Posts in Public Speaking Tips
3 Secret Weapons to Engage Your Audience
They may forget what you said, but they will never forget how you made them feel.
— Carl W Buechner

The best presentations engage your audience on a human level. You may be the one standing in front of an audience, but that doesn’t mean you have to do all the work.

I often hear from clients that they don’t like public speaking because they feel like they’re talking AT people. If you’re talking AT people it’s not going to be fun… for anyone.

The best way to engage your audience is to involve them.

Invite them into your world, use your creativity, and show them your personality.

I was recently doing a workshop for a team of researchers and we were playing with techniques to make presentations stand out at conferences. Just because you’re presenting data doesn’t mean your presentation has to be dry.

Below are 3 secret weapons to connect with your audience so you can stop talking at people and have more fun.

Secret Weapon #1: Pictures

Pictures are worth a thousand words.

Stop putting so many words on your slides and replace them with pictures. We’ve all sat through boring Powerpoint presentations and no one wants to read them.

Pictures engages different learning styles and help bring your ideas to life.

When you don’t have slides, use descriptive language to paint a picture.

Secret Weapon #2: Props

We’re so inundated with screens that anytime you show people a real object, it automatically grabs their attention.

Some of the best TED talks include props. Susan Cain brought her suitcase full of books to the TED stage and Josh Kaufman played the ukulele during his talk.

When I was working with a client doing events for the nonprofit 826, she incorporated a can of chuptzpah into her presentation.

Not only did it highlight a product from the Brooklyn Superhero Supply Store where they were holding the event, but it added humor and vulnerability to her talk and helped her connect on a human level.

Props are a great place to inject creativity into your presentation. They can provide visual interest and sound, such as a holding up a plastic water bottle and crunching it when I was talking about the perils of single use water bottles.

Secret Weapon #3: Personal Stories

Stories are memorable. They elicit emotion and engage the senses.

You can use stories to set the scene for your audience and show them why they should care about your topic.

When I teach workshops we do a storytelling exercise to get everyone’s creative juices flowing and I challenge people to think about how they can use all 3 strategies (pictures, props and personal stories) in combination to make their content come alive.

Do you have a secret weapon that you use when speaking?

Let me know what it is.

7 Life lessons from Improv

When I told a business acquaintance that I was starting improv classes, she replied “I bet you’re great at that.”

This struck a chord. She assumed that I was already great at improv or that it came naturally because I teach people about public speaking.

I felt myself tense up, for a moment believing that I should already know everything there is to know about improvising. Then I remembered why I signed up for a class.

I wanted to learn. Improv is fun, and hard, and awkward. Like anything else, it takes practice.

I get up in front of groups regularly and teach workshops, but that doesn’t mean I’m not still learning.

For some, performing comes naturally, For others, you might dread being the center of attention. But you don’t have to be a natural performer to be a great public speaker.

I just finished an 8-week Improv class at Magnet Theater and I wanted to share 7 life lessons I learned from improv:

  1. Doing silly things with strangers is fun - sure it’s awkward but it's also hilarious and it builds trust.

  2. You don't have to know everything. In fact, it's a huge relief when you realize you’re supported by a team of other people who can help you figure things out

  3. When in doubt, mirror what your partner is doing - imagine if you applied this concept the next time you’re in a situation where you don’t know the answer.

  4. Listening is vital. As a naturally quiet person, listening was already a strength but knowing you have to respond to what your scene partner is doing makes you pay attention on a deeper level.

  5. Let go of control - if you spend all your time planning what you’re going to say, it might be completely irrelevant by the time it’s your turn. You might miss the most important details, you might miss all the fun.

  6. Commit - you might be unsure but if you look certain it will be easier to get other people on board.

  7. Pretend - if you’re scared, do it anyway. Pretend you feel confident. Eventually you will.


Improv is simultaneously terrifying and exhilarating. It requires letting go of control (#scary) and trusting the people you’re working with.

I can recall a time when improv would have been my worst nightmare and now it feels fun.

So remember, however you feel about your presentation skills today, those feelings can change.

It’s okay to start at the beginning.

It’s okay to not know the answer.

It’s okay to still be learning.

Not quite ready for improv classes? I understand.

There are other ways to get started.

Grab 4 steps to a Winning Work Presentation to prep for presentations, even if you have no time, so you can stop freaking out and start communicating like the expert.


Public speaking is like baseball and knitting


At an event last week someone asked me whether I thought anyone could be trained to speak in public.

My first answer was an emphatic yes.

My second answer, was yes, provided they’re willing to practice.

As a kid, I spent the summers with my dad.

At Camp Dad, I learned how to cook and play ball.

From age 10-18, our after dinner ritual consisted of daily softball and tennis practice, and occasional, reluctant basketball practice.

I learned a lot from all those evenings taking batting practice and hitting tennis balls, and not just how to switch hit or play tennis with 2 forehands (yes, two).  

What at first felt awkward and frustrating - lots of strikes and getting hit with tennis balls - eventually became more fun.

