Category Archives: speaking

Remote Presentations That Rock (revised)

Notes for an upcoming presentation on “Remote Presentations That Rock”, for IBM’s “Best of the Technical Leadership Exchange” series. (Whee!) Compare this with the original.

I’ll be the first to confess: I’ve checked mail and surfed the web while “listening” to presentations. I hated not being able to pay attention, but it was hard to concentrate when the speaker was just reading the slides. Whose fault was it? Mine, for being easily distracted? Or the speaker’s, for wasting my time?

And sometimes I was the speaker trying to figure out how to be more interesting than e-mail. It’s hard!

Chances are, you’ve been in that situation too, both as listener and as speaker. I want to share with you the top tips I’ve picked up from years of doing and watching remote presentations. Little things can make such a big difference. I want to convince you to pick one of these tips and use them to make your next presentation rock. Here they are:

Don’t be a robot. Make your presentations real. Don’t be a recording. Interact. Don’t run over time. Make room for learning. Don’t do too much. Keep it simple. Don’t limit yourself. Practise everywhere. Don’t build suspense. Start strong and end strong. Don’t stop there. See the big picture of your presentation.

Don’t be a robot. Make it real.

Have you ever listened to speakers who found their own topics boring? Or droned on and on in a monotone? Or who just couldn’t keep you interested?

Why do speakers do this? Chances are, it’s because the presentation isn’t real enough to them. They can’t see people’s reactions. They can’t see people falling asleep. They’re trying to squeeze a talk into a busy day. They’re distracted by other priorities. They don’t have the time or energy to care.

Or sometimes, people are just plain too nervous to relax. They’re worried about making mistakes.

You might be thinking: “But Sacha, I have to sound serious! I can’t get away with sounding as excited as you!”

You don’t have to sound like a used-car salesman or a rabbit on a sugar rush, but you do need to sound alive. You need to really want to connect with people. You can sound serious as long as people know you care about helping them understand.

The basics: It’s hard to be energetic if your neck is sore and you can’t breathe well. That’s the position you often end up in if you don’t have a headset for your phone. Do yourself a favour and get yourself a phone headset.

Smile. People will hear that in your voice. Stand up if that helps. Use your hands to gesture, even if no one can see them. Wear your favourite suit if it will give you confidence.

Imagine the people you’re talking to, and pretend they’re in front of you. Pictures of people can make this easier.

Even better: instead of just sharing your slides, use a webcam to add video. That way, people can see your facial expressions and even your hand gestures.

Don’t be a robot. Be real. Make that connection.

Don’t be a recording. Interact.

Part of being real is interacting. Think about the last time you attended a presentation that didn’t have time for questions or interaction. Didn’t you wish you could just catch the replay?

Think about the last time you listened to someone reading a script. Didn’t you wish you could just get the e-mail instead?

Don’t waste people’s time. If people are attending your session, it isn’t so that they can read your slides – or listen to you reading your slides. They’re there because they’re interested, they want to ask questions, and they want to learn.

Build interaction into your presentation so that you can find out what’s important to people, what they’re interested in, what they want to learn more about. If not, you might find that you’ve just spent an hour talking about topics 1, 2, and 3, when people are still trying to understand topic 1.

How can you build more interaction into your talk? Explore your teleconferences’ tools for interaction. For example, I ask people to use the text chat to share their questions and ideas throughout the session. In fact, remote presentations can be more interactive than face-to-face ones, because people don’t have to wait for the microphone or a Q&A session.

Many webconferences will let you see how many people have raised their hands. Some even make it easy for people to answer multiple-choice questions or draw on a shared whiteboard. Experiment and explore.

Feel overwhelmed? Ask a buddy to watch the text chat, keep an eye out for raised hands, or set up the urveys for you so that you can focus on speaking.

When you build interaction into your talk, you help people learn, and you learn a lot along the way.

Don’t run over time. Make room for learning.

Imagine you’re giving a presentation for a lunch-and-learn. You think sixty minutes should be plenty of time. But you lose ten minutes waiting for everyone and dealing with technical troubles. Then someone asks a question, and you spend 5 minutes answering it. You try to get through the rest of the presentation, but you realize that it’s already 12:50 and you’re nowhere near the end. You flip through your slides quickly, and manage to make it to the end by 1:03. You ask: “Any questions?” but all you hear are the beeps of people dropping from the call so that they can make it to their next meeting.

