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Speaking? Tips.

February 27, 2006

Over the past few years, I’ve been invited to come speak at various events. No big surprise there, as I’ve probably met a bunch of you at them. Since there’s a chance that some are publicly speaking for the first time in Austin this year, I figured I’d share a few things I’ve tried along the way.

These tips will probably be more relevant if you’re a nervous talker and you suspect you won’t fill in enough time. (If you’re a rambler, there are other people who can offer you far better advice than I.) It’s timely in a way, because I think I’ve finally crossed a threshold in my own speaking. I started off early 2004 in a bit of a fluster, went into overdrive preparation mode during most of 2005, and now in 2006, I think I’m easing into speaking naturally and comfortably. Finally.

When I first started, I wasn’t sure how to plan for time constraints. Speaking for an hour seemed like a long time to keep going, and there was always a good chance I’d miss important points along the way and end really early.

So I approached my preparation as if I were writing an article, which would take approximately an hour to read out loud. I’d hole up in a cafe and breeze through a logical progression of thoughts that ended up being 10 pages or more of printed text, and try to separate that out into smaller bite-sized points for easier scanning when presenting. Then I’d build slides based on that. It was a lot of work.

Not only was I concerned about the time constraints though, I also got spooked out of allowing myself to ramble at all. I’ve talked through three slides past the one that’s currently on screen, only to madly catch up later. I’ve realized halfway through that I didn’t make a bunch of important points earlier to help support the current slide, so it in turn makes no sense without that context. I’ve even gotten completely stuck from time to time, I think the most notable was on stage at WE04. “Uh, I completely forgot where I was going with that…” So to help myself avoid any repeats, I’ve been meticulous in my preparation and made sure to have the entire presentation outlined, with a paper backup on hand, to ensure I could talk my way out of any glitches.

But that spiraled out of control, since every time I presented I tried to deliver new material, adapted to the theme of the conference. And thus, new supporting material. Not such a hot idea, I found out, as it’s probably more important to be familiar with your material and comfortable when delivering it, than to be fresh all the time. Not to mention the extra time and effort creating a new set of slides every single time.

So recently, I’ve realized a few things that I think are making me a better speaker. I’ve stopped spending ages coming up with finely-detailed outlines of each presentation, and instead I’m leaving more to real-time interaction. I’m still no Veen or Molly, and likely will never be, but at least I’m comfortable in my own methods now, and I think that’s the real key to presenting well.

  1. Know your material. But plan to make mistakes anyway. If you talk through a bunch of slides, oh well. Make them available later, and it’s no big deal. If you have to back up and provide extra context that you missed earlier, go right ahead. You can even tell people that’s what you’re doing, although you probably don’t need to. Also, if you’re more of a bullet-point presenter, you can even use your slides as notes to keep you focused throughout. That’s hardly a bad system, though we all know why PowerPoint is evil…
  2. Nervousness goes away. Five minutes into it, you’ll stop being nervous and start having a bit more fun. And after doing a few presentations, you’ll stop getting those butterflies in your stomach before hand, and feel a lot more at home on a stage.
  3. Pause. Get used to taking small pauses here and there, to take a sip of water, to collect your thoughts, to slow yourself down, or whatever else. It’s okay to have a few seconds of silence.
  4. Have a water bottle with you on stage. You’ll need it for the dry mouth. Some lip balm might not be a bad idea either, if you’re talking more than once.
  5. If you get stuck on-stage, it’s not a bad thing. You simply move on to the next topic. The audience might notice, or they might not. A lot of the things you’re thinking internally during that moment will never get picked up by anyone else, so if what you’re saying still makes some form of sense, chances are no one will catch it. (And if it doesn’t make sense, often that’s just glossed over! Not everyone is 100% coherent all the time when speaking, and it rarely matters.)
  6. Be prepared to allow for spontaneity. You can’t really plan for the asides and diversions that you might make while on stage, but allow them to happen when they do. Often you’ll explore a related idea that ties in with your main points nicely, and it’ll work its way into future presentations. Try to keep yourself always coming back to the topic at hand, or at the very least, make sure to highlight why your diversion is relevant to the discussion. Don’t spend too long on them, however.
  7. Have a lot of slides. If you’re worried about time, just make sure you’ve got more material than you need. Chances are you won’t get through it all, but that’s not a terrible problem to have. I’d say 40 to 50 slides is probably enough to fill up an entire hour, as that’s just over a minute each. As you get more comfortable, you can start bringing that number down.
  8. Be prepared, but it’s not worth killing yourself. Don’t go for broke on the slides, go for broke on familiarizing yourself with your topic and your slides. Do three dry runs before you get up on stage. Time yourself, and don’t try to back up and re-try anything during the dry runs. Learn how to talk your way out of a factual error you just caught, speaking flub, or even just simple mispronunciation. Pretend there’s an audience right in front of you and you only have that hour. This will quickly highlight the problem points, and often it’ll cause you to re-arrange your slides.
  9. If you don’t fill the entire hour, no big deal. (If you’re only hitting the 30 minute mark, you might need to have more material next time.) Q&A can usually fill up the rest of your time slot, and ever since I’ve started speaking I’ve had more fun answering questions than talking during the actual presentation. Try to make your talk amenable to follow-up questions, and if you’ve got a small enough room (anything over 50 people is pushing it) you can even encourage questions throughout.
  10. Make sure you’ve got a strong start, and the rest will fall into place. The first few minutes are the most important. The audience doesn’t know what you’re like, you don’t know what they’re like, so you need to get people interested. Plus, the sea of quiet faces is a bit overwhelming, so if you need to script any part of your presentation, this is the best part to script. After you’ve gone through the introduction and started getting into the meat of it, people are likely to be more receptive and you won’t feel so on the spot.
  11. Re-use material. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with this. If you’re giving repeat presentations, feel free to dip into past talks and pull out points. I lean towards illustrated slides instead of bullet points these days, so I’ve even built up an illustration library which I’ll happily re-use for new talks, even if the subject matter changes.

