March 9, 2010

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Experiments as a presenter

After I shared The Shy Presenter with 200 people at last Wednesday’s Ignite Toronto, Rohan Jayasekera told me that he was happy to see how I’d grown so much as a presenter. He’s known me for almost four years now, I think, and has seen many of my talks. He told me that I sounded a lot more relaxed now. I had more of a flow and a rhythm, and was starting to resemble professional speakers. In fact, he joked that I might be getting too good to inspire people to take that first step towards public speaking,

It’s been almost ten years since I gave my first public technical talk on August 25, 2001. I’ve experimented with:

  • trying to read my slides without glasses (doesn’t work)
  • wearing contacts (okay, but a hassle)
  • using bullet points (doesn’t really work)
  • having my computer talk me through my presentation (actually works, with Emacs and speech synthesis)
  • writing my talks out as blog posts first (works)
  • storyboarding my slides (works)
  • using full-screen images (stock photography kinda works, Flickr is more fun, but this “look” is getting much too common)
  • using only text (works)
  • lowering my energy level (doesn’t work)
  • sharing my presentations online (works, and reaches way more people)
  • using short URLs in my slides (somewhat works; some companies block these URLs)
  • encouraging re-runs and revisions (works)
  • taking advantage of my blog archive (works)
  • shortening my talk and using more time for Q&A (works)
  • using the backchannel for more interactivity and learning (works awesomely)
  • using the webcam for remote presentations (works awesomely)
  • using a hat to balance out  harsh-top lighting when needed (works)
  • professional editing help (kinda works)
  • shorter scripts and more improvisation (works; tested with Ignite presentation)
  • scripting with a target words-per-minute count (probably works, although I haven’t tested the results yet; should follow up with recordings)
  • limiting travel and focusing on local or Web-based presentations (works)
  • watching excellent talks for inspiration, such as those from TED and Slideshare (works)
  • focusing on concrete next actions instead of general theory (works)
  • strict presentation constraints (works; tested with Ignite and Twitter-paragraph-length presentations)
  • using a hat or distinctive suit to make me easy to find at a face-to-face conference (works)
  • easier-to-remember URLs (sachachua.com is hard to spell; LivingAnAwesomeLife.com is long but easy to remember; livingawesomely and liveawesomely don’t quite roll off the tongue)
  • posting reflections on what went well and what I can improve (works awesomely)
  • speech exercises (kinda works; need more practice)
  • reading tons of books about public speaking and presentations (works)
  • submitting proposals for conferences, just in case (works awesomely)
  • making it easy for people to find previous talks (works)
  • drinking lukewarm water (works)
  • telling stories (works, want to do more of it)
  • using stick figures (fun to make, faster than finding pictures, and makes people happy; works awesomely)

I’m looking forward to experimenting with metaphors (both visual and verbal), humour, stories, more content, and animation. =)

Someday, when I save up for it and decide that it’s a good thing to spend on, I’d like to get a tablet PC and figure out how to use that for presentations. (Wouldn’t that be awesome?) I remember seeing Tom Wujec show us this totally awesome drawing / storyboarding tool, which I unfortunately forgot to get the name of, but if anyone’s familiar with the Autodesk suite of tools and remembers some kind of index card thing…

It’s been eight and a half years of deliberate practice. I’ve come a long way from the nervous speaker who stuttered her way through her first talk and panicked when she saw only one person attending her second. (The rest had been late from lunch, and had politely stayed outside the room when they saw me sitting down and chatting with the lone audience member.) I’m going to keep working on this because it’s fun to learn something well enough to explain it to someone else, and this kind of sharing helps me scale up and help hundreds and thousands of people at a time.

I probably take a lot of things for granted now, so it’s a good thing I’ve been sharing some of my notes along the way. This is why it pays to share what you’re learning, because after a while, it gets hard to explain how you got from point A to point B.

I want to help lots of people learn how to present well. Eventually I may become a polished, well-practiced presenter like Seth Godin or Dan Heath, and then it will be harder for people who are just starting out to think, ”Hey, maybe I can learn to speak too.” But then I can help figure out what “awesome” looks like, and that will help other people build on it and figure out what “more awesome” looks like. So it’s all good.

How are you growing? Share your notes in the comments! =)

Thanks to Rohan Jayasekera for the conversation!