Category Archives: speaking

Growing as a presenter

After attending a full-day IBM course on creating effective presentations last Friday, I felt like challenging myself to figure out how to make good corporate-ish presentations. The instructor joked that I could probably give the course, and I laughed and said that the end results would look nothing like IBM presentations. But maybe I can help figure out how corporate presentations can be engaging…

Practically all of my external presentations are non-IBM-standard. I use hand-drawn stick figures, full-bleed stock photography and Creative Commons-licensed images, and very little text. They’re also almost all meant to be delivered as part of a highly interactive session, unlike the stand-alone slide decks that are popular within IBM. I have hardly any speaker notes because I have short presentations with memorable key messages. My presentations are idiosyncratic. They fit my style and my knowledge, but they’re not easily reusable by others.

There are a number of ways I’d love to grow as a presenter.

  • I’m working on learning how to make IBM-branded presentations at least for internal use, using the color combinations and slide layouts suggested in our presentation guidelines. There are plenty of opportunities to practice on the presentations I find internally, and I can fiddle with their logic along the way. I can also practice this in the process of developing some of the enablement material I’ve promised to do in my personal business commitments.
  • I’d like to collect and eventually contribute to examples of good corporate presentations: charts and slide layouts that work well, good flow, good supporting logic… There must be awesome presentations out there. If I can collect them, highlight them, and talk about why they work, then I can help other people learn more about presentation skills. Kinda like Presentation Zen, but with examples that corporate speakers can identify with.
  • Someday, I’m going to learn how to make those ballroom-type presentations that look really more like ads. You know, the quick, punchy, animated presentations like “Did You Know…” and “Smile and Move”. In order to learn how to do that, I’ll need to learn video advertising techniques and new tools. It’ll be fun!

Good presentations help people understand complex issues and move themselves to action. Good presentation skills help speakers structure thoughts, build credibility, and facilitate change. Definitely worth looking into. Who wants to learn with me? =) Send me examples of things you like and why you like them, tell me stories about what you’re learning, and share your tips! =)

From presentations to conversations

I had a fantastic hour-long conversation about demographic-related challenges and opportunities with 12 directors from the Terry Fox Foundation. I’d been invited by Brett Kohli, their CFO, who had attended a similar presentation that I gave at the My Charity Connects conference (video available). I had originally referred him to other people because I was going on vacation, but as we decided to make it a staycation, I figured: why pass up the chance to learn from an interesting cause?

I gave a 15-minute, 10-slide presentation where I talked about the different demographic shapes of organizations, the challenges they face, and some ways to address those challenges. Then I asked them which groups of people in their ecosystem they were particularly interested in, and which segments they wanted to focus on. We had a great time talking about the challenge of engaging and retaining Generation Y as they grew out of the school-centered events. I learned a lot from the conversation, and other people did too!

The previous session had been interesting, but had hardly any time for questions because it had run over. I wrapped up our session at 3:00, getting the schedule back on track. One of the directors complimented me on my energy. Brett told them how he attended my talk at My Charity Connects and saw me step away from the podium and talk to a large number of people in a long, rectangular room, without using a microphone. (I had checked with people at the back before the talk started, to make sure I’d still be audible.) Hooray for the drama classes my grade school principal incorporated into our curriculum! It’s great to be able to project my voice without yelling.

On the subway back, I thought about presentations, energy, and how my sessions feel different from most sessions I’ve attended. Given an hour for a presentation, most speakers seem to plan a 65-minute presentation, with a few hurried minutes for Q&A. I tend to plan a 7-10 minute presentation, and open the rest up for questions. At the Social Recruiting Summit, for example, I simply told my story of the awesomest job search ever, and then asked people how I could help them help other people have stories like that.

Whenever possible, I have conversations instead of lectures. Sometimes the situation calls for a one-way presentation, like the keynote address my team and I gave to 700 IBM consultants and IT specialists in a ballroom. Most of the time, though, the interaction lets me learn–and communicate–so much more.

