How do I integrate slides in my speeches? — Frequent Questions

Q; How do I integrate slides in my speeches?
A: Do you really have to? Really?

I have nothing against slides—if they add value to a speech. But most speakers ask for slides because:

  1. everyone else uses them
  2. they need a reminder of what they’re talking about
  3. they want to believe it’s a TED Talk
  4. holding the clicky thing gives them something to do with their hands.

Look, none of these are capital offenses. But they’re not particularly good reasons, either.

Because everyone else uses them?

But the majority of “everyone else” uses them badly. Still, if you’ve sat through dozens of presentations with eye-chart slides, you think that’s the way to give a professional presentation.

You load up each slide with as much information as it can handle. If your audience can read the tiny type at all, they’ll have taken in the information in a minute flat. But they have to sit there listening to you read it to them for the next five or 10.

Is this a good use of anyone’s time? Will they be a) grateful for the information? Or just b) grateful that you’ve stopped talking?

How have you felt sitting through one of those presentations? So why would you inflict it on anyone else?

Integrate slides to add value to the presentation

There’s only one reason to use slides—and if you pay close attention to the mainstage TED Talks, you’ll see that’s how they use slides: to add value to what you’re saying.

If you’re talking about rocket science, you don’t need a picture of a rocket ship: everyone in your audience could pick a rocket ship out of a lineup. Showing them a photograph of one only diverts their attention away from you. And in my book, that’s the biggest mistake a speaker can make.

But don’t take my word for it. Here’s Chris Anderson, the Head of TED, from his book TED Talks: the Official TED guide to public speaking:

“…the first question to ask yourself is whether you need [slides]. It’s a striking fact that at least a third of TED’s most viewed talks make no use of slides whatsoever.”

One-third—sling that fact at the next person who tells you you need to use slides “because TED.”

Also, Anderson says if your presentation is well-written, you don’t need gimmicks. Okay, he didn’t exactly say that. He said:

“…if the core of your talk is intensely personal, or if you have other devices for livening up your talk—like humor or vivid stories—then you may do better to forget the visuals and just focus on speaking personally to the audience.”

I added the emphasis there. Of course.

But if you still feel you need visual aids, integrate slides into your presentation. Or as Anderson says:

“there needs to be a compelling fit between what you tell and what you show.”


“…limit each slide to a single core idea.”

integrate slides
Webinars need slides. But see how I feed the audience the info one idea at a time?

The bottom line:

“When you think about it, it’s fairly simple. The main purpose of visuals can’t be communicate words; your mouth is perfectly good at doing that. It’s to share things your mouth can’t do so well: photographs, video, animations, key data.”

Integrate slides into your script

Today’s question came from one of my readers on LinkedIn. All the poor man wanted to know, I think, was how to integrate slides into the text he gives his client.

That’s easy:


insert fascinating text here


more fascinating stuff here

But really, try as hard as you can to convince your speaker to go without slides. And if you can’t, read Nancy Duarte’s great book Slide-ology to learn how to do it right.

Want to get better at writing speeches? Click here to get my free tips for speakers and I’ll notify you when my next speechwriting webinar launches.

Great way to express gratitude—a pro tip for speakers

one way to express gratitudeIf I’ve given my regular readers the impression that I hate “thank yous,” I apologize. I love it when speakers express gratitude—just not at the beginning of a speech.

You never want to give your audience an excuse not to listen to you. And what says “I’m not talking to you right now” better than taking three minutes to lavish thanks on 0.01% of the people present. That’s why I tell my clients—and my writing students—to integrate their thank yous into the body of a speech. Find a way that they can add value to what you’re saying.

Here’s how I used the technique at the Smith College Women’s Leadership Conference last month.

Step 1—the set-up

I talked about how and why speakers shouldn’t open with a list of thank yous.

“When you get called on in a meeting, do you stand up and say, ‘I’d like to thank John for calling on me. And Josh for getting the bagels. And, Margie—great PowerPoint!’ Of course you don’t; you’d be laughed out of the room. People in a meeting want to hear your ideas. Your audience at a speech does too.”

