By Joe Pulizzi published March 7, 2012

15 Presentation & Public Speaking Tips that Rock

Pulizzi-Stage-3-279x230This year alone, I’ll do over 40 public speeches and keynotes and another 50 online presentations by webinar or webcast.  Since 2007, I’ve presented well over 300 times in-person or online.

I’ve also had to sit through another thousand presentations by other individuals over that time.  Not that I’m perfect by any means, but I honestly don’t wish that on anyone.

After my blog and my books, public speaking events have probably led more to growing the business than anything else I’ve done.  Below are some of my presentation speaking tips that I try to integrate into every presentation I do (in no particular order).  I hope they are helpful to you.

  1. Put your Twitter name on every slide.  Even at the least social media savvy events, there are always multiple people tweeting. Putting your Twitter handle at the beginning of the slide deck usually doesn’t do the trick (what if someone comes into the room late?).  Since I’ve added my Twitter handle to every slide, tweets have more than doubled.  What a great way to expand the reach of your message.
  2. Be prepared with Tweetable messages. I learned from my friend Jay Baer to come prepared with Tweetable sayings.  It’s best practice to put them on the slide (no more than 140 characters) and repeat them at least twice for maximum impact.
  3. Pre-promote your speech using the event hashtag. The day before and the morning before your presentation, be sure to let people know you are speaking, what you are speaking on, and what time using the event Twitter hashtag (like #cmworld).  I can’t tell you how many more people I get to my speeches who are undecided with which session to attend.
  4. Never more than 20 words on a slide. If people have to read your slide, you’ll lose them.  Use headlines and text to cue your stories, and pictures to amplify your point. My goal is to someday take the advice of Seth Godin and have all my slides with no words…just pictures.
  5. If you use words, make them at least 30 point size or larger.  If you do have text on a slide, make sure it’s actually readable. 30 point is the smallest I would go.
  6. Don’t stand behind the podium. A podium places an unnecessary barrier between you and your audience.  Talk with the audience, not at them.
  7. It’s okay to walk around. You’re a human…you have legs…use them.  Find a few spots on the stage where you can walk back and forth.  Hold your spots for five seconds and move to the next spot.  Every time you start on a new topic, move.
  8. Get a speaking wardrobe. In order to be remembered, you need to use everything at your disposal.  A wardrobe is key.  Find something that people will remember.  I personally always wear an orange shirt.  I haven’t done a presentation in five years without an orange shirt.  People expect it and always comment on it.  My friend Mari Smith uses turquoise and sometimes decorates the stage and seating area with special turquoise items.  People always remember Mari, in part because she puts on a great show.  When people see that color somewhere else, they think of Mari.
  9. Smile a lot. It’s contagious.  Always start the presentation with a big smile and set cues for yourself to smile at least every five minutes.  The more people smile, the more positive they will be in general (and with your reviews). It also helps to keep people awake.
  10. Use short links as calls to action. In every slide presentation, I include a number of short links for people to get additional information about something I’m discussing.  In the last three presentations, I’ve had 189 people download items directly from the presentation.  I use links to track the content.
  11. Give away something for participation.  I almost always give a signed copy of my book away to reward participation.  It helps with questions later and always gets you talking with someone after the presentation (to deliver the book).  That encourages more questions and opportunities to network.  This tactic has delivered two new customers over the years.
  12. Have one main call to action for the presentation.  You want the attendees to do something, right?  Don’t give them too many options.  Give them one thing you really want people to do from each presentation and include a coupon code or short link to track it.
  13. Use lists. Most of my speaking and presentation titles include numbers in the titles…”8 Content Marketing Tips to Initiate Now”…”6 Keys that Separate Good to Great Content Marketing”.  My friend and colleague Michael Weiss says that you should use three (a number which, according to Michael, carries significance in speeches).  Either way, numbers keep people focused on where you are at in the presentation.
  14. Switch the flow and tell a story every eight minutes.  Your audience can only pay attention for so long.  Every few minutes, stop the flow of your presentation by pausing and telling a somewhat related story to your point.  They will remember the stories the most, which will keep them engaged and help drive your overall mission for the speech.
  15. Take heed from Aristotle.  When I first started teaching public speaking, I always used Aristotle’s advice on speeches:  Tell them what you are going to tell them (the intro), Tell them (the body), Tell them what you just told them (the conclusion).  Much of public speaking and getting things to stick is repetition.  This type of setup does the trick.

What additional tips have made you successful?

Author: Joe Pulizzi

Joe Pulizzi is the Founder of Content Marketing Institute, a UBM company, the leading education and training organization for content marketing, which includes the largest in-person content marketing event in the world, Content Marketing World. Joe is the winner of the 2014 John Caldwell Lifetime Achievement Award from the Content Council. Joe’s the author of five books, including his latest, Killing Marketing. His third book, Epic Content Marketing was named one of “Five Must Read Business Books of 2013” by Fortune Magazine. If you ever see Joe in person, he’ll be wearing orange. Follow him on Twitter @JoePulizzi.

