You’re leading a strategy meeting next week. Your boss will be there. Your boss’ boss will be there. This is your chance to shine. You probably know your strategy inside and out, but how are your presentation skills?

A lot of really smart people are terrible at giving presentations, but it’s a critical skill for managing editors who want to sell their vision both inside and outside the organization. Luckily, it’s also a skill you can improve with intention and practice. Over the past few years, I’ve been practicing my own speaking skills by giving presentations to clients and then gradually speaking in front of bigger and bigger audiences. I’ve also been studying how the really great marketing speakers deliver their messages.

One of my favorites: Scott Stratten. If you’ve never seen him on stage at a marketing conference, you’re missing out. He’s funny and natural, and he always brings new stories and lessons that stick with you. I asked him to share his advice for becoming a better presenter.

How did you get started as a speaker?

I’ve always “spoke” and knew I wanted to be one since I was 12. While other kids wanted to be a doctor or astronaut, I saw Les Brown on TV and said, “You can do that for a living? I’m in!” I knew the “corporate” job would be a trainer and that was under the HR banner, so that’s the route I took.

I ended up eventually being a sales trainer for a packaging company until I realized “entrepreneur” is Latin for “bad employee,” and went out and formed UnMarketing. When I launched the UnMarketing book in 2010, I did a 30-city speaking tour over 10 weeks to support it, and I haven’t stopped speaking since. I’ve given just under 400 keynote talks since.

What were the mistakes you made early on? How did you get better?

I’ve always been confident in my speaking skills, but confidence can easily slip into arrogance. I tended to slip into this mode like I couldn’t learn anything else, and that’s when you truly stop growing. Everyone can incrementally improve.

Watching yourself on video after talks allows you to pick up on things you may not realize you were doing. Early on I used to wipe my nose with my thumb and index finger, for no reason. It was a habit. I had no idea I was doing it, and once I realized it I stopped.

Also, having a trusted small circle of fellow speakers is invaluable. Honest feedback helps us all — just be careful of the unsolicited kind.

Most people are pretty bad at talking in front of a group, even if it’s just in a conference call or an internal meeting. How can people make their presentations better?

  • Remember: It’s not about you. Most people get up there and think they’re the center of attention, when it’s actually the content that people want. Nobody is hoping you screw up — and, frankly, nobody really cares. You’re up there for a reason. Give them what they want.
  • For the love of all that’s holy, please make your PowerPoint about certain points. It’s not supposed to be all the words up on the screen and you read them. I get that it makes for robust handouts, but it’s a waste of time to watch you read each word on the screen. Also, if you have bullet points, I’m begging you to limit them to a few per slide, introduce them one at a time and only have a few words on each.
  • Don’t try to be funny if you’re not. Nobody needs to hear a joke. Off-color humor is just that, off-color, and if the only people who laugh at your jokes are people who report to you, you have a paid audience — not a good indication that you’re hitting the real funny bone.

Thanks, Scott! To learn more from Scott, subscribe to The UnPodcast: The Business Podcast For the Fed-Up.