Reflections on Speakeasy and the art of presenting

Once again, some terrific insights came from the audience at Speakeasy (Manchester) last night.

Both presentations were very different – one on a financial theme, one on photography – but both worked on the fundamental level of the audience ‘buying the speaker’.

Feedback touched on the following: 

Get Connected

It’s vital that speakers connect with their audience. This covers the physical connection:

  • Can they hear you?
  • Do you make eye contact with them?
  • Do you move amongst them (or even touch them)?
  • Do you get them involved (exercises, Q&A)?

But it also means an emotional connection:

  • Are you on their wavelength?
  • Do you feel their pain?
  • Does your theme ‘speak’ to them?
  • Are you able to make them feel the right feelings (excited, surprised, enlightened, optimistic, amused)? 

Being connected also means sensing their emotional state – are they bored with an image or story or discussion thread? If so it’s time to move on.  

New Zealand presentation coach Olivia Mitchell talks about the attention re-set button. The attention graph opposite shows how in a 50 minute lecture the audience’s attention starts high (they’re intrigued before you open your mouth), dips alarmingly, bumps along the bottom) and eventually rises when they know it’s nearly over!

But you can re-set their attention when you sense the energy dipping (tell a story, ask a question, put up a provocative image, do an exercise, take a mini-break). 

Sometimes, speakers are too nervous or too wrapped up in their material to notice the audience’s mental state. But it’s all part of getting connected. 

Vocal speed

High energy is fine, but again it’s important to pace your delivery with what the audience can take in. Think about ‘letting the words land’. Let them have the impact you want, then move on. Comedians are really good at this. 

The same goes with slides. Make sure the audience has time to take it in, but equally beware leaving something up too long so they get bored. 


We need to hear the words. This is often a problem when people introduce something that’s very familiar to them – their name, title, company, etc. 

What’s the point?

Every talk needs a single, over-arching theme or message. Introduce it, back it up and reinforce it continually. 


A presenter once analyzed 3 of her favourite talks by three G’s – Seth Godin, Malcolm Gladwell, Al Gore. Somewhere between 60-75% of their content was EVIDENCE (ie case studies, personal experiences, testimonials, stats). People tend to put too much strategy/theory/abstract claims in their talks. Great evidence helps us buy it AND storytelling makes it more enjoyable and memorable. 


Think like film makers do – they have to bring a written script to life and put it on the screen. They do so with a storyboard, a series of images that structures the narrative and helps take the audience on their journey.  

Call to Action

Round things off by giving us a parting thought, something to do, a final message ringing in our ears. 

Buying YOU

Both presentations succeeded last night on that most critical level – we bought YOU! That’s because you injected humour (self-deprecating), passion (there was no doubt you really believed in what you were saying) and kept things simple (lots of imagery and a good deal of fun). 

For details of the Speakeasy programme, click here.

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