Category Archives: speaking

Seven tips for making better presentations

People often ask me how they can improve their presentation skills. Here are seven quick tips:

  1. Think about why you want to make better presentations. It’s not just about getting rid of your ums and ahs, it’s about making that connection with the audience and helping them act, learn, or understand. When you have a clear purpose, it’s easier for you to find opportunities to improve and to motivate yourself to do better.
  2. Go to lots of presentations, even bad ones. You’ll learn about what people do well and what you can improve. Try imagining how you would give that presentation.
  3. Look for great presentations. TED.com is a good source of inspiration.
  4. Read blogs and books about presentation design and delivery. My favorite blogs are Presentation Zen, Slideology, and Speaking about Presenting.
  5. Give lots of presentations. If you don’t have speaking opportunities coming up, make them. You can practice slide design and information organization by putting slides together for sites like Slideshare. You can practice delivery by organizing meetings or creating a podcast/vidcast. You can help people find out about what you’re interested in talking about, and you can volunteer.
  6. Record your presentations and review them. Having them transcribed helps, too. If possible, record both audience and speaker.
  7. Practice relentless improvement. Every time you give a talk, reflect on what you did well and what you can do better.

Managing virtual assistants: the surprising benefits of transcription

I frequently give speeches. During some months, practically every week involves a presentation or two. I usually post presentation, recording, and notes for these presentations, but it would be handy to have a transcript. Timestamped transcripts also make it easy to search within presentations, synchronize audio with slides, and even remove ums and ahs.

I’m not an auditory learner. I find it difficult to sit still for an audio-only session, even if it’s my own. ;) I’ve transcribed some things–my research interviews, a few of my talks–using the handy Transcriber program, which made it easy for me to associate text with specific audio segments.

And maybe transcripts can help me learn how to be a better speaker, too! I speak at about 200 words per minute when I’m excited. While that’s below the 300 words per minute I often joke about, it’s still well above the recommended 140-160 words per minute for persuasive speeches. Transcripts make my rambling sentence structure and my verbal crutches painfully obvious, too. ;)

If I can get word counts and review what I’m saying without the large initial effort of transcribing things myself, I think it’ll be well worth it. It gives me metrics, and metrics are useful. Like the way that people work on getting into a target heart beat zone when exercising, these numbers can help me get into a target speaking rate zone, providing me feedback about going too quickly or too slowly. And like the way that listening to music and practicing on the piano will eventually give me a feel for how long a quarter note is in different tempos, listening to good speeches and practicing myself (either through actual presentations or through podcasts I make on my own) can help me adjust my speaking rate.

On to the actual process of transcription:

I posted a job notice on oDesk looking for people who can edit and transcribe audio files. While waiting for candidates to respond, I asked one of my virtual assistants to download Express Scribe and give it at try – it might help her develop new skills. I like having plenty of timestamps in the transcribed text because it makes it really easy for me to recheck the transcript, so I also sent her a link to this shortcut for timestamping files.

A few good candidates responded to my oDesk ad. One of them had an excellent sample transcript, so I’ve also added her to my growing team. I sent her the audio recording for the talk I did yesterday, and I’m looking forward to getting it back.

Here are some notes on my preliminary experiences with transcription, and I’ll add more as I explore this:

  • More effort is required to transcribe ums, ahs, repeated words, sounds, and other things accurately. If you don’t need them in the final transcript, tell your transcriptionist to skip them. If you want to make it easier to edit the file, you can ask people to add timestamps and a marker like “!!!” during the ums and ahs. Work backwards from the end of the file in order to remove the ums and ahs, so that you can keep the timestamps useful for as long as possible.

    There’s probably a better way to handle this audio editing. Maybe a transcriptionist could remove ums and ahs along the way? Maybe I can ask an audio person to clean up the audio before handing it over?

  • I need to pause more when giving presentations. ;) Pausing more helps transcriptionists figure out sentence punctuation and paragraph separation.
  • If there are unclear words, ask the transcriptionist to indicate that with a timestamp and a marker like ???. That way, you can easily review and fix it.

