starts the moment you open your mouth. It starts way, waaaaay earlier. Assuming you have your materials prepared, these are the phases I consider to be important to prepare for as well:

Pack your stuff

This is the topic of a blog topic of its own. What do you need for your presentation? Laptop? Connectors? Paper? Presenter? Specific clothes? Boarding pass? What you need differs from person to person, and from assignment to assignment. Tip: make yourself a list of default articles to pack. Go through your list every time you pack. This is a time where you often have too much on your mind, so you’re going to need the support.

Include checks in your list: do my batteries still work, does my clicker work with the software I just updated?

Prepare your trip

Make sure you know your itinerary, whether you just need to walk across the street or need to take a flight. Write it down.

I simply put this information in my agenda. The address of the venue (and of the hotel if need be), how to get there, which room I’m in, who I need to ask for. And most importantly: the phone number of my last minute contact person, in case anything goes wrong.

Enter the building

Before I get in I usually check who I need to ask for, who I will speak and who else is important. People. Names. If you have a better memory than I have you might not need this step, but I find it important to remember the people I’m there for.

Then when I meet them the first thing I want to do is setup, but the first thing I have to do is connect. Do some smalltalk, find out if anything changed, or how they planned to prepare. Get a feeling for the organization and the context you’re going to be speaking in.

Technical setup

The reason why I always try to be an hour or more early is this phase. Connecting my laptop through some cable to some projector. Getting the sound to work. Checking the lights. On lucky days I’m ready within 2 minutes, on bad days this may take an hour. Even with a professional crew. It’s just mind boggling how many things can go wrong. And everytime, it is something new.

One last thing…. or two actually

There are two important things to do before you get on stage. The first is a warming up. Have you ever seen a top sporter starting their race without a proper warming up? You just can’t perform at your peak if you don’t warm up your muscles and your voice.

But the other thing might be even more important: talk with your audience in advance. Have a chat with a few people to find out what they know, what they expect, what they need. You might need to change your talk to fit their needs better.

On stage!

Your stage time starts the moment the audience knows you’re the speaker. Which is usually before you get up when you’re called to the stage. Be aware of the fact that people can be watching you. They say you never get a second chance to make a first impression. You make that impression before your presentation starts, before you even get on stage. Or if they haven’t seen you up to that point, when you walk on stage.

Not when you open your mouth.



picture: Jose Antonio Alba


Why arriving early can boost your speaking career

Be early

Be early


If you’re asked to speak somewhere, arrive early. It can make a huge difference. Why? Let me give you three reasons:


If you leave early you have extra time to handle disasters. The most common disasters I have encountered are traffic jams and delayed planes. By the way, iif you’re flying in, do so the day before.

Other disasters can happen after you’ve arrived. No parking. The speaker before you didn’t show up (this happened to me once, I was able to take his slot) Logistical changes.


Technical support can make or break your performance. If you use slides or sound the configuration needs to be tested. I mostly present from my own laptop, and getting it to work with the system takes anything between a minute and an hour. Usually I’m finished within 5 minutes, but I’ve had several occasions where I got to work with a very professional tech crew and it still took us an hour to get things working.


You want to arrive relaxed and on top of your game. Speaking itself is stressful enough and you don’t want to start cold from the trip. That shows in your performance, and not in a good way.

Arriving early may mean getting up early and forfeiting that wonderful sleep time. But it pays off in less stress and a better presentation.

Are you a professional?

But the fourth and most important reason is that you will be perceived as a professional if you show up early and prepared. Your reputation is important, and congress organizers do remember those speakers that show up late, try to plug in their laptop and then start shouting at the tech crew if it doesn’t work.

If you might be late

But of course, there are situations where you just don’t manage to build in enough time. Apart from trying to avoid those, here is how you can minimize the risk: preparation and communication.

