Know yourself, know your audience.

4 Points to remember when giving a conference, talk or whatever in front of people.

Lets accept that the idea of public speaking sometimes can be a horrifying, with this said I have some information that might help you get through this experience or maybe just get better at it if you already do it often.

So… last November I was invited to give a conference at INCMonterrey: A festival for entrepreneurs, investors and all the stakeholders around the “startup” community in Latin America – expecting around 1,200 people (yes, scary as fuck considering it was my first “big” event) eager to learn about digital businesses, interactive media, investments, social entrepreneurship, nanotechnology, biotech and all that exciting “innovation” topics.

INC invited all of these inspiring world changing — TED talker characters such as Daymond John from Shark Tank fame; Phil Libin, founder of Evernote; Uri Levine, founder of the amazing Waze and people like me

But the thing I was most afraid of it was not the amount of people attending the event or the clothes I would wear that day or the epic topics other speakers would probably manage to offer at the same time as me, but about one simple thought:

What the hell will I talk about that will actually convince, help, add or be of interest to these people?

So I decided to throw away my doubts and just start; and after a 20 minute stare at a blank Google Drive document with hard (almost existential) questions to fill in the blank (given to me by the event organizers) like:

  1. Title and subtitle:(worst first question, never answer this first)
  2. Subject:
  3. In which entrepreneurship level are the people who might want to go to your talk: Basic, Intermediate or Advanced? (I don´t event know which one of these I am)
  4. Who are you? Add additional (and fascinating) information about yourself.
  5. Why would people want to go to your event?

And after not being able to answer any of this I just felt miserable, left my laptop, made myself a coffee thinking I should start by answering the first crucial question that hopefully will help me answer those 5 painful questions:


Before anything else, think about this: Who are you talking in front of? Why are they in this particular event? What drives them? What are their aspirations, dreams and needs? What language do they speak?Because it is not the same (as a designer) to talk to other designers or to talk to engineers ; and by language I mean the kind of slang I will use to empathize. Do not try to impress your audience by using complicated big words, use words / concepts any 15 year old will understand.

In my case this couple of questions were easy to answer because the certain thing about this event was that the people attending it (as I described them at the beginning) were all interested in the science of making / hacking or growing a business and all of them speak the “startup — technology” language. So after understanding this I answered myself another question:


After knowing to whom I was going to talk to, I immediately sat and just watched TED TALKS to understand what make them so awesome and to my surprise I bumped into one of them that actually gave you tips on how to make the most epic TEDTalk (or worst) according to topic, delivery, visuals, time or even words based on user ratings.

He said that selecting the topic is the most important thing considering how people will react to your talk, so here are the results of the ratings:

Screenshot of Sebastian Wernickle TedTalk

Screenshot of Sebastian Wernickle TedTalk

After this he explains that the top 10 words statistically speaking that make the best / worst TedTalks were the following:

Screenshot of Sebastian Wernickle TedTalk

Screenshot of Sebastian Wernickle TedTalk

And here is were the YOU part started to interest me. I felt overwhelmed of what topic to develop but then after watching Andrew Stanton (king of the art of storytelling) state that “storytelling is joke-telling” were you need to:

  1. Know your punch line.
  2. Know your final message.
  3. Make the part of the middle connect with the first and last punchline. And the middle should be one simple truth that makes you who you are as a human being.

Sometimes we tend to think that for being “interesting” you need to study a whole bunch of scientific, sophisticated words and content when at the end of the day what makes YOU really unique are your own life stories.

The beauty of sharing experiences and connecting through them are as Andrew Stanton said:

Stories can cross the barriers of time…

Stories are immortal, so fuck it, use your life as content… make people care, save them years of failing, crashing or losing. Share the good and the bad based on a topic. Facts based on experience and not a book. Books are for facts and quotes. Experience is content.


What (emotional and visual) experience will I want them to have when I am standing there in front of them?


So as a designer, I give a lot of thought to the visual part and how this affects my mood / attention while watching someone give a conference. Something that happens always more than often in the world of design events is that some studios or designers always tend to show their whole portfolio and no matter how amazing the work, renders or models are… the experience is boring as fuck.

Please just please stop showing what people can actually see in your webpage. Show what they can´t see, its about the personal, honest, non — edited part of your job / life that actually makes you interesting. Yes to the baby pictures, to the awful business plan, to the ridiculous sketch-model, to the horrible mockup app, to your wall full of papers and post its, to you and your team without makeup and hours of sleep. YESS TO ALL OF THAT because if you don´t show the real process, people wont understand where you or your project come from.

“Attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference.” 
― Winston S. Churchill

So, I hate to watch semi-gods on action unless I am watching an epic movie. Sometimes, speakers tend to act like if they are carved out of marble;Attitude I believe is actually the MOST important part of giving a conference. Be approachable, be simple, make eye contact, ask people in the public who they are and what they expect of your conference.

The expectation part is important because then you will have an advantage of transforming your speech strategically depending on what your audience wants.

Just interact, be nice, smile, because if you just stand there pretending to be a golden Oscar figure, trust me people wont connect, stop that, you guys are all the same and if people are there watching is because they are genuinely interested on what you have to say so make them feel like if they were on a coffee shop with you. Be open to questions in the middle of your speech, ask them if you are boring them, even sit or stand at the same level as your public is.

So yes, if you are going to prepare yourself for a talk in front of people answer yourself this 4 questions:

  1. Who is my audience?
  2. What set of experiences can I turn into knowledge?
  3. What Behind the Scenes content am I most ashamed of to actually show off?
  4. What attitude will I wear that day?

Get your shit together, you will be great.