"I don’t know what I’d talk about," people often tell me when I encourage them to think of topics for conferences and events. "I don’t know what to write about," they say when I encourage them to blog. "I’m not an expert. I don’t know anything."
I get that imposter feeling as much as anyone else. I wonder what I know and why people are interested. I worry that the next presentation, the next article is when I’ll be unmasked as just another newbie. Sometimes I think that my enthusiasm is the main reason why people listen, because they already know everything I’m saying. I hate wasting time by not adding anything new.
You might recognize these things as reasons that stop you from standing up and speaking. Before you can think of improving your presentation skills or even becoming comfortable in front of the crowd, you need to find your _why_–your reason to speak, something worth talking about.
I struggle with this every time I see a call for participation or come across a conference I want to attend. These questions are helpful:
The next time an opportunity to share comes up–a call for participation, an educational community meeting–ask yourself:
Chances are that you’ll find something you want to share. Good luck and have fun!
One of the best ways to keep yourself enthusiastic and engaged when you’re presenting a topic that you’ve talked about a number of times before is to keep changing it, whether it’s by tweaking the content of your presentation or opening it up for more discussion. For my four GBS Learning Week sessions on “The Top 10 Web 2.0 Tools Every IBM Consultant Should Try” (available on the IBM intranet on Pass It Along), I decided to vary the structure. The first two times I presented it, I added a new tool to the list and consolidated two other items. For the third and fourth times, I presented it as a survey or quiz instead of a straight list of recommendations.
The third and fourth times felt a lot more effective for me because the new structure made it easier for people to reflect on their current practices and see the potential benefits of these new tools and new ways of working. I made sure that the session feedback for the third and fourth sessions were kept separately, so I could look for any differences.
Then it was time to put on my (very small) stats geek hat. The quantitative feedback didn’t show any statistically significant differences, which I didn’t mind because my average satisfaction rating was around 3.5 out of 4 (midway between “satisfied” and “very satisfied”).
How satisfied were you with this session? (4 – very satisfied, satisfied, neutral, dissatisfied – 1)
I got practically the same ratings for the question: How relevant was this topic to your current role and/or interest for your career development?
The comments were:
I also changed the follow-up strategy for the third and fourth sessions, promising to e-mail people afterwards instead of just directing them to where they can download the presentation. We’ll see how well that works. I might yet see significant differences in adoption and retention. =)
Speaking of session feedback, I’ve been meaning to post my speech feedback from the Technical Leadership Exchange session I gave on I.B.Millennials: The Net Generation and Those Who Recruit, Hire, Manage, Work With, and Sell to Us.
NSI Rating Scale:
Excellent: 85 – 100
Good: 75 – 84
Fair: 65 – 74
Poor: 55 – 64
Severe Problem: below 55
The value of the content
Total Responses: 43 NSI Rating: 87.21 (Excellent) Ranking: 64 of 317
The speaker’s ability to deliver the material
Total Responses: 42 NSI Rating: 92.86 (Excellent) Ranking: 47 of 317
Your ability to apply what you learned
Total Responses: 43 NSI Rating: 70.93 (Fair) Ranking: 115 of 317
This session will help me achieve my business goals
Total Responses: 43 NSI Rating: 63.37 (Poor) Ranking: 164 of 317
I’ve got the “interesting and engaging overview” part down pat, and it would be even more effective if I can directly link it to people’s next actions and business goals. That particular presentation was more about talking about issues and setting the stage for a discussion rather than helping people make immediate changes in terms of recruiting/hiring/managing/collaborating with/selling to Generation Y, though, so that’s understandable. Presentations like “Top 10 Web 2.0 Tools ___ Should Try” are much more focused on next actions, and those seem to be okay.
So what’s the next step from here? On the “building on your strengths” side, I’m working on more visual communication. You can check out my attempts on my Slideshare page. Three of my six public presentations have been featured on Slideshare Presentation of the Day, so I must be on to something here. =) On the “shoring up your weaknesses” side, I’ve been thinking about presentation topics that can lead to immediate next actions. I didn’t feel that “Sowing Seeds: A Technology Evangelist’s Guide to Grassroots Adoption” was as effective as it could’ve been. Reminds me of this:
Zander goes on to say “…if the eyes are not shining you have to ask yourself a question: who am I being that my player’s eyes are not shining?” This goes for our children, students, audience members, and so on. For me that’s the greatest takeaway question: who am I being when I am not seeing a connection in the eyes of others?
“Benjamin Zander: Who are we being?” Garr Reynolds, Presentation Zen
Kaizen: relentless improvement. I want to learn how to help people’s eyes shine with possibility.
