I’ve been working on my keynote speaking for about 15 years. I’m not a master (yet), but that’s not for lack of effort. I’ve read books and had coaches, and I pepper great speakers with questions whenever I can.


After a while the advice starts repeating itself: the first five seconds matter most; open your arms to show you’re confident; be passionate then suddenly crash down to a whisper (“drop the mic” as one coach called it).

But there is one piece of advice that delivered a leap in my speech effectiveness that I have only heard spoken about once: about five minutes into your speech, give them the “sizzle.”

So you warm up with something personal so they can relate to you, then you connect with your passion (how you came across the idea you are speaking about), then you tell them about how you researched this idea and elevate the conversation suddenly beyond their comprehension. You tell them something they cannot quiet grasp. Show them a mass of numbers, coding of the 100s of interviews you have done, or a complex calculation.

You will lose the audience for a moment. In their confusion they will think, “Wow, this person really knows their stuff.”

Then you come back down to their level and talk in language they can grasp. People will think, “I have no idea what the speaker did, but I’m glad they’re now explaining it to me.” It creates a sense that the information you are delivering is cutting edge and being delivered from an authority.

Give them the “sizzle.”

For years I showed a chart mapping more than 100 companies against 36 strategic concepts that form the root of my work. The font of the 100 X 36 matrix, filled with check marks, is too small to read. But it sort of says, “If you want to challenge me, you will have to dig deep into this analysis. I did the analysis, not you. While you were working on whatever you were working on, I spent weeks at my desk thinking about this one thing. I know this better than anyone else.”

Last night I took a train from New Jersey to Baltimore where I tested out a new “sizzle” chart. I drew from my dissertation and mapped a timeline of when each major strategic concept emerged. Starting with the first mention of strategy – “strategos” was used in 700 BC to describe the Greek politician responsible for gathering resources to fight a war – leading through to today.

The sizzle chart worked beautifully. The audience sat in silent awe, not at me but at the work. They were left thinking, “I thought I knew what strategy was but now I realize that I only really knew one part, and I’m glad this expert is now going to explain the most relevant parts to me.” If you then follow by taking an open, caring stance rather than the unhelpful “I’m smarter than you” one that many speakers bring to the stage, they will want more and more of you.

After the session the CEO invited me to work with his senior team and help them define their corporate strategy, in preparation for a critical board meeting.

If you want to established your authority, mesmerize your audience, and move them quickly beyond questioning your expertise to querying it, five minutes in give them your “sizzle.”