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Mike Kilcoyne – Lie, Cheat, Steal: How I Give A Talk

Mike Kilcoyne was one of the presenters at Ignite Denver #19 in February. This post is a cross-post from his personal blog.


Recently, I spoke at Ignite Denver 19, an incredible event hosted by even more incredible people that consisted of a bunch of quick, snappy (and often hilarious) five minute talks. It was awesome. Here’s what I learned.

Ever since I hit puberty, people have suggested to me, you should do radio with that voice! (I get it, I have a face for radio.)

Never once has anyone said to me, you should speak in front of people about your ideas! (I didn’t get the hint, obviously.)

So for the past year or so, any opportunity I’ve gotten to put together a speech or talk or presentation, I’ve taken. It’s been a totally selfish endeavor, but it’s an interesting way to test out messages to different audiences, and to tell cool stories.

That includes: Eulogies like this, pitching ideas at work, trying to sell people on some organization I’ve been working with for just a week, announcing my name during an ice-breaker or presenting a unique interpretation of a section of the Torah at my local synagogue (that one was interesting). For me, these are speaking opportunities — tiny moments in the hot-ass sun, if you will.

Really, any chance I get to speak in front of more than a few people with their attention centered solely on me is a speaking gig. (And it’s a wonderful opportunity to stroke my own ego.)

And when it comes to talks — presenting a cool idea to a large audience — I’ve learned an incredible recipe for success: lie, cheat and steal. That’s it. Here’s how:


The first thing I do to completely disarm my audience is completely lie about my credentials.

I tell them I’m an incompetent buffoon (false, kinda) who: barely graduated from college (true), doesn’t know what a PHD is (false) and was never published in any sort of academic journal (also true) and am therefore completely unqualified to discuss what I’m about to discuss (absolutely fucking true).

Here’s where the lying comes in: I’ve set the expectation that for the next five, ten, fifteen minutes, my audience is going to witness a bumbling idiot futz around on-stage, stumble over his words and lower the collective IQ of the entire audience. (That last part might be true, too.)

The reality is: I have a ton of poise (because I breathe, more on that in a bit) and confidence on-stage, great wit because I know my content in and out and just don’t give a fuck and really powerful messaging because my stories make sense, are ridiculously simple and (somewhat) insightful.

Lower the expectations of the audience and anything you say after that immediately comes as a delightful surprise.


A script is an exceptional tool — it gives you clarity of direction, ideas and key takeaways, and when delivered well, can really enhance your message.

The issue is, on-stage, you can’t rely on a script, or notecards, so if you fuck up, and your brain goes into total oh shit mode (and you’re not an expert at presenting, and catching yourself), you’re screwed. Totally screwed.

I just cheat. Here’s how:

A. Create a deck with pictures. Images that, for you, trigger a particular set of emotions, stories, ideas. Cats are fine. Memes work. Landscapes are way too vague.
B. Have a basic framework for your story, remember intently the beginning, three (or more) key points in the middle and the end.
C. For the really difficult details — specific statistics, quotes, ideas, etc. — put those on the slides in text. Bonus cheating: For all of your details, put those in text on the slides (no more than a few words, though). They’ll help the audience, and they won’t even realize that you’re a total hack.

That’s it. It’s basically cheating. If you have these three things down, you can wing it from there and deliver an awesome presentation. And the cool thing is that now, you don’t have to worry about memorizing a script you wrote (which can fuck up your timing), or losing your place (because it should be obvious on your slides) and even if (and when) you do fuck up, just take a deep breath and move onto the next slide. If you play it off super casually most people won’t even notice or care.


If you’ve read a book (or a few in the past several years), chances are, there are plenty of ideas and theories and statistics and stories that you can extract and basically rip-off to craft your own unique narrative.

My presentation was about five daily habits. (You can check them out here.) There wasn’t one original thought or idea in it.

These were the main takeaways: Keystone habits are crucial for success; the only way to develop keystone habits is by starting small; there are plenty of really simple ideas that you can start implementing into your daily life immediately that will have huge residual effects on your levels of happiness and stress over the next 30 days or so.

The first one — the notion of keystone habits — I got from Charles Druhigg’s, The Power of Habit. The second bit, I learned from James Clear’s blog, most of which he has adapted from much more prestigious behavioral psychologists. And the last piece, and many of the habits I included in the talk, were discussed in Shawn Achor’s, The Happiness Advantage.

There are no original ideas. Just steal your content from other people (but give them credit, too), and give your own unique spin on it.

Tell your story.


As soon as I wandered into the auditorium, about an hour and a half before I’d be rumbling on-stage and presenting in front of peeps, I started having difficulty breathing when I’d realized just how large the audience was going to be. (A few hundred, at most.) Easily the biggest audience I’d ever spoken to.

And then I sat around in front of the stage, waiting for the speakers before me to make their rounds. I was going third. It couldn’t come soon enough.

Soon after, I’m tucked away in the side of the stage, hyperventilating and trying to ensure that I don’t pass out before I get a chance to talk. The only thing I’d digested since lunch was three or four Neapolitan wafers.