Of course SXSW is more oriented toward 15 or 20 minutes of talking, so the time frame is a bit different. But chances are sooner or later you’ll need to talk for an hour or so. Hopefully you’ll be a natural, but if not, maybe these tips will help.

February 27, 13h

Good points, though I’d like to add a few of my own (and reemphasize a few of the above):

To #4) Water is really important. You can’t depend on a stack of cups and water (though sometimes, they are there).

To #9) There will always be questions, so don’t worry about coming up short. The only times I’ve ended up with a sea of blank faces was the result of losing everyone on about slide 3 or so. One colleague of mine would often break his presentation into four parts: everything important, questions on everything important, everything else, and questions on everything else. The questions in the middle would break the long talk and make sure the most interesting things are covered. Questions always tend to be more interesting, and certainly the most humorous.

1) Avoid slides full of text. When the audience is given a slide full of words, they will be furiously writing everything down and no longer listening to you. I believe it was a professor in college that told me 6 words per bullet, 6 bullets per slide maximum. I’ve actually found this to be a really comfortable amount of information to hand out. This of course, is contingent on if your presentation is full of bullet points.

2) Note cards. It never hurts to have little blips that remind you of tidbits you want to mention. Though if you go this route, punch a hole on the top left/right and thread them on a key-ring. Dropping even 15 note cards mid-presentation will spell the end of the note card idea.

3) If you can, find a presentation buddy. During our larger presentations, I’ve grown used to presenting with one of the artists on our team. We play off of each other well, and can cover for each other really easily. If you know you are presenting with someone else, take some time to get to know them and work on things together. This also presents tag-team presenting where halfway through you “tag out” for the other guy. If you’re presenting solo, your presentation buddy is a great person to present to when you run through the first couple times.

4) Find your “style”. During your run-through and after your presentation, take a few minutes and reflect on what did and didn’t work for you. A lot of times, the first reaction was “phew it’s over!” and then things move on. By stopping at some point to look at what you liked doing and what you didn’t, you’ll start to carve out your own style.

Tom says:
February 27, 13h

I attended both of your presentations at this year’s Web Design World in San Francisco and I really enjoyed your presentation style - it was a good balance of keeping everything structured and understandable, while still leaving wiggle room for questions or spontaneous add ins.

In regards to this list, I think you’ve forgotten one of the most important aspects of any presentation: have fun with it. Nobody wants to feel like they’re sitting through Calculus 101 again.

I think too many technical speakers spend so much time refining and perfecting their presentations that the whole experience comes off feeling dry and without life.

Ed Jones says:
February 27, 13h

It’s interesting that you suggest 40-50 slides for an hour. My favourite talks / lectures (and the ones I try to emulate when presenting) are the ones where the speaker is so engaging that the slides pale into insignificance, so it doesn’t matter if there are far fewer than that.

I’ve always thought that they should be there for the speaker to hang their ideas on, not as reading material for the audience. I’d be sad if I thought my slides were more interesting than me!

Great articles, Dave. This is the first time I’ve posted here, but I’ve been lurking for a long time :-)


Neil says:
February 27, 21h

I think one of the key things I’ve learned about successful presentations comes from my experience as a teacher. At the end of a good presentation the audience should feel as though they’ve been taken on a bit of a journey - good presentations need to have a destination.