  • Get to know as much as possible about the projector and sound system. I found that if they have a HDMI and VGA connection, I’m safe. VGA, although outdated, never gave me any trouble.
  • Send a backup presentation the day before that they can install on their computer. Since I present using Keynote that usually means transforming it to Powerpoint, which makes the slides look slightly less professional. But who cares if things go wrong and it saves your presentation.
  • Be ready to present without slides. This might need some training, but it might be your best investment ever.
  • Keep the organizers posted on where you are, what’s happening, and what your estimated time of arrival is. Always bring the phone number of an organizer that is present at the location.


Things happen. One day you might be too late for your speech. If so, be professional, take responsibility. Do what you still can for the organization, and don’t charge your fee. Save your reputation. But better is to do everything you can not to get there.

The early bird gets the worm
The early bird gets the worm

The creative process

The creative process


The outside world may not always be aware of it, but speaking is an art.

And art needs creativity.
And creativity is hard to control.

Right now I’m in the middle of creating a new presentation, on a topic I haven’t presented on before. I’m done with my research, reading, comparing, thinking (yes, speaking is science too).

Now I have to weave it all together in one exciting presentation. That’s where creativity kicks in. And even though you cannot control it, you can create the conditions that allows it to flourish.

We all have our systems for that (I hope!). Here are three things I do to get creative.

Laptop closed

The worst thing you can do is open up your laptop, fire up powerpoint and start typing up bullet points. Write, draw, think, daydream, discuss, try. I usually use these techniques before I fire up my trusty Macbook – not necessarily all of them, and not necessarily in order: it’s a creative process after all.

  • Mind mapping. I have collected my facts and stories (for which I did use my laptop), now I’m going to connect them. Big piece of paper, topic in the middle, as many colours pen as I can find, I connect the main ideas to the topic, connect the sub-ideas to the main ideas, and so on. I don’t have an order yet, but now I get an idea of what I could say. Usually in this phase I come up with at least one new main idea I hadn’t thought of before. My favourite location for mind mapping: the train. (For more on mind mapping try The mind map book by Tony Buzan)
  • Storyboarding. I take a big piece of paper, draw rectangles and fill them with drawings and keywords. The wild map of ideas gets linearized. Alternatively I can use flashcards for this, which allows me to easily swap blocks around.
    (These are the cards I use, but anything will do)
  • Napkinning. Just like painters often doodle on napkins and little sheets of paper I like to write (or draw!) parts of my speech on beer coasters or bils. Or anything.  Sometimes I keep them and later actually use them. Sometimes I throw them away.

And then I turn on my computer and continue to be creative with the slides (if I have them, of course)

Laptop closed


I try to start as early as possible for a new presentation. We all know that most of the work will be done in the last moment anyway, so why start early?

Because my early tries of finding stories, ideas, examples and facts prime my unconscious mind. Once I’ve done that I can safely wait for the deadline to appear, knowing that unconsciously I am making connections and generating new ideas. Of course, at moments these ideas pop up I do have to write them down.

And then, when it’s time to buckle up and do the work I find that most of the work is actually done. I just have to put it out there.



Your desk is an idea killer.

Hardly anyone gets brilliant ideas while sitting on that chair and staring at that screen.

When do the ideas come? Usually, when you are in an environment that, in your mind, is not connected with work. In no stress, no routine situations. In other words, in no desk situations..

So I prime my mind, and go for a walk. I bring a notebook (or just a smartphone) because I know that at least one good new idea will pop up. Not necessarily related to the current presentation though…


What is your process?

I believe the three points above are my most important creation-enablers. There’s more of course, like discussing my ideas with others, pseudo-random surfing the web, searching for awesome photographs, and so on.


We’re all different. If you have never tried the three ideas above, give them a go, and tell me if they work for you. If you use different techniques to get the creative juices flowing I’d love to hear from you as well. How do you get creative?



photos CC0: Melanie Simon,Arek Socha, mikegi. 

A quotation a day keeps the doctor away


By using a quote in your speech you borrow credibility from from a respected source. But how do you find the right quote for your topic? And how many should you use?

Less is more

To start with the last question: I would say just a few.

A seven minute speech could use one, maaaaaybe two. A half hour presentation perhaps up to four. But according to some, one quote ought to be enough for anybody.

