Jeffosophy: a collection of possibly useful things I have learned over the years.



Jeffrey speaking at innovation conference in Malta
Speaking at an Innovation Conference in Malta


How to Design and Deliver an Awesome Presentation

Over the years, I have given a number of keynote speeches, talks and workshops on e-commerce, creativity and innovation around the world. I was even paid rather generously to speak at many of them. More importantly for you, I learned a lot about giving talks and presentations along the way. I also made a lot of mistakes, especially at my first ever conference presentation (in 1999) where I did almost everything wrong. At the time, I was on contract to the European Commission with a mandate to promote e-commerce to small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs). I was attending conferences regularly and so had the opportunity to watch presenters of all levels of quality. I tried to emulate habits of the best speakers and avoid the habits of the worst. And, as I was giving talks regularly myself, I soon had ample opportunity to try out what I was learning.

In addition to experience in giving talks, I also co-manage the Brussels Imagination Club, a non-profit that hosts experimental workshops and occasional talks. I have learned a lot from presenters at the club as well as from trying out my own ideas there.

Here are a baker's dozen of the most important things I have learned.

1. Clarify what you wish to accomplish and focus on it

Why the hell are you giving a presentation? Are you trying to sell a product? Are you introducing your company? Are you presenting something at a conference because your company is a sponsor of the conference thus garnering a free time slot? Have you been asked to speak at your local TEDx event? Have you decided to become a professional keynote speaker?

Once you are clear on what you wish to accomplish, focus your presentation on accomplishing it. Collect content that is relevant to your talk and discard stuff that is not relevant. This is important. If you are selling a product, you may be tempted to bore your audience to tears with details about your company. Don't. Audiences do not like being bored to tears. Instead, focus on how your product solves a problem that your customers have.

If you are speaking as a vendor at a conference, do not be all salesy. Lots of vendors do this and when they do audience members flee out of the conference hall to catch up on email, grab a coffee or flirt with the good looking rep from the logistics software company. What they will not do is pay attention to you. Instead, wow your audience with information, a story or an argument that surprises and impresses them. As a rule of thumb, people prefer to do business with companies that impress them rather than those that aggressively sell to them or bore them.

If you've been invited to speak at a TEDx or other show-yourself-off event, think about what you want to do beyond show yourself off. At these events, you are not allowed to sell yourself or products. So, do not even try to do this. On the other hand, if you inspire people with your ideas, they will want to know more about you. They may eventually become clients.

On the other hand, you may be hoping to get funding for research, change a popular belief or just impress people of the opposite sex (or the same sex). That's cool. Just bear in mind your intentions as you design your presentation and, if you're going for the last item, dress well.

2. Structure

It is important to give your presentation a structure. An explosion of slides full of bullet points, graphs and quotes is not a structure. It is an embarrassment. A good structure makes it easy for you to remember your presentation and makes it easy for the audience to follow it. There are basically three structures for presentations.

A story is a great structure. Everyone loves a story. It is easy to remember, flows nicely and usually gets good feedback. I would argue that stories do not even need to be true provided they are realistic or so unrealistic the audience gets that your story is fiction.

An argument is when you try to convince an audience why they really should see things your way. A typical argument structure starts with a hypothesis and then presents facts to prove, or at least strengthen, the argument. Arguments are often used in science and research. But they can also be used to sell a new concept or a new way of doing things.

A logical progression is following a path based on logic. Examples of logical progressions are: a step-by-step approach to solving a problem; tips on how to do something (for example, a number of my talks have focused on creativity tips); and describing a process from beginning to end.


3. Work out what you need to say and discard the rest

Once you have your structure, you need to fit your presentation to it. Often this is easy because the structure almost guides the content into it.

However, you may be tempted to try and shove too much content into your structure which is a sure way to damage the structure and bore the audience. Think about it. When was the last time you commented during a coffee break at a conference, "gosh I'm glad that guy explained in excruciating detail the biography of the firm's founder, son and grandson"?

Work out what you really and truly need to say and dispose of the rest. You'll make your point better, you will be more interesting and there will be fewer details you'll need to remember when you give the presentation.

Jeffrey speaking at a TEDx event
Speaking at TEDx event in Brussels


4. Knock the audience's socks off immediately

If you can catch the audience's attention in the first few seconds of your presentation, you will have them in your pocket and it will be easy to maintain their attention. If you do not get their attention right away, you will have to fight to get it later in the speech. So, start with something to get their attention. Do not start with, "Um, hi. I am Jeffrey Paul Baumgartner, but most people call me Jeffrey. Ha ha. And I am here to talk with you about the eating habits of Belgian rabbits, sorry, I meant Australian rabbits. I live in Belgium you see. Where was I...?"

This will not impress them. Instead, just dive in, grab the audience by their figurative lapels and knock their socks off. There are a couple of ways to do this:

  1. Ask the audience a question. For example, I have asked people to put their hands up if they have ever participated in a brainstorm. I have asked an audience to think about creative things they can do with a chair. Then I call on individuals and ask them to share their ideas. I have also asked people to think of a problem at work -- without asking anyone to share their answers with the audience. By answering your question, even if only in their heads, audience members become more focused on the theme of your talk.