When I’m working on a talk I try to keep this in mind, and almost always start at the end and work my way back. I ask myself “where do I want the audience to be when I’m done talking?” Once I’ve figured this out, I step back and try to figure out how to get the audience there, step by step.

I think slides are like makeup. You can do a great presentation without them, but used sparingly and in the right amounts they can really help bring a presentation alive. Too much, however, and you can risk ending up with an overblown mess.

I personally look at slides like visual emphasis - you use them to augment a point, but just like bold text you don’t want to be augmenting everything or else it’ll all start to blur together.

February 28, 03h

SXSW will indeed be my very first ever speaking engagement (although I did an informal lunch-time half-presentation to a few people during d.Construct last year) so your post was of great value to me.

I’ll add two dietary tips that I’ve discovered while researching speaking engagements (for someone else, originally):

1. Don’t eat heavily beforehand. Any food you may have to process during your presentation takes blood away from your brain to think clearly, so it’s best to be a little hungry.

2. Water, water, water. If you don’t like water, at least stay away from stuff like orange juice or anything else that’ll roughen up your throat. Also stay away from anything with milk – milk has chemicals in it that cloud your mind, and a clear mind is important for a presentation.

I’ve not had the fortune to attending your Geek Dinner in London, but I heard from friends who did that you were very relaxed and natural about it.

Also, for anyone looking to improve their presentation skills:

3 pieces by Guy Kawasaki:

The 10/20/30 rule of Powerpoint:

How to Kick Butt on a Panel:

Lessons from Steve’s Keynote:

And then, “Presentation Zen” by Garr Reynolds:

(just dig around on that blog)

All above are great reads. Great examples are Steve Jobs’ Keynotes; his slide simplicity is the heart and soul of why his presentations are so fantastic. Study his Keynotes and you’ll learn so incredibly much.

T says:
February 28, 06h

I would recommend joining Toastmasters for people who want to improve their speaking skills. While the speeches rarely last for more than 10 minutes, it’s still a great opportunity and a “safe” place to make all your beginner mistakes.

February 28, 06h

Great tips, Dave, and commenters! A topic near and dear to my heart. And, having spoken together with you, I heartily agree that you are a clear, cogent speaker with lots of interesting things to say.

Obviously, comfort level is different for people. No joke: Most people offered the choice of death or public speaking choose death! This is why the Veens of the world are great speakers - they are themselves and comfortable in front of people. I never have the jitters or fears of any kind because I adore being the center of attention and seek it out with glee :) My only concern, always, is that I serve the audience well.

But even with my natural enjoyment of being on stage, I have been confronted with many challenges over the years. I was helped a lot through private speaker training, which I decided was an important step toward becoming a professional speaker. Not everyone who speaks professionally does this, but if you’re really thinking about speaking in public a great deal, I’d say a few sessions with a good speaking coach or attending a few Toastmaster meetings is terrific.

One very fascinating piece I learned from my speaking coach is that 90% of speaking success has little to do with your slides, your voice, or your jokes. It has to do with how you use your body. Body language is the most important facet of speaking because via our bodies we can draw focus to or away from us or our materials, deal with the dynamics of Q and A more successfully. A great example is if you are answering a question, turn your face to the questioner but your body away from them and toward the rest of the room. This keeps people from feeling left out of the conversation. Also, the tendency is to move toward a person asking a question (called “compression”). Don’t! Move slightly back from the audience, further opening the physical environment so everyone feels included.

Doing audience polling is a fantastic way to start out a presentation too, raising your hands as you ask the question. This gets physical energy going from the get-go, as well as getting people involved right from the start. So I’ll ask a few questions, such as “How many people consider themselves visual designers?” and raise my right hand. Then, on the next question, such as “How many people consider themselves Web developers?” I switch hands. Then, even if time is short, I’ll ask for three volunteers to quickly introduce themselves, say what their job title is, and find out a particular item they are frustrated with - this not only warms people in the room toward you and each other - but gives you an idea of the level of general focus and skill.

I could go on, but I’ll leave it with this one golden rule: Repeat audience questions. No matter if they are speaking into a microphone, always repeat the question before answering it. This also keeps everyone feeling included as well as ensuring that everyone hears the question and a conversation is created, rather than a monologue or dialogue.

I’m looking forward to hearing you speak again very soon, Dave!

Dave M says:
February 28, 06h

There are always the additional topics that get raised in audience questions or just naturally as you go through a presentation, the things that make you say, “That’s interesting, let me get back to you,” or “That would be a great topic when I write Part 2 of this presentation.” Depending on the talk format, you should have some way to record these ideas. If it’s a small lecture setting, you can simply keep a list on a writeboard, or in a larger setting, your “presentation buddy” can take notes. Your buddy should also help you afterwards with any style or behavior issues; if you co-present, do it for each other.

