How to Prepare: a Checklist For Great Talks

To help celebrate the recent release of the paperback edition of Confessions of a Public Speaker, as well as it’s 100th review on, here’s a checklist you can use to help make sure things go well at your next presentation.

You can download a nice printable PDF of the checklist:


Before the event

  • Questions to ask to prepare:
    • Who is the audience? Why are they coming?
    • Can organizer provide demographics?
    • Can you look at last year’s programs? Were there reviews of the event on blogs?
    • What are other speakers speaking about?
  • Will this be a keynote lecture (more scripted) or small (more interactive)?
  • Create a list of questions audience will want answered in the talk
  • Prioritize the list and sketch out stories / ideas / points
  • Budget at least 10x time to prepare ( 1 hour talk will take roughly 10 hours of preparation)
  • Develop ten minutes of rough draft material
  • Practice the ten minutes. Do not procrastinate.
  • Revise material when it doesn’t work, then practice again from beginning. Repeat as necessary. (See Chapter 5 of Confessions for a full description of how I prepare)
  • Do a test run in front of people who will give honest feedback (Or videotape and watch).
  • Practice with a clock with goal to end reliably with an extra 5 minutes.
  • Ask for emergency contact cell phone#, give organizer yours
  • Get directions to the venue, including office-park insanity, and within building insanity
  • If appropriate, post slides to web, include URL at end of talk

Leaving for the event

  • Get an hour of exercise that morning or night before.
  • Check laptop: do you have all cables? Is it working fine? Are slides on it? Battery charged?
  • Bring backup slides on flash drive / Extra-backup online somewhere / Print back-up of slides
  • Bring remote control: Check battery
  • Shower, shave, prune, scrub, brush, deodorize
  • Ensure you avoid all avoidable stress (get there early no matter what)

At the event

  • Register and let organizer know you’ve arrived (txt message if necessary)
  • Find your room and watch another speaker speak in it. Notice anything?
  • If time allows, mingle and meet people who might be in your audience
  • Return to room to catch (at least) tail end of last speaker before you – maximize time to set up.
  • Get laptop hooked up to projector immediately. Most problems occur here.
  • Find tech person, or call organizer – you’ll need their help to get microphone set up, or to deal with any tech issues.
  • Test remote. Test any fancy videos or fancy anything.
  • Walk the stage. Get your body comfortable with the room. Run through your first few slides or minutes and ask someone to look at you, your clothes, and your slides to flag any issues.
  • Make sure you have a glass of water or preferred beverage at the lectern.
  • Sit in the back row for a few seconds, and imagine yourself on stage.  Also check that the text on your slides is readable from back there.
  • Relax. You’re prepared and all set. Nothing left to do. Nothing you do now will change anything. Either you prepared well or you didn’t. Enjoy the ride.
  • If needed, distract yourself by going for a walk or other physical activity

After the event

  • If a speaker follows you in the room, get out of their way so they can get set up
  • Make yourself visible so people can find you to ask questions about your talk
  • Write questions from attendees on their business cards so you can answer in email later
  • Post slides online or to slideshare if appropriate
  • Email people who gave you their cards, answering their questions
  • Thank the organizer and ask for any feedback (positive/negative)
  • If your talk was videotaped, ask for a copy so you can watch and improve.
  • Have a beer

If you’re a frequent speaker, what else would you add? What might you remove? (Keep in mind, good checklists are short and smart)

Like this advice? There’s much more:

Read the national bestseller, with behind-the-scenes tales from the life of a successful public speaker, teaching you the inside view of how to be a great communicator. Recommended by the Wall Street Journal, Lifehacker, Wired and other media.  Buy on Amazon Read a free chapter


27 Responses to “How to Prepare: a Checklist For Great Talks”

  1. Jack Dempsey

    I’ve decided 2011 is the year when I take a lot of the great personal conversations I find myself in and start sharing them on a bigger scale.

    That means getting better at this stuff…and another read of CoaPS…and maybe one more after that.

    This list is great. Thank you.

  2. Brian Teeman

    “Sit in the back row for a few seconds, and imagine yourself on stage. Also check that the text on your slides is readable from back there.”

    Isn’t it a bit late for that

    1. Scott Berkun

      It’s not too late if you are there early. You may at least have time to fix it for critical slides, like the slide with your contact info on it.

  3. Anita Fenton

    What do you think the maximum length of time should be for a speaker to ‘hold court?’

    I think 45 minutes max but others are scheduling an hour…

    1. Britta Wenske

      Hi Anita, according to latest studies the optimal speaking time is 20 minutes. IF it is longer you need to pay attention to the 10-minute-rule: Change your audiences state every 10 minutes. Have them do something, show them something etc.

  4. derric

    If I am speaking from a paper manuscript, to avoid getting lost in my document or losing the audience by burying myself in the manuscript or lecture, I always format it the following way:

    1) Text in 14 pt font or larger
    2) At least double spaced (as my eyes get older I’ve taken to triple spacing)
    3) Page #’s printed in 18 pt and BOLD at the bottom center of each page (and I usually take a highlighter to them after that)
    4) I leave 1/4 – 1/3 white space at the bottom of each page to avoid looking too far down and losing eye contact
    5) I fold all the right corners down to facilitate ease of page movement.

    I generally bring two copies, just in case. And, finally, I never staple the manuscript–I personally find it very distracting and unprofessional to watch someone fold a page under while speaking.

  5. Nitin Bisht

    Have a beer …:) at the end you do it..

  6. Gordon Sheppard

    Thanks so much for this detailed checklist! I especially appreciate the heads-up about preparation time (10X – which will allow me to deliver an outstanding presentation!)



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