Virtual conferences are worse, because speakers who take too much time mess up the schedule for everyone else.

This happens in face-to-face presentations, but remote presentations are even more challenging because people usually schedule other things right after your presentation. Back-to-back meetings mean that if you run late, people will miss your key points or the Q&A.

Here’s how you can make sure you always end on time: Plan for a much shorter time than you have. Don’t try to cram 80 minutes of speaking into 60 minutes. Get your key message across in 10 to 20 minutes, or even shorter. Then plan backup material so that you can take more time if needed.

For example, although this session is supposed to be sixty minutes long, I can give you an executive summary in less than three minutes. I recorded this talk as a 14-minute video. All the rest of the time is for questions and answers, which is where the real value is.

When you have a clear plan, you can make your session longer or shorter as needed. Do you need to keep talking because the next speaker is still missing? Tell more stories. Do you have to do your talk quickly because technical troubles stole twenty minutes? Don’t talk faster, just focus on the important points. Be flexible and respect people’s time.

Don’t do too much. Keep it simple.

What causes people to go over time? It’s because they’re trying to do too much.

Think about the last time you attended a presentation that tried to cover too many topics. Think about slides that had so much text on them that you couldn’t figure out where to start. It doesn’t work for you, and it doesn’t work for people listening to you.

“But Sacha, I need all those details,” you say. Yes, but people can’t listen to you, read your slides, and understand everything all at the same time. Make a simpler presentation, then share the details separately.

When I plan a presentation, I focus on one thing I want people to do. Then I think of three to seven things that support that key message. That’s it. It’s easier to keep things simple when you start small, instead of trying to shoehorn a large presentation into a limited space. If you need to summarize a big presentation, read through everything, then take a step back and say: “What do I want people to do or remember?” Start from there and figure that out before you make a single slide.

Keep it simple in terms of technology, too. Have a simple backup plan just in case. That way, you don’t panic when your fancy animations or your technology demo doesn’t work. No demo? Use slides. No slides? Talk about your key message. No teleconference? Send an e-mail or reschedule. Keep it simple.

Don’t limit yourself. Sneak practise into everyday life.

“But Sacha, it takes time to make things simple!” Yes. It takes time to figure out what you want to say and how you want to say it. It’s easier to tell people everything you know, instead of the one or two things they need. It’s easier to take someone else’s deck and hope you can talk your way through it, instead of customizing it to fit what you know.

At the very least, you should read through a deck before presenting it, and you should try out your conference tools before you use them with a real audience.

But you know that already. So here’s a useful, unconventional tip: even if you can’t spend a few hours working on your presentation, you can still practise while doing other things.

I spend more than eight hours a day working on my presentations. How? When I read or experiment, I learn things that might be useful for a talk. When I talk or write to people, I learn more about what I want to say and how I want to say it. When I watch other people, I take notes on what they’re saying AND how they’re presenting it. I learn from conversations and commercials. Before big presentations like this one, I even end up rehearsing in my dreams. As I keep talking about something, I figure out my key message and how I can share it.

You might not have time to go to presentation classes or public speaking clubs like Toastmasters, but you have plenty of opportunities to practise. Talk to yourself. Seriously. Your presentations will be much better when you don’t just write them, you listen to yourself saying them. For example, you will probably never use the word “utilize” again, because “use” feels much more natural.

Talk to other people about what you’re going to present. Write about what you’re going to present. Practice isn’t just about scripting your talk and re-reading it. You can practise any time, anywhere.

Stand-up comedians practise all the time so that they can figure out their punchlines, and they always keep an eye out for interesting things they can turn into jokes. If you practise, I can’t promise that you’ll be funny, but you will be much clearer and more confident.

Don’t build suspense. Start strong and end strong.

Speaking of stand-up comedians – this is where you shouldn’t be like them. When you’re telling a joke, it’s okay to build up the suspense. When you’re giving a remote presentation, don’t wait until the end of your talk to say your key message, because you’re not going to have the time to do that. Say what you want to say within the first five to ten minutes, then spend the rest of the time explaining the details and handling questions.