Dave M says:
February 28, 06h

Molly’s comment about repeating questions reminded me of something else I think is very important. In un-miked situations, make sure you always talk to the person furthest away from you. If someone near you mumbles a question, repeat it and answer it so that everyone can hear you. Showing this kind of consideration for your audience improves your image and helps you remember how important each individual audience member’s experience is.

February 28, 06h

Slides can help you an awfull lot in timing your speach. If i’ve got a 15 minute presentation, I subtract 3 minutes for starting and ending the speach propery. That leaves 12 minutes, so 12 slides.

Each slide has got a title and 3 bullets, with a keyword or small phrase on it. If I can cover each bullet on each slide in 20 sec. on average my timing works out. 20 seconds is just enough time to say three lines or one and a pause.

February 28, 06h

Dave M: Awesome point regarding feedback. If you’re speaking at a conference and they ask for detailed feedback on speakers, make sure you read that feedback. It can be painful at times, sometimes you’ll get criticized for things that don’t make sense or you simply won’t agree with, but the audience can be your best friend in terms of your own growth. And when those yummy comments come in, like “GREAT JOB!” well, it just feels so good.

I am leaving this web site now or I’ll be here all day! I love talking about talking :)

February 28, 09h

Edward Tufte has some good guidelines for public speaking, and his The Cognitive Style of PowerPoint has some good tips.

February 28, 12h

Personally, I avoid slides if at all possible. What I mean is, very often I come to give a talk and what I have is a computer with a projector and a web browser, and that’s it. I have my notes (or not, depending on how well I know what I’ll talk about) and then just go.

I like to be able to go to places I wasn’t expecting, to respond to the audience’s interests, or to go into greater depth than I was expecting on a particular matter. It’s sort of the opposite of Larry Lessig and Dick Hardt’s approach of many, many slides, with one graphic or word on each, impeccably timed to what they have to say – which is also effective.

That doesn’t mean I think slides are bad, in other words. I just think that most slides people use, which are really PowerPoint outlines of their talk, are useless. My father-in-law gave a talk once about dental technology (he’s a retired dentist), and he was freaked out about having to learn PowerPoint. I told him he should forget about PowerPoint (so should most people) and just pick some images to go along with his talk. The result is here:

It went great. And there were no bullet points. I think each speaker’s style suits different styles of visuals.

If you want to hear how I sound when I give a presentation (minimal slides), try this:

Two tips I have:

- Move around. Get away from the podium. Stride. Look at the audience. Use your hands. If you have a lot of demo stuff at the computer, have NON-demo stuff that lets you get away from it.

- Stand to the audience’s left of the screen (your right). Most people in the West read from left to right, so they will look at you, then the screen.

My rants on this topic:

Dave S. says:
February 28, 12h

re: Avoiding slides. I think that’s fine if you can get away with it, and if your talk is more philosophical/theoretical than technical in nature.

I definitely need the visual aids to explain things like floats and the box model, though. My slides are mainly imagery these days anyway, with very minimal text, and often a page of links as footnotes.

A question that occured to me that some of you may have dealt with – if you DON’T have slides, does the audience grant you the same credibility? Slides make it look like you’ve prepared in advance, winging it without them might cause a different perception. That’s something I’d wonder about were I to drastically drop my slide count.

February 28, 18h

Perfect timing Dave! I’m co-hosting a presentation about CSS on Thursday & this post along with all the comments has been very helpful!

Neil says:
February 28, 20h

I just remembered this awesome tip from Paul Ford on breathing and nervousness that might come in handy:

As far as dispensing with slides goes, I think it depends on a few factors:

1. How long your presentation is
2. How complex or involved your subject material is
3. Whether or not your material is rooted in the visual
4. How inherently interesting your subject is
5. How inherently interesting you are

I think if you have a long, complex presentation, you had better have the verbal part of your presentation down cold; you’re going to be out there bare naked. Holding an audience’s interest with a long, complex presentation is a challenge even if you’re got an interesting subject and slides.

It’s like a singer singing a capella (yes, I’m full of analogies) - it can be done, but you better be absolutely amazing as every flaw, every mistake, and every nuance is going to be completely evident.

Besides presenters who read their slides, the one thing that annoys the crap out of me (and I’ve been guilty of this too) are presenters who are obviously not totally prepared, and come in and say, “I want this to be a conversation, so I want to talk less and hear what you have to say.”

9 times out of 10 that’s the beginning of a terrible presentation.

February 28, 22h

I think everyone has their own approach to slides, no one formula works for all speakers or all presentations. The only thing which really