If you borrow too much credibility people might start thinking you’re pretentious. Now you might think: Pretentious? Moi?

But I wouldn’t stretch it. I know very few people who can get away with more quotes. Actually, come to think of it, just one.

The act of repeating erroneously the words of another

Quotes are dangerous. One of the reasons is that they are often wrong. There may be several versions doing the round, and when you dig deeper – and you should – it turns out that the original is different from the version you wanted to use. Less sexy. And from someone else. Take this one:

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.

not Nelson Mandela

Now what do you do? Misquote, misattribute, and hope they don’t notice? You’ve got to ask yourself one question. Do I feel lucky? Well, do you, punk?

Use the force, Harry -- Gandalf

If you chase fame, you make bad choices

Who do you quote?

Please don’t let it be Einstein, Mandela, Gandhi and Churchill again. Not only because the quote you just found on the internet is probably wrong and not by them, but because everybody knows they are the easiest choices.

Instead, try to find a quotation by someone known to your specific audience. That makes the quote a lot more intimate.

Nerds? Yoda quote
Humorous speech? Fake quote
Toastmasters? Smedley quote

You get the idea.

Train yourself to not just go for the first quote that pops up in your Google search, but to dig deeper. Quality is not an act, it’s a habit.

All’s well that ends well

But then! Then! If you omit the obvious, dig deep, and find a quote that resonates from a source, then you’ve struck gold. You’ve enriched your own words with those of a wise person.  Oh, wouldn’t it be loverly?



And of course, don’t forget to attribute your quotation. So here we go:

  • An apple a day keeps the doctor away – proverb
  • Less is more – Ludwig Mies van der Rohe
  • 640K ought to be enough for everybody – attributed to Bill Gates, who probably never said it
  • Pretentious? Moi? – John Cleese – Fawlty Towers – The psychiatrist
  • The act of repeating erroneously the words of another – Ambrose Bierce (maybe) on quotes
  • Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure – Marianne Williamson, A Return To Love: Reflections on the Principles of A Course in Miracles
  • You’ve got to ask yourself one question. Do I feel lucky? Well, do you, punk? – Clint Eastwood in Dirty Harry
  • If you chase fame, you make bad choices – Justin Theroux
  • Quality is not an act, it’s a habit – Aristotle
  • All’s well that ends well – Shakespeare
  • Oh, wouldn’t it be loverly? – Alan Jay Lerner – My fair lady, act I

How many did you recognise?

Should you present from your own laptop?

own laptop

When using slides, which I usually do for a presentation, the options are almost always to present from my own laptop computer, or from the “presentation computer.” Some organizers almost expect you to bring your own equipment, some want to have the slide deck, or “the presentation” as they often call it, weeks in advance. Some speakers have a fixed deck that they’re happy to send in advance, others like to tinker up to the last moment or prefer to use non-standard presentation tools. In which category do you fall?

Normally, I prefer to present from my own laptop. Why?


  • I like to update my slide deck at the last moment to include current affairs
  • I use Keynote (just another fancy Powerpoint alternative) on a Mac, and not all organisers have that combination available
  • I know my laptop, I have connected it to countless projectors, and I know how to troubleshoot. I like to keep that control
  • I don’t want the organisers to keep and distribute my slides. I spent a lot of time on them, and bought the copyright to some of the materials. Plus, without the stories they are useless.


But there are reasons to forgo using my own laptop.

  • Not enough time to check the tech. In my experience you need at least an hour to test the compatibility between your laptop and the system. Usually you’re done within 5 minutes, but I’ve had several occasions where we needed the full hour to fix things.
  • If I’m in a block with other presenters and there is no advanced tech in the back that can simply switch from one computer to the other it would be distracting, time consuming, and not very professionally looking to switch computers on stage.

An experience

Last week I had to give two presentations on the same day with not a lot of leeway to travel from one to the other. Both organizers preferred me presenting from their laptops, and because of the time constraint that’s what I wanted as well.