And then — Michael Kilcoyne! — and I wander, up to the mic, in front of the audience of a few hundred insatiably hungry audience-members, and the natural expectation is that, as soon as I grab the mic, I’m just going to start running my stupid mouth.

Instead I pause, take a deep breathe (into the mic), and then start. The audience laughs a bit, because it’s awkward. And then I start opening my gullet to spew whatever nonsense I’m about to start talking about. I’m not sure where I was going with that whole beard thing, were the first words out of my mouth.

They laugh some more.

Now I’ve got them.


In many studies, public speaking is viewed as one of the most common paralyzing fears out there — more than snakes, loneliness and even death in some instances. (According to Jerry Seinfeld.)

Which makes absolute sense — it’s fear of the unknown on an absolutely absurd, potentially catastrophic level. If you suck, people throw tomatoes at you and bruise your ego and want to scratch your eyeballs out (not really).

It’s also ridiculously fun and cathartic — if you’re funny, you’ll have an audience of hundreds, potentially thousands in complete stitches. If your story is insightful, a lot of drunk people will tell you, holy shit that was awesome, dude! And if it’s especially powerful, they’ll hold their breath and cry and have difficulty talking to you.

There was a moment during my talk where I completely forgot a point I was going to make — and it increases… something, I said — and I just laughed it off, because it wasn’t a big deal. Because I was having so much fun.

Once you get over the initial, often crippling fear and anxiety that strikes you immediately before you walk on-stage — the emotional equivalent of a panda-bear attack! — and you get your sorry-ass out there, you’ll be thankful you did.

It’ll become your coke addiction. You’ll need a bump every now and then to remind yourself that you’re still alive. And you’ll always want more.

The Votes Are In!

Here are your Ignite Denver #20 presenters!

Kerstin Caldwell – You Really Are Fucking Brilliant
Jacob Anderson – The 10 things every computer repair person wish you tried/knew
Ravi Raman – Why You Should Quit Your Job To Travel The World
Elizabeth Boese – You Love What You Find Time For
Joanne Burke Peterson – Destination: Procrastination
Meridith Grundei – Don’t just sit there…go out and fucking PLAY!
Gabriel DiCristofaro – Lizard Brains and Black Marbles
Shelsea Ochoa – Toolkit for a New Paradigm
Helene Kwong – Ni Hao, Hot Dog Vendor!

Buy your tickets now at and get early bird pricing until June 5th! Discounted student pricing is available as well.

We’ll see you all on June 11th!

Learn Jedi mind tricks on May the Fourth!

Okay, maybe not Jedi mind tricks, but we *will* be hosting our 2nd speaker’s workshop at the ReadyTalk offices in Denver on May 4th.

This session will teach you all about what to expect as an Ignite presenter. From hugs & high-fives to dodging shoes and shrugging off the hecklers, you can get all of the down & dirty 411 for the show. We want you to be comfortable on stage, whether it’s your first time in front of a theater of people, or if it’s your first time speaking at Ignite Denver.

What to bring:

  • A list of questions about Ignite
  • An open mind for what lies ahead

What you’ll get:

  • A clear picture of what to expect while onstage
  • Stories from folks who have faced an Ignite Denver audience and lived to tell about it. (It’s a rush. Seriously!)
  • A sense of comfort. (About the show. We can’t help you with the rest of your life)

The ReadyTalk office is located at 1900 16th St #600, Denver, CO 80202, about a block from  Union Station. There is a parking garage next to the building with a night rate of $3.00 after 4:00pm.

See you Monday, May the Fourth…be with you. Had to say it.

May the Fourth

Work With Us

Running an event like this takes a lot of coordinated effort. Even our hardest-working organizers are volunteers. Even without a paycheck, the rewards are still great. If you would like to offer your time to Ignite Denver, check below to see what is needed. You can drop us a line at our gmail account any time. Not surprisingly, it is “ignitedenver”.


This sounds crazy, right? Be that as it may, how cool would it be to have some custom music in our video transitions? Extremely cool. Ideally, the Ignite Denver theme will be a work of some minutes, with a glorious 8-10 second excerpt for your YouTube bumpers. Anything copyrighted will trigger a claim, so we need something legitimately unique that captures the soul of the event.

Friday Five! Friday Five! 5 Repeat Ignite Denver Presenters

There is no “one and done” rule at Ignite Denver. If you present a Spark once and are inspired to take the stage and present again (and again, and again…), there’s nothing stopping you. Nothing except the voting. People have to want to see and hear what you have to say.

So, in anticipation of our upcoming run-throughs in the run-up to Ignite Denver #19 later this month (obligatory “buy tickets” link), here are videos by people who have presented more than once! Which makes this the Friday Ten, but that doesn’t have the same ring to it….

Kelly Tidd: 7 Deadly Startup Sins; Paint Brushes & Perseverance

Aaron DeLay: Cain and Abel 2: Die Harder; 10 Things I Love About My Stroke

Helene Kwong: The Bridge Between Worlds; Spell Check Ain’t Your Friend

Tim Nicklas: Pittsburghese – A Dialectical Primer; It’s Not My Fault, I’m A Hairless Male Ape

Mel Torgusen: Could you be in a common law marriage without knowing it?; How To Ride Your Bike Like A Lady

Coming soon: Blogs by upcoming presenters at Ignite Denver #19!

