Tag Archive for Presentation

Public Speaking Tips for Tech Talks and #VMUG Sessions

Keep Calm and Speak at a VMUG

Public speaking can be daunting if you don’t do it regularly (and sometimes, even if you do!). As part of my role I regularly talk to small groups of 5-10 people, but this year I have had the opportunity to speak a couple of times at the London VMUG.

The following tips are a combination of my own experience, both where I think things in my sessions went well, and equally where I could definitely have improved. Many thanks to Mike Laverick, Simon Gallagher, Andrew Audsley and Mark Wilson for their presenting and technical tips as well!

Presentation Tips

  • Facts, figures, best practices and suggested configurations are interesting, but sharing of real life experiences is what people come to hear. Anecdotes are much more interesting.
  • Talking about what works and what went well is great, but issues or things that didn’t quite work out as you expected are just as valuable, if not more so.
  • Gauging the audiences level of knowledge / experience early on can be very helpful. The first thing I did in my last presentation was to ask how many people in the room worked with or designed storage on a regular basis. As it was a “Noddy’s Guide”, I was expecting few hands, but in fact ¾ of the room put their hand up! The advantage of asking this up front is that I was able to tweak my session to the audience by dropping or de-emphasizing a lot of the simpler stuff and concentrating on the more complex / interesting bits.
  • By talking about what you did / would do in a scenario, as opposed what you think other people should do, they are be more likely to be receptive. This subtle difference can change the feel of a session from being a lecture, into a discussion. If the intention of the session is to get people to interact, this might encourage people to step up and say what they would do in the same situation, or to talk about their experiences.
  • If you are not 100% sure of / expert in all of your content, consider including “islands” of content at regular intervals (e.g. every 10-15 minutes), where you know the content really well. This means if you happen to start to drift and lose your way a bit, you can anchor to the bits you know really well and build your confidence back up before moving on to the next bit of the presentation.
  • Don’t be off put if you don’t get a huge amount of interaction, especially with large groups. The bigger the audience, the less interaction you are likely to get, unless you specifically ask for it or start picking on audience members!
VMUG Audiences Are Friendly!

Dont worry… VMUG audiences are friendly!

  • Don’t be nervous about the audience! Much like a wedding speech, its worth remembering that the VMUG audience at a community session really want the speaker to succeed. It’s unlikely you will find a more friendly and willing audience in almost any other situation.
  • Lists are not exciting, and neither are multiple slides of “and another thing” type of comments. I definitely felt I should have tried to break up my last session into different types of content and context, which would have made it more interesting.
  • Even if you plan your presentation to the minute in advance, things never quite work out that way! You are likely to be asked questions, stopped mid flow, projectors turn themselves off and start smelling a bit smoky etc… the best thing to do is plan a shorter presentation as you will undoubtedly use all the time anyway!
  • When it comes to slides less is most definitely more!
  • You don’t actually have to go through every line on every slide, sometimes simply picking out the most pertinent bits can make for better flow, and the decks are usually available after anyway, so someone who is really interested can read the detail if they want to.
  • One other tip which Duncan Epping gave recently and I definitely agree with is to practice your presentation a few times through in advance, but don’t over-practice and end up being too robotic. Everyone has their own style but I personally like to use the slides as a talking point and guide, rather than planning word-for-word what I’m going to say.
  • Once you have your initial draft, try it out on some friends or colleagues in the industry. This can be invaluable for working out your timing and getting a feel for what works and what doesn’t. I ended up rewriting large chunks of my storage presentation after running through it with some guys from my team at work.
  • Don’t forget about the awesome FeedForward initiative! I was fortunate enough to have the inimitable Mike Laverick provide me with FeedForward prior to both of my London VMUG sessions, and in both cases he provided lots of valuable suggestions and improvements to my content and style as well as coming up with a few ideas I hadn’t even considered.

