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An abundance of opportunities

Posted: - Modified: | presentation, speaking

In 2008 and 2009, I gave an average of one talk every two weeks. It was really more bunched-together than that. Sometimes I’d do back-to-back presentations, like the four presentations I gave in March 2008 (conference season!). Other times, I’d have a bit of a breather before starting things up again.

With the general move away from face-to-face conferences and my decision to cut down on face-to-face speaking, I thought that would lead to a lighter year. My goal was to do one presentation a month, which was really just half of what I did last year. I successfully held it to one major presentation each for January and February, postponing things as needed.

Then March came (Why is it always March?), and I got lots of invitations to speak at things that sounded really interesting.

  1. There’s a client workshop in the UK at which I’ll do a short presentation on collaboration and culture change. That’s work, so there’s no rescheduling or referring that.
  2. There’s another internal teleconference that wants to re-run my “Remote Presentations That Rock”. There are actually two of these, but the other one’s fine with the recording.
  3. I’ve been invited to speak to IBM social media and marketing folks in Australia (teleconference) about people and the IBM brand.
  4. I volunteered to give a presentation about presentation tips at IgniteTO, which was on Wednesday. I wanted to try the Ignite format and listen to the other presenters.
  5. I’ve been invited to do something at PresentationCamp, and I’ll probably build on the talk I’m giving at IgniteTO.

And that’s after I’ve tried referring as much as possible to other people, such as a social media speaking thing that would be a great fit for one of my friends.

Greedy learner that I am, it’s really hard for me to resist the temptation to learn not only from the process of preparing the presentation, but also from the participation of interesting people during the delivery and post-presentation conversations.

Also, the talks all fit into what I want to talk about in 2010. Amazing how that works out.

What am I learning from this?

  • March is typically crazy.
  • Even when I don’t submit abstracts to conferences, speaking opportunities come anyway.
  • Putting together and sharing as much information as possible makes things easier for me afterwards, because people can now ask me for presentations based on previous presentations or blog posts, and those are less work than completely new things.
  • Even when I say no-travel-except-for-work-presentations, local and remote speaking opportunities come up.
  • I still haven’t figured out a good way to tell myself no. But it doesn’t cut into work or living yet, so I think it’s still okay.
  • Even though I mock-gripe about the time it takes to figure out my key message and how to illustrate it, I still think it’s a good use of my free time.

So now I can deliberately practice clarifying my key messages, illustrating my slides, and reusing things from my blog and my past presentations. I also want to get better at collecting stories and videos.

Maybe I can get better at asking:

  • Are there other people who can do this presentation?
  • Are there other dates on which I can do this presentation?
  • What new insights do I want to capture and share?

Next talks I want to develop about presentations:

  • How I learned to stop worrying and love the webinar (Why remote presentations can be great and how to make the most of the backchannel), or
  • Presentation kaizen: Relentless improvement and the art of public speaking, or
  • More for your money: Increasing your return on effort on presentations

Presentation lessons from Ignite; deliberate practice

| kaizen, presentation, speaking, tips

Did my first Ignite talk last night, at Ignite Toronto 3. It was fun! Scary, yes. But fun, and I hope I convinced at least one person to share more of what he or she knows. Here are some things I learned along the way:

Five minutes will fly by. Don’t worry. All you need to do is do a commercial and point people to where they can find out more. You have plenty of time to make an impression. TV spots are typically 30 seconds long. You have the equivalent of 10 TV commercials to make an impression in. You can do it.

Instead of starting with a bigger presentation and trying to squeeze it into five minutes, start with your key message and expand that to fit five minutes. It’s easier that way.

Write your script, plan your slides, plan a key point for each slide, and then let go of your script. Focus on getting your key point for each slide across, and improvise whatever you need to make it shorter or longer. This means you don’t have to stand around waiting for a slide to change (you can always just add more detail!) or stress out if your slides seem to be going at lightning speed (just say your key point).

Don’t put a lot of text on your slides. If you can, don’t put any text on slides shown when you’re speaking. Text makes people read. Reading makes people stop listening. You’re going to be too nervous to give them time to read. Make it easy for people to focus on you.

You can either apologize for mistakes or focus on getting your message across. Focusing on communicating your message is more useful and fun. People don’t expect you to be perfect.

Put your notes or script online so that people can read the things you forgot to say. You can post it after the session if you don’t want to spoil your punchlines.

An easy way to remember your slides: Figure out your key point for each slide and the transitions between them. It’s easier to remember when it all flows. Tweak it until it feels natural. Then review your slides. For each slide, practice remembering your key message and the transition to the next slide. That way, you always know what the next slide is.

