How to be a Great Conference Speaker

September 24, 2019


jihae watson

You're a speaker, educator, or a hopeful one in the future. The thing that separates a great speaker from a mediocre one has nothing to do with Instagram followers, or where you went to school, or some mysterious ‘secret sauce'. Everyone can be a great conference speaker if they work at it.

Although we are a website company, we host a conference every year called United. We invite over 400 photographers and creatives from all over the world to come and join a community of like-minded creatives to level up in their businesses and lives. Over the years we have heard A LOT of talks. Many have been great. Some have been less so. We've compiled 10 easy tips to use before you deliver your next great talk. Several points are taken from Carmine Gallo's book, “Talk Like Ted”.

Tip 1 – Don’t start with your Bio.

This is the biggest feedback we get every year about speakers talking way too much about themselves. It’s like they are trying to prove why they should be speaking. This is where you lose people and a session goes south.

The better strategy: prove why you should be there by sharing ideas that help other people. Do not start with an ‘about me' slide, jump right into a story and get going. Integrate bits about you, your family, your professional work, into stories in your talk.

At United, our goal is to introduce every speaker, and giving you credibility about who you are, instead of you needing to get up and talk about yourself. If there is anything you want people to know about you, please include that in your bio that we can use to introduce you!

Tip 2 – Find a great topic

Find a RELEVANT and Important topic that will interest your AUDIENCE (not just YOU). You have been chosen as a speaker to impart value to our United attendees! Your time in front of the audience should be about them – not just about you. Make sure you have one main idea that you want to get across, and make sure that idea benefits the listeners. This is what separates a great conference speaker from an ‘ok' one.

Tip 3 – Passion

Expressing emotion/passion for your topic will be the major factor that helps the audience to trust you, and want to hear more from you. “You stand a greater chance of persuading and inspiring your listeners if you express an enthusiastic, passionate, and meaningful connection to your topic.” (Gallo)

Tip 4 – Use the Power of Stories

Mastering the art of storytelling is a skill worth fine tuning, for many reasons: “stories plant ideas and emotions into a listener's brain. They illustrate, illuminate, and inspire.” A good story in a presentation will help your audience to connect with you, and remember what you have to say. People remember details in a story, better than they remember a string of unrelated facts.

Tip 5 – Practice makes Prepared

PRACTICE a lot and often. This will help you to feel familiar with your material, and you will feel less nervous. Remember the four elements of verbal delivery: rate, volume, pitch and pauses. You don’t want to be fidgeting, and appearing nervous, or unprepared. People will check out and not listen to what you have to say.

Tip 6 – Novelty is Interesting

Teach them something new, by stirring their curiosity. This will give them a reason to care. “The human brain loves novelty,” Gallo says. “An unfamiliar, unusual, or unexpected element in a presentation intrigues the audience, jolts them out of their preconceived notions, and quickly gives them a new way of looking at the world.”

What does your audience need to know? (Find a relevant topic)

Why do you want them to know it? (Pain – cost of not doing it) 

What do you want them to do? (Call to action) 

Why do they need to follow your advice? (Success – what life will look like after) 

How can you help them to remember your advice? (Reiterate. Props. Stories. Images)

– Andy Stanley

Tip 7 – Humor as Trust Builder

Lighten up – the brain responds very well to humor. Technically, laugher it releases oxytocin, which facilitates social bonding and increases trust. We don't recommend making your talk a comedy show (because those are incredibly hard to put together!) But, don't take yourself too seriously either.

Humor can even raise your status as a leader: “Research shows that displays of appropriate humor raise perceptions of confidence and competence, which in turn increase status.” Check out this great article to learn more about the benefits of using humor in your next great talk.

Tip 8 – Time is Important

Stick to time constraints. Gallo says: “constrained presentations require more creativity. In other words, what isn’t there makes what IS there even stronger.” If you have a 5 minute fuel – stick to the 5 minutes! If you have a 20 minute breakout session – 10 of those minutes should not be spent introducing yourself! Remember – there is someone who will be introducing you, so make sure you get a great bio in before your presentation.

  • Be aware that at United, if you are presenting a Five Minute Fuel, this is your chance to inspire the attendees with one new idea and building on that.
  • If you are leading a breakout session, you have an hour to really impart some major lessons/skills/tools on a specific topic. Your attendees have intentionally chosen your session because of your topic, or cause they love you, or both!
  • The keynotes are between 20 and 30 minutes, and this is your chance to inspire, and educate all of the conference attendees with your victories, and failures, and giving everyone something that they can apply to their lives, and/or businesses.

Tip 9 – Be Memorable

Paint a mental picture (to help build your idea with familiar concepts/language). Pro tip: don’t just have a ton of powerpoint slides with a lot of words. Use photos that convey emotion. Use props to illustrate/support what you are talking about. All of these things will help to create a visual experience for your audience, and will help them to remember your talk, and you, better.

Tip 10 – Be You to the Full

Don't try to be all things for all people. Those people aren't memorable. Stay in your lane: be authentic, open and transparent to the experiences and lessons you have overcome, or are still struggling with. Audiences can spot a fake a mile away. Just be you.

Think about some of the best, and most memorable talks you have heard – and dissect what makes them great. In all likelihood – it was clear, personal, and passionately delivered. Great conference speakers aren't just born – they are created!

You have been chosen (or will be chosen in the future) to deliver a message that has value to those who are listening. Whether it's 5 people, or 500 – the talk you are giving is important to those who are listening! So use the platform you are given wisely.

We can't wait to hear what you have to say.

More resources:

  • If you are interested in fine tuning your skills as a speaker even more, feel free to read ‘Talk Like Ted’ by Carmine Gallo. It's a great, and easy read.
  • Listen to this podcast by Donald Miller of the ‘Building a Storybrand Podcast', as he interviews Andy Stanley, who is a pastor (to a mega church of over 38,000 people) and best selling author. They talk about 5 Questions to ask yourself when preparing for a talk.
  • Watch this video by Chris Anderson, the creator of TED, and what he considers the great secret to delivering a great talk.
how to be a great speaker
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Hi! I'm Jihae Watson! I was born in Seoul, grew up in Toronto, Ontario and now live in Gilbert, Arizona. I love all three cities so very much as I have plenty of family, and favorite restaurants in all three locations.

I am married to a stud named Chris, and we have four fantastic kids. Together we love being a foster family, and we presently have the sweetest little foster babe.