Inspiration matters
Lawrence Lessig's last "Free Culture" presentation

Sir Ken Robinson on public speaking

Sir_ken_robinson About two years ago I discovered Sir Ken Robinson; I have talked about him many times here before. His ideas on creativity and education—and his own personal presentation style—are truly an inspiration for me. This week I found several podcasts featuring Sir Ken Robinson and I ate them up. He has such great content and an engaging style. On one of the podcasts (this one with IMNO) I found that he actually spoke briefly on the issue of public speaking and presentation. The podcast audio quality for this one is extremely poor, so I do not suggest you listen to it (there are others I link to at the bottom of this post). However, below I summarize some of the key points he made while spending 3-4 minutes talking about the importance of public speaking. Here's my summary of his tips with my own comments added:

(1) Remember you are speaking to individuals not an abstract group. The size of the audience does not matter, says Robinson; remember that you are always speaking to individuals. So speak as naturally to a large audience as you would to a small group.

(2) Be as relaxed as possible. People will feel relaxed if you are relaxed, so be as relaxed as possible right from the start to put the audience at ease. Seems like a small thing, but actually it is huge.

Sir_ken_stage (3) Be conversational and make a connection with the room. But also keep the energy high. Being relaxed and natural and conversational does not mean that your energy as a presenter is the same as when you are chatting with friends in a cafe. Robinson says that he gets a lot of energy from the audience so the connection is very important. If you have the connection and the energy (which is cyclical) then your impact, your message is more effective.

(4) Know your material. OK, this may seem a wee bit obvious, but why then do so many people use detailed notes? Partly it's due to nervousness or convention and habit, but often it's because people are really not fully prepared to be talking on the topic yet. If you really know your material well then you should not need much more than a few bullet points on paper to remind you of the structure. Robinson says he thinks long and hard about his talk and writes down a few key bullet points on paper (not on screen). (I think a mind-map on a piece of paper can also be a useful reminder and a road map for you; I sometimes use these). Robinson never has extensive notes, just bullet points. If you know your material then you will be relaxed. If you don't, you'll seem nervous and this makes the audience nervous or uncomfortable.

Sir_ken (5) Prepare, but don't rehearse (think and plan ahead instead). There is nothing wrong with rehearsal, of course. Different people have different methods for preparing. But the danger in rehearsal is that it is possible to seem too rehearsed when you present. That is, we may seem too perfect, too inflexible, too unnatural, and though technically perfect, we may lose the ever important natural connection with the audience. And I say if there is no connection, there is no communication.

Jazz_slide_ken_2 (6) Leave room for improvisation. "I always think of public speaking as being a bit like jazz or the blues," says Sir Ken. He says that he does not always necessarily know exactly what he is going to say, but he believes in stories and his presentation—like a jazz musician—is telling a story and he is taking people someplace. Yes, he has ideas in mind before he takes to the stage, but like a musician he feels free to improvise. This is actually more natural and more flexible and enables him to engage more with each unique audience. (Click slide for larger size.)

Sir Ken Robinson also believes in humor. Humor is important for stimulating creativity he often says. And humor is good for getting people engaged with you and your message."If they're laughing then they're listening," he says.

Can't get enough of Sir Ken Robinson?
Watch this classic TED presentation from 2006 (or watch here) and checkout the podcast interviews with Sir Ken Robinson below. Really good stuff.

Interview with Sir Ken Robinson by Susan Bratton on Personal Life Media
Sir Ken Robinson interview on innovation on Phorecast
Interview with Sir Ken Robinson focussing on social media on Media Snackers
Out of Our Minds: Learning to be Creative (book by Sir Ken Robinson)


Ali Servet Dönmez

Missing references to other talks?


As someone who knows Sir Ken and has had the privilege of speaking on the same stage as him (luckily not straight after - you definitely don't want to be following him), he has a engaging 'old school' style... number 5 & 6 are the biggest takeaways for me!

Thanks for the link love as well to our podcast we did with him, Gary - much appreciated.


MediaSnackers Founder

Seth Daire

I majored in Speech Communication in college, and I was taught to rehearse if possible, but mainly to know the material, so that I could just go up with a card that had bullet points, which also tends to make it more conversational. So, what Ken says lines up really well with that.

Michael Sporer

I really enjoy Sir Ken! I've watched his TED talk several times. And I just love his conversational style as it is very engaging.

Charles Martineau

The first time I heard about Sir Ken was at your presentation in osaka...we saw clip only but I remember going back at the dorm and listen to its ted speech and I got hooked to TED like crazy since thx again for showing me Sir Ken!

**FYI... lately at school I am doing more and more prez for incoming student to school and I also organizing a conference..its worth it to learn great prez skills from you!**

Ali Servet Dönmez

Quote: "checkout the podcast interviews with Sir Ken Robinson below". Below where?

brian halligan

Thank you for exposing me to Sir Ken -- he is brilliant!

Btw, I think it is an unfair competitive advantage when you have a British accent. Sorry, people with British accents just sound smarter to Americans.

simonr - Curved Vision Presentations

Ali..... British accent? We don't have the accent.... Americans do! :)

Mitch Joel - Twist Image

I just spoke on the same stage as Sir Ken Robinson last week in New York City. This was my first time seeing him live, in person. I was so blown away by his TED Talk, that I cold not wait to see him live, and he does not disappoint.

His comfort level and knowledge of who was in the crowd was spot-on. He spoke for well over an hour, and had the audience on the edge of their seat for the full time.

He is a treasure. See him live if you can.

get money

Great to see you still blogging- enjoyed going through the last year’ s archives that I’ d missed!

public speaking myths

he really a nice man, a great adviser. I remember the first time i saw him i was so shock with the way he talk.

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been saved. Comments are moderated and will not appear until approved by the author. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Comments are moderated, and will not appear until the author has approved them.

Your Information

(Name and email address are required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)