“But Sacha, if I do that, everyone’s going to leave right away!”

That’s terrific! You’ve just saved everyone time. If you say your key message at the beginning instead of at the end of your talk, then the people who are super-busy can get on with the rest of their day, while the people who need to find out more can stay for questions. Also, by getting your message in early, you’ll make it easy for people to remember.

What does this mean for you? Move your executive summary to the front. You can still talk about your agenda and how you’re going to talk about things, but put the important stuff first. Start strong.

End strong, too. Let’s say that you’ve made the most of tip #3 and planned for plenty of time for questions and answers. Don’t make your last slide show just “Q&A” or “Thank you!”. It’s a waste of time and space. Instead, make a one-slide summary of the key points and next actions from your talk. Include contact information and a link where people can find out more. Use that one-slide summary as your Q&A slide so that people can remember what they want to ask questions about. It’s simple, easy to do, and very effective.

Jumpstart questions and answers by preparing some questions that people usually ask you. If people have been using the text chat throughout your session, you probably have lots of questions to deal with already. Great! Go for it.

Then take back control at the end of the session. Save five minutes at the end so that you can give a quick summary of your talk, the key points from Q&A, and the next actions you want people to take. That way, people’s last impressions of your talk are the ones you want them to have.

People remember the beginning and the end more clearly than what’s in the middle. Take advantage of that by starting strong and ending strong.

Don’t stop there. See the big picture.

Many people have a hard time doing a strong ending because they don’t know what they want people to do next. Have you ever watched a presentation and thought, “Okay, now what do I do?”

When you speak, you need to understand the bigger picture of your presentation. Your presentation never stands by itself. It should lead into something. What do you want people to do? What do you want people to feel? What do you want people to remember? How do you want to change people’s minds? Your presentation is not the end. It’s the beginning.

For example, after this presentation, I want you to take one of these tips and use it to make your next presentation better. I want you to watch other remote presentations and learn about what they do well and what can be improved. I want you to download the slides and read my article, and I want you to share that with other people. Those are the next steps that this presentation must help you take. The bigger goal I have is to help people make more effective remote presentations (so that I don’t have to sit through boring ones!).

Next time you make a presentation, think: What do I want people to do after this? It doesn’t matter if you’re reporting utilization rates or talking about the technical details of a new product – you still want people to remember something, change something, do something. If you don’t, then there’s no reason to give a presentation – just send a document.

Seeing the big picture also means you can get a lot more ROI from the time and effort you invest into making a presentation. Using the same work you put into the presentation, you can share slides, handouts, videos, follow-up tips, and many other resources. For example, I gave a presentation to 90 people. When I put the slides up online, they were viewed 24,000 times. 24,000 more views for five minutes of additional work? Yes! It’s all part of the bigger picture of a presentation: the conversations that go on after your talk.

In fact, you can get that kind of return even before you make a presentation. For example, when I’m working on a presentation, I tell people I’m working on a presentation. I post my presentation outline on my blog, where people can see it and give suggestions. I post my presentation script as a blog entry. I post my slides. I talk to people about it. As a result, by the time I get to the actual presentation, I’ve had lots of practice. Remember tip 5 about practicing everyday? This is how you do it. And I also have lots of feedback and lots of connections, all because of these conversations before my talk.

You need to see the big picture of your presentation. Why does your talk matter? What do you want people to do after your talk? How can you keep the conversation going? How can you start the conversation earlier? How can you involve more people? How can you increase your ROI? Plan how, and build that into your presentation.

Summary

Don’t be a robot. Make your presentations real. Don’t be a recording. Interact. Don’t run over time. Make room for learning. Don’t do too much. Keep it simple. Don’t limit yourself. Practise everywhere. Don’t build suspense. Start strong and end strong. Don’t stop there. See the big picture of your presentation.

You’ve probably heard tips like these before, but there’s a big difference between hearing them and doing them. Focus on one of these tips and use it to make your next presentation better. Watch other remote presentations. Take notes on what they do well and what can be improved. Download these slides or read my notes, and share them with other people.