Practice the timing so that you can get a sense of how much can fit into 15 seconds. More important: practice the timing so that you can get used to recovering from timing errors. This is really helpful. People don’t mind if your speech isn’t perfectly synchronized with your slides. If you can keep it reasonably on track, that’s great.

Use a short description and bio, to keep the flow smooth.

Make a placeholder entry on your blog and use that link in the bio so that organizers can link to your speaker notes / presentation without having to make last-minute web updates.

Watch other presentations for inspiration. Plenty of great examples out there.

How to deliberately practice timing (very handy!): Print out your script, notes, or slides. Set up a 15-second looping countdown presentation. While this is counting down from 15 to 1, practice “scenes” from your presentation. You don’t have to do them in order, and you don’t have to do them all the way through, although that helps. I find it useful to repeat one scene until it feels okay, and then move on to the next one. It’s also helpful to run through the entire thing at least once.

You can reuse the timing presentation to help you keep track of time during your talk. But five minutes goes by really quickly, and if you’re making eye contact, you’re not going to look at your timing laptop. Don’t worry about getting everything perfectly timed. Focus on getting your message across and to adjusting as needed.

You can practice outside an Ignite event by recording presentations. You can also practice by doing your talk for a friend. Tag a fellow presenter and work out those butterflies by practicing with each other.

Another long reflection on my process: Thoughts on preparing an Ignite-style presentation

More specific notes for myself:

Things to remember for future versions of my talk: introverts aren’t likely to be out at a bar with 199 other people. They’re going to be at home, waiting for the Youtube replay. ;) Like, duh. Maybe a different way to frame these presentation tips?

Also, raise-hands polling is hard with a harsh spotlight. I couldn’t see anyone until I shaded my eyes and adjusted to the darkness.

Next for me: Remote Presentations That Rock (March 8, rerun), branding (March 8 PM), client workshop (March 18-19), then PresentationCamp on March 23.

Video to be posted in the next three weeks, I think.


Great stuff from other people: How to give a great Ignite talk

Thoughts on preparing an Ignite-style presentation

Posted: - Modified: | braindump, presentation, speaking

Creativity loves constraints, and the Ignite style of presentations has lots of constraints. Your speech has to fit into five minutes. You have room to make one point and perhaps tell one story. You have twenty slides that automatically advance every 15 seconds, although you can slow down by duplicating slides or speed up by using timed animation. You’re giving your presentation to a live audience, so you need to be part actor and part stand-up comedian. Oh, and you’re just one in a long line-up of five-minute speeches, so you need to stand out if you want people to remember your point.

My first Ignite-style presentation will be The Shy Presenter, which I’ll share at IgniteTO this Wednesday. It’ll be a fun experiment that builds on a lot of things I already do for my regular talks.

Full notes

So let me take apart my process to see how I can improve it, or if I’ve picked up any tips that other people might find useful.

I write about a topic before preparing a talk for it so that I can find out what I know, whether it’s useful, and whether I care enough to invest a few hours into preparing a presentation. (Yes, it’s that old skills-needs-passion sweet spot. Handy!)

Ideally, I’ll have blogged about a topic often enough to figure out the key points I want to communicate, and then it’s just a matter of reviewing the previous posts, summarizing them, and editing the points. Not having lots of blog posts about a topic is often a danger sign, as I learned two years ago:


But sometimes an interesting presentation opportunity comes up, and I’ll flesh out new material after people have okayed my title/abstract.

I’ll mindmap what people come in with, what I want them to leave with, and what I can put together to help them along the way.  I also find it useful to braindump a quick list of points I might want to make.

I like making my talks short. I usually try to fit my talks into 7-15 minutes, which is good practice in finding the core of a message and putting together a few supporting points. A good way to estimate this is to take your target words per minute and multiply it by your time, adjusting for pauses. I usually aim for 150wpm (in the middle of the 140-160wpm often suggested by books on public speaking), although I often end up speaking at 180-200wpm. Then I read things through and tweak the text until it fits.

Keeping it short and simple also makes it easy for me to remember. The shorter it is, the more I can improvise to fit the needs of time.

I post my speaker notes online. It lessens the surprise, but it makes the notes easy to share, search, and get feedback on.

Then I split my notes/script into segments. For Ignite, that’s about 37 words per segment. Editing smoothens things out.

At this point, I can usually think of a few simple ways to illustrate each segment. Sometimes I write out the visual sequence and then storyboard it. Other times, I go straight to the storyboard. Sometimes images or segments pop into my imagination, and I rework my writing to include it.

Then I draw the pictures and make slides. I usually use Inkscape because that makes it easy to edit my drawings to reasonably resemble my imagination. I’ve been experimenting with MyPaint lately, though. It takes more work, but it’s interesting.