  2. Say something counter-intuitive, this surprises people. It makes people curious. I have started talks with this: "Business leaders say they need a creative workforce. Governments extol the need for a creative population. Schools talk about how important creativity is. And yet, the truth is.... people hate creativity and despise creative ideas. This has been proven in research."

  3. Say something funny. Don't tell a joke unless you are a comedian or the kind of guy who is always telling jokes. Few people tell jokes well, especially when they are nervous and on stage. Also, a lot of jokes are racist, misogynistic and demeaning. That's not a good way to start a talk. Also, be careful not to offend your audience by making fun of their culture. At the Imagination Club, we have seen foreigners start talks by making fun of Belgians. Not surprisingly, Belgians do not find this amusing. Sure, Belgians love to make fun of themselves. But, they don't like it when others make fun of them. This is pretty much true of all cultures. However, sharing a funny story, perhaps one that makes fun of you, can be a good way to start a presentation.

Now, you may be concerned that you should introduce yourself and your work at the start of a talk - so that the audience knows who you are and how qualified you are. The problem with doing this is, unless you are famous, you will bore the audience; and, if you are famous, the audience already knows who you are. So, instead of telling people who you are at the beginning of your presentation, make your presentation so awesome that by the end of your talk, people will desperately want to know who you are and how they can get in touch with you.

5. Then get your main point across ASAP

Once you have got the audience's attention, tell them what you are going to talk about and then talk about it.  This may seem repetitive. But it works. People like to know where you are going with your talk. Also, research has also shown that people best remember the beginning of your talk. So tell people what you are going to say right away. Then say it. Explain it. Tell stories about it.

Once you have finished saying it, conclude your talk by summarising what you have just said in a few words. People like this. It emphasises your key points. It helps people remember what you have just talked about.

To summarise, an ideal speech structure is this: Tell people what you are going to say. Say it. Tell people what you have just said.

6. Memorise the first three minutes and the structure

Whenever I do a speech, I practice it numerous times to refine it, remember it and ensure it sticks to the schedule. But, I only really worry about remembering the first three minutes of the script and the structure. This is because I know I am most likely to be nervous when I step out onto stage. So, I want to be able to start the speech on autopilot. Once I get going and feel the audience's energy, my confidence returns. From that point, I only need to remember the structure in order to complete the speech. This technique also provides some room for the unexpected, for example someone in the audience may ask a question that indicates they have have not understood a key point. In this case, you might need to explain it again before continuing.

7. Reframe your stage fright

It is natural to be nervous before a speech. Even highly professional keynote speakers get nervous. Most actors get nervous before going on stage. In fact, being a little nervous is probably a good thing. Overconfidence often causes more problems than stage fright when it comes to presentations.

Nevertheless, stage fright can be frightening (hence the name). One useful tip is to reframe the feeling. Anxiety can feel a lot like excitement. Both feelings have symptoms such as increased heartbeat, faster breathing, sweaty palms and a feeling of uncertainty. So, tell yourself that you do not feel anxious. Rather you feel excited about the opportunity to share your knowledge with an interesting group of people.

In my experience, this does not rid me of my anxiety, but it does reduce my anxiety and that helps.

8. The audience is on your side - respect them

Keep in mind that the audience is on your side. They did not come to your presentation to see you fail. They came to learn, to be inspired, to see new perspectives on an issue. Even if you are doing a sales pitch, bear in mind that the audience would love for you to present a perfect, reasonably priced solution to their problem.

There are two things to take away from this. Firstly, the audience is with you. Don't fear them. Respect them. Secondly, look individuals in the eyes as you are talking. Share your mutual humanity for a second or two. This connects you with the individuals who comprise the audience and, perhaps, counter intuitively, reduces anxiety.

In a presentation to a smallish group, you can and should look everyone in the eye. If you are talking to a large audience, choose people close to the front of the audience and look them in the eyes.

Some clowns suggest that if you are nervous, you should look at a point just above your audience's eyes. This is stupid advice and makes you look like a coward. Look directly into the eyes of your audience. Feel their support.

Even worse advice is to imagine your audience naked. Don't do this. Naked people look either really sexy or really ugly. Either scenario is a distraction. Moreover, it fails to respect your audience. Always respect your audience.

9. Twenty minutes

People generally have a twenty minute attention span for listening to a talk. So, if you have any say in how long your presentation will be, aim for fifteen to twenty minutes. If you do not have a say in the length of your talk and you are required to speak longer than 20 minutes, find ways to break your speech up into smaller chunks, each of which is no more than 20 minutes long. For instance, after 15 minutes you might pose a question to the audience and invite people to share answers.You might give the audience a little exercise to complete, such as a self analysis quiz that is relevant to the next part of your presentation. Or, you could just say, "wow, we've been sitting too long. Let's stretch a bit." Then lead the audience in a couple of simple stretch exercises. It may seem silly, but it works.