I wonder how I can take advantage of Dragon NaturallySpeaking here, as I already have it. Even better if I could get someone else to train and correct my user model, but I think Dragon NaturallySpeaking wants me to upgrade to the super-expensive version in order to do that. =|

Hmm… How can I tweak this process…

Do you outsource transcription, or do any of your friends outsource transcription? I’d love to hear about experiences and tips!

Remote presentations that rock: Challenges and opportunities of remote presentations

How are remote presentations different from in-person ones, and how can you make the most of those differences?

Plan for different channels and attention levels

Unlike at in-person conferences, you don’t have a lot of control over how people experience your presentation. Some people will be connected to the phone conference, but won’t be able to view your slides. Some people will be part of the phone conference, but not the Web conference, so they’ll need to change slides themselves. Some people will read your slides in order to catch up on parts they missed. Some people will listen to the recording after your session. Some people will just read your slides.

As much as possible, plan your talk so that you can make the most of the different ways people will receive your message.

To accommodate people on the phone, do not rely too much on visual aids, and explain important points out loud. Indicate when you’re moving to the next slide. Include the slide number on all pages of your presentation.

To accommodate people who may drift in and out of your presentation, verbally and visually emphasize important points, repeating as necessary.

To accommodate people who are reviewing the slides or recording, write an article or blog post with a more coherent version of your presentation.

Build interactivity into your presentation

At first glance, remote presentations may seem less interactive than real-life ones. You can’t see body language, and it’s difficult for people to interrupt during a conference call. However, you can still build interactivity into your session, and you should. Here are some reasons why and some tips for doing so.

  • Both real-life and virtual presentations benefit from the increased engagement and energy of interactivity. Your session is competing for attention against e-mail, instant messages, and other distractions, and interactivity gives your session an extra punch.
  • You don’t have body language cues to tell when people are interested or bored, and it’s not as easy for people to interrupt with a question. Interactivity gives you a way to check the pulse. Ask questions, conduct polls, and get people to share their stories.

  • Different opportunities for interaction open up with a remote presentation. You can ask people to share their thoughts and questions during the presentation instead of waiting for the end, and they can answer each other’s questions or discuss topics themselves, too. On some web-conferencing systems like Centra, you can even ask people to annotate the slides, or to break out into groups and discuss things there.

Don’t be afraid of a little silence on the line. What seems like an uncomfortablely long silence to you gives people time to think about what they want to say, and eventually pushes other people to say something.

When asking people to interact, I find that it’s often helpful to encourage people to use the text chat. That way, more people can share their thoughts without trying to figure out whose turn it is to speak, and this also brings in shyer people. If your phone or web conference allows people to raise their hands, you can use that to queue people for speaking as well.

As you become more comfortable with building interactivity into your remote presentations, you’ll find that you’ll learn as much from the participants as you share with them.

Talk one-on-one

In a session called “Presentation Secrets of Comedians and Stage Performers to Keep Audience Attention” at last year’s IBM Technical Leadership Exchange, Barclay Brown shared a story about watching a presenter make the mistake of wrapping with “Thanks, you’ve
been a great audience.” He explained that although speakers might see themselves speaking to an audience, listeners think of themselves as individuals, not a group. Good speakers make that one-on-one connection even with hundreds or thousands of people in the room.

In a virtual presentation, the perception of being an individual is even stronger. Your audience members don’t see the other participants. Pay attention to the words you use so that you can make the most of that one-on-one connection. Use sentences like “Have you ever experienced this?” instead of “Has anyone here experienced this?” You can still summarize group results, but keep that one-on-one mindset as you go through the rest of your talk.

Provide next actions

Think of things people may want to learn more about or do after your presentation, and take advantage of the fact that most of your participants will already be on a computer. Give them a URL where they can find out more, take the first step, or even fill out a survey about the session.