Other posts by Joe Pulizzi

  • Todd Wheatland

    This is a great practical list, Joe. I love that you’re focusing on everything beyond the presentation. I’m off to buy a lemon pant-suit.

  • Dale Penn

    Bravo…great list! Your speaking tips demonstrate brevity, clarity and transparency. Thanks for sharing some of your “secret sauce” with budding speakers.

  • AJ Huisman

    Thanks Joe – I especially like the call to action one and the storytelling, and of course the valuable give away in real Content Marketing spirit.

    PS Don’t stand to close to Todd, the orange & lime will maybe be a bit much 😉

    • Joe Pulizzi

      I’ll try to remember that about Todd AJ!

      • Todd Wheatland

        It’s all citrus. It’ll be great. You’re Dutch, AJ, it’s socially acceptable for you to wear orange most days anyway.

  • Deana Goldasich

    Great post Joe! Here’s an “oldie but goodie” post about showing some love to your Tweeters before and after speaking.

    • Joe Pulizzi

      Thanks Deana!

  • T.J. Raphael

    This is an awesome post! Printing this out and using it for upcoming webinars and presentations. Thanks for sharing!!

    T.J. Raphael
    Associate Editor
    FOLIO:/Audience Development

  • Peter

    Tip #1:
    Ditch PowerPoint. Use

    I’m not the best speaker but I’ve gotten a lot more positive reactions about my presentations ever since I started using Prezi.

    • Joe Pulizzi

      Thanks Peter…my friend Andrew Davis from Tippingpoint Labs has been telling me this for years. I agree, Prezi is powerful. I definitely need to invest the time in learning it.

  • Melissa O’Connor

    I thought your list included a lot of good advice. What advice would you give to someone who has done a minimal amount of public speaking?

    • Joe Pulizzi

      Hi Melissa. Wow, where to start?

      First, just starting is important. The majority of people are more afraid of public speaking than death, so just getting out there is critical.

      A couple tips –
      1. Don’t try and accomplish to much in any presentation.
      2. If you know any good designers, have them spruce up the design a bit so it really looks professional.
      3. Practice in front of a mirror.
      4. Before any event, show up to the other speeches before you. It’s always great to know who has discussed what before you go on and be able to carry off of other examples that you just heard in your presentation.

      Good luck!

  • Josh Healan

    Love the list Joe, thanks. The smile thing is big and it’s amazing how easy it is to forget to do something so simple.

    • Joe Pulizzi

      Thanks Josh…you are right. I just watched a presentation earlier this week with someone that didn’t smile once. It was like going to a funeral. So sad.

  • Jill Thiare

    Great list! I’m working on a brand new presentation right now that’s going to be challenging, but a lot of fun. I’m herby committing to incorporating as many of these tips as I can!

    • Joe Pulizzi

      Thanks Jill. Keep me posted.

  • Jeffrey Cufaude

    Nice list, particularly the suggestion to put your Twitter handle on every slide. I’ll fight you on the 20 word limit though. I’d say it is a great rule, but with an exception being made for quotes. People do want to read them and for visual learners, only having you voice them isn’t going to do the trick. This is particularly true for technical folks who may need to see the words to go with what you’re saying. It’s OK to have a text-heavy slide now and then if it supports learning.

    • Joe Pulizzi

      Hi Jeffrey…well, for a very technical presentation, you may be right, but I will still fight you that a great chart can be talked to over words on the slide. I feel some presenters try to use their slides for handouts as well, which is why the copy flows over. Handouts are separate and shouldn’t be confused with your visual slides.

      I’d love to see your presentation. I’ve seen hundreds of presentations and there has never been an example of any one where lots of words on a slide ever added to the attendee experience…but I could be wrong 😉

  • Andy

    Hey Joe, awesome advice that I will definitley benefit from. Have you thought about using the Disqus comment plugin for your site? Would make it easier for some to quickly login and comment

    • Joe Pulizzi

      Thanks Andy….we have Disqus on the other site and just need to get it updated on this one. Thanks for the reminder.

      • Todd Wheatland

        Hear hear on Disqus

  • Hunter Boyle

    Excellent list of tips, Joe. Very helpful, especially the top three and 14.

    Two more tips I’d recommend:
    1. Interact with your audience throughout. Ask them questions, such as how many people are doing X, or have they tried Y and how did it work. This makes sessions more of a shared experience, and it helps to emphasize that people aren’t alone in what they’re doing (or not doing), so there’s also a social proof element.

    2. Always read your post-session feedback — and take it to heart. I’ve found plenty of things to work on from attendee survey responses. These will help you continually improve and reinforce the progress you’re making as you see the ratings change.

    Have a great weekend!