Friday Five! The Art Of The Spark

Maybe this topic should be called “The Art of ‘The Art of’ Spark,” because we have 5 Sparks that are titled “The Art of”…something. Puppy raising, heckling, storytelling, saying ‘hi,’ and BBQ. No Dutch Masters here! (Unless some future intrepid Igniter chooses to do a Spark on The Art of Cigars. Or The Art of Art. But that might be too broad of a scope. Ahem.)

Don’t dodge these artful Sparks! (Ok, we’ll stop now.) And make sure you practice the art of the early ticket purchase for Ignite Denver 19 at the Oriental Theater on February 26th!

Natalie Plowman: The Art of Puppy-Raising

Marissa Berlin: The Art of the Heckle

Justin Morgan: The Art of Storytelling

David McMurtry: The Ancient Lost Art of Saying Hi!

Jon Rossi: The Art of BBQ and Judging

Friday Five! 5 Topics That Make You Think

Welcome to the Monday edition of the Friday Five! The holiday weekend got the better of us but we’re here on the holiday itself to deliver five Sparks from past Ignite Denver events that will make you think.

Ignite Denver #19 is on Thursday, February 26th at the Oriental Theater. (Buy tickets now!) Hopefully one of these talks will inspire you to submit a Spark and get your buns/tuchas/derrière up on the stage to make us think! (Or laugh, or cry, or yell, or get angry, or…you get the idea.)

Dr. M.D. Kinoti: Help! I Live on Less Than a Dollar a Day

Paula Stephens: How A Recycling Program Lead to My Discover of an Unidentified Stage of Grief

Aaron Templer: A Rhythm Runs Through It: Our Lives Defined By Beats

Erika Napoletano: You Don’t Know Jacques: The Recondite Lives of Renowned People

Eli Fehler: How Your Friends Are Shaping Your Brain

And since the holiday in question is Martin Luther King Jr. Day, here’s a bonus video to make you think:


Ignite Denver 19 is Upon Us!

Can you hear that? The faint echos of gentle heckling, drum beats, intense laughter? That’s the sound of a successful close to Ignite Denver 18. Did you miss it? That’s okay, because Ignite Denver 19 is nigh.

We hope you’re not only inspired to attend but also inspired to SPEAK. Should this be the case, we are happily accepting Sparks AS YOU READ THIS. So go and submit one before voting begins.

Maybe you’re more of the Volunteer-to-Inspire type, and that’s okay too. We definitely have a place for you. Hit us up on the volunteer page and we’ll put your talents to good use.

Thanks to all who made Ignite Denver 18 a success. See you on February 26 for 19!

* Get your tickets to Ignite Denver 19 today!

Some of the most Useful Ignite Denver Sparks

Again we share the disclaimer that this is by no means a Top 3 or the only 3. If you’d like to be inspired and informed then please go to our Youtube channel and press play. It could be the only place on the Internet where you can search absinthe or sticky and come up with something  that might actually improve your life. But, to save time, we’ve curated a few of our favorites, including the only Ignite Denver Spark we allowed to go longer than five minutes. It was amazing.

But first, please hold for this important announcement.

Ignite Denver is October 9th at 7pm. Save money by clicking here to get your tickets NOW. 

Also, we like to warn people about language. Not only are there smart, revolutionary expressions here (beware JeffCo School Board,) but some words that might be construed as dirty and/or loin-stirring lewdness.

Is My Web Guy F#cking Me?: Erik Wolf

Becky Tate: 30 Days of Pleasure

Aaron Templer: A Rhythm Runs Through It, Our Lives Defined by Beats

Your Speakers

Dearest reader,

Denver Startup Week has just begun. Insight Night is on Tuesday (and you should come). There is so much going on, your head is completely spinning. Or maybe you’re wrapped up in Football season. Whatever, you’re busy, we get it. So know that we wouldn’t’ve posted this if it wasn’t super important.

Announcing your Ignite Denver 18 Speakers!

  • Kindergarten is the New First Grade. Is That a Good Thing? (Heather Curnett)
  • How to Raise a Fucking Lady (Kat Atwell)
  • Why I love cities (Chris Jones)
  • Six Things I Learned While Riding My Bike (Paul Iwancio)
  • The JOY Thief! (Maureen McNamara)
  • Dookie Jokes and Being a Consumer in America (Kia M. Ruiz)
  • My Dick is Bigger in Japan: Understanding Women of the World (Reid Fenlaw)
  • How to make your community not suck! (Ian Harwick)
  • And a very, very special appearance you won’t want to miss…

Here we have ten speakers (including Jared Ewy, who always warms up the crowd with an intro deck) ready to share their brilliance, wit, and pithy humor with you. Don’t read anything into the order, now. That won’t be finalized for weeks. This is just the order in which the submissions were received.

With the help of these excellent souls, we will be bringing you a night of inspiration, joy, and toilet humor (which, as we all know, is the very best kind).


You want tickets? We got tickets! Early-bird pricing is in full effect: They’re only five bucks!

Get your tickets here!


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