I don’t know why people don’t take more advantage of the Q&A period.
At most presentations people give, questions feel like an afterthought,
something to be rushed through, like the mint a server gives you after a meal. In the sessions I’m happiest with, Q&A’s the main course.

I learn a lot about subjects when preparing or revising a presentation. I learn a lot about delivery when I give a presentation. I learn the most when people ask questions and share their own experiences. Questions tell me about what’s important to people. Comments give me more material for future presentations. And in the process of answering questions and responding to comments, I find myself drawing on things I hadn’t realized I learned along the way, connections I hadn’t thought of making, questions and ideas that I hadn’t verbalized before. A great session can even change the way I think, the way I see things.

Good Q&A drives energy. When people show their interest by asking questions, I get even more excited, and they get more excited, and we all figure things out together. I learn a lot, others learn a lot, and I walk away with ideas for future presentations. It’s amazing!

Cultural differences play a big role, too. I find that the North American audiences I talk to are much more comfortable with asking questions than the Asian audiences I’ve talked to, but I’m looking forward to experimenting with different structures to see if I can encourage participation, and I’ve had highly participative talks in the Philippines too. I’ll write about how I stumbled across this style in another blog post. First:

How can you and other people explore the joys of this style of public speaking? =) It’s not something you’d use for all situations, but it’s something I hope you’ll add to your toolbox. Here’s what I think can help:

1. Let go.
It’s scary to open things up for 50 minutes of conversation. You don’t know if people will ask questions. You don’t know where the conversation will go. You’re worried that you might not have the answers. You’re worried that you might say the wrong thing.

Let go. Don’t worry. If no one asks a question within the first few seconds, wait some more. Silence is excruciating if you’re a speaker, but people need time to gather their thoughts and think of questions. If no one asks a question after a while, there are a number of possibilities:

  • You’ve made your point! Hooray!
  • People don’t know what kinds of questions to ask. Share typical questions.
  • People have tuned out. They could be busy, distracted, uninterested, and so on. Clarify your message and why it matters. If that still doesn’t work, wrap up and get out of the way. =) Work on your presentation so that the next time you give it, you can make that connection.

Don’t worry about not being able to answer a question. No one expects you to know the exact statistics if you do. If you don’t know something, you can say you don’t know something. You might even invite people in the crowd to share what they think. Maybe someone will have the answer, and then you’ll learn too!

2. Prepare a lot.
If you’re making Q&A the central part of your session, you need to be able to answer questions well. Collect stories (they’re easy to remember), interesting bits of trivia, results, examples, and anything else that might come in handy. Make backup slides if you need visual support for particularly important parts. This style of presentation might actually mean less preparation time than the slide- and lecture-heavy kind of session. It’s not a good fit for people who are giving a session on something they don’t know, but if you know what you’re talking about, you can make more use of your background knowledge and spend less time preparing and rehearsing a long presentation.

3. Focus on your key message. You need to be clear on what you want to say and why it matters to people in your audience. What do you want them to walk away with? How do you want them to feel? What do you want them to do? Work on that until you can get it across in the first few minutes. Pick a few well-chosen details to support your point, then wrap up the first part of your session with an invitation to ask questions. Better yet, ask them questions. Instead of ending with “Any questions?”, say something like, “I’d love to hear what you’re thinking about. Which groups of people do you want to focus on? What challenges do you face in reaching them?” Keep your presentation short, then get out of the way and let the conversation happen.

4. Enjoy!
Your first few interactive sessions may be nerve-wracking (I can tell you stories about my attempts!), but over time, you’ll probably find this kind of interaction to be effective, enjoyable, energetic, entertaining, and enlightening. You’ll rock, and you’ll have lots of fun doing so. Go for it!

What else can help you turn your next presentation into a conversation?

The shy connector

Questions? Thoughts? Leave a comment here or contact me privately. Want to share this blog post? Short URL: .

Looking for the WITI: Shy Connector notes? See the link for updates!

Planned talk / speaker notes:

The Shy Connector: How to get strangers to talk to you.

Hi, I’m Sacha Chua, and I’m an introvert. <clapping>

You might be, too. Do you prefer bookstores over bars? Puzzles more than parties? Close friends instead of crowds? If so, you might be an introvert.

