Speaking: A Complete Guide to Rocking It

Speaking is one of my favorite parts of my job. I have almost no stage fright, in fact, I have fun in front of an audience and I try to make sure the audience does too. What I’ve learned is that it’s important to be authentic and relaxed, to be yourself, and to care about your audience. The better your rapport, the better your speaking will go. Be casual, be interactive and don’t talk at your audience, talk with them.

Want to Learn More About Speaking? Read this blog post.

Write the Speaking Proposal

Most events will give you a template or guideline for what your speaking proposal should include. Generally, it’s a topic or title, a short description of the presentation, your bio, a head shot, and other information. Carefully incorporate everything into your speaking proposal and submit it in the format requested. This is not a time to get cute with the format.

Be clear about your topic. Use action verbs and strong, active language as you write. Tell the audience what they will learn and how they can apply it to their work.

After the proposal is accepted, think in broad terms and about the audience you’ll be speaking to, and try to find out as much as possible about them and what experience level (generally) I can expect.

Ask the organizers about your potential audience; are they experienced or novice-level? That can make all the difference in whether you’re a hit or a bomb. A great presentation give to the wrong audience is not going to go well.

Gather Research

My favorite research tool is Evernote.

Evernote allows you clip articles, or just selections from articles and put them into a single notebook, or better yet, tag them with the name of your topic. Once you’re sure you’ve gathered enough information, you can do a search for your tag or notebook and merge it into one document.

Then create a new document in Word, Pages, Google, or whatever word processor you use, and use that document to combine and synthesize your research with your own ideas. Don’t try to edit as you write. I have a rather indelicate term I use for this: word vomit.

This will be your base document as you write the presentation. Organize it into outline form. Use a word processor with a word count function.

The Average Person Speaks at About 130 Words per Minute.


Write Before Speaking

How Do I Know How Much Content?

According to Convert Words to Minutes – Speech Calculator (Free), the average person speaks about 130 words/minute. Record yourself reading a couple of paragraphs of what you’ve written if you want a more accurate estimate of your own speaking speed. Leave a little time after your content for questions.

Generate Your Outline

Open your word processor and set up your headings. Call them H1, H2, H3.

Begin to organize your content into a three-level outline, use the hierarchical H headings to put them in order. Once you have the outline ready, it’s much easier to make the content fall into an order that makes sense and helps you ensure that your content is balanced.

After you’ve developed the outline for speaking, go back and fill in what you’ve written under each heading and subheading. Don’t forget to cite any website or individual you’ve quoted.

Build Your Deck

  1. I use Apple Keynote, but you can use PowerPoint or Google Slides — whatever feels best for you. Don’t worry if you run a bit over the word limit; you’ll probably speak a little faster than usual. Whichever presentation program you use, best practices are the same for building your speaking deck.
  2. Think about your color scheme and the look before you start building.
  3. Use master slides. Master slides allow you to build a template slide so you don’t have to recreate the slide every time you add a new one. I generally have a slide with guides to center images and text on and one blank slide for master slides. Sometimes I’ll put my logo and branding on one master, but not the other. It’s worth your time before a speaking engagement to learn how to use master slides.
  4. Use type styles. This will save you loads of time. Here’s what styles do for you: If you set your H1 to be 90 points, and your H2 to be 75 points, rather than setting the type size every slide, you just select the style and it automatically changes your text to the style you’ve chosen. If you’ve ever used CSS on the web, it’s the very same principle.
  5. Find images that relate to your topic and/or use screenshots. There are several free stock photo sites, such as Pexels, Pixabay, DeathtoStockPhoto, and others.
  6. Don’t put too many words on a slide.
  7. Use large fonts. I use multiples of 30; the H1 (main title) is usually 120pts , H2 is 90pts, body text is 60 points. Sizes may differ with individual fonts.


Rehearse your slideshow and time it to be sure have the right amount of copy. Mark spots where you can cut or stretch if you need to for time.

I like to use presenter notes. I’ll put just a few words to prompt me just so I don’t forget content and lose my train of thought. When you connect to the projector, you should be able to hide the notes from the screen and see them only on your computer.

I always rehearse with everything set up as it will be in the room. I have a remote that I use, or sometimes I use my iPhone to advance. Whichever way you go, be sure you know how to use it effortlessly before you take the stages.


I always prepare a handout and I print it in color at a local copy shop. Include extra tips from your presentation, how to get in touch with you, your social profiles, website, and any extra resources you have to offer. I place my handouts and business cards on the table at the front of the room. I don’t want my audience reading the handout while I’m speaking.

It’s Speaking Day

On the day of your presentation, wear something that makes you feel great. I always wear black or something dark, as I’m pretty sure I’ll be photographed, and dark colors flatter everyone better (yes, you too). I promise.

Beth Gramling Sanders speaking

Don’t try to rehearse. You either know it now or you don’t and you’ll just make yourself nervous. Get your handouts, business cards, remote, and a glass of water together and leave in time to arrive 30 minutes before your time.

That gives you plenty of time to get the computer connected, make sure it displays correctly and set up your presenters notes so that you can see them well. Always, always use a remote. It will break your flow if you have to run to the computer every time you need to advance.

Once your tech is set up, walk around the room and introduce yourself to audience members. Talk to them about what they do, their challenges, whatever. People will be far more apt to like you if you have made this effort, and you can use them as examples in your presentation, which adds to engagement.

Bonus Tips

  • Never, never, never incorporate anything into your presentation that requires an internet connection. Once I was speaking on WordPress and had planned a live-action demo for part of my talk. I felt so uneasy about it, I built an entire extra section of screenshots as a Plan B. Always have a Plan B. As it turned out, the internet was spotty due to all the connections, and I ended up using Plan B.
  • Think through your color scheme – I nearly always use a black or dark background, as a light color background will wash out.
  • If your presentation will be given on a public computer, export it to PDF before submitting it. Otherwise that cool font you used will turn into whatever that particular computer uses when it doesn’t have the cool font. Fonts are notoriously difficult to translate from one computer to the next, and especially from Windows to Mac, or vice versa. Don’t take any chances.

Relax and have fun. Be interactive. If you know your subject well enough to speak on it (and you should), get away from the notes when you can and just walk and talk to the audience. Show your passion for your topic and the audience will reward you with their attention and appreciation.

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Beth Gramling Sanders passed away Thursday, May 24, 2024, surrounded by her husband, Jim, and her daughters, Elizabeth and Sara Ann; she was 65. Beth was born in Elizabethtown,  Kentucky on November 28, 1958, and raised in Jonesboro, Arkansas. She attended college at...

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