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!
- 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!
- 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.
- 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!
- 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!