We spend so many hours in remote presentations, and little things can make such a big difference. Down with boring presentations, and ever onward to remote presentations that rock!

Quick notes from a conversation about speaking and facilitation

I’m working on revising my Remote Presentations That Rock presentation because it’s going to be featured in the “Best of the Technical Leadership Exchange 2009” series at work. (Whee!) Because the content’s already available via video recordings, slides, and blog posts, I’m trying to figure out how to add extra value to the talk so that it’s worth experiencing live.

Timothy Kelpsas reached out to me with a teaser about running multiple sub-plots to help with remote listeners. I finally got to ask him what he meant. Thirty minutes was far too short! =)

Tim thinks of presentations or facilitated sessions like a movie. Just as a director might plant clues about upcoming scenes (foreshadowing) or refer to previous events (flashbacks), Tim plans short forward-looking and backward-looking throughout the session. He establishes a rhythm. And just as a director mixes up action, comedy, romance, and other parts to appeal to different audiences, Tim tries to make sure that different kinds of people get engaged in a variety of activities. He shared how he thinks about introversion and extroversion, multiple intelligences, and other preferences that influence how people learn.

For remote audiences, he keeps a few tips in mind:

  • When Tim’s giving a presentation, he imagines the experience from the point of view of someone who’s far away and who’s watching the presentation through a replay. This helps him build empathy.
  • Tim works on actively engaging remote listeners by incorporating questions and self-reflection into his talk. For example, he might ask people to think about the worst leader they’ve had. A short while later, he might ask them to think about one thing they would change about that leader if they could. This gives people an opportunity to engage with the topic, even if they can’t interact with him directly.
  • Tim also deliberately builds rapport with replay audiences. He occasionally addresses people who are listening along on the replay. This acknowledgement helps build rapport, and it helps him remember their needs too.

How can I apply what I’m learning?

Instead of repeating the same presentation, I’m going to revise it thoroughly. I know the core ideas are sound. Not only did the content get me voted into the Best of the TLE series, but lots of people have reused it already, and people tell me that the tips are very useful. Now I get to experiment with more effective ways to present those tips. Taking Barclay Brown’s suggestion to use the basic fiction plots, I’m going to revise it to use a revenge plot. (Now I’m curious about how I might pull that off, and if I’m curious, chances are other people will be curious too!) I think that will be more fun than the quest plot, and the more vivid I can make things, the more people might remember.

Building on that subplot, I can weave reflection through more of the presentation. The original presentation had a little bit of reflection up front, but the revenge plot gives me plenty of opportunities to build reflection in.

Applying Tim’s tips, I’m going to prompt myself to  “break the fourth wall” and address people listening to the replay. I generally haven’t done this because I prepare blog posts, slides, and the occasional short standalone video for replay audiences, but people might come in through the web conference archives and miss out on the additional resources. Besides, it must be possible to do a good live/replay mix, and the practice will help me with in-person presentations as well.

Also awesome: The very first thing Tim did when we connected on the phone was to sing to me. He explained afterwards that he wanted to make sure I quickly got the sense of who he was. You bet that’s sticking in my memory! I told Tim how it reminded me of when Ethan McCarty sang me a song when I dropped by IBM NY. Ah, IBM and awesome people having fun… =)

Presented Remote Presentations That Rock v2 for the Best of TLE 2009 series

I presented “Remote Presentations That Rock” as part of the IBM Best of Technical Leadership Exchange series.

What worked well? What can I improve next time?