10. Stick to your time limit

Whatever amount of time you are allotted, stick to it or even finish a couple of minutes early. If you are at a conference and you go over time, it affects everyone who speaks after you. Or, in a worst case scenario, in terms of your dignity, you might be asked to stop your talk before you are finished with making your points. I ask speakers to finish up quickly if they go overtime at the Imagination Club.

On the other hand, no one will complain if you finish your 20 minute talk in 17 minutes.

Moreover, I have noticed that the least interesting, least well prepared talks are the ones most likely to go over time. The best talks are concise, well structured and designed to fit to schedule. Professionals stick to their allotted time.

Be professional. Stick to your allotted time.

11. Power of three

For some reason, we humans are particularly good at remembering groups of three. So, use this in your presentation. As noted earlier, the structure of a good presentation has three parts: an introduction in which you tell people what you are going to say, content in which you say it; a conclusion in which you tell people what you have said.

Three key points is a good goal for a speech or presentation. For example, if you are presenting a software product, give three key reasons why it will provide value to the prospect. If you are giving a talk on leadership skills, present three key skills.

If you want to illustrate a point you make in your talk, give three supporting statements. This emphasises your point, makes it easier for your audience to remember what you have said, and has an elegant flow. Using just two points has a less elegant flow and is harder to recall later.

Likewise, a great way to make people laugh is to give a list of three items in which the last statement is absurd. When I talk about the flaws of traditional brainstorming, I used to say something like, "in a brainstorm session you absolutely cannot criticise ideas because to do so will make people feel bad, may inhibit people from sharing wilder ideas and, in a worst case scenario, may cause people die of shame -- and that would really spoil a brainstorm session." 

If you do something like this, practice the timing. A very brief pause before the third item builds tension and results in more laughter.

12. Presentation

I reckon your Powerpoint (or similar) slides are the least important part of your presentation. As I wrote earlier, when I started giving talks in the late 90s and early 00s, on behalf of the European Commission, I watched other presenters carefully, to see what worked and what did not. One thing I noticed is that the best speakers had the plainest slides while the most boring speakers had the most graphically impressive slides and transitions. Clearly, I thought, it was better to go for plain slides and good talks.

And think about it. You've probably seen a few TED talks, have you not? Which ones impressed you? Almost certainly, it was the speaker and her ideas that impressed you rather than her slides. Indeed, you may not even remember the slides.

So, put your efforts into your message and your speech and minimise your slides as much as possible. My presentation slides are almost exclusively cartoons which I draw myself. On occasion, I will put a key word on a slide, especially if it is an unusual word that I know people are likely to ask me about.

If you display a slide full of text, people will start to read the text. This will confuse them if what you say is not word for word the same as the text on the slide. So, don't bother with text-filled slides. Use an image or a couple of key words instead.

Avoid bullet points as much as you can. God kills a puppy every time you use a bullet point and you do not want to be responsible for a puppy slaughter, do you?

So, keep your slides as simple as possible: I recommend black text on a white background or vice versa. Do not distract with arty transitions. Avoid bullet points or lots of text.

That said, if you are presenting on behalf of a company, you may be obliged to use the slick, graphically impressive and probably overcrowded corporate slide template. If so, do your best!

13. Sometimes you need to forget the rules

Because I used to give keynote talks professionally, I get asked to give eulogies at family funerals. A few years ago, my mother passed away and my brothers asked me to come out for the funeral and to give the eulogy. I asked my sons if they wanted to come along. My eldest, who was in university at the time, wanted to join me. I asked him if he wanted to say something. After reflecting on it, he decided to do so.

So, I gave my eulogy. It was slick, well structured and professional. I shared memories of my mother, told a few entertaining stories of her life, and spoke of how I would miss her.

Then my son gave his eulogy. It was in the form of a letter to his grandmother. He was nervous and read from his notes. I was in tears by the end of it. I think nearly everyone else was also tearful. To be honest, I am tearing up now as I write this. His talk was a raw, beautiful and honest expression of love for his grandmother.

My talk was professionally superior. But his talk was light years better in every other respect. It was truly beautiful in ways that mine was not. And that's okay. I am proud of him. I learned from him.

So, sometimes, especially if what you are talking about is truly meaningful to you or is emotionally laden, don't worry so much about the rules. Instead, focus on communicating your passion and emotion in whatever way works for you.

You're ready!

That's it. Now, you know everything you need to know about preparing and giving awesome presentations. So, go out there, my friend, and impress them!


I can give your team a one day workshop on how to design and deliver an awesome presentation. The workshop will combine explanation with exercises to practice every aspect of giving a presentation. At the end of the workshop, teams will give presentations they developed during the workshop. Interested? Want more information? Email me at



Speaking at innovation conference in Johannesburg, South Africa
Speaking at innovation conference in Johannesburg.




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