Hope that helps! Feel free to ask me questions – I’ll come up with more tips that way. =)

Quick tips for making the most of Sametime Unyte

More and more people are turning to virtual presentations as a way to save on travel and reach a wide audience. I’m particularly happy with Sametime Unyte, the system we use at work. Here are a few quick tips on making the most of it:

  • Save time and avoid errors by giving attendees a URL that automatically fills in your conference ID. Example: If your conference ID is 0000000, give them the URL https://www.webdialogs.com/join/?schedid=0000000 .
  • Instead of sharing your desktop in order to give a presentation, click on Publish, Manage Files, and then upload your presentation. This displays faster than desktop sharing does.
  • Enable chat by right-clicking on All Participants, choosing Manage Rights, and checking both checkboxes. Say hi and encourage people to use the chat to ask questions and discuss ideas.
  • Webcams make remote presentations more engaging. Get one, plug it in, and click on Start Video. Works best on IE on Windows. I don’t remember if it works on Firefox on Windows, and I haven’t gotten it to work on Linux.
  • When doing both an in-person and a virtual presentation, ask someone else to monitor the chat room for questions and interesting ideas. That way, you’re not distracted by the effort of keeping up. If the presentation is entirely virtual, you may be able to monitor the chat yourself. If so, you can weave responses into your speech instead of interrupting your speech in order to type.
  • Record the meeting using the Record button, providing it with your teleconference information. You will get a video file that synchronizes the slides and audio.
  • If you have audience members who can’t dial into your teleconference, you can use Audiocast to broadcast the audio through the computer
  • Call people’s attention to the Raise Hand feature and use it for quick polls, if you don’t have the time to set up a more structured poll.

What are your tips for webinar tools?

Virtual conferences change the game

One of the reasons why I give presentations at conferences so often is because I submit proposals for presentations so often. One of the reasons why I submit presentation proposals to conferences so often is because speaking at an event helps you make the most of it. Speaking also gives you a very good excuse for going to a conference, which is important when managers decide who gets to go.

I just realized that virtual conferences are going to change the game a lot. And I love that.

See, with virtual presentations, you don’t need to build as strong a case for going to a conference. You don’t need to wait for a conference to share your ideas, and you don’t need the votes of a program selection committee to present something and invite people to attend. You don’t need to be a speaker or an organizer in order to reach lots of people attending the same event or interested in the same area. Yes, you’ll network much more effectively as a speaker than as an attendee simply because people will come to you with questions and ideas, but even if you’re not a speaker, you can build an audience by sharing your notes or interacting with others.

Virtual conferences level the playing field. Anyone can be a speaker. Anyone can interact. Anyone can create and share scalable value.

What do virtual conferences bring, then? Awareness of sessions that are out there. Energy and momentum. A critical mass of people thinking about things. What can we do to take advantage of that? How can we make the most of virtual conferences’ unique strengths?

Virtual conferences have their own challenges, of course. How do you interact with others? How do you engage people? How do you enjoy the serendipitous connections of hallway conversations? We’ll figure out how to do things like that well, someday.

There’s something pretty powerful in this if we can help people learn how to do it effectively. That’s going to be one of my goals, then. I know something about presenting remotely. People tell me I’m an engaging and dynamic speaker, and I love figuring out how we can all get even better. I am going to help a thousand flowers bloom. =D I am going to coach my colleagues on how to make the most of these opportunities. And then–who knows–maybe the world, through our examples!

What does that mean, concretely?

April would be a great month to experiment with. I’d like to set up two webinars on remote presentation, and offer people coaching and consultation as well. It’ll be in addition to my full project workload, but it’s play, so I shouldn’t go crazy. The webinar materials will also be reusable, so they’ll keep creating value for other people. Hmm… I feel a Crazy Idea coming on…

Networking outside the firewall

In a large company like IBM, it’s easy to forget to interact with the outside world. The internal network of people is rich and varied. We have our own conferences, our own mailing lists, our own communities. If you’re not paying attention, you can easily forget about what’s going on outside.