  • The one-slide summary format gave me lots of flexibility.
  • I told a few more mini-stories. Yay! Next time, I can sprinkle more examples and anecdotes into my talk.
  • Apparently, people remember my hats. =)
  • The “Oak” room and some of the other meeting rooms at 120 Bloor are excellent for videos. Well-lit white wall for the win! All you need is to bring in one of the desk lights, and you’re good to go.
  • A whiteboard is not a bad place to keep notes so that you can refer to them during your talk. Write big.
  • Using the text chat for all questions worked out well. Apparently, people are starting to shift to that pattern instead of mixed voice Q&A and text. Good for handling and prioritizing long questions, too!
  • One of the organizers suggested puppets. I could do a good presenter – bad presenter thing for fun. <laugh> If I think of the pre-conference time like a silent movie and figure out what to do, that might give people an incentive to come early!
  • One of the participants suggested using partially-drawn slides and then drawing on top of them. That might be a great way to do the next version of this talk. Elluminate’s drawing tool feels a bit harsh, but maybe Inkscape or the Gimp might be fun to try. Must check whether screensharing introduces too much of a delay.
  • Another participant suggested clipping or taping the phone headset cable so that it doesn’t create a distracting visual line away. Isn’t it so cool that people think of these things?
  • I definitely need to keep the equivalent of two bottles of water around. My throat got a bit parched towards the end.
  • Lots of good stuff in the text chat. Will reflect on and re-answer questions soon.

Remote Presentations That Rock

Notes about business communication

Don Cameron is working on a book about business communication, and I’ll be talking to him on Friday to share what I’m learning. In his initial e-mail, he said that he wants to learn more about my educational and career background, and my business communication insights. I figured I’d write about it here so that we can save time, use the interview for follow-up questions and interesting thoughts, and demonstrate the value of sharing. We can also translate this into printable quotes, just like I used my blog to draft informally-written sections of my thesis before I translated them into academese. <laugh>

Business communication insights

Share while you learn. This is probably the key thing that differentiates the way I work. Many people think they need to be experts before they can blog or share what they know. I think that being a beginner is fantastic for sharing, because you don’t take things for granted. Writing and drawing and giving presentations helps you think through complex topics more effectively. Along the way, you create these resources you can save for yourself and share with other people. If you can make it easier for other people to learn, they can build on what you’ve shared with them to learn even more, and you can learn from what they can do.

It’s like the difference between climbing a rope and building a staircase. Rope-climbing is hard. Not everyone can do it, and it can be difficult to get yourself up. But if you build a staircase, not only can you go up more easily and more safely, but you help other people go up too.

Share while you work. Here’s another big difference. Many people think about knowledge-sharing as something you do after you work, and they wonder where I find the time to blog and do all sorts of other things. The trick is to make sharing part of the way you work. Why?

  • You can save time. Sometimes I post a quick update about what I’m working on, and someone I would’ve never thought to ask posts a tip that saves me hours of work.
  • You can remember more. Saving the reflection and sharing for after your work means you’ll have a better perspective, sure, but you’ll have forgotten many things or taken them for granted. If you take and share notes along the way, your post-project summary will be clearer and more precise.
  • You might not find the time after you’re done. When you finish a task, you’re usually thinking of the next one. This is why consultants have such a hard time writing down lessons learned from projects – it’s hard to focus on an optional task for a project that’s already finished when you have other priorities.

Scale up. I think about scale a lot – getting more value for the time and energy I put into something. That’s why I share things as widely as I can. Presentations and blog posts reach more people than e-mail, which is more reusable than phone calls. Taking an extra couple of minutes to share something in a wider medium can mean reaching many more people and creating much more impact. For example, I almost never give a presentation without posting the presentation online, either on the Intranet or on our company intranet. One time, I prepared a presentation on Web 2.0 and education for about 90 people. That presentation has been viewed more than 26,000 times online.

Archiving your work is a great way to scale up. If someone likes one of my presentations, they often check out my other presentations, and that helps me get even more value without more effort. I have blog posts going back to 2002, and people often come across my old posts by searching or browsing – again, more value without more effort. I might have a great five-minute conversation with a new acquaintance, but if they check out my blog, they can learn so much more about me and our common ground than we can find out in hours of interaction. Social networking tools help me get to know and keep in touch with many more people than I might be able to meet or talk to, and they scale up the effort that I put into them. 

Be human. Sharing and archiving scares a lot of people. They’re afraid of making mistakes or changing their minds, and having the infinite memory of the Internet used against them. I think learning is one of the best parts of life, and you can’t learn unless you take risks. Sometimes my blog posts have typos or factual errors. Sometimes my code has bugs. Sometimes I change my mind. This is good. If I didn’t share things, I might have remained quietly ignorant. Life is too short to rely on just my ability to figure things out, or to let other people struggle through everything on their own.

