I was granted another five minutes of Ignite-style fame yesterday at the Central Oregon AdFed meeting, along with ten other mighty fine presenters. As is so often the case at one of these events, I took away at least as many tidbits about public speaking as I did about the topics of the meeting (in this case: What Inspires You?)
I'm going to tell you about the public-speaking stuff I learned. Let's talk about what inspires us another time, though, okay? Because that's a cool topic, too.
First of all, as is tradition with Ignite events, great presentation skills and established expertise on a topic area are irrelevant. Ignite is about burning ideas and sharing them – not about recruiting the most accomplished speakers/experts. While the speaking prowess in the room varied, overall it was an impressive crowd. Tons of humor, cool insights, and clever slides. The audience was interactive – laughing, sighing, and otherwise riveted by each presentation. It was a really nice relationship going on there.
Noticing what was awesome as well as what could have gone better, I walked away with some insights and reminders I thought you might find useful for your next however-many-minutes of fame. Here they are:
1. Your slides should amplify your presentation. One presenter had these hilarious slides that were giant images of people with words imposed on the image, acting as quotes from that person that amplified his already very funny description of training for a triathlon. The best part, though, was that he kept the attention on his delivery as well. He used fabulous facial expressions (once winking in mock-flirtation with an audience member to backup his point) and pauses to allow the audience to interact and engage both with him and his slides. Don't let the audience walk away without a very clear picture of what you are like – this defeats the purpose of getting your expertise out there.
2. Get a wireless microphone if at all possible. (Note to self: always check the equipment before speaking.) I go into presentations assuming that I will have free run of the stage/speaking space as I talk. This is an inappropriate assumption, I was reminded again yesterday (yes, it's not the first time I have run into this. argh.) I practiced assuming I'd be moving around. I had large visuals (we had the option to forgo slides, which I took advantage of in service of more direct eye contact with the audience) that required gathering, showing off, and twirling for a great view. This was cumbersome and a bit awkward standing behind a podium (never ever stand behind a podium, unless you absolutely have to! More on this in a future post) and leaning toward a fixed microphone. Next time, I will ask ahead of time if there is a wireless microphone I can use (you'd be surprised how often they assume you want the podium). And I will have a backup plan in mind for how to handle it if I am stuck there without the mobility that I know makes for a way better presentation.
3. Respond to your audience (within reason). So many of the presenters did a fabulous job of this. It really felt like a conversation at times. Quite a few presenters asked for shows of hands and even asked for verbal feedback from the crowd. This is excellent speaking strategy. The key to making this successful (which yesterday's presenters did beautifully) is to respond to the feedback very specifically. Take that request, feedback, and response cycle full-circle. Otherwise, your audience is just left hanging there with their responses lingering in the air. The ability to take in whatever new information came from the audience and use it to better your presentation is impressive. One caveat: don't let it get out of hand. If the audience is a rowdy one (this happens sometimes – audiences vary so greatly) sometimes the feedback can keep going and start to take you off track. Stay in charge of the content and move on when necessary. Humor and levity is often a good tool here.
4. Say one thing really, really clearly. You want to add value – and that's where the focus should be when you are granted the honor of holding the stage. Sometimes we think that adding value means we have to say a ton of smart stuff. The truth is, we can only handle so much brilliance in a five minute spot (or 15 minute or 30 minute or whatever). Your audience will walk away with inspiration and motivation – and remember why they feel that way – if you give them a bunch of compelling reasons to do or believe one thing. And the thing should be really simple and/or super clear – like Vacation in Nebraska, The Power of Conviction, and Why Gluten Rocks (some of the themes we saw yesterday.)
5. Be totally fine with whatever happens while you're on. It's how you handle it that matters. Some of the presenters' slides didn't advance as they expected. Others hadn't practiced with a timer and therefore were left hanging with nothing left to say while a slide sat on the screen ticking away the last 10 seconds of its commitment in the slideshow. As for me, I couldn't figure out how to talk into the mic stuck to the podium and hold my large and bulky visuals in a way that everyone could see them and I could keep talking. There were a number of little technical glitches as we all ventured through our speeches, as is often the case in speaking. Regardless of what happens when you are up there on stage, it is how you handle it that matters to your audience. If you are fine (and rectifying the situation or continuing your content-rich presentation despite of it), they are virtually always fine.
6. If you loved someone's presentation, tell them. When the meeting was over, a woman immediately came up to me and told me she really enjoyed my presentation – how much my passion for words reminded her of a good friend of hers. We had a lovely ensuing conversation about our respective work and about presenting in general. When she walked away, my insides were happier. I was smiling bigger. That's a really nice gift to give someone. As I walked out, I sought out a few of my favorite presenters and told them that I loved their presentations. Many were already in conversations with others (see, being a presenter makes networking so much easier!) but at least I got to toss them a “lovely job” or “loved it, thank you!” as I walked by toward the door. I'm guessing by their big smiles that they were getting more of the same from their conversational partners.
I hope these reminders serve you well as you seek out more of the goodness that public speaking can bring to your business. And still, the only really powerful way to get better at public speaking is to do it. As often as you can. I know it's nerve-wracking (boy do I know) but I promise that gets more familiar as time goes on and becomes less of a barrier to enjoying doing presentations.
And please tell – what are some of the things you love to see and do in presentations? I'd love to hear.