Organizer 1 didn’t have a Mac. So I had to translate my slides to Powerpoint. That translation is not as smooth as one would hope. Movies and builds don’t translate well. So I remade my original Keynote slide deck to translate smoothly into Powerpoint rather than updating the slides there. As a result my slides are now Powerpoint proof and my deck is more robust. Win!

Organizer 2 did have a Mac, but it was not the same they tested on. They installed Keynote half an hour before the presentation. Fonts were missing. Someone managed to unplug the sound minutes before I got on. I only noticed when I got on and my intro music didn’t play. I hope the audience didn’t notice, but I felt I made a false start. No win!

Lessons learned

My lessons and conclusions are:

  • As a speaker, I prefer to present from your own laptop. However, if need be, I need to be flexible. Flexible = bookable.
  • I will keep my slides simple. Do I need the elaborate builds, page transitions and fonts? Turns out, I didn’t really. Simple safes time. And issues.
  • I’m creating a test slide to go before my regular deck, containing some text in the different fonts I’m using, a sound, and a short clip – just to quickly see if things work.
  • I need to stay focussed and in control. I should have checked one last time after other people had tested their presentations.

But the most interesting question that keeps popping up in my mind is: Do I really need slides at all?

Back to the roots


I’m in Athens right now, the place where it officially all began for us speakers. The great orators of antiquity shaped the craft of public speaking here, and we follow in their footsteps.

There happen to be a lot of speakers here this weekend, as the Toastmasters Rebirth in Athens unites all European Toastmasters in a grand finale of district 59 and 95. We’re all going back to the roots. To be reborn 🙂

The Pnyx
Forget the Parthenon at the Acropolis. The Pnyx is where it happened!

But going back to the roots is something you should do in your speeches as well, of course.

We live in a time where all sorts of “facts” are thrown out there and just accepted without much thinking [citation needed].
We’re a species capable of believing practically anything, and once we do, we discard all contradicting information.

So: we need to check our facts. With an open mind. Not simply go online, do a search and take the article that confirms our ideas as our basis. Actively search for contradictory points of view and their evidence. Check Snopes. Search for “<my point> refuted”. See if there is scientific evidence  and how this evidence is reviewed by peers. Think.

If the quote you want to use is from Einstein or Mandela, your search isn’t finished.
If you base your opinion on one article, you haven’t done your homework.
If you didn’t dig deep, research and think you’re doing yourself a disservice.

Go back to the roots.

Why you SHOULD write out your speech


In the previous post I gave you some reasons why you should not write out your speech. But life is never just black and white.

There are excellent reasons why you should write out your speech. Eventually of course it’s up to you to decide based on your preferences and the situation. Let’s have a look at the pros of writing:

Say it right

Sometimes it is important to say the right things in the right way. If your topic is sensitive or political you might want to stick to the script. Improvising might lead to a wrong message, especially if your speech is recorded or if there is press in the room. (Been there, done that)

Writing down your text allows you to have a good second look at it, to have others look at it, and to craft the message in such a way that it will not be misunderstood. If the stakes are high: write.

Say it again

If you need to give the same speech again, it helps to have a written version of it, especially if there is a long time between the two performances. Alternatively you might want to record your speech and watch it back as preparation for the next time, but writing is often simpler. I sometimes had several month between two presentations, and if it wasn’t for the script I would have had to a lot of work. If you need to repeat, a script is neat.

Say it in time

If you have a strict time limit you may want to choose to write out your text so you know that if you stick to the script you stick to the time. Speech contests are an obvious candidate for a well timed script, but there are (fortunately) many tightly scheduled congresses out there where a 20 minutes presentation is a 20 minutes presentation, and you’re not supposed to go over. Experienced speakers don’t even have to clock their speech, they look at the script, count the words maybe, and know how long it will be. You can’t do that if you don’t have a script.

If you need to be exact, count the words.

Say it well

There is a core reason you will want to write down your speech.

Writing allows you to bring your speech to the next level. Writing down your speech brings some added benefits over just rehearsing your speech from memory.

