Category Archives: speaking

Keeping things fresh; Analyzing session feedback

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)

  1st/2nd 3rd/4th
Mean 3.49 3.73
SD 0.60 0.46
SEM 0.10 0.12
N 39 15

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:

  • Well done, Sacha!
  • Very enthusiastic. Well done!
  • Partly about saving time, partly about filling your day 24/7 with work stuff–what about downtime?
  • Great job, Sacha!
  • So much good stuff presented in such a short period of time! Wish we could have had a little more time to see a short practical demo of each of the 10 tools. Very well presented.
  • Pretty good list of tools.
  • Excellent presentation by Sacha
  • Good session
  • Sacha made this dull topic interesting with practical examples. Thanks.
  • Very informative.
  • Very informative and good info on how to find and use some great tools. Instructor made topics interesting and had a good pace (not too slow)
  • Good delivery, very enthusiastic
  • Enthusiastic presenter, passionate about her subject. Good approach by question and answer.
  • High energy! well done
  • Sacha is very enthusiastic! Great job!!! Super tips!!!
  • Fantastic–Sacha is a very engaging speaker!
  • Super presenter – perfect length

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

Comments were:

  • Good background of case study. Questionable general recommendations may have missed pluses and minuses.
    more statistics, Study references?
    Quite interesting for an older generation and I think more info to get and retain employees should go out to IBMers
    Sacha is a fabulous presenter and handled everything thrown at her wonderfully.
    Very touched.
    Very well spoken, excellent presenter. Great energy.
    Great dynamic speaker, interesting topic. Will check out her  blog I am sure it will be interesting and informative.

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.

Finding something worth talking about

"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:

  • Who will be at the event, and who do I want to get into my session? This gives me an idea of the audience.
  • What do they care about that I also care about? If I can’t find something that I’m passionate about and the audience is probably interested in, then it’s not worth presenting. I’d like to avoid presenting on things I don’t particularly care about, and no one’s going to listen if I’m passionate about something and I can’t show people what’s in it for them. If I can find something we all care about, though, then it’s easy to go forward.
  • How can I help them? What can I do to save them time or help them work more effectively? If I spent a lot of time learning about something, I can save lots of people time by summarizing what I’ve learned, pointing out good ways to do things, and helping people avoid the pitfalls.
  • What do I want to learn more about? Teaching helps me learn something new or deepen my knowledge of something I’ve learned. Every presentation should stretch me at least a little, even if it covers similar ground as a previous presentation. Each presentation is a good excuse to learn. I’ll often submit stretch presentations where I know maybe half of the material, and this helps me learn even more in the process of preparing the presentation.

The next time an opportunity to share comes up–a call for participation, an educational community meeting–ask yourself:

  • Who will be at the event?
  • What do they care about that you also care about?
  • How can you help them?
  • What do you want to learn more about?

Chances are that you’ll find something you want to share. Good luck and have fun!

ROI for public speaking and Web 2.0; graph and case study

Amy Shuen inspired me to prepare a spreadsheet for estimating the value created by my talks. (You can open the spreadsheet in OpenOffice.org or Lotus Symphony, both free office suites.) She’ll be including some of the numbers in tomorrow’s IBM Web 2.0 for Business community call on ROI of Web 2.0 at Work. I thought I’d make the numbers a little easier to grasp, so I spent an hour and a half making this:

Full-size images at public-speaking-1.png and public-speaking-2.png.

Reflections on presentation; looking for a coach

Photo (c)
helios89, Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike license

“So, who’s your mentor? Who’s on the hook for you?” asked my manager during our one-on-one session. He had been reading my posts about presentations and meetings, and he wanted to know what–or who–could help me take it to the next level. I was very good at sharing my enthusiasm and technical knowledge with others. If I could figure out how to communicate with managers and executives, I can do even more.

I told him that I still get nervous in small meetings and I still let my enthusiasm run away with me, and that I’d like to learn how to talk to different perspectives, personalities, and learning styles. I also shared how I’d been thinking about getting a presentation or speaking coach. I enjoy giving presentations and it seems I can create a lot of value with them, so it makes sense to learn how to do them really, really well. I’m particularly interested in learning how to do remote presentations and small in-person meetings well. Remote presentations and video will give me much more reach, and small in-person meetings are similar to the kind of work we do in consulting.

After our meeting, I thought about what could help me get even better at communicating in both large presentations and small meetings.

I’d been to Toastmasters in the past, and I had completed the ten-speech introductory program that earned me the Competent Communicator designation. I appreciated the structure of each meeting and the clear objectives for each speech, and the contests and international conventions were great places to see good speakers. In my weekly Toastmasters meeting with a downtown club, though, I found myself wanting more. I needed:

  • feedback that focused on deeper skills, not just delivery techniques,
  • inspiring role models who could deliver effective interactive presentations remotely as well as in person, and
  • insight on structuring longer talks or remote talks to keep people engaged and to build on interaction.

Presentation skills: content, organization, and delivery

Many public speaking courses focus on the mechanics of delivery. There’s certainly a lot of value in polishing technique: eliminating “ums” and “ahs”; learning how to use pauses, body language, and props; using rhetorical structures and dynamic voice. If you want to improve your delivery and gain confidence, Toastmasters is a good way to do it.

I’m pretty happy with the way I deliver presentations. I can improve my delivery in small-group meetings, but that’s probably a matter of practice. I’m a good presenter, regularly receiving high ratings. Although my current toolkit of delivery techniques don’t cover all situations, I do pretty well.

What would make a real difference, however, is getting _really_ good at content and organization. Based on my Toastmasters experience, I think it and other public speaking resources are great at teaching delivery, but don’t go into as much depth when it comes to content and organization.