Still, it’s appropriate to thank your hosts. And I said I would—when it would add value to my presentation.

Step 2—the recall

Maybe 10 minutes later, I reminded the audience that I promised to thank the college. After a beat, I said:

“No, I’m not going to do that yet. But you’re all waiting for it, right? That’s because I’ve created Mystery.”

And I discussed the importance of creating a sense of mystery when you tell a story. Chris Anderson, in his book TED Talks: The Official TED Guide to Public Speaking, talks about the power of framing your speech like a “detective story.”

Step 3—the surprise

Toward the end of my speech, I told a story about a meaningful experience I’d had at Smith, something profound I learned that’s served me well throughout my career. I showed a photo of the professor who taught me the lesson. He’s still teaching, all these years later, and his students and former students let out a small cheer.

“…And I would like to thank Smith for bringing me back here today so I could share this story with you.”

And the audience broke out into laughter and spontaneous applause.

As one woman told me the next day,

“We knew you were going to do it. You told us to expect it. But we never saw it coming.”

Express gratitude memorably

How did I get there?

Well, you can pretty much never go wrong when you use the Rule of Three: aim for a laugh on the third repetition of something. Could I have thanked Smith when I discussed thank yous the first time? Probably. I could definitely have done it the second time—but I enjoyed faking out the audience. I worried that by the third time the “thank you” would be as obvious as an 18-wheeler barreling down the highway. But apparently not.

Why not? How was I able to sneak the final set-up for my thank you into the speech? Because I embedded it in a story. And that story fit seamlessly into the body of my speech.

That’s what I mean by adding value with every element of your speech. By the time I got around to the obligatory thank you, it served three purposes:

  1. Express gratitude
  2. Highlight an important aspect of my Smith experience
  3. Demonstrate a speech technique

Your “thank you” might not accomplish all three of these things—I was fortunate to be speaking about how to give a great speech—but it can definitely do more than just express gratitude to specific people.

How can you use your gratitude to enhance your audience’s experience or their understanding of your material? It takes more thought up front, but your audience will remember—and appreciate—you for it.

Shape your stories to make them memorable—discover how in my hands-on editing workshop. Click here and I’ll let you know when we launch.

Empathy is the new black: From my in-box

One of my readers, Evon, wrote me a few days ago to stress the importance of empathy in these difficult times. Indeed.

During our interminable presidential election we’ve had enough screaming at each other to last a lifetime. And the post-election period is no better, as the basest instincts of some people have come to the fore while others are justifiably scared. And still others absolutely bewildered by all of it.

Evon suggested this TED Talk, Chris Anderson’s interview with social psychologist Jonathan Haidt.

The thing he said that pulled me up short was:

“Each moral community is a matrix of consensual hallucination.”

He says each side sees a different set of threats looming for the country. And both sides are right. In fact,

“There are a lot of threats to the country and each side is constitutionally incapable of seeing them all.”

Let’s make empathy chic

We’re not going to change people’s minds. But we can try to empathize with them. And give them an opportunity to empathize with us.

Now, I’m not advocating a mass sing-in of Kumbaya. You can’t empathize with someone when they have their foot on your neck. And it’s an objective fact that the president-elect has appointed some hard-line dudes (so far, just dudes) to work with and advise him. And those dudes have ideologies I find personally scary.

So I doubt I’m going to develop empathy with newly appointed Chief White House Strategist Steve Bannon. But I had a productive conversation with my cousin yesterday. She actually heard me, which was a start.

Anyway, listen to the interview and form your own opinions. Comment if you like. With empathy, please.

Holding your audience — how to keep ’em listening

I found an article full of great advice on holding your audience. The headline grabbed my attention immediately, but then—irony of ironies—the copy lost it immediately.

Before I got to the advice the headline promised, I had to wade through nearly 200 words of nonsense, mostly irrelevant data points. Some mentioned twice! I’m going to blame the editor here, for trying to put a fancy hat on an otherwise perfectly serviceable listicle.

It’s a sad, sad thing when Good Writing Goes Bad. So let’s see if I can salvage the meat of the article for you (paraphrasing heavily).