    • Joe Pulizzi

      Excellent additions Hunter! Thanks

  • John Nawn

    nice list, joe.

    for those folks interested in learning a more visual style of presenting, here are some resources:

    www [.] presentationzen [.] com
    www [.] duarte [.] com

    prezi is indeed a good storytelling tool, but takes some time to do well
    www [.] prezi [.] com

    i’m also a big fan of mixing up your presentation format, which works for some content but not all:

    www [.] pecha-kucha [.] org (20 slides for 20 seconds per slide)
    www [.] igniteshow [.] com (a pecha-kucha on steroids; 15 seconds per slide)
    www [.] themoth [.] org (STORYSlams!)

    each of these groups host local events so you can experience these formats for yourself.


    • Joe Pulizzi

      Awesome resources John. Thanks!

    • rmarkgibson

      Just attended Nancy Duarte’s Resonate Workshop yesterday. Excellent for anyone interested in becoming a master presenter….its about the story…not the bells and whistles

  • Donny Gamble

    I listen to a lot of speakers in my day and I hate the fact that the speaker never smiles throughout their presentation. This shows me that they are not truly enjoying what they do or talking about.

  • Barbara Rozgonyi

    Hi Joe:

    Congrats on all the speaking opportunities! Thanks for sharing these tips. Here are a few that work for me.

    So that people can focus on the presentation, and not have to take too many notes, I give out a link to a presentation guide.

    When one of my sessions was standing room only, I presented the workshop again via a webinar for attendees who couldn’t fit into the room.

    Adding in my photography gives me a cue for stories and illustrates concepts for the audience. Travel scenes and social media group photos work especially well.


    • Joe Pulizzi

      Great stuff Barbara. Thanks

  • Jeff Korhan

    My top tip is to have an opening where you jump right in – typically with a story. This honors the attention of the audience. Too many speakers (especially on webinars) waste time honoring themselves, warming up, etc.

    It’s much like the opening scene of a film – well prepared and designed to engage the audience with what will follow. 

    It always works because the audience is always ready. 

  • Bryce Roth


    This is an awesome list! Thanks so much for sharing.  I will definitely have to assess my upcoming presentations and make sure I take all of the above into account.  Hope you’re well!



  • Lamar Morgan

    Have you tried using Kinect with your slide presentation?  This is where you are able to use the movement of your body to control what is on the screen.  There are clever ways you use your hand gestures can interact with the screen.  This is not simply about changing slides.  This is about drawing the audience visually into the subject matter you are discussing.  This is really amazing.  I have seen it done.  However, I have yet to do it myself.

    Lamar Morgan

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  • Adam

    Hi Joe,

    This is a good list of tips!

    As a professional presentation designer, I would also add that one of the first things someone needs to think about when designing a presentation is to come up with a captivating theme. The theme of the presentation sets the overall mood and tone for the audience. It needs to be smooth and consistent throughout the presentation. If your slides are inconsistent, it makes it hard on your audience to follow the presentation, and as a result they spend all their time trying to piece together your presentation instead of paying attention to your message.

    If anyone is looking to create AMAZING slides that will get ANY audience pumped and ready for action check out my book “Slides Made Simple”

  • Jill Shaul

    Great tips, particularly in how to blend twitter into the preso to increase followers. The most entertaining and useful book I read on this subject is Confessions of a Public Speaker.

    • Joe Pulizzi

      Thanks Jill…I’ll have to check that one out!

  • Kellie

    Thank you Joe, I really enjoyed your informative post. Great information that will no doubt assist in connecting the future of my livestream events on G+ to Twitter.

    I must also leave a comment about Adam who dropped his link during his comment. Excellent sales page for his book, and a gutzy move to link drop on someone else’s page. Not sure how others feel about it so I was curious Joe. How do you feel about it?

    • Joe Pulizzi

      Hi Kellie…thanks. If the link is relevant in a comment, I’m usually okay with it.

  • Lakiesha McKnight

    Hey Joe,

    Thanks for sharing such an informative post..I really like the point “Get a speaking wardrobe” you have added in your post..It is really a new thing for me here to learn from your post that how a particular color choice for your presentation can turn your presentation into one of your remarkable presentation among others..

    If anyone is looking for more tips on professional public speaking then here is a relevant magazine and videos on public speaking at:

  • Shaan Goerge

    Thank you Joe, I really enjoyed your informative post. Particularly “Smile a lot” I loved this topic.

    • Joe Pulizzi

      Thanks Shaan…so important, yet so few do it.

  • Vinish Garg

    Some great tips. I particularly liked
    – number 8, for wardrobe.(it gives an opportunity to brand yourself on stage)
    – number 11

    Noted for my next talk at tcworld India conference 2014. Thank you!

  • NenadSenic

    I think one thing that is working for me is vulnerability. Let yourself be you, let them see you’re human, that you’re vulnerable. That doesn’t mean not to act self-confident. I use self-humor and make them laugh at the beginning and then they’re mine. I may not use all points you listed, but I think this is the thing that really worked for me as I always get awesome grades. Do I make sense? 🙂