All Public Speaking is NOT Created Equal

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Five minutes is really not that long.

It takes more than 5 minutes just to get my three daughters from the living room, up our short flight of stairs and into the bathroom to brush teeth at night (often 2X 5 minutes.) You can be five minutes late to a meeting or lunch date and it is hardly noticed (I hope, for my sake.) We dally away five minute spots all day long without even noticing them, or counting the activity that occurred in the mix of our day.

So, one could think that preparing a mere five minute talk for Ignite Bend would be a piece of yummy, fluffy chocolate cake.

One would be very, very wrong.

I spent more time preparing for my recent talk at Ignite Bend than I have for any talk I have done in… well, might it be EVER? If it's not ever, then it's damn close. And, in spite of my reasonably large pool of experience with public speaking, I was shocked at the time and energy it took.IMG_6240

Possibly you are wondering why the prep took so long. Like, what's the big deal? Yea, I was too. So, I analyzed it to death and here's what I got:

1. 20 slides is a LOT, especially when you are not a designer but you know a lot about what great slides look like.

I love great presentation slides. I almost never see them in actual presentations because the bullet point thing still dominates, which blows my mind, really. But if you check out sites like TED.com you'll see some really great slideshows. Also, Slideshare does these contests that invite brilliant work like this and great presentation companies like Ethos3 create cool promo shows like this.

However, I know so very little about design rules and things like how to find great images and how to do brilliant stuff with fonts and colors. So, I had to study a bunch just to do the rudimentary stuff that I did in my presentation slides. It took a LOT of time. Thank goodness for brilliant books like Presentation Zen by Garr Reynolds (which I was thrilled to get a new copy of as a speaker gift, along with a kick booty custom Ignite Bend mug from Mug Revolution. LOVE them both.)

2. Synchronizing a speech with twenty slides that switch automatically in 15 seconds is really tricky, especially if you don't want a memorized speech.

IMG_6253Memorized speeches are almost always more boring. I know, you're thinking about the political speeches that have inspired you over the years and how those seemed to be memorized. They often were/are, mostly. But those are the rare exception – and I'd argue that some of those would be even better done extemporaneously, though I get it why they like to stick to the script for safety. Point is – I'm not talking about those long political speeches. I'm talking about the kind of public speaking that Sally and Joe Schmoe like you and me do. It's better not to memorize.

But when the freaking slideshow is spinning, unconcerned with where you are in your monologue, it feels a little stressful. What if you aren't even close to done with your brilliant insights related to that slide that just disappeared?!

3. Five minutes is a very short time in which to make a powerful point – and give tips! Lesson learned.

In five minutes, I'm thinking it's better to take your pick – make a huge, powerful point and leave the audience intrigued and possibly inspired to seek action-related tips. OR, focus on practical tips. Try to do both and you lose impact of one or the other. I will do this different next time.

4. It takes a lot of time to simultaneously learn a new presentation program AND figure out slide design fundamentals.

I am familiar with PowerPoint and have used it plenty. But, for some reason (maybe I was feeling extra alternative and artsy for having taken the plunge into Ignite Bend at all) I decided to use Keynote for my slideshow. It was different enough from PowerPoint to cause significant time suck. If you have a great tool at the ready that you already know how to use, I recommend that you go with that tool on a time-sensitive project like this (I had about 5 days to prepare – inside of an extremely busy work week.)

IMG_62425. Being on a fancy stage like The Tower Theater and knowing your streaming on the web LIVE (and that you are a speaking coach so you better at least be reasonably good!) plus family and friends have all donned their cleanest clothes to sit in the audience makes for TONS of extra practice rounds.

It would have felt really crappy to totally fail at this. Ignite Bend is supposed to be all about fun, but not for me. This is serious pressure and don't try to convince me otherwise. (Okay, it was really fun once the event began. Really, really fun.)

The fact is, all public speaking opportunities are not created equal. Sometimes you can put together a brilliant presentation in a moment's notice. In fact, watch! Right now, think of a topic you LOVE. Now name three reasons you love that topic. Tell me a story, give me an example and share some data tidbit with me. You, my friend, have the core makings of any speech. In some contexts, you could simply share all of this info, add some warm eye contact and a nice warm hello and clear closing statement and you're done.

Often it's not that simple, though. Even with topics we know and love. We need research, sources cited, and longer stories and illustrations. We need to create slides and demos. We need data we can't find and images that aren't lame. It can be rigorous prep – and that's before we begin practicing.

Let's not get onto the practicing thing right now – this is already getting too long. I'll just say that practice is HUGE and most people underestimate its value for content, delivery and – maybe most of all – speech anxiety.

So, Ignite Bend was awesome. I LOVED it. It stretched my speaking edges, it honed my presentation skills in powerful ways, and it required me to learn a bit more about design, which is handy in my business.

Ignite Bend comes around again in March 2010. You got something to say?

P.S. Here's the video, if you want to see Ignite Bend. It's in two parts: (my talk is the third one in part II, but don't miss all the other awesome talks in here!)