The do’s and don’ts of holding your audience

Don’t use jargon. I beat this drum often, so couldn’t agree more.

Do be authentic. Again, an essential point.

Don’t, um, say “um” or other filler words. Er…enough said.

And she adds some things I haven’t thought about, but which make sense:

Don’t speak in a monotone. Chris Anderson devotes an entire section of his fine book TED Talks: The Official TED Guide to Public Speaking to “Voice and Presence.” If you need help to speak naturally, that’s a great place to start.

Don’t be dismissive of other people or their ideas. Excellent advice for everyone, not just speakers. While it may work in some settings (see: Trump, Donald J.—Primaries), it can backfire badly in others (see: Trump, Donald J.—First Presidential Debate). Unless 100% of your listeners share 100% of your views—and how could you possibly know that?—going negative puts people into a defensive frame of mind. If you want folks to be open to your ideas, you need to find commonalities with them. Don’t put them on the defensive.

Do pay attention to physical and social cues. Make eye contact with your listeners. Offer them opportunities to interact with you—whether you take questions during the presentation or in a Q&A afterward. And if you’re on a panel or even just in a one-on-one conversation, respect other people’s personal space.

I’ll add one Don’t that didn’t make it into the article:

Don’t try to buy credibility by throwing in unnecessary data. Not everything needs a statistic. That’s the biggest key to holding your audience: Get to the point and stay there.

Functional words, the plain brown wrapper of language

“That is the worst book title ever!”

I had just told a writer friend about one of the best books I’ve read lately—the best how-to guide to speechwriting I’ve ever encountered. So I have to admit the vehemence of her reaction startled me.

But I also have to admit she’s right. The title uses functional words at best; it’s not at all unique. (Yes, I’ll tell you the title in a minute.) “At least—” she begged, “at least tell me there’s a subtitle.” I pulled out my iPad and checked: I would not win any points there.functional words: the plain brown wrappers of language

The book in question is Chris Anderson’s really marvelous (you’ll have to take my word for it) TED Talks: The Official TED Guide to Public Speaking.

Functional words indeed. But this plain brown wrapper of a title hides not just great advice, but probably hundreds of examples of that advice in action: sparkling, compelling stories pulled from the best of the TED Talks. (And Anderson put together a handy playlist of the 53 talks he cites. Next time you feel like listening to a TED Talk, you can’t go wrong with any of these.)

Anderson also offers suggestions on rehearsing—he’s as big a proponent of it as I am—dealing with nerves, and even choosing the right outfit. But what makes his advice even more valuable is his perspective—he may be the Curator of TED Talks, but at heart he’s still the guy in the audience, listening for something that will catch his attention or move him in an unexpected way.

A pretty good storyteller himself, Anderson frequently stresses the importance of using details to make the story come alive, as here:

“Offer the right level of detail. Too little and the story is not vivid. Too much and it gets bogged down.”

So how did this book on great writing end up with such a bland and repetitive title? Perhaps no one at the publishing house bothered to read it. But remember the old adage:

You can’t judge a book by the words on its cover.

That is what the old adage says, right?

TED talking

TED Talks have made speeches chic again. (Hallelujah!) Everyone who doesn’t dream of giving one dreams of writing one.

Yep, we’re all eager to climb on the internet-enabled soapbox. But what do we do once we get there?

Chris Anderson, Curator of TED, reminds us that it’s not about the platform; it’s about the content:

“Your number one mission as a speaker is to take something that matters deeply to you and rebuild it inside the minds of your listeners. The only thing that truly matters in public speaking is not confidence, stage presence or smooth talking. It’s having something worth saying.”

I love the idea that our words can “rebuild” an idea in our listeners’ minds. The image is specific, visual, and powerful. It’s a little intimidating too. And it should be, I think.

Words have consequences—well-crafted and well-delivered speeches may have even more power than written words. They build new structures in our brains, create neural pathways that weren’t there before. Will you fill those pathways with corporate jargon and techno-babble? Or with new ways to problem-solve, new insights and ideas to contemplate?

It’s not about giving a TED Talk. Wherever you speak, however you communicate: It’s about having something to say.