It can be hard to connect as an introvert. LinkedIn and Facebook can feel like popularity contests. How many friends do you have? Should you say yes to invitations from strangers? Meetups can be overwhelming. So many choices to make, so many people to meet…

So what can you do if you’re shy?

There are plenty of books and blogs about social networking, because success and happiness often depend on whom you know and who knows you.

“Sell yourself!” “Brand yourself!” “Attend as many events as you can!” “Talk to people in the elevator!” they advise. Right.

Most of the networking tips I’ve read are geared toward extroverts who don’t need tips on how to talk to strangers.

Me, I hate starting conversations. I find it hard to make small talk. I’m too shy to reach out. Following up takes focused effort.
Sound familiar? Ever felt that way, too?

Here are seven things I’ve learned about connecting as an introvert. I hope these tips will help you play to your strengths.

Tip 1: It’s okay to be an introvert.

You don’t need to fake being extroverted. You don’t need to be a glad-handing, business-card-throwing networker in order to connect. Just listen and ask a few questions during conversations. Give yourself quiet time to recharge. Connect online if you feel more comfortable that way. Figure out what works for you.

For me, blogging often works out better than going to events. Now that I understand that about myself, it’s easier for me to say, “No, I’m planning to stay home” when faced with an invite. I’m much more comfortable blogging than partying, and I can share in a way I simply can’t do in person.

Tip 2: Change your perspective.

It’s not about selling yourself. It’s not about marketing your personal brand. It’s not about figuring out what other people can do for you. It’s about focusing on what you can do to help other people.

Focus on what can help other people be happier and more successful. Ask questions. Explore ideas.

Focusing the spotlight on the other person makes it easier to make conversation and get to know others.

Tip 3: Give people reasons to talk to you, both online and offline.

Most people find it hard to start a conversation, too. Do them a favour and give them an excuse to approach you.

An interesting hat makes you easy to find in a crowd. Accessories with character draw remarks. Keywords on your nametag lead to conversations.

Online? Share your interests and thoughts. People can find you through search engines and reach out to learn from you.

My favourite? Giving a presentation. Talking to a hundred people at once is easier than talking to two at a time because I can rehearse what I want to say. I reach way more people this way, and I don’t have to start any conversations!

Tip 4: Look for ways to help.

While you’re listening, think: What do I know? Who do I know? How can I help?

Have I read a book they might like? Have I talked to someone they should meet? Do I have an interesting idea that can save them time?

Even if you can’t help right away, if you make it a point to remember their need, you may be able to connect the dots later.

Tip 5: Give yourself homework.

Following up with someone is easier when you’ve promised to send them a link or introduce them to someone else who can help.

That’s why you should always carry something you can use to take notes. Why worry about forgetting when you can write things down?

Tip 6: Make it easy to get to know you.

So you’ve met someone, learned about their interests, and followed up. How do you build the connection from there?

Even if you don’t like talking about yourself, you can make it easier for other people to get to know you.

Share your interests, skills, and goals. The more people know about what you can do, the more you can find opportunities to help them.

A personal website or profile page is a good way to start. Link it in your e-mail signature and put it on your business card.

A blog is even better. If you share tips, ideas, and a bit of a personal touch, people might even subscribe and really get to know you over time. They might even help you grow! =)

Tip 7: Keep growing, and your network will grow with you.

As you develop your passions, improve your skills, and grow your network, you’ll be able to create more value — and more, and more, and more.

The more you understand your passions, the easier it is to communicate them.

The more you improve your skills, the more you can help others.

The more people you know, the more introductions and connections you can make.

If you share what you’re learning with people, your network can grow along with you.

Then you won’t have to fake being an extrovert or drain yourself of energy; people and opportunities will simply flow to you.

Which of these tips would you like to focus on, practice, and learn more about? How can I help you explore your networking potential?

Questions? Thoughts? Leave a comment here or use my contact me privately.

If you attended the WITI webinar, please help improve this session by taking the post-presentation survey!