Tech Tips

  • As I have painfully discovered first hand, no matter how much prep and testing I did on my slide deck, it still went wrong! From now on I plan to have a backup plan; a PDF copy I can whip out if PowerPoint goes nuts again!
  • Don’t use PowerPoint animations… they’re unreliable at best!
Sacrifice to the Gods of Demos

Sacrifice to the Gods of Demos

  • If you are going to do a live demo, don’t forget to sacrifice an old laptop, phone, printer or other electronic device to the gods of Demos! [Alternatively, you could just record a copy of your demo in case it all goes wrong then you have a backup plan].
    A prime example of this (and I’m sure he won’t mind me sharing it) was our London VMUG’s very own Simon Gallagher who was doing a software demo. He tested it successfully just minutes before his presentation was due to start. During his presentation the demo then decided to fail! After a bit of investigation, Simon realised that the license key on his software ran out in the few minutes between his last test, and his live demo starting. Talk about unlucky timing?!
  • [Mac] Mirroring screen contents instead of using presenter view tends to work more consistently, rather than extending the desktop to the projector. In my day-to-day work this is what I have always done and its always worked very reliably. It does mean you can’t use speaker notes though of course.
  • [Mac] Consider running PowerPoint in Parallels or Fusion on Windows. The Windows version of PowerPoint is apparently more consistent!

If you have any more tips or suggestions you think would be worth adding to the list, please feel free to contact me and I’ll be happy to add them for the benefit of others!

My VMUG Presentation and FeedForward Experience

I’ve been a regular attendee of the London VMUG for the past 2-3 years and earlier this year decided it was about time I pulled my finger out and try to repay some of the awesome knowledge I’ve gained from other community members. I started small with a 15-minute slot on my Intel NUC home lab. I present fairly regularly as part of my day job, but mainly to smaller groups of 5-10 people, not 40-50+, which is definitely a different experience (see here)!

A few months later, Simon Gallagher (VMUG leader and Lego Fanboi) asked if I wanted to do a full session. In hindsight agreeing to do a session in the same two-week period when we had our financial year end at work and my family moved house, was perhaps ambitious to say the least!

In preparation for the session, the inimitable Mike Laverick very kindly offered to provide me with some #FeedForward, for a second time! Feed Forward (or #Feed4ward) is a great initiative started by a number of well-known community members including Mike, who saw the need to provide feedback to people in advance of their community VMUG sessions to hopefully give confidence and encourage them to present.

In my case, although I made a number of changes to my deck from the session, the biggest change was actually to approach the subject matter from a completely different direction. I had originally planned a simple intro to storage design, but when I ran it through with my colleagues, I bored even myself! I also had WAY too many slides… Bearing in mind that a #LonVMUG group tend to be pretty knowledgeable, this was probably not going to cut the mustard! At Mike’s suggestion, I instead concentrated on the pitfalls of storage design, and anecdotes about issues I had seen / experienced (whilst trying not to bash any individual vendors).

This was much more interesting and I think improved my session immensely. When you have put together your deck of 176 slides, it can sometimes be hard to see the wood for the trees! The great benefit of having an experienced speaker go through it with you can often be a simple suggestion, but it completely changes your outlook! Once again I would like to thank Mike, and most highly recommend that if you’re reading this and are even slightly contemplating doing your first VMUG session, you look into the #Feed4ward initiative!

The session itself went pretty well, though I foolishly decided to use my new MacBook instead of my trusty PC for PowerPoint, and had some “issues” at the start, which threw things off a bit. I also learned loads from the experience; significantly more than my 15 minute spot in January! I have a bunch of tips and notes which have come together from a combination of the two sessions, but before this post becomes at risk of becoming TLDR, I’ll put it in another post later in the week!

Lastly, for those interested, here a copy of my slide deck:
LonVMUG Storage Presentation 17-07-2014 v1.1

London VMUG 17th July 2014 – Last Chance to Register

Just a quick reminder that this is your last chance to register for this quarters London VMUG. For those of you who haven’t previously attended a VMUG, it’s a brilliant way to meet other people in our industry, watch a load of community and vendor sessions, and generally steep yourself into the techie melting pot.

As it happens, at this VMUG I will be presenting my own session, Noddy’s Guide to Storage Design – Storage 101, where I go through the basics of storage design decisions and impacts along with a few tips I’ve picked up over the years. I plan to potentially follow this up by turning it into a series of blog posts. At time of writing I have over 40 slides in my deck and that’s just the basics. My biggest issue is probably not lack of content, so I need to work on cutting it down before Thursday for sure!