As I became more proficient, there were fewer misses and more satisfying moments when you hear the beautiful sound of your bat or racquet connecting with the ball.

Public speaking is just like learning to play a sport.

It can be scary and nervewracking at the start. But anyone can learn and its exhilarating when you connect with your audience. That’s the good news.

The bad news is YOU. HAVE. TO. PRACTICE.

Practice builds muscle memory. The more times you do it, the less terrifying it feels.

And the less terrified you feel, the more fun it will be.

Okay, that sounds good in theory but how do you get started and move past the deer in headlights feeling?

Watching endless TED talks, reading books on presentations, and silently reading your notes to yourself are not going to cut it.

It’s like trying to learn how to play baseball by watching it on TV. Or knitting your first sweater by watching YouTube tutorials without buying any yarn or knitting needles.

At some point, you have to leave the house. You have to practice.

So the next time you have a presentation, block off 10 minutes a day for 3 days leading up to your presentation and practice OUT LOUD.

Here's how to spend your time:

Day 1 - Practice your presentation in the mirror. This might feel a little silly at first, but you want to get comfortable seeing and hearing yourself speak. Watching yourself in the mirror helps you get used to looking up and makes it easier to maintain eye contact when you’re in front of an audience.

Day 2 - Record yourself and listen to it. You can do this on video or voice memo but make sure to listen back to the recording and pay attention to your speed, volume, intonation (and posture if you're watching video).

Day 3 - Practice your presentation for a dog. Dogs make very understanding audiences and they force you to be creative to keep them engaged. If your furry friend is drifting off, try changing positions, moving locations, or switching up your volume or pitch. (Hint: These same techniques also work for humans)


Scheduling a few short practice sessions will save you the anxiety of cramming and help you make time for the #1 thing that will improve your confidence and increase your impact.

Do you have a favorite practice technique? Let me know.

Want more practice ideas? Read Practice Your Talk on the Subway


Need a Topic? 3 Ways to Figure out your Idea

Are you struggling to find your topic, or narrow down a broad topic with a specific point of view?

You might be overwhelmed with too many ideas OR struggling because you have no ideas at all.

If you’re in the second camp and writer’s block is holding you back, you need look no further than your personal experience to generate ideas.

You have a wealth of stories and life experience to draw on, but where do you start?

Below are 3 of my favorite brainstorming techniques get your creative juices flowing.  

PROMPT 1: Write down 3 things you often rant about.
For me, this is bottled water, takeout, and automatic sinks that don’t turn on when they’re supposed to.

PROMPT 2: Write down 3 things you’re passionate about that you’d like to share with your audience.

You’ll often find me talking about are cooking, gardening, and how to make communication more fun

PROMPT 3: Write down 3 things you’d like to learn more about.

If your mind is overflowing with ideas, write down all the possible subjects you’ve thought about giving a talk on. Get them out of your head and onto paper so you can free up head space for the next steps.

You should now have a list of half a dozen or more ideas and can move on to the next step.

Step 2 is to narrow down your ideas, and for some, this is the hardest part.

Circle one or two ideas that jump out at you.

Pick one and write 100 words about it. (Writing 100 words is a good litmus test on whether this is a good topic to pursue.)

Now that you have a topic, Step 3 is to define your objective.

Grab the 4 Steps to a Winning Work Presentation for an easy template.


Listening is The #1 Skill
If you really want to communicate, the most important thing is to listen.”
— - Mr. Fred McFeely Rogers (Mister Roger’s Neighborhood)

There are 2 parts to communication, speaking and listening. You need both for effective communication.

It’s common to focus a lot of time and energy on organizing and preparing your talk and while those are super important for your success, so is tuning into the people in front of you.

When it comes time to give your presentation, make sure to pay attention and listen to your audience.

Benefits of Listening:

  • Presentations feel more conversational when you actively engage your audience, and stop talking at them (not to mention it’s more fun!)

  • When your audience feels heard, they’re more likely to trust you (and your ideas)

  • When you listen intently you can respond to your audience in the moment and find common ground


Listening is the single most important skill to get your ideas seen, heard and respected. It’s one of the best ways to ensure your audience receives your message in a language they understand.

When you prepare for your next presentation remember to make time for listening. And if you find yourself in a tense conversation, here are some tips:

  1. Acknowledge and validate what the other person is saying

  2. Be curious about their point of view

  3. Ask open-eded questions

Learn more about these techniques at the next workshop:

Collaboration with Your Clients: Critical Conversation Skills To Keep Your Presentations On Track

DATE: Tuesday: May 14, 2019

TICKETS: http://sparkdesignprofessionals.org/event/collaboration-your-clients-critical-conversation-skills-keep-your-presentations-track







What To Do When You Stumble

One of the participants at a recent corporate workshop asked this question:

How do you recover from a presentation blunder?