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Previous version:

vote thumbs-up if you liked it! =)

— From pre-presentation plans (August 11) —
These tips are slightly different from the presentation, but still have the same flavour. I love the insights people have shared in the comments. Feel free to check them out and add your own tips!

I’m planning a presentation called “The Shy Connector: How to talk to strangers How to get strangers to talk to you”. I realized that most networking books focus on helping people act more extroverted, but I’ve found ways to use my introverted nature to connect with people.

Here are some of my weaknesses and how I’ve worked around them:

Weakness Strength In practice
Hate starting a conversation with strangers Comfortable with being different Some of my quirks and interests turn out to be great conversation-starters. People often start conversations by asking me about my hat, my computer, my technology interests, my speeches, or even just my obvious happiness and energy.
Hate making small talk Love learning and asking questions I never ask people what they do. I ask people what they’re interested in, what they’re passionate about, or what could help them be happier or more successful. That makes people think, and it results in conversations that can teach me something new, change the way I think, and help me remember people.
Hate going out Comfortable with hosting people I sometimes feel overwhelmed in places people like going to “hang out”, such as busy restaurants and bars. I prefer to host small get-togethers at home, where I can keep group numbers low and I’m in familiar territory.
Hate searching for common ground Love learning and sharing things online One of the things I don’t like about talking to strangers is looking for common interests we can talk about. Instead of going to general networking events, I prefer to go to conferences and talks where the presentations naturally give us topics of conversation. I’m also comfortable sharing what I’m learning online. Many of my conversations now start with someone else telling me that they’ve read my blog, and the conversation goes straight to interests we both have.
Hate blathering Love writing and reflecting Blogging helps me relax and communicate in real-life conversations. If I’ve written about something, it’s easier for me to talk about it because I’ve spent some time thinking about what I want to say and how I want to say it. The result: more confidence during conversations, and clearer communication too!

Here’s a rough list of the tips I plan to share:

1. Be yourself. You don’t have to be a fake extrovert. You don’t have to learn how to enjoy small talk or put on a new personality. You can use your characteristics as an introvert to connect with people, and you might even be able to connect with more people and at deeper levels than the popular kids in your high school would.

2. Reframe the situation. It’s not about selling yourself. It’s not about becoming popular. It’s about finding ways you can help other people, and it’s about learning more.

3. Give people reasons. If you hate talking to strangers because you’re afraid of those awkward moments when you’re both looking for reasons to talk, skip that by giving people reasons to talk to you. Me, I find it easier to present to a thousand people than to talk to a single person, because I can prepare for presentations (and it’s fun!). That gives people reasons to come up to me afterwards and start a conversation with me about something we’re both interested in. I also do quirky things: wear interesting hats, smile a lot, have an awesome business card–all of which have led to interesting conversations I didn’t start. Most people are just as scared of starting conversations as you are, so make it easy for them.

4. Help others. Treat conversations as learning opportunities. Find out what could help people become happier or more successful. What books or blog posts have you read that they might be interested in? What tools have you tried or heard of that might fit their needs? Even the act of asking questions helps people clarify their thoughts. You might not be able to help them right away, but you might meet someone else who can help, and then you can connect the dots. You’ll learn a whole lot in the process, too.

5. Look for homework. Following up is hard. I’ve come home from conferences with stacks of business cards that I didn’t know what to do with aside from sending a quick note about how nice it was to see people. It’s much easier to follow up with people and continue the conversation if you focused on helping people. If you follow up with an article someone is interested in or an introduction to another person who could help make things happen, your follow-up email or note has real value. Carry a notebook with a flap for business cards, a PDA, or some other note-taking device, and use it to keep track of your homework.

6. Build history. Extroverts have this easy. They’re out having coffee with their buddies or golfing with their bosses. If you’re anything like me, you have a hard enough time finding ways to comfortably hang out with your close friends, much less acquaintances. You need stories and shared experiences to deepen relationships, though. Build that history by making it easy for people to keep in touch with you. Me, I find it difficult to call people up or invite them to hang out, but I’m comfortable blogging. I might be too shy to reach out to people I’ve just met, but they can read my blog to learn more about who I am, and they can continue the conversation in the comments if they want to. If they blog, that gives me a way to get to know them too. Make it easy for people to keep in touch with you.