There’s no shortcut to developing good content. I need experience, and I need to learn as much as I can from other people. I’m doing several things to increase my chances of stumbling across good content:

  • I read a ton of books and blogs, looking for insights and stories. This gives me raw material for talks and helps me draw connections between topics.
  • I ask and answer lots of questions, learning a lot in the process. This gives me a sense of what people are interested in and learning more about, and I learn about their perspectives too.
  • I constantly test ideas by posting them on my blog, volunteering to give presentations, and creating other material. This gives me feedback on what people want to learn more about and what I can teach them, helps me improve my communication skills, and grows my network (often leading to other speaking opportunities). Over time, ideas grow from mindmaps to blog posts to articles to presentations to related ideas.

Good content is good, but good content combined with good organization is memorable and effective. This is where illustrations, mnemonics, alliteration, storytelling, and other structures come in handy. If I can learn how to get really good at organizing ideas, I’ll be able to apply that skill to writing, speaking, and other things I do. Here’s what I’m doing to learn more about organizing content:

  • I practice illustrating complex ideas with photography, sketches, and diagrams. This helps me understand topics better, engage visual learners, and communicate more effectively.
  • I take apart and reassemble other presentations, reflecting on how I would’ve structured them. Example of my reconstruction
  • I mindmap, write and speak a lot. This challenges me to structure what I’m thinking and what I want to say. Once I’ve gotten things out of my head, I can refine the structure to make it better.
  • I read articles and books, check out presentations, and watch talks, keeping an eye out for how people structure their communication. (It’s quite meta.)

Stay tuned for more posts about role models, long or remote talks, and coaching!

Feel free to use your laptop or your phone in my talks! I love the backchannel

If you ever find yourself in any of my face-to-face presentations, please feel free to bring out your computer, your phone, or whatever else you use. It’s okay. In fact, it’s more than okay. I love it.

Some people–particularly presenters–hate it when others have their laptops open and are typing away. They feel it’s disrespectful and distracting.

Me? I love it when people have their laptops or phones open. Go ahead. Liveblog. Chat on the backchannel. Look up stuff I mention. Write things down on your TODO list. Doodle if you want to.

And yes, if there’s something else on your mind that you’re worrying about–a report that’s due, an emergency that just came up–by all means go ahead and work on it, because even if I instituted a no-laptops-or-phones-open policy, you’d still be thinking about it anyway. Better that I’m there in the background for you to catch an interesting snippet and look up (thanks to the cocktail party effect), than for you to resent me for taking up valuable time and making it difficult for you to edge out of the door in a graceful manner. (Because you sat up front, right? Best seats in the house.)

And if I can’t keep you interested enough so that you don’t get distracted by mail or I Can Has Cheezburger, then that’s my own fault. ;)

I’m not afraid of the backchannel–the online conversations that go on behind the scenes, a scaled-up version of passing notes and whispering in the crowd. If you’re talking about the ideas that I’m presenting, fantastic! I’ve engaged you in a much better way than I could ever have if you just sat there passively listening. If you’re looking up examples I’ve quoted and bookmarking them for later reading, hooray! I’ve said something that’s sparked your interest, and you’ll take it from there. If you’re asking or answering questions about what I’m saying, wow! You jumpstart the discussion and save other people from being confused. If you’re liveblogging what I’m talking about, you help even more people learn from it, and you give me even more results on the time and effort I invested in preparing the presentation.

I wish all of my talks had backchannels! One of the things I love about giving virtual presentations is that I can open up a backchannel where everyone–even the non-Tweeters–can chat about what we’re talking about, and that conversation is easy to watch while I’m giving the presentation. That means that I can see what people are picking up on, what people are curious or confused about, what questions people have–without interrupting my flow or introducing too many awkward pauses for questions. I’ve seen people provide further examples and answer each other’s questions, and that helps me learn even more while I’m giving the presentation.

What I love about the backchannel is that it changes the entire dynamic. It’s not about me, presenter, speaking at you, audience. It’s about all of us learning together. My job isn’t to be a high-and-mighty expert with all the answers. My job is to spark interest, facilitate conversation, and connect the dots. The backchannel not only democratizes the actual talk, acknowledging the expertise and interest you bring, but it also extends our reach and starts bigger conversations.

Recent example: I was giving a virtual presentation on Totally Rocking Your Drupal Development Environment. The backchannel let me quickly poll people and collect their questions and tips.

Another example: I was on the Generation Y panel at the City of Toronto Web 2.0 Summit. The venue had WiFi, so I checked out the Twitter backchannel on my iPod Touch. Thanks to Twitter, I could tell that people were dissatisfied with the slow and moderated online questions process, skeptical of the event and the speakers, and interested in engaging further. I announced that I’d be watching the Twitter backchannel, and during our panel, I kept an eye on the questions and comments that flowed past. That let me shape what I said to incorporate other people’s perspectives and points of view, and that totally rocked.

And next time, I may even have Twitter breaks. ;) And I may put up a sign directing people to sit on the left side or the right side depending on whether they want to engage in the backchannel, so that others who are easily distracted by the clackety-clack of fingers on a keyboard can cluster together. I don’t think I can arrange for beanbags in the front for bloggers, though – that requires more planning than most of my talks have. ;)

Go ahead. Make my day! =) Next time you’re in one of my session, join the conversation. We’ll all learn so much more if you do.

Inspired by Olivia Mitchell’s excellent post on How to Present While People are Twittering

UPDATE: Also check out Beth Kanter’s blog post with lots of links to resources on backchannels: The art of the backchannel at conferences: tips, reflections, and resources

UPDATE: … and Olivia Mitchell’s follow-up at Is Twitter a good thing while you’re presenting? (thanks to Beth for the reminder!)