Here are a few options to help you gracefully handle those unplanned moments:

  1. Ignore it and keep going, chances are no-one else will notice.

  2. Acknowledge it. You might say: “I forgot to tell you something important so I’m going to back up for a moment.”

  3. Use humor. Humor can go a long way to bring your audience along with you so don’t sweat it. You might say “That might have looked like a mistake, but I actually planned it that way.”

  4. Improv. Find a creative way to incorporate the blunder into your talk.

  5. Be kind to yourself. You’re allowed to make mistakes and being human gives your audience permission to do the same.

Some tips to help ward off some common fumbles:

  1. Print your notes so you have a backup if technology fails.

  2. Pause if you lose your place, forget a word, or need a moment to think about your answer. Get comfortable with silence.

  3. Remember that your audience is cheering you on so treat them like friends, not the enemy.

Want more tools. Get 4 Steps to a Winning Work Presentation.

Practice Your Talk on the Subway

This might sound crazy, but the subway is a perfect place to practice your

public speaking.

What?! Yes, that’s right!


I practice while I’m commuting and I encourage clients to practice on the train, in the car, or while you’re walking to work.

This is my favorite life hack for all those folks

who don’t think they have time to practice.

Imagine how productive your commute could be if you used 10 or 15 minutes of your travel time to practice a presentation instead of scrolling through social media.

People often ask if I’m worried about looking crazy. NOT at all.

This is New York City and there are far weirder things! No one is paying attention.

If you’re self conscious, put in your headphones – people will think you’re listening to music.

This is a great technique to get used to distractions. You can even record yourself practicing while you’re on the subway or waiting at an empty section on the platform.

Want a few more practice ideas you may not have thought of?

  1. Take an Improv class. Magnet Theater, UCB and The PIT all offer classes. Read about my experience taking improv in 7 Life Lessons from Improv

  2. Go to a city council meeting and talk about an issue in your neighborhood.

  3. Host a dinner party and give a presentation for your friends.

  4. Check out Toastmasters. Find a club here and find me at Heights Toastmasters twice a month.

  5. Practice for your neighbors. It’s a great way to get to know people.

  6. Practice for your dog, or your cat or your lizard. It’s #3 in 7 Practice Strategies to Ace Your Presentation.

Want more practice ideas?

Download 7 Practice Strategies to Ace Your Presentation.

How Practice Makes TED Talks & Great Talks

One of the creative directors in my Speak with Impact Lab shared a story about seeing an early iteration of Simon Sinek’s Golden Circle. Over a few years, the talk that launched Simon Sinek to fame and became the third most viewed TED Talk of all time started out as a presentation for 8 people in someone’s living room.


The moral of the story?
Your talk doesn’t need to be perfect at the outset.

In fact, it’s almost certain that it won’t be.

Perfection should not be your aim, but practice and feedback are essential.


The more you practice the closer you’ll get to a presentation that delivers what you want it to. There may be countless iterations and living room talks before the big talk you want to give, and that’s perfectly okay and part of the process.

Need an audience?
Here are some ways you can get one.

  • Have a dinner party and give your presentation for friends

  • Practice for your housemates

  • Practice for your children

  • Practice outside as people walk by


Want some help putting your presentation together. Check out Polish & Pop: Presentation Power Hour.


The Power of the Edit

Want to write a good talk?

The key is surprisingly simple: You need to EDIT.


According to Chris Anderson, the creator of TED,

“The biggest problem I see in first drafts of presentations is that they try to cover too much ground... If you try to cram in everything you know, you won’t have time to include key details, and your talk will disappear into abstract language that may make sense if your listeners are familiar with the subject matter but will be completely opaque if they’re new to it. You need specific examples to flesh out your ideas. So limit the scope of your talk to that which can be explained, and brought to life with examples, in the available time.”


If editing is the key then you may be wondering how to decide what to leave in and what to take out.


First, you need to get clear on your objective.

Your audience is never going to remember everything, so you want to be very clear about the main message you want them to walk away with. Once you know your objective, you can examine whether your content is helping you achieve it.

This is where editing comes in. You might want to tell your favorite story, but if that story isn’t the best example to illustrate your point, leave it out.

Grab the template to write your objective in 4 Steps to a Winning Work Presentation. This simple tool will help you get organized, get clear, and get confident.

Never Use 2 Words When 1 Will Do

“The most valuable of all talents is never using

two words when one will do.”


I found this message in a fortune cookie but it could have been written by my dad. He was a journalist for over 25 years and considered word count an art form.

My dad was also a ruthless editor. He taught my sister and I how to write short, clear sentences and ingrained in us the power of brevity.

Getting to the point is as important in your presentations as it is on the page.


When it comes to speaking, chances are you know more about your subject than your audience. You may be able to speak on your topic for 45 minutes, but that doesn’t mean your audience has an attention span of 45 minutes.

Less is More.

Share too much information, and you risk losing your audience.

The key to an effective presentation is editing.

After writing the first draft of your presentation, ask yourself, where are you using two words when one will do?

Wondering how to get started or which words to choose?

Download 4 Steps to a Winning Work Presentation to get organized, get clear, get confident. They’re free!