I post the slides on Slideshare and add it to my blog post, again trading surprise for sharing, search, and feedback.

Once I’ve boiled the idea down to slides, I can work on remembering the key points for each slide. If the key points flow together and people get interested in a topic, they can always look up the full notes on my blog. That means I don’t have to worry about following the script word for word. So if it turns out I have less time than expected, or more time than expected, or I forget something or people want to learn more about something, I can adapt.

And then there’s the blog post on the day of the presentation, and the blog post following up on what I learned from the presentation, and the blog post following up on people’s questions, and the blog post about any revisions, and the blog post about process or content tips (like this one!), and the tweets and Slideshare embeds and all of those other things that mean that the four hours or so invested into preparing a presentation pay off several times over…

Here’s a totally numbers-from-a-hat estimate:

So that’s how I generally prepare my talks. =)

The Shy Presenter: Why conventional advice on learning public speaking sucks, and how to really get started

| presentation, speaking

Want to get started in public speaking?

There are thousands of books and blogs and classes with advice. To save you time, I’ve summarized them all for you:

Figure out your key message. Come up with a catchy acronym. Be clear.

Find a surprising fact. Tell a story. Ditch the bullet points. Use a clever title. Make your slides prettier. Use full-screen images. Use no images. Draw your diagrams.

Go to Toastmasters. Practice in front of a mirror. Practice with a friend. Practice with a small group. Videotape yourself.

Make eye contact. Don’t stare. Imagine your audience naked. Don’t read the slides. Watch others for inspiration. Practise. Practise. Practise.

Did you get all that? Are you ready?

Right. So let’s talk about what you need to know in order to get started. You can figure out the who and when and where. You can learn the how. But there’s a huge gap here because of two questions no one can answer for you:

Why would you get up there in the first place?

And what do you have to say?

Why speak? Why spend hours putting together a talk? Why risk stage fright, stutters, stammers, technical difficulties, hecklers, off-topic questions, incorrect information,  embarrassment, rejection?

There are lots of surprisingly good reasons. It doesn’t have to be about promoting yourself or working on your career.

Me, there are two reasons why I give presentations. First: I love learning. And short of making something a life-and-death matter, there’s nothing that makes you learn something more than teaching it to someone.

Second: I’m an introvert. It’s so hard for me to walk up to one person and say hello. You know what’s easier than that? Talking to 200 people. Particularly if I can rehearse first. Then people have an excuse to talk to me if they want to. So if you’re an introvert, give it a try. And if you’re an extrovert, give it a try too.

That’s why I speak. Learning is fun. I want to teach what I know. I want to learn from others, but I hate starting conversations.

What’s your reason? Why are you going to get up and speak?

For you, that question could be the worst question to ask. Here’s a surprise. That’s because you might not be able to find out your why until you figure out your what.

Don’t wait for some grand passion to sweep you away. Don’t wait for  the aha! moment. You’re not going to suddenly “get it”. Don’t let that stop you.

You won’t know why until you begin. It’s not going to become fun until you’re doing it. (And sometimes not even then). Just treat it as an experiment. A way to improve your communication skills.

How do you start?

You need to figure out what you have to say. This is very useful.

Now someone said, “I need you to do a presentation on X,” problem solved. But you’re probably starting from scratch. Try this simple question instead:

What do you know that someone else doesn’t? Write it down or go tell that someone about it.

What do you know that you didn’t know yesterday? What else do you know? What do you keep saying? What are you curious about? Share.

You don’t have to be an expert. You just have to help.

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.

Now you’ve got the raw material for a presentation. You’ve got the what. Share it and see how it makes people’s lives better. You’ve got the why. The when and where and who and how – that’s easy, once you get over that gap.

So think about this: What did you learn? How can you share it? Why does that matter?

Figure out your what and your why, and everything else will follow.

What can I help you learn?

Draft of upcoming talk for Ignite Toronto based on previous braindump. Short enough to fit into five minutes, I hope. If you like this, you might also like The Shy Connector. Have fun!

The Shy Presenter: braindumping an introvert’s guide to public speaking

| braindump, presentation, speaking

Why speak

  • You’ll learn even more about your topic
  • You’ll meet lots of people without having to start the conversation
  • You can make a bigger difference


  • Don’t know what to share
  • Don’t know how to share it
  • Don’t know whom to share it with
  • Anxious about reception

Typical approach (scary!)