7. Practice. The more you listen, the more you think, the more you write, the more you speak, the more clearly you’ll know what you want to say and how you want to say it. It’s good for self-discovery, too. Listen to people and figure out what you resonate with and what you’re interested in. Try different ways of expressing your thoughts. Treat small talk as a game, and use it to develop your skill at asking questions and sharing what you think. Use it to try different techniques. When you’re not personally invested in it–when you’re not worrying that a conversational stumble is equal to personal rejection and failure–things become easier and almost fun.

There’s something interesting in here that I’d like to figure out and share. Is there anything that particularly resonates with you? Is there anything you’d like to learn more about?

Notes from the road

Providing consulting services in strategy workshops is a crash course in facilitation and presentation skills. Looking at the presentations and techniques that people have developed is awe-inspiring. The people I work with don’t do death by bullet point. They’re good at research and thought leadership, infographics and design, Post-It notes and presentations. Me, I rummage through my brain to try to as much value as I can with what I’ve read and learned about Generation Y, Web 2.0, and other topics, and I hope someday to figure out how to do things even better than the way people around me do. =)

If I think of the travel as just a really long commute, it’s not that bad. I miss W-, the cats, the garden, and so on, but I’m too busy to feel too lost. I don’t want to do this all the time because I like having a rich relationship with plenty of in-jokes, but short sprints should be fine. I’m learning tons about facilitation and presentation that I wouldn’t be able to learn on my own.

I’m nearing the end of my super-busy sprint, and I’ll have some time to get things sorted out, prepare, and make future workshops run even better.

Notes from Totally Rocking Presentations at IBM

When one of my mentors asked me if I could do a session on presentation skills for the new interns who are coming in as part of IBM’s Extreme Blue program, I said yes, of course. =) Great opportunity to give back and learn.

Here are the key points I shared and learned in the session today:

1. Look for inspiration. It’s easier to get better at presentations when you know what good presentations look like, sound like, and feel like. Watch videos or download podcasts from to see what passionate brilliance is like. Check out to see what kinds of presentations real people put together. Pick up tips from books such as Presentation Zen (also blog), Slide:ology (also blog), Rainmaking Presentations, The How of Wow, and Whoever Tells the Best Story Wins. Be inspired.

2. Figure out what you want to say, why it matters, and how you want to say it. Let’s tackle those parts one by one.

What do you want to share? Many people make the mistake of thinking they don’t have anything to say because they’re not experts. As a result, they don’t volunteer for presentations or submit ideas to conferences.

Why does it matter? Again, many people make the mistake of thinking that all they need to do is inform their audiences. Every presentation is an opportunity to influence, to persuade. Every presentation is an opportunity to help someone think differently and even take action. Figure out what you want people to walk away with, and why they would care about your message. Talk in their terms.

Make your presentation even better by figuring out why it matters to you. That’s how you tap into your passion and energy. Why do you care about the topic? What do you bring to it that nobody else can? What do you want to get out of the presentation?

Whenever I prepare a presentation, I look for ways that I can learn a lot from it. That’s why I love handling lots of questions, because questions tell me what people find important. Questions let me pull more ideas out of my head and get them into a form that I can share. People in the audience share their experiences and insights, too. If something really stumps me, well, that points me to something I can learn. This adventure is one of the reasons why I love giving presentations. And that’s why I can bring so much energy and joy to my presentations–I’m doing it because I want to do it.

When you know what and why, how becomes much easier to figure out. You can play with your toolbox to see what fits. Bullet points are one way to do it. Try full-screen stock photography, or individual words with lots of whitespace (or black backgrounds), or purposeful animations. Try Creative Commons-licensed pictures from Flickr. Try telling a story. Try not using slides. Try using a scenario. Try finding statistics. Go ahead and experiment. Go ahead and play.