Someday I’m going to be able to speak truth like that.
I think it’s amazing that I get to talk about my favorite tools and encourage people to try things out. I’m at the GBS Learning Week in Niagara-on-the-Lake in order to present "The Top Ten Web 2.0 Tools Every IBM Consultant Should Try," and I’m scheduled to do it four times over two days. I’m also giving part of the keynote presentation–a short segment on the demographic revolution, given twice over two days. Oh, and I’ve got an early-morning presentation on Tuesday, an unconference session to facilitate, and another Web 2.0 teleconference workshop on Friday.
I am so going to earn that massage.
I did the first set of presentations today. About thirty people attended the first session, and about fifteen people attended the second.
Back-to-back sessions are tough. I felt more comfortable with the first session because I could chat with the audience before starting. The second was a bit more difficult because I didn’t want to wait too long, but that meant that people filtered in during the start of the presentation. Next time, I’m going to give myself more time between presentations so that I can grab a drink of water, chat with people, and reset myself.
Good stuff, though. I’m tempted to radically restructure the presentation as a story. Might be worth trying–and it’ll be fun! I should ask the organizers if I can get the feedback forms from the first day separate from the feedback forms from the second day. After all, how many times will I get to test presentation styles with the same layout, same type of audience, same timeslot, and things like that? =)
Ooh, this will be fun.
(More braindumping – not quite at the article level yet! =) )
When I plan presentations, I always start by coming up with the key message based on the objectives and the expected audience. The key message needs to be something I can explain in at most 30 seconds, and it needs to answer the audience’s question: “What’s in it for me?” The key message also needs to give people a way to act on that message. (Yes, even FYI presentations.) If I can’t explain what I want to say in 30 seconds, I mindmap and brainstorm and turn things over until I can.
There’s no point in working on the rest of the presentation until you know what you want people to take away. If you can’t say what you want to say in 30 seconds, think about the topic until you understand it well enough to say it in 30 seconds. When you figure out what your 30-second pitch is, you can use that as your abstract and you can use it in networking conversations at the conference/event/wherever. Very useful.
After I determine the key message, I pick three or so supporting points. This is also where I try to find a clever navigational structure or mnemonic to help me remember my points and to help the audience remember my points. Alliteration and acronyms are my favorite tools, but I occasionally come across a good metaphor, too. If I can’t find anything that fits, I try to at least get the rhythm of the words to sound right. (No, I haven’t given a presentation in iambic pentameter yet – but I’m tempted to! ;) ). A thesaurus helps me find synonyms that fit, and a dictionary (I usually use a kid’s dictionary) helps me spark the creative process with random associations and browsing. (Flip it open to a random page, pick a random word, and see if that’s useful.)
Resist the temptation to cram lots of points into your presentation. Find the minimum that you need to support your key message, then get those across clearly.
So there’s the 30-second pitch, the supporting points can be summarized over three minutes or so, and you can wrap it up and explain the next actions in another minute. When the presentation works as a 5-minute talk, it’s time to flesh it out to a 15-minute to 30-minute talk. You can do that by adding stories to the supporting points, keeping the key message in mind. Stories can take varying levels of detail, so they’re pretty flexible.
To take a talk from the 30-minute mark to the 60-minute mark, add more interaction and deeper stories. Good interaction tends to require a longer presentation slot because you need some time for people to shift into discussion mode (and you have to be comfortable with silences), and you don’t want to cut discussions off too early. If you’re doing interaction, don’t make question-and-answer the end of your presentation. Move question-and-answer into your presentation, then take advantage of the opportunity to summarize both your presentation and the discussion with a strong ending, emphasizing the next steps.
Longer timeslots such as 1.5 hours or 4 hours or even days need to be broken up with more interaction and variety. From my university classes (both attending and teaching), I learned that attention tends to flag after about 20 minutes. Mix things up and give people time to process the information. (And to stretch!) Resist the temptation to structure your presentation as one loooong presentation. Break your presentation up into more presentations, because it’s important for people to have review and closure.
In this approach, you’re building up from the core message. As long as you can make that point, you don’t have to worry about leaving material out. If you don’t overload your slides, you can quietly trim material in order to accommodate a particularly good discussion (or a long rant about something else) and people won’t feel cheated. =) If you find out that you have to talk for longer than expected (say, the next speaker is having technical difficulties), then add more detail or more stories or more interaction. If you find out that you have to talk for shorter than expected (say, the previous speaker had technical difficulties ;) ), focus on the key message and the supporting points.
Try it out for your next presentation. Start with your 30-second pitch, then build on it. When you get used to adjusting the timing on the fly, you’ll always be able to end on time.