How to give your first speech and knock it out of the park | Schaefer Marketing Solutions

By Mark Schaefer

I recently attended a business analytics conference that featured some of the worst speakers I have ever seen. The first keynote speaker READ his speech … and it went downhill from there!

I am a professional speaker so I get to see a lot of great talent on the stage. But the experience at this conference made me realize there is a whole bunch of people in the world who have to give a speech for the first time without the benefit of much training or preparation.

I thought it would be fun to help. Here are my tips for giving your very first speech!

The content

The biggest mistake I made when I started out was being Mr. Data Dump. I thought I needed to show people how smart I was by cramming every fact and figure I could into my talk. Nobody wants that. They just want to learn between 3–5 new things.

So, think about five key points you want to make in your talk. Start with an idea of what action you want them to take, or what you want to change after your talk, and then create 3-to-5 points to support your talk. Don’t try to do too much, If it goes beyond five points, people have a hard time following along.

Guess what? You just made an outline.

Decorating it

For each of your main points in the outline, think of a personal story, or maybe some key insight or data point, you can use to fill in the talk and make it entertaining.

Using personal stories and anecdotes has an important secondary benefit — if you’re new to speaking, you’re going to be a lot less nervous about telling your own stories than something you have to develop from scratch.

Another benefit is that people tend to remember stories instead of facts and figures.

Finally, using personal stories guarantees that you’ll be giving a talk that nobody has ever heard before!

Here’s an excellent guide that will help you write your first speech.


Plan on the lighting being lousy. Keep it very simple by creating slides with very light type on a very dark background.

Use large visual images instead of words whenever you can. If they are reading a slide, they’re not listening to you. Use slides to accentuate your talk, not tell your story.

Everybody hates bullet points.

If you have more than 10 words on a slide, that is probably too much. I’m not kidding.

A rule of thumb is that each slide in a deck averages about one minute of speaking time. Some are a little more, some a littl less, but it turns out to be a minute. So if you’re giving a 30 minute speech, you’ll need about 30 slides.

Here are some additional great ideas to punch up your presentation.


Before I give a new speech, I practice so much that I’m sick of it. That’s a good sign. At that point, I know it so well that I’m well-prepared for any situation (like a complete AV failure!)

If you don’t have time to rehearse, it is perfectly fine to have an outline or a few notecards for reference. Even author Malcolm Gladwell carries notes with him on the stage and he has given hundreds of speeches in his career.

An important benefit to rehearsing is timing. Nothing ruins a meeting more than a speaker running on for an hour when they had a 30-minute slot.


  • Know the audience. Talk to the organizer and learn as much as you can about the audience ahead of time,
  • Get clear on the AV situation. What size do your slides need to be? Will they have the right hook-ups for your computer? What kind of microphone?
  • Will you be introduced, or do you need to introduce yourself?
  • If it is an international audience, scour your talk and remove any words and phrases that might not be familiar to all.
  • Will the talk be recorded? If yes, how will it be used (and can you get a copy)?
  • Get precise times, places, and mobile phone numbers in case something goes wrong.
  • Great advice on how to start a speech.


Begin your speech with something polite or funny that acknowledges your audience or the city where you’re speaking. This breaks the ice and also give you a chance to warm up. I’ve found that the first two minutes are the hardest. Memorize the first two minutes of your talk to build your momentum.

Have a drink of water on stage. If you feel your throat tightening from nerves, pause and take a sip of water.

Remember that the audience is pulling for you. You’re there for a reason and they want to learn from you and believe in you. You belong there. You deserve to be there.

Go for it

I know giving your first speech might be nerve-wracking, but it can also be a lot of fun. I want to encourage you to dive in and give it a try.

Your first talk will probably be the most difficult one. Like anything in this world, you’ll get better over time. Keep going, keep practicing, and you’ll get more confident each time.

Mark Schaefer is the chief blogger for {grow}, executive director of Schaefer Marketing Solutions, and the author of several best-selling digital marketing books. He is an acclaimed keynote speaker, college educator, and business consultant. The Marketing Companion podcast is among the top business podcasts in the world. Contact Mark to have him speak to your company event or conference soon.

Illustration — That’s me at Social Media Marketing World

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Originally published at on November 26, 2018.

Keynote speaker, strategy consultant, Rutgers University marketing faculty and author of 9 books including KNOWN, Marketing Rebellion, and Cumulative Advantage.