Being human also means making that connection. Don’t hide behind jargon, passive sentences, and text-heavy bullet-points. Tell stories. Surprise people. Provoke them. Help them grow. Connect. If you need to make and communicate tough decisions, take responsibility and show empathy.

Work really changes when you bring your whole self to it. I bring my happiness and passion and enthusiasm to work. It’s amazing to hear from people around the world who get inspired by that – and who then inspire other people around them. There’s tremendous joy in doing great work, and you can have a lot of fun doing so. I started hand-drawing my slides because it was fun for me, and I continued doing it because other people found it fun and engaging, too. I learn and share because it’s fun and it builds on my strengths. I build tools because I love building tools and helping people save time. Find your strengths and share them with others.

So, how did I figure these things out? What’s my story?

Educational and career background

Blogging changed everything, I think. I wasn’t particularly interested in writing until I realized that I could do more than write essays for school.

In my third year of university, while taking computer science, I decided to challenge myself by contributing to open source. One of the projects I worked on was a personal information manager that had a good note-taking feature. I added the ability to publish a blog, and I used that to share my class notes and my notes on open source. I discovered that not only did people read my blog posts, they found them useful, and they gave me suggestions on how to do things better.

My passion for building tools and helping people improve the way they work also drove me to start giving presentations. Here’s what I shared in The Shy Presenter: Why conventional advice on learning public speaking sucks, and how to really get started:

True story. The only reason I got started in public speaking was because some friends of mine were organizing a conference. By the third call for speakers, they sounded pretty desperate. I said, hey, I’m just a student, but I can talk about this if you really can’t find anyone, and I’m playing with that as a hobby. They booked me for two talks. I learned that even as a beginner, you can help other people learn.

I discovered that public speaking was a fantastic way to start conversations with hundreds of people at a time. It was the perfect networking method for an introvert like me. I could write about what I was learning, refine those thoughts into a presentation, prepare and practice my talk, and rely on my passion for the topic to get me through the nervousness I felt about talking to hundreds of people. Afterwards, I didn’t have to awkwardly stand around trying to figure out how to start a conversation – people would just walk up to me and start talking! (This was so cool, I made it one of my key tips in The Shy Connector: How to get strangers to talk to you).

I continued to blog and give presentations as a teacher at the Ateneo de Manila University and as a graduate student at the University of Toronto. Blogging about my IBM-sponsored research into using Web 2.0 to find expertise helped me meet a lot of people who were interested in social networking tools, and I learned about so many resources and tools that I would probably never have found on my own. When I decided that I wanted to continue working with such amazing people, I asked for their help in finding just the right position for me. I joined IBM in October 2007 in a role that was customized for me. Here’s how I got that awesome job.

Writing, presenting, and connecting have helped me learn from, and help lots of people. I still struggle with the idea of starting conversations in hallways or elevators, but I’ve figured out some things that work really well for me, and I look forward to trying more.

Seven Tips for Short Talks

Regina Zaliznyak asked me to put together a presentation to help IBM’s Extreme Blue interns give better 4-minute pitches to project sponsors, managers, and other interested people. After thinking about the topic a bit, I realized that I wanted to figure out and share tips on how to make really short presentations.

Short presentations scare people. “One hour? No problem. Five minutes? Oh no! What should I put in? What should I leave out? What if I make a mistake?”

Seven Tips for Short Talks

1. Start at the end. Don’t start with slides, or even an outline. Ask yourself: what do I want people to do, feel, or remember? Work backwards from there. What do you need to show people so that they can take the next step? What do you need to share in order to get them to that point?

Let’s talk about Extreme Blue. What are your goals for the project pitch presentation? You want to convince a manager to use your project, maybe even invest in it. You might want to show people that you’d be a great hire. What are your goals?

Figure out your conclusion. Then put it up front. Don’t build suspense. Say what you want to say in the first thirty seconds, use the rest of your talk to support your point, and emphasize it at the end.

2. Simplify. Be ruthless. Get rid of whatever doesn’t support your point. Save the details for handouts, posters, backup slides, web pages, or Q&A. Four minutes is not enough time for a lecture, but plenty of time for a commercial. Your job is to make people curious so that they want to find out more.

