How To Rock Your SMX East Presentation


It’s time for a talk.

SMX East hits New York City on Monday. You know the drill. Rhea and Rae will be in town to speak, I’ll be providing liveblogging coverage, and marketers will swarm the city to attend one of the premier SEO conferences in the world. The event will be filled with influencers, connections and media coverage. That means if you’re a speaker at the show, now would be a really, really bad time to screw it up. I mean, think about how disastrous it would be if you choked. On stage. In front of everyone! Can you imagine the snarky tweets coming from jerks like me?


Relax. You’re going to be fine. We’ll do this together.

As a veteran liveblogger, you’d be hard pressed to find someone who has sat through more speaker presentations than me (Barry Schwartz may have me beat). For proof, check out our Internet Marketing Conferences blog category that is filled with nearly 200 different session recaps – which doesn’t even include the hundreds of sessions I’ve attended for other search marketing companies or the three conferences we’ll cover over the next few weeks.

I am a conference session expert. I know what works, what connects, and the tell-tale signs that you finished your presentation on your way to the session room. If you’ll be speaking at SMX East (or any other conference) here are some tips to help you rock it and look like a conference speaker superhero.

Structure your presentation

While talking off your hip is great, it makes it hard for other people to follow along when there’s little rhyme or reason to how you’re presenting information. To avoid this, create a solid structure for the material you’re presenting. First, think about your topic. If you’re giving a 12 minutes presentation on real-time SEO, what are the 3-4 things you want to get across to the audience? What are your big takeaways or benefits? Write those down. Once you have them, place them into your presentation like scenes in a play and structure your supporting information around them. By creating a structure around each of your benefits, you give audience members an arc they can follow along with. It’s the difference between looking out into the audience and seeing heads bobbing along with you or looking out and seeing confused faces. Or snoring.

Finish your presentation before you get to NYC

Hi, yes, I’m talking to you. I know people think it’s cool to publicly announce that you’re still working on your presentation five minutes before you’re schedule to deliver it, but I personally find it pretty disrespectful. People spend a lot of money to attend these events. Respect them and don’t be “that guy”. To rock your presentation, you need to have it in your head before you land in NYC. And that means having it finished before you get there. Preferably while you’re still sober.

Relate to people with stories

If you want people to connect with the information you’re giving them, create a story around it. Don’t just spit out data, facts and best practices, craft it into a cohesive tale that the audience can understand and share. For example, Matt Bailey is one of my favorite conference speakers. For awhile, Matt would talk about Web analytics with the help of Captain Kirk. Even though I’ve never seen a single episode of Star Trek, the story he created made it easy for me to follow along with. Creating stories takes a bit of practice, but it’s a great way to help people retain information and connect. Penelope Trunk wrote a post a few years back about how to be memorable by telling good stories about yourself. She discusses many of the “hooks” that you can use to do it. It’s worth a read if you’re not familiar with storytelling. It applies not just to public speaking, but to the rest of your business, as well.

Limit the number of slides you use

Okay, really, enough with the 87 slides that you have to get through in five minutes. I understand that you want to get across as much information as you can, but if you’re stuffing your presentation with so much data that you don’t have TIME to discuss it, what’s the point? Instead focus on your real audience benefits and using your time to create memorable stories. PowerPoint slides are so five days ago anyway. In the era of social media, we just talk.

Be yourself

Nerves can make people do some pretty ridiculous things – like take on personality traits they don’t actually have. And while it’s okay to create a character, you also have to be yourself. If you’re not naturally funny, don’t try to be funny in your presentation. If you don’t listen to rap music, don’t try to and mimic Chris Winfield and start quoting Eminem or Jay-Z (I get all my best rap quotes from following Chris, BTW.). When you’re up on stage, be confident that people are there to hear you speak and that we’re all on the same level. It doesn’t matter if people have more or less experience than you; we’re all there to learn. So just be yourself. And, really, you’re speaking to a room of geeks. Many of these people have no human contact OUTSIDE of conferences. You don’t have to try so hard. They’re just excited to be outside and dressed.

Smile & make eye contact

No matter how nervous, busy or flustered you are, smile and make eye contact with the people in the room. Doing so will change the way they perceive you and make them more open to listening to and trusting you. If you look so frantic that you’re grimacing, people are going to assume you’re a jerk. And they won’t listen to a word you say.

