"Speaking Bad": Eight Tips from "Breaking Bad"

My daughter Alex had been raving about Breaking Bad for months. “Dad, you have to watch this show; it’s the best series I’ve ever seen,” she kept telling me.

Breaking Bad

These days, I don’t watch much television—one evening a week at most—and I’m not keen on getting invested in a series. But when Alex came home for Christmas, she asked me to watch the first couple of episodes with her and I was hooked. Breaking Bad has become one of my favourite series of all time. The plot, the character development, the wry humour and the sheer number of “Oh shit!” moments are incredible.

As I am always looking for different ways to come up with lessons on public speaking and presentations, I thought, why not have a little fun with Breaking Bad?

Caveat: This post would run far too long if I had to explain every situation below in detail, so I will assume that readers are familiar with the show and the characters.

Warning: If you have not seen the show and are planning to watch, this post contains spoilers. Proceed with caution!

With all the above in mind, here are eight “Speaking Bad” tips from Breaking Bad.

No. 1 – Your Introduction

If someone is going to introduce you, write out the introduction for him. That way, you can have them focus on aspects of your background that you would like to highlight for your audience. But don’t stop there. Meet with the person who will introduce you. Make sure that everything is clear and that he can pronounce any complicated or unusual words properly. Most of all, make sure that he can say your name properly. 

No. 2 – The Power Pause

When you take the stage, don’t feel that you have to speak right away. Instead, pause and let the audience settle. Make eye contact and let the silence linger a bit. Doing so will give your opening words more of an impact. As James Humes says in Speak like Churchill, Stand like Lincoln, “Stand, stare and command your audience, and they will bend their ears to listen.”

No. 3 – Do something unexpected

Being unexpected is a great way to make your message stick. Whether it’s a story with a twist at the end or an unusual demonstration, people will be more likely to remember your presentation if it contains something they didn’t expect.

No. 4 – Energy and Enthusiasm

When your energy is up, the audience’s energy is up. Put a little emotion into your talk.

No. 5 – Ask for help if you need it

Sometimes, despite our best efforts to prepare, things go wrong. The computer dies, the microphone doesn’t work, you forget a key piece of logistical equipment. If you can’t fix it quickly by yourself, don’t try to be a hero. Ask for help.

No. 6 – Always remain calm

When things go wrong—and if you do enough speaking, there will be times when they do—you have to maintain your composure. After all, you are the one on stage.

No. 7 – Ask for fair compensation

Giving a speech or presentation, and giving it well, takes a lot of effort. The audience sees you on stage but they never see the preparation that went into making it a good speech. You should be compensated fairly. Of course, there are times when speaking for free is appropriate: business development; a worthy cause; seeking experience; etc. However, if you are going to get paid, ask a fair amount. Just don’t go overboard.

No. 8 – Get feedback

Seek feedback from those who saw your presentation so that you can learn and improve.

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  1. Thank you for this post John.
    I agree, an amazing and engaging (very long) series!
    I got 100% hooked too.

    And your analogies using the scenes are priceless, awesome!


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John delivered a keynote address about the importance of public speaking to 80 senior members of Gore’s Medical Device Europe team at an important sales event. He was informative, engaging and inspirational. Everyone was motivated to improve their public speaking skills. Following his keynote, John has led public speaking workshops for Gore in Barcelona and Munich. He is an outstanding speaker who thinks carefully about the needs of his audience well before he steps on stage.

Karsta Goetze

TA Leader, Gore and Associates

I first got in touch with John while preparing to speak at TED Global about my work on ProtonMail. John helped me to sharpen the presentation and get on point faster, making the talk more focused and impactful. My speech was very well received, has since reached almost 1.8 million people and was successful in explaining a complex subject (email encryption) to a general audience.

Andy Yen

CEO, Proton Technologies

John gave the opening keynote on the second day of our unit’s recent offsite in Geneva, addressing an audience of 100+ attendees with a wealth of tips and techniques to deliver powerful, memorable presentations. I applied some of these techniques the very next week in an internal presentation, and I’ve been asked to give that presentation again to senior management, which has NEVER happened before. John is one of the greatest speakers I know and I can recommend his services without reservation.

David Lindelöf

Senior Data Scientist, Expedia Group

After a morning of team building activities using improvisation as the conduit, John came on stage to close the staff event which was organised in Chamonix, France. His energy and presence were immediately felt by all the members of staff. The work put into the preparation of his speech was evident and by sharing some his own stories, he was able to conduct a closing inspirational speech which was relevant, powerful and impactful for all at IRU. The whole team left feeling engaged and motivated to tackle the 2019 objectives ahead. Thank you, John.

Umberto de Pretto

Secretary General, World Road Transport Organization

I was expecting a few speaking tips and tricks and a few fun exercises, but you went above and beyond – and sideways. You taught me to stand tall. You taught me to anchor myself. You taught me to breathe. You taught me to open up. You taught me to look people in the eye. You taught me to tell the truth. You taught me to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes. I got more than I bargained for in the best possible way.

Thuy Khoc-Bilon

World Cancer Day Campaign Manager, Union for International Cancer Control

John gave a brilliant presentation on public speaking during the UN EMERGE programme in Geneva (a two days workshop on leadership development for a group of female staff members working in the UN organizations in Geneva). His talk was inspirational and practical, thanks to the many techniques and tips he shared with the audience. His teaching can dramatically change our public speaking performance and enable us as presenters to have a real and powerful impact. Thank you, John, for your great contribution!

Sara Canna

HR Specialist, World Health Organization

John is a genuine communication innovator. His seminars on gamification of public speaking learning and his interactive Rhetoric game at our conference set the tone for change and improvement in our organisation. The quality of his input, the impact he made with his audience and his effortlessly engaging style made it easy to get on board with his core messages and won over some delegates who were extremely skeptical as to the efficacy of games for learning. I simply cannot recommend him highly enough.

Thomas Scott

National Education Director, Association of Speakers Clubs UK

John joined our Global Sales Meeting in Segovia, Spain and we all participated in his "Improv(e) your Work!" session. I say “all” because it really was all interactive, participatory, learning and enjoyable. The session surprised everybody and was a fresh-air activity that brought a lot of self-reflection and insights to improve trust and confidence in each other inside our team. It´s all about communication and a good manner of speaking!"

Jon Lopez

General Manager Europe, Hayward Industries

Thank you very much for the excellent presentation skills session. The feedback I received was very positive. Everyone enjoyed the good mix of listening to your speech, co-developing a concrete take-away and the personal learning experience. We all feel more devoted to the task ahead, more able to succeed and an elevated team spirit. Delivering this in a short time, both in session and in preparation, is outstanding!

Henning Dehler

CFO European Dairy Supply Chain & Operations, Danone

Thanks to John’s excellent workshop, I have learned many important tips and techniques to become an effective public speaker. John is a fantastic speaker and teacher, with extensive knowledge of the field. His workshop was a great experience and has proven extremely useful for me in my professional and personal life.

Eric Thuillard

Senior Sales Manager, Sunrise Communications

John’s presentation skills training was a terrific investment of my time. I increased my skills in this important area and feel more comfortable when speaking to an audience. John provided the right mix between theory and practice.

Diego Brait

Director of the Jura Region, BKW Energie AG

Be BOLD. Those two words got stuck in my head and in the heads of all those ADP leaders and associates that had the privilege to see John on stage. He was our keynote speaker at our annual convention in Barcelona, and his message still remains! John puts his heart in every word. Few speakers are so credible, humble and yet super strong with large audiences!

Guadalupe Garcia

Senior Director and Talent Partner, ADP International