Keep your message simple, too. Translate numbers and jargon into things people can understand. Too much text on the slides means that people will be reading instead of listening to you. Try a few words, images, or no slides at all. That way, people can focus on you.

3. Share a story if you can. One of the best ways to make things human-scale is to tell a story. Yes, your project might change the software industry and create billions of dollars in profit. But your presentation will be more powerful if you can show—really show—how you can make one person’s life better. You could talk about inefficiencies in the food distribution industry, or you could talk about how one apple goes from the farm to your plate. Use a story to make things real, then help people imagine how things could be even better.

4. Start from scratch.

We have interesting quirks, like the anchoring bias. Let’s say I wanted to sell you this <item>. If I told you it’s worth about $90, we’d probably end up at a higher price than if I told you I got it for about $30. That initial information shapes our decision.

So don’t start from a boring presentation. Start from scratch, and add things only if they fit. In fact, don’t start with slides at all. Figure out what you want to say and how you want to say it before you make the slides to support your points. That way, you’re not limited by the software.

Don’t be afraid of starting from scratch multiple times. Put your drafts away and start again. Try a fresh perspective. Change things up.

(Thanks to Cate Huston for sharing this tip!)

5. Schedule. Planning a short presentation is harder than planning a long one.

You have to decide: what goes in? what stays out?

Give yourself plenty of time to work on it. Don’t wait until a week before your presentation.

Always ask yourself: Why is this worth it? Who can benefit from this? How can I show them?

The good thing is that there are plenty of opportunities to learn and practice, if you look around.

6. Seek inspiration. Next time you watch an ad, think: How does it grab your attention and make you want to do something? Next time you watch a movie or a TV show, learn from how it tells a story. Next time you have a conversation, think about words and flow.

Practising isn’t just about running through your slides and your scripts. Try parts of your talk in your next conversation with your six-year-old niece. Talk to your friends. Sketch your slides during breaks. Dream about your talk, even.

Don’t reveal anything confidential, of course. Keep your eyes and ears open for opportunities to learn, and you’ll find plenty.

7. Stay flexible. Four minutes flies by. You’ll be nervous. You’ll be anxious. You’ll forget things. That’s okay. I’ve given dozens of presentations. I still get nervous. I still get anxious. I still forget some of the things I want to share.

Stay flexible. If your slides don’t show, if your animation flops, if your demo fails, don’t panic. You don’t even need to apologize. Certainly don’t apologize for your apology. Keep calm and carry on. If you focused on a simple message (perhaps in a memorable story), you can share that no matter what.

This is also where keeping your talk simple helps. If you have very little text or you have simple diagrams on your slides, you can talk for as long or as short as you want. On the other hand, if you have lots of text or complicated diagrams, people feel short-changed if you flip through them too quickly. Keep things simple and flexible.

And have fun!

Resources

Watch short presentations to get a sense of how much you can fit into one. Pay attention to what you like and don’t like. Bad presentations can be just as informative as good ones.

Here are some sites worth checking out:

  • Ignite Talks – 20 slides, auto-advancing after 15 seconds each = 5-minute presentation. And you thought your pitch was tough!
  • TED.com – good source of inspiration for talks
  • Presentation Zen and Slideology – slide and presentation design tips

Six steps to make sharing part of how you work

This entry is part 15 of 19 in the series A No-Excuses Guide to Blogging

People often ask me how I find the time to write, blog, or give presentations, so I’ve put together these tips on how to turn sharing from something that takes up extra time to something that saves you time as you work.

Sharing is intimidating. You might think that you need to master blogs or wikis before you can make the most of Web 2.0 tools to help you share your knowledge and build your network. But even if you never post in public, you’ve got plenty of opportunities to make a bigger difference through sharing.

I’m not going to tell you to start a blog today. Here’s a six-step program to help you save time by making sharing part of the way you work, even if most of what you work with is confidential or lives in e-mail. Give it a try!

Step 1. Review your e-mail for information that you repeatedly send people. Do different people ask you the same questions? Are there links or files you find yourself always looking up and sending? Are there common problems you often solve? Save time by filing those messages in a “Reference” folder so that you can easily find them the next time someone asks that question or needs that file. Save even more time by rewriting your notes so that you can easily cut and paste them into new messages.