  • Practice with friend or mirror
  • Join Toastmasters and other speaking groups to work on confidence and delivery
  • Typical advice doesn’t help you figure out what you want to say, how you want to say it, and how to get up there

Here’s another way

  • Write (journal or blog) until you figure out what other people ask you for help about or something that can save other people time
  • Test your material by writing a blog post.
  • Share a lot of blog posts so that there are plenty of opportunities.
  • When you see that there’s interest, test your topic again by making a short slide deck. Share this on Slideshare or some other presentation site. Keep your presentation short and simple. Less to remember, less to forget.
  • Share lots of those and see which take off.
  • Based on interest, decide which ones you want to turn into a webinar. Webinars are a good way to start because you can refer to your notes and not worry too much about body language.
  • Propose your webinar to a virtual conference or webinar series organizer.
  • If accepted, revise your slides, rehearse your ideas, and go for it!

Why this works

You’ve already done the hard work of thinking through your topic, checking for interest / sense, and preparing your slides.

You don’t have to worry about people not being interested or people not finding value in your work because you’ve tested the topics beforehand.

You can connect with a friendly audience before and after your talk.

Next steps

Make a list of things you know that other people might benefit from.

Write a journal entry or blog post that explains one of those things. Repeat.

Kaizen: WITI: The Shy Connector

Posted: - Modified: | kaizen, presentation, speaking

Around 100 people attended the Shy Connector webinar I gave for Women in Technology, International. It was lots of fun!

What worked well:

  • You know, I might be on to something with this topic…
  • People liked the webcam, the interaction, and the visual approach.
  • The text chat was lively and there was plenty to talk about.
  • Quickly installing my own survey system let me get more feedback.
  • The Camtasia recording provided a useful backup for capturing the interaction images as well as the text chat.
  • Having and helped.

What I can do even better next time:

  • Refer to interesting hats instead of funny hats. There’s nothing inherently funny about my cool Tilley hat, the word just got stuck in my head (nervousness?).
  • Have one of the said hats handy.
  • Use instead of, as some companies block URL shorteners.
  • Have an announcement up on my blog to make it easier for people to find information.
  • Save the text chat before sending out the URL. InstantPresenter closed unexpectedly, boo!
  • I still lean towards instead of LivingAwesomely. LivingAwesomely feels a little abrupt.

Follow-up actions:

  • Write about thoughts from the text chat.
  • Prepare introvert guide to public speaking (must come up with catchy title: Two Hundred is Easier than Two?)

Harvesting the backchannel bazaar of insights

| ibm, presentation, speaking

One of the things I love about virtual presentations is the richness of the backchannel conversation — the chat that accompanies a presentation. When people don’t have to worry about interrupting others and they’re free to discuss things in parallel, the conversation explodes.

It can be overwhelming for speakers and participants alike, but it’s a great way to capture a lot of insights, answer many, many questions, and start an ongoing conversation.

A few weeks ago, I gave a presentation on microblogging. There were 150+ participants. 51 people actively used the chat to share their thoughts during the presentation, typing in 461 messages in total. Topics ranged from beginner questions about getting started to advanced questions involving multiple tools.

I saved the chat transcript and uploaded it along with my session materials. Another participant converted the text transcript into a spreadsheet that also summarized messages by author. The spreadsheet also tagged replies with the ID of the person being replied to.

I reviewed the chat spreadsheet and categorized useful messages, assigning the following keywords:

  • Value: related to the value of microblogging (13 messages)
  • Process: incorporating it into your day (15 messages)
  • Network: growing your network (12 messages)
  • Tools: discussion of specific tools to make things easier (26 messages)
  • Challenges: what’s difficult and how to deal with it (15 messages)
  • Adoption: meta-conversation about microblogging (10 messages)
  • Personas: managing multiple personas (10 messages)
  • Takeaways: short summary (14 messages)
  • Next: things to explore next (12 messages)


There were many messages I didn’t categorize because they repeated information, were related to the teleconference itself, or were part of the general back-and-forth.

As usual, IBMers like talking about tools and sharing tool-related tips. You should’ve seen us during Dan Roam’s presentation on the Back of the Napkin – we were fascinated by the drawing tools he used! ;)

It’s interesting to see how people cluster around topics, too. When I look at the spreadsheet, I can see who cares a lot about adoption, who’s interested in personas, etc.

I’m sure there’s been research on the analysis of conversations. The backchannel is like Internet relay chat (IRC), after all, and IRC has been around for decades. I wonder how the real-time extra channel of speaking influences the flow of the backchannel and vice versa. I wonder how we can get better at picking up ideas and following up on them. I wonder how we can get better at strengthening the newly-formed connections.

In a real-life presentation, it would be difficult to have all these conversations and to get this kind of insight into what people care about. A presentation backchannel where people can chat is an incredibly powerful tool, and I’m looking forward to helping learn more about making the most of it!