3. Practice, practice, practice.

There’s no shortcut here, and no matter what other people might tell you, stage fright never goes away. But practice can help you get better at harnessing that nervous energy. Practice can help you figure out and remember what you want to say, why it matters, and how you want to say it.

The obvious way to practice is to sign up for more presentations. But even if you don’t get that many speaking opportunities, there are plenty of other ways you can practice. You might try explaining what you do and why it matters during conversations. You can speak up during meetings. You can prepare slides and post them on Slideshare or other services, even if you don’t have a presentanion scheduled.

I find blogging to be an incredibly useful way to practice thinking and speaking. Most of my presentations start as blog posts. If you’re interested in something, write about it. If you’re really interested, write again and again. In the process, you’ll learn about the topic, and you’ll connect with other people who are interested. Then you can turn your notes into presentations, because you’ve already done the hard work of thinking about what you want to say and how to say it, and you know it matters to you.

So the next steps I want to convince you to take are:

– Look for inspiration. Start with =)
– Figure out what you want to say, why it matters, and how you want to say it. Experiment. Explore.
– Practice, practice, practice. There are lots of opportunities to learn how to present, and not all of them involve a stage. (Or a stuffed toy, which I occasionally use.)

How can I help you become an even better speaker?

(I’ve omitted the IBM-specific parts here. Ping me internally if you want a link to the presentation and the recording!)

Taking the Stage: The Power of Voice

The second session in the Taking the Stage women’s leadership program I’m taking at IBM was called The Power of Voice. We learned about some of the vocal habits that undermine people’s confidence and rapport, such as trailing off or using a rising tone at the end of sentences.

We also had a short discussion about what makes presentations engaging. Many of the participants mentioned enthusiasm and passion–if not for the content, then for something beyond that.

The three key tips I picked up were:

  1. Breathe deeply from the diaphragm so that you can support your voice.
  2. Open your mouth both inside and out, because that affects your tone and articulation.
  3. Resonate using different areas of your body: head, chest, and others.

I’ve thought about finding a speaking or presentation coach who can help me learn how to make even better use of my gift of spreading enthusiasm. I’m good at collecting and retelling stories. I’m good at finding something worth being excited about, sharing my enthusiasm, and helping people remember why they care about their work. I’m good at mixing presentations up with creative approaches. I’m good at scaling up – getting more value from the effort I put into making a presentation. I’m good at handling questions and dealing with the unexpected.

The first thing that can help me become an even better speaker would be to learn how to use even more vocal variety. I’ll start with varying tempo, then I’ll learn how to vary pitch, and maybe even learn how to bring in different accents and sound effects. These will help me build more dramatic tension into storytelling, use emotional modulation, and pick the right voice. Articulation would also be good to improve.

I can practice on my own with vocal exercises, aerobic exercise (to increase my breathing capacity), and perhaps even podcasts. I can also practice in my presentations, which usually come once or twice a week during conference season. Once I get my work permit paperwork sorted out, I’ll sign up for‘s longform improv classes. In the meantime, I can look around for acting workshops or speech coaches who won’t charge an arm and a leg, and I can check out lots of books from the library on how to improve speech.

Other things I can work on in the future: storytelling, navigational structures, vocabulary =) (richer words! more concrete expressions!), improvisation, humor, rhetorical structures, illustration… There’s so much to grow into!

I’m interested in this for a number of reasons:

  • I learn things much more effectively when I teach them, and learning how to communicate well lets me enjoy communicating even more. It keeps me excited about learning and teaching.
  • If I learn how to communicate more effectively and more engagingly, then I can deliver more value when I give presentations–and I can scale up even more when I write or share recordings.
  • So many opportunities come to me because of my presentations and knowledge-sharing. The better I get at this and the earlier I improve, the more cumulative effect this will have over time.
  • The better I can communicate and the more control and range I have, the more I can do professionally and personally.
  • If I can help other people develop their communication skills, then this will scale up even more.
  • It’s fun!

Next actions: Check out library books on voice training, and ask for quotes from voice coaches in Toronto. Waiting for paperwork: sign up for improv classes, and look for acting workshops.