You can use your e-mail program to manage this information by saving the e-mails in a “Reference” folder that might be subdivided into more folders, or you can save the information in directories on your hard drive, encrypting it if necessary. The key change is to create a virtual filing cabinet and put useful information in it.

This virtual filing cabinet can save you a lot of time on your own work, too. I often find myself searching for my notes on how I solved a problem six months ago because I have to solve it again, and my notes save me a lot of time.

Step 2. When talking to people, listen for opportunities to take advantage of your reference information. Now that you’ve got an virtual filing cabinet of useful information, keep an ear open for ways you can use that information to help people more efficiently. When people ask you a question you’ve answered before, give them a quick answer and promise to e-mail them the rest of the details.

When you look for ways to reuse the information you already have, you’ll find plenty of opportunities to get a lot more benefit from the effort that you’ve already invested.

Step 3. Reach out. Now that you’ve saved time and helped more people by sharing the information in your virtual filing cabinet when they ask, you’ve got a better sense of which notes are very useful. Take a moment to review your files and think about who might benefit from learning from that information. Reach out to them, sending them a note about what you’ve learned and why it can save them time. It might lead to interesting conversations and good opportunities.

For example, let’s say you e-mailed one of your coworkers an answer to his problem. Think of other team members who might have run into the same problem, and send them a short note about it too. If you do this judiciously, people will feel grateful without feeling overwhelmed by e-mail.

Step 4. Prepare and take notes. Now you’re getting lots of return on the time you invested into organizing your existing information, and you’ve got an idea of what kinds of information help you and other people a lot. Proactively write down information that might be useful instead of waiting until someone asks you about it, because you might not remember all the relevant details by that time. In fact, take notes while you’re working instead of leaving it for the end. File those notes in your virtual filing cabinet as well, and share them with other people who might find this useful.

In addition to helping you save time in the future, writing about what you’re learning or doing can help you think more clearly, catch mistakes, and make better decisions.

Step 5. Look for ways to share your notes with more people. By now, you’ve probably developed a habit of looking for ways to take advantage of what you’re learning or doing: writing and filing your notes, retrieving your notes when people need them, and proactively reaching out. You can stop there and already save a lot of time–or you can learn about sharing your notes more widely, helping you build your network and increase your impact.

Proactively reaching out to people who might find your notes useful has probably helped you develop stronger working relationships with a small investment of time. However, this is limited by who you know, how much you know about what they’re working on, and the timing of the information. On the other hand, if you share some of your notes in public areas where people can search for or browse them, then you can help people you might not think of reaching out to, and they can find your information whenever they need it.

You don’t have to share all your information publicly. Review your virtual filing cabinet for information that can be shared with everyone or with a small group, and look for ways to share it with the appropriate access permissions. You can share different versions of documents, too.

For example, I share public information on my blog because blogs make it easy to publish quick notes, and search engines make it easy for people to find what they need even if I posted those notes several years ago. On the other hand, there are many notes that I post to internal access-controlled repositories. Sometimes, I’ll post a sanitized version publicly, and a more detailed version internally.

This is where you can get exponential return on your time investment. If people can find and benefit from your notes on their own, then you can reach many more people and create much more impact.

People may not find and use your information right away. Keep building that archive, though. You’ll be surprised by how useful people can find your work, and by the number of opportunities and relationships you build along the way.

Step 6. Review your organizational system and look for opportunities for relentless improvement.

You’ve collected useful information from your e-mails and conversations, organized that in your virtual filing cabinet, reached out to people, and shared some of your notes publicly. Congratulations! You’re probably getting your work done faster because you don’t waste time solving problems again. Your coworkers probably look to you for answers because you not only help them solve problems, you do so in a timely and detailed manner. And you might already have discovered how helpful your notes can be for others you wouldn’t have thought of contacting. What’s next?

Review your virtual filing cabinet. Can you organize it for faster access? Can you fill in missing topics? Can you identify and update obsolete information? Look for opportunities to improve your process, and you’ll save even more time and make a bigger impact.

Want to share your experiences? Need help? Please feel free to leave a comment!