But reaching out to people outside the organization is important, because it will let you:

  • build relationships with current and potential clients, suppliers and partners, and other interesting people
  • connect better inside the organization (true!)
  • learn from what’s going on in the industry, and share what you’re doing
  • create even more value for even more people, and
  • help you prepare opportunities just in case you need to look for a new position

Anna Dreyzin invited me to speak at a breakfast meeting for a women’s networking group at IBM. While thinking out loud about what new tips I can share in 10-15 minutes, I realized that I can share a very different approach to networking that can result in a lot of benefits for less effort.

You see, traditional networking is active. You reach out to other people, cultivating your network with frequent contact through e-mail, coffee, shared lunches, and other activities. You can build strong relationships, but this takes time.

Active networking can be hard to fit into your schedule. When you have a full load of work, it’s difficult to take time to meet people for coffee or lunch. When you’re daunted by the number of messages in your inbox, you probably won’t feel like sending off another note to keep in touch. When you’re busy working inside an organization, you might not remember to make an effort to connect with people outside it.

Active networking doesn’t scale. With traditional networking, you tend to be limited to people you’ve met or with whom you’ve had direct contact. You can grow your network by attending events, getting referrals, and working on projects with different groups of people, but your network grows slowly.

In contrast, I would characterize my way of networking as mostly passive networking. Instead of actively reaching out to people, I focus on making it easier for people to keep in touch with me, and to giving them reasons for doing so.

This is all because I’m shy and I have such a hard time starting conversations or calling people on the phone.
When I started giving conference presentations in my third year at university, I realized that it was much easier to connect with more people if I gave them reasons to start the conversation. When I started blogging at around the same time, I learned that blogging was an even better way to reach out. And when social networking sites like LinkedIn came on the scene, I found them to be a great way to keep track of my growing network.

By combining social networking, blogging, and public speaking, I can invest a little time and effort into sharing what I’m learning, reach far more people than I would have the time or courage to approach myself, and build relationships I would not have expected to have. People find my website through search engines, the business cards I hand out, and the web address in my e-mail signature. If I provide enough value, maybe they’ll subscribe to keep up to date with what I’m learning. I also occasionally receive e-mail and requests from outside the organization, which reminds me that yes, there is a world out there. ;) A little bit of effort, a whole lot of reward.

So let’s flip networking around. If you find it difficult to reach out to people, make it easier for them to reach out to you. Here’s how to do it:

  • Be findable. If someone lost your business card or your e-mail to them, would they be able to find you again? It helps to have your own website, or at least a profile on a professional social networking site such as LinkedIn. This is also a good opportunity to share your professional and personal interests, so that people can learn more about your skills and possible common ground that you share with them. If you’re just starting out, LinkedIn is a good place to create your first profile. Here are some tips for making the most of LinkedIn:
    • Complete your profile, including the picture
    • Upload your addressbook and connect with your contacts who are already on LinkedIn
    • Write and ask for testimonials
    • Answer and ask questions
  • Share what you’re learning with others. There will always be someone who knows more than you do, and someone who knows less. Learn from those who know more and teach those who know less. A blog is an excellent way to share what you’re learning. In the beginning, it may seem awkward to write short and quick reflections on what you’ve learned or how you can do things better, but over time, you’ll accumulate an archive of useful tips. One of the key challenges for people who are learning how to blog outside the organization’s firewall is figuring out what they can write about while honoring their business conduct guidelines and their company’s intellectual property policies. Don’t give out company secrets, but try to find things you can talk about that people outside the organization would find valuable. You’ll get a surprising amout of value back. Yes, you may be teaching potential competitors along the way, but you’ll also demonstrate your skills and expertise to potential clients–and if you’ve got a real competitive advantage in terms of your experience and skills, your clients will still pick you.
  • Look for opportunities to scale. If you learn something or do something, find a way to get even more value from the time and effort you invested in it. If you read a book or an article, think of who else in your network could benefit from what you’ve learned.If you spent two hours solving a problem, spend 5-15 minutes writing some quick notes that can save other people that time. If you spent forty hours learning a new technology, reach even more people and save even more time by writing blog posts and putting together presentations. If you plan to attend a conference, look into either speaking at it or helping organize it – you’ll meet a lot more people that way. Always look for opportunities to get–and create–more value from the time and effort youv’e already invested in something.