Aaron Kim, Bernie Michalik, Jennifer Nolan and I gave the keynote presentation at blue horizon 2008, the main conference for GBS Canada. With 700 people in the Toronto Sheraton Centre’s Grand Ballroom, it was one of my largest presentations–and one of my best. I learned a lot preparing and delivering the presentation, and I’m glad I didn’t back out.
I felt anxious about the keynote because we hadn’t had a lot of face-to-face time to prepare for the four-part presentation. Because of the Best Practices Conference, the Technical Leadership Exchange, and the Web 2.0 Summit, I had hardly any time to work on my part of the presentation, much less rehearse it together with the others. After agreeing on the general structure for the presentation, we split up and worked individually. I took the section on the Demographic Revolution because it was something I was interested in and I could use some of the research I’d done for my TLE talk on I.B.Millennials. Four days before the keynote, though, I still hadn’t nailed down the words for my part of the presentation. As we rehearsed, I experimented with what I wanted to say and how I wanted to say it, listening to myself to find good ways to say things. If my teammates were worried about the way I kept saying things differently each time we ran through the content, they didn’t let their nervousness show.
I was nervous about a different thing, too. I like highly interactive sessions, but our presentation would have no opportunities for questions or insights from other people. I wasn’t sure if I’d have enough light to see people react. While giving a presentation, have you ever felt hyper-attenuated to the audience, listening with an almost physical reaction to people as you’re sharing your thoughts? That feeling is one of the things I love about speaking, and I wasn’t sure if I could get into that zone with such a large audience. I was afraid that I might be oblivious to people’s reactions.
On Sunday–one day before our big show–I mindmapped my speech and added keywords to my speaker notes. After sending my presentation to my teammates, I threw a suit into a bag and dashed to the hotel. I checked in for one night and left my clothes in the hotel room. I then headed to the hall to meet up with Aaron, Bernie, and Jen. We rehearsed the entire presentation three times. Each time, it got smoother and smoother. I even practiced getting up on the tall stools on the stage. I didn’t want to trip in front of all of those IBMers! Not the best way to become memorable… =)
Monday was our big day. I ironed my suit and made it down in time to grab some breakfast, hoping that I wouldn’t have any problems on stage. After the opening speech, we went on stage. Then there was nothing to do but reach out and connect.
I loved listening to my team members’ parts. Somehow, things came together in the two days we’d rehearsed. When it was my turn, the speaker notes helped me remember all the points I wanted to make, and my presenter remote allowed me to step away from the podium. There was a hiccup when Aaron’s laptop ran out of power, but the backup computer that Aaron had brought along (hard-won experience!) got us through the rest of the presentation. Bernie ended up speaking without notes, and he didn’t seem fazed at all.
I’m glad I was part of that presentation. It stretched me and made me want to learn even more about giving presentations and reaching out to hundreds of people. I want to get even better at sharing that energy, that fire. So–relentless improvement!
- Presentation style: The four of us agreed to use large pictures to give our presentation a distinctive and consistent style. Aaron used Keynote to make it pretty. (It made me want to get a Mac just for presentations!)
- Metaphor: I used the metaphor of a river to describe the demographic challenges of the North American workplace. It wasn’t easy to find just the right image. I knew I wanted a wide river with a narrow middle part, but how do you search for something like that? I searched for rivers, river necks, bottlenecks… Eventually, I found a Creative Commons Attribution-licensed Flickr photo of a river canyon. I cropped and magnified the section that looked like what I wanted. The resulting image was obviously pixelated, but I just couldn’t find any other image that resembled the one I had in mind.
- Transitions: Our speech connected well with the other keynote speeches and the advertisements. We couldn’t have planned it better. We knew a little bit about the theme beforehand, and we tapped into the zeitgeist.
- Technology: My totally awesome Logitech presenter remote meant that we didn’t have to worry about being behind the computer to control the slides. It beat the infrared Mac remote, which only worked with certain angles.
- Preparation: When the main computer died, Aaron’s backup Mac saved the day. The lack of speaker notes didn’t bother Bernie at all. Good work!
What I can do to make this even better next time:
- Watch out for in-jokes: We assumed people would understand the elephant pictures as references to Gerstner’s “Who Says Elephants Can’t Dance?”. People who weren’t familiar with IBM’s history picked up negative associations, though.
- Learn from other people’s successes: Aaron’s preparation of a backup computer and Bernie’s smooth transition are two things I’d like to emulate.
- Get a Mac? ;) Just for Keynote?
That was fun!