19 Things Great Speakers Do (With Hilarious Video Examples)

Great speakers have certain habits that you can often quickly replicate. (Note: All clips have been cut to just show the example)


Next month I’ll be leading a workshop on becoming a better and more engaging public speaker at the fantastic Leade.rs Conference in Paris. The man behind it Loic Le Meur (a great speaker himself) asked me to sum up what I feel makes a great speaker. There are certain techniques that I see over and over again in great talks. Here are 19 with video examples so you can see what I am on about and also quickly apply them to your own talks:

1- They tell stories they like to tell and make them relevant to their topic even though they may not seem relevant on first inspection, just like Ken Robinson does here in the world’s most viewed TED talk.

You can tell any story and connect it to your talk by making a generic opening statement like Jon Acuff does here or saying after “I told you that story because”…insert loose connecting reason.

2- They make sure these stories are concise and that they know how to best tell them just like Ernesto Sirolli does here:

and also like Shawn Ashor does here in his talk with over 15 million views. (More on how to tell a funny story here just in case Shawn and Ernesto left you inspired!)

3- They acknowledge the obvious just like Dave Eggers does here. If the audience is thinking it you get easy points for vocalising it.

4- They use add act out to bring stories to life just like Jon Acuff does here. Conversational interaction between two characters gives them the chance to bring the scene to life on stage and put the audience directly into the action. If you can do different voices or different accents or speak another language work it in. Unless you are really, really good at it, keep it simple. As a guiding principle, think family members before foreigners!

5- They up the laugh and engagement count by incorporating other peoples already socially proven funny content like Amy Cuddy does here:

6- They connect and interact with the audience just like Gary Vaynerchuk does here. They always ask folks to do something, rather than just ask the question. Eg, how many people here by round of applause/ or by raising your hand do…x. If they believe there is something funny in there they will chase the point long enough to get the reaction they want.

7- They use and consciously seek callback opportunities just like the person here running the Q&A does in Sarah Cooper’s talk. This can be done by watching the speakers before you and building on their laughter moments.

8- They use the rule of 3 and break the last element in the sequence for humor just like President Obama does here. Funny is apples, apples, oranges or 1,2 4. They look like they’re about to establish a pattern but then break it just when it’s about to become one.

9- They use images and exaggeration to bring the laughs just like President Obama does here

and Tim Urban on the TED main stage does here:

They are quite happy to let the content be what’s funny and engaging and steal the show just like Frans de Waal does here:

10- They flip expectations and delay key words until the sentence end to heighten impact just like Larry Smith does here in his TEDx talk. Keeping impact words at the end of sentences is a great way to make your timing look great and your words more impactful. Eg, “We have an 80% growth rate year on year” vs. “Year on year we have a growth rate of 80%” (gives you an enforced pause for effect).

11- They they ask themselves what’s the audience likely thinking
after each key point, story or statement and then try and vocalise these thoughts. Mary Roach does exactly that here and also combines it with giving the audience their cue to laugh by laughing herself. (If you watch her full talk you will see like Amy and Franz above she incorporates video content that is funny by itself).

12- They start strong just like Luis von Ahn does here to great effect:

13- They know their audience and tailor content and references to them just like at this Apple product demo here:

and John F. Kennedy does here:

14- They realize serious topics also need humor to allow the audience to release some tension just like Maysoon Zayid does here in her TED talk. Also a great example of breaking a sequence to get a laugh. Note 3 is the shortest sequence to break but it can be more as she shows here as long as it’s the last element that breaks the pattern.

15- The make the content relatable to the audience even if it seems far removed just like Mark Pollock does here. You will also note he uses the rule of 3, acknowledges the obvious and allows the tension to be released through humor as mentioned earlier.

Another great example of this here again from Maysoon Zayid:

16- The realise they need to control the ending and avoid finishing with a Q&A. More on how to do that here.

17- They never bring visible notes on stage with them and many use this technique to avoid ever going blank on stage.

18- They never go over their allocated time and go short before long. (Note: If you’re not confident in your ability to speak for 40 minutes plus, ask for less. How about I speak for 20 minutes and allocate 20 additional minutes for q&a? Conference organizers, often more focused on filling time slots then making you look good, will seldom rebuff this).

19- They see intrusions or unexpected events as items not to ignore but build into their talk. They also realise that when this happens the audience is on your side and they will wait longer than you think to see you do well! Here is a hilarious example of just that with a wait of a full 29 seconds!

To finish on a saucy note here is the ultimate mic drop from Breaking Bad Actor Bryan Kranston. Questions are always easy opportunities for humor. Maybe not quite this humor…but you get the idea:

These tips are very easy to implement and quickly make you stand out, as…well…how do we say this… most public speakers are boring ;). These ones certainly aren’t and with their techniques you won’t be either.

If you feel 19 tips was 61 too few you can get a free 80 tips guide here