Storage is complex… who knew?!

Fortunately Mike Laverick has kindly agreed to FeedForward with me and I’ll be running through my initial draft with him this evening!

Of the other sessions, the ones I’m particularly looking forward to are:

  • When Did Turkeys Ever Vote for Christmas? – Mike Laverick, VMware
  • Vendors: VMware Vision and Strategy – Martyn Storey, VMware
  • Hitting the Big Red Button with vCO and SRM – Sam McGeown

VMUG Agenda

If you are coming along, I highly recommend getting there early. Doors open from 8.30 and it’s a great time to catch up with other attendees. At the end of the day there is of course the most excellent London #vBeers at the Pavilion End! If you haven’t been before, just hang about by the lifts and tag along with a regular…

If you do see me on the day (I’m 6’7” so you cant miss me), please feel free to come and say hi!

Register here: London VMUG

I Presented at a VMUG and Survived… you can too!

Sitting on the train on my return from another awesome London VMUG event, and I thought I would jot down a few thoughts about the day, and the prep for it.

Firstly I want to say a big thank you to Mike Laverick. He and a number of other key VMware community members (Duncan Epping, Scott Lowe, Hans De Leenheer) have recently started a new programme they call #FeedForward. As the name suggests its all about helping others, specifically people who have not previously presented at a VMUG. As part of the process, the mentor (Mike) initially provided feedback to the mentee (me) on my slides. Once I had them ready to go, I then did a practice session over Skype / phone with Mike where he gave me some valuable feedback and suggestions where the presentation could be tweaked, and some ideas for content I hadn’t even thought of.

The benefits to me were two-fold. Having that second pair of eyes on my slides and presentation from someone who does this day in day out gave me confidence that the content was up to par. Then having a practice run in a zero-pressure environment where the audience understands the subject matter and gives you constructive feedback is absolutely invaluable! I would have asked my wife but having her fall asleep mid presentation through boredom would not have done my confidence any good… (She is definitely not into tech!) 🙂

Just before I got up I was a wee bit nervous, but much like a wedding speech, its worth remembering that the VMUG audience at a community session really want the speaker to succeed. It’s unlikely you will find a more friendly and willing audience in almost any other situation.

I was meant to be presenting a 10 minute lightning talk, but even in practice runs at home I was coming in a little over time, even skipping some bits of the content which were less important. On the day one of the other presenters (Simon Gallagher – VMUG leader and Lego aficionado) had toothache, so myself, Frank and Erik actually had a bit of leeway on timings. Being a bit of a gab anyway my presentation was about 15 mins. This did teach me one valuable lesson; even if you plan your presentation to the minute in advance, things never quite work out that way! You are likely to be asked questions, stopped mid flow, projectors turn themselves off and start smelling a bit smokey etc… the best thing to do is plan a shorter presentation as you will undoubtedly use all the time! On the same vein, when it comes to slides less is most definitely more. I had 14 slides and in hindsight, I was never going to get through them all in 10 minutes!

One other tip which Duncan Epping gave recently and I definitely agree with is to practice your presentation a few times through in advance, but don’t over-practice and end up being too robotic. Everyone has their own style but I like to use the slides as a talking point and guide, rather than planning word-for-word what I’m going to say.

Overall, it was a really enjoyable experience in the end and one I would highly recommend. I have had a great deal of help, support and learning from the community over the past few years, and its only right I should try to give something back.

Should you be considering whether to put your name forward to present at a VMUG in future (or indeed you are being politely but firmly press ganged by your local VMUG leaders… *cough* Alaric! *cough*) then I would definitely recommend you grab the opportunity with both hands, and post a tweet to #FeedForward on twitter if you want a little bit of extra support.

For more info on #FeedForward, see Mike’s blog post here:
http://www.mikelaverick.com/2013/11/feedforward-mentoring-vmug-presenters/

You can also grab a copy of my presentation here:
Alex Galbraith – LonVMUG Presentation 23-01-2014

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