How to Turn a Bad Presentation Into a Good One

How to improve a bad presentation: Tell stories, offer a simple message, show pictures, offer takeaways, and make people laugh. That’s all.

For three weeks, I had been working on a new presentation: New stories, new message, new visuals, new format, new jokes… everything was new. Even my hair was new. The idea was to reinvent myself as a public speaker. Raising the bar!

Two days before the Optional Conference in Budapest, I had finished the texts and visuals and I started rehearsing. I memorized, practiced, polished and repeated the same texts a great number of times, until I realized–with growing anxiety–that the whole talk was veering off in the wrong direction.


  • First, my talk was far too big! I measured almost one and a half hour for a keynote session that was supposed to be just 45 minutes.
  • Second, the content didn’t fit the description! I had allowed myself to go in a direction that didn’t match my own keynote summary.
  • Third, the material had become too abstract! I pride myself on offering concrete practices, but I wasn’t doing much of that in this new talk.

It was the night before the event. Almost bedtime. And I knew I had to rework the whole thing. This was not how I wanted to reinvent myself.


And so I changed it. The next morning I spent an hour changing almost the entire presentation. I kept some of the new stories I had written, threw away most of the new slides, copied more concrete practices from an older presentation, and wrapped up the revised talk so that the conclusion matched the original description.

The presentation ended up being one of the ugliest quick-and-dirty hacks I have ever made. No consistency of the visuals, too many fonts, different sizes of slides, and a video that didn’t work.

But did the audience mind?


“Refreshing talk – loved it.”
“Best presentation of the conference.”
“In the top 5 talks ever.”

The experience made me realize it’s really not that difficult to be a decent public speaker. Just make sure you do these things:

  1. Tell some honest, inspiring stories, preferably your own.
  2. Begin and end with one simple message that makes sense.
  3. Show pictures or nothing, but skip all text and bullet points.
  4. Offer plenty of takeaways; stuff they can do tomorrow.
  5. Make people laugh, a lot.

As long as your talk satisfies these acceptance criteria, nobody will care that there’s glue and duct tape all over it.

Is there anything I should add to this list of five?

  • Best Happiness Books #InternationalDayOfHappiness
  • How to Be More Productive: The Chunking Technique
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  • DisqusThisAgain

    I would recommend replacing Thing # 5 with “See Thing #1.” Not everyone can be funny. But everyone can be honest.

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  • Joss

    The talk was good, but felt a lot less polished than the talk you did 1 year before “how to change the world”, but I assumed this was because you said you’d been ill before and that it was a new talk which you were still getting used to presenting. I liked the simple approach at the start where you talked with just the small logo projected: it helped to focus on you and the story.

    The talk introduced several topics in your new book which were definitely interesting for people. However, I did find things like merit money and salary formula being a bit out of range for many people to link to the “Manage yourself” title.

    I liked that you were very open to audience questions which was not so much the case for the other “big name” speakers at the conference.

  • Martin Burns

    SIMPLIFY (you did this)
    Divide your slides into 3 piles:
    1) slides that are essential to make your main point
    2) supporting slides that are essential to understand your main point
    3) self indulgent crap. This will be the biggest pile.
    Throw away pile (3)

    Professionals rehearse. Amateurs don’t.

    Audience inner monologue goes: “what’s in it for MEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE” so loud that they really don’t hear anything else. With a possible exception for speeches at a wedding.

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