First, you can get better coaching. I have coached people who did and people who did not write out their speech. From the point of view of the coach, a written text is much better. I have more (consistency) to give feedback on. We can spar over style figures. We can focus on delivery.

Second, writing provides you with an overview of the whole speech. This makes it easier to strengthen arguments, to balance examples, to spot omissions, to sort sentences, to optimise transitions.

For example, I have a tendency to go back and forth between past tense and present tense. Writing my speech out allows me to spot the inconsistencies and make a deliberate decision what tense to use when.

A script allows you and others to play with the building blocks of your speech, with your message and your tone in a structured and thoughtful way.

A building was first a drawing.
A painting was first a study.
A good speech was first a text.

However, it’s just a tool

Writing is a tool for the creation of speeches. A tool to memorize the right words. A tool to get the best out of your time with your audience. But it’s not your only tool, and that is where some people go wrong.

The writing is support, YOU are the vehicle that delivers the speech. Spending 90% of your time going over draft after draft doesn’t leave enough time to enhance your delivery.

But leaving out this powerful tool robs you of the possibility to make your speech even better.

Why you should NOT write out your speech

Breaking your pencil

I’ve seen it many times. While preparing a speech the speaker grabs pen and paper (or more often a laptop computer) and frantically starts writing. And then keeps revising and revising in a process that can take days, weeks, months. As the big day of the speech approaches he or she realizes that the speech needs to be rehearsed as well. Memorized even. Oops. No time left.

The results are often less than stellar. The audiences notes that there is something wrong:

” She relied too heavily on her notes”;
” He just wasn’t authentic”;
” Her sentences were too long and convoluted”;
” I just couldn’t follow it”;
” I didn’t feel he was speaking to me, just thinking about his text”;
” It was way too long”.

And worse.

You’re not an actor. You’re a speaker. You don’t have to interpret a fixed script, you need to interpret your thoughts, convictions, ideas. To different audiences, that need different versions.


If you want to connect with your audience, you will need to at least make it seem like you are speaking from the heart, not from the paper. And written language is not the best vehicle for that. Spontaneously spoken text uses short sentences, sentences that don’t finish, interjections. Spontaneous speakers look at the audience, react on things that happen, are able to reflect on current events. Spontaneous speeches include matching body language and vocal variety. Using memorized texts this is going to be hard. Not impossible, but it takes a lot of practice time. Time that most speakers that write out their texts don’t take.


Because of the congruence of body language, vocal variety and content, spoken speeches tend to be a lot more convincing than speeches read out or memorized. Why not simply skip the writing fase? The only things that you really need to get clear is your topic, your goal, and your main points. Once you know these, how about starting the rehearsing process immediately? Saves a lot of time. And often results in a better, more flexible speech.


If you don’t write down and memorize your speech it will be different every time you give it. That brilliant sentence you thought of might be missing because you simply didn’t think of it. But so what? Instead you will look fresh and be there for the audience instead of regurgitating you material.

Longer presentations

Writing out longer keynotes? Half hour, full hour presentations? That’s prohibitive. Save yourself the time. Instead of trying to perfect each and every sentence and then try to learn it all by heart, you better spend your time on the subject of your presentation. Come up with new angles. Incorporate current events. Be the authority.

Nerve cell

How to rehearse without text

How do you go about memorizing your speech without writing it down?
Simply by doing it. Give that speech in front of your bedroom wall (imagining the wall is your audience). Rehearse parts of that speech during a walk in the forest. Shout it out lou

d when stuck in traffic. What happens is that even though it will be slightly different every time you rehearse it, the flow of the speech will get better and better. And there is no need to fear that you may forget parts when giving it for real. Since you’re constantly doing that during your rehearsals, and noticed that you’re making up for it, you know you’re ready to go.


To conclude: writing out your speech is highly overrated. It takes an enormous amount of time, often consuming the time you should have spent rehearsing and practicing. Not only that, it will often make the speech feel less authentic and less convincing to your audience. Why not skip the writing all together?


Next time: why you should write out your speech.

images: moritz320, ColiN00B – Pixabay.