Thinking out loud about my presentation

| speaking

In two weeks, I’m going to talk about Remote Presentations That Rock at the Technical Leadership Exchange, a virtual conference inside IBM.

The TLE is a prestigious conference. I got to attend the TLE in my very first year, sneaking in as a speaker about a timely topic: I.B.Millennials. (Tip: Speaking is the best way to get into conferences that you wouldn’t be approved or even invited to attend.) About 4,000 technical leaders and one newbie (me) descended on Orlando, Florida, for lots of inspiration and learning. In line with the travel restrictions of 2009, the conference shifted to a virtual format and opened up attendance to anyone who wanted to make it to the calls.

The TLE being the TLE, one of the conference organizers asked me to add some tips specific to technical leaders. After all, we’re expecting the cream of the crop.

So here’s my first challenge. When I think about my upcoming talk, I don’t see the audience as limited to “technical leaders”. I want to talk to future leaders as well as present ones. I want non-technical people to embrace these tips and techniques, just as technical people might pick up these tips and start using them. About the only differentiation I currently make is that I’m definitely thinking of people who have had some experience presenting remotely, and who are passionate about doing it better. I have to think about how to work the technical leadership angle in without alienating people who don’t yet think of themselves as technical leaders.

What does it mean to be a technical leader, and how is that related to presentations? Hmm, may be time to think out loud…

  • We know leaders need good communication skills, and presentation skills are important. Leaders need to be able to explain, motivate, and influence. Presentations help people scale up their influence.
  • Bad presentations waste time and opportunities. We lose credibility, too.
  • Why do people give ineffective presentations? Not knowing better, not caring, or not making time to do better.
  • Not everyone knows what’s possible in terms of good presentations. We don’t have a lot of great role models.
  • Sometimes people give presentations they don’t particularly care about, or they don’t think what they’re presenting is (or can be) interesting.
  • Most people don’t make time for good presentations, or don’t invest the time to make it easy to make good presentations. They don’t deliberately make bad presentations, but they don’t make time to make good ones. (This is where mismatched slides, lots of text, and bad layout come in.) Technical leaders are already incredibly busy doing other things.
  • We need to be better at remote presentations and other virtual communication skills if we want to build a truly globally-integrated enterprise that can tap talent all over the world. That’s my meta-game. But what’s in it for individuals?
  • How can these tips help technical leaders?
    1. Make it real: doesn’t take extra time, but adds impact.
    2. Interact: helps you build your credibility and stay on track. You also personally get more value from your presentation opportunities.
    3. Make space for learning: means presentations take more time to plan, but less time to prepare.
    4. Practice, practice, practice: more work, but it also shows you that you can do this work outside presentations. It helps you build your reputation as a technical leader, too.
    5. Keep it simple: More time in planning, but helps you prepare a more effective presentation in less time. Also makes your presentation more resilient to technical problems.
    6. Start strong and end strong: Little extra effort, more effective presentations.
    7. Continue the conversation: Helps you build your reputation as a technical leader.
  • Okay. So I want to establish that technical leaders may make many tactical and strategic presentations. We’re focusing on tactical because people make so many of them and have less time to prepare them. Strategic presentations are obviously important, so people already work on making those good.
  • I also want to establish that there are challenges related to all presentations and challenges that are unique to remote presentations, and we’re going to focus just on challenges and tips that are specific to remote presentations. If they want to learn more, they can check out the Effective Presentations community.
  • Some tips are quick (Make it real, interact, start strong and end strong, continue the conversation), and some take more time but pay off a lot.
  • I thought about reordering the tips. They tell a story through the individual transitions, but the overall flow isn’t obvious. If I go with a more obvious organization (quick wins vs investments), the individual transitions aren’t as strong.
  • So what I have right now is:
  • Ask people to place themselves on a gradient when it comes to technical and strategic presentations
  • Talk about remote presentations vs all presentations
  • Ask people to think of the worst remote presentations they’ve been in, and why
  • Organize those challenges into remote vs common challenges
  • Focusing on remote challenges, ask people which is their top personal challenge

I changed the slides in the beginning, setting the stage and adding a lot more interaction. Thinking through a presentation is hard work, but fun!

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