Respect the other presenters

So, I’m going to share a little secret. People can SEE you when you’re up on stage, even if you’re not speaking. I know, I know, it’s all very shocking. However, that means if you start rolling your eyes at someone while they’re at the podium, people can see you. If you start yawning or BBMing someone while another speaking is talking, people can see you. If you’re the moderator and you start scribbling on someone’s slides, people can see you. So maybe don’t do it and listen to what they’re saying instead. Also, be cautious of your time limit. If you have seven minutes to speak, keep your presentation within that time frame. When you go over you encroach on other people’s time (or an audience member’s bathroom break) and that’s royally uncool.

Those are my tips for how to deliver a memorable and rocking presentation while at SMX. What tips or war stories can you offer up?

Your Comments

  • Keri Morgret

    The one tip I’d add is to connect with the other panelists so you don’t end up repeating what someone else said, or skipping over half of your slides because they’ve already been covered.

    I covered a great session at SMX East last year where the moderator and panelists all coordinated in advance, everybody was on topic, and kept within time limits. It was a refreshing change from some of the other things I’ve seen/heard at conferences from speakers, including: “I don’t know why I’m on this panel” (and then proceeds to go 50% over the time allotted and speaks on a subject not related to the session).

    • Lisa Barone

      That’s actually an important tip. The more speakers talk to one another beforehand, the tighter the panel ends up being. It’s always a bit distressing when panelists show up never having had a conversation with one another and end up repeating everything the person before them said.

  • Jen Lopez

    I’m really loving this. :) I’d like to add one thing… if you’re speaking on a panel, as someone attending that panel I already assume you were chosen to speak because you have relevant experience on the topic at hand. Rather than spend 5 of your 10 minutes explaining who you are and why you’re on the panel, focus that precious time on giving out valuable information. If you add your URL & Twitter name to the bottom of every slide, believe me people will be looking you up.

    On a side note… I’m SUPER sad to not be going to SMX East this year. Waaah :(

  • Kieran

    REALLY know what you are talking about, bring actual case studies / results and bring something different / valuable to the table – could care less about everything else.

  • Matt Siltala

    Don’t forget one tip (well maybe two) give the live-blogger an uber-cool t-shirt & talk about places that make them reminisce :-)

    Awesome points here Lisa, no matter how long you have been doing this, awesome advice to not screw it up – thanks!

  • Alex Cohen

    Hi Lisa,

    This really made me smile: “They’re just excited to be outside and dressed.”

    Here are a few simple tips I’ve picked up from trial and error this year:
    – Put your personal/company info at the end.
    – Big visuals, NO bullets
    – Make sure key message “twitterable”
    – End with a slide of all of your contact information, but put your Twitter handle on every slide
    – Have your slides ready to download on your blog before your session and schedule a tweet to go out while you’re talking

    Some well placed humor never hurts either, especially as an ice breaker.

    If you come to my sessions, I would appreciate constructive feedback.


    • Keri Morgret


      I remember covering your presentation (I believe at SMX West), and thought you did a great job. You really did make the key message twitterable with your comment about adwords estimates belonging on the fiction best seller list (and apologize for not attributing that comment you to on my first tweet).

  • Alan Bleiweiss

    Thanks for writing this Lisa. My first speaker gig is on a panel at Blueglass in Florida in November. I’ve spoken in front of hundreds of business owners, but never directly in front of our peer community, so as much as I know my stuff, it’s still a bit intimidating.

    Okay, a lot intimidating.

    But now that I can just picture everyone in the audience naked, I think it will be a bit less. #WIN

    And now I have to go and revisit my preso – I finished it the day I was told I was on the panel. Which might have been a bit too soon. :-)

  • George Revutsky

    This may be sacrilegious for a conference presentation, but everyone does a Powerpoint Presentaton. Consider using a different format and creating a presentation in Prezi – its an awesome tool for telling the kind of stories Lisa’s talking about. I’ve been experimenting with it recently and it rocks.

  • Pat Strader

    Great post Lisa. Two really stand out. The # of slides and disrespecting other presenters by texting, eye rolling etc.. Both are annoying and serve as proof that some really think their opinions are the only ones which matter.

    I also agree that someone finishing a presentation 5 minutes beforehand, is a slap in the face to those that are attending.

    I would also like to add another tip for presenters… bribe live bloggers with candy. :-)

    Thanks for the tips, hope to see more put these in action with their decks.

  • Graeme Mac

    What you write at 4:30am after a Webmaster Radio party is not always as good you think it might be.