By Michael Baldwin

On the topic of speaking and presenting, there is one thing everyone should know: Nothing will accelerate your career faster than developing your ability to communicate.

It is an art … and the more you do it, the more you work at it, the better and the more comfortable you will become with it. And then it just becomes a blast.

Here are some fundamentals:

  • Build your argument all the way to checkmate.
    Just like the best Supreme Court oral arguments, you want to build your case, point by point, and lead up to checkmate — an end point that makes your POV the obvious one. Index cards are unsurpassed as the ideal way to do this (the precursor to PowerPoint, after all) with one point per card; a simple way to collect and organize your thoughts. A random collection of points has nowhere near the impact, or power to close deals, as does a logical flow of points that build to an inescapable conclusion.
  • Know your audience.
    It is the universal starting point for presentations, even rehearsal dinner toasts; so fundamental and yet so often overlooked. Knowing as much as you can about your audience. You want to know how what you are going to say will affect your audience’s biases on your topic. That’s how you are able to anticipate resistance and preempt objections.
  • Be crystal clear about your objective.
    Without a single extra word, be able to articulate your objective in one simple phrase. It sounds simple until you sit down to do it and you discover that it isn’t crystal clear in your own head. It must be simple, single-minded, and everything you say or do must be in service of that objective, or you don’t include it.
  • Be totally connected: to what you are saying and to whom you are saying it.
    Nothing persuades like the passion of conviction. And nothing works harder against you than any hint you are phoning it in. Understand the stakes personally; know why the outcome is so important to you personally, and let the other party feel it too. Genuine contact, eye-to-eye, is the only way to make a meaningful connection with someone, and the only way to transfer real conviction in a visceral, human way. It is also the only way to get real-time feedback on how the audience is reacting to what you are saying.
  • Read the room non-stop.
    It’s called “active listening” in the world of acting, and it’s what differentiates the great speakers: reading the faces and body language of the people in the room, non-stop. Be on the lookout for expressions or body language that feels like someone is confused, uncomfortable, or lost. And, don’t be afraid to press pause, to stop and ask someone if there’s a problem or a question that needs to be asked. It’s how you make it clear to an audience that you are paying attention to them.


Michael Baldwin is a leader in the communications industry, with over 25 years of experience in building global brands.  His clients include Dow Jones, Forbes, NYU, Ogilvy & Mather, The New York Times, and Ralph Lauren, among others. He is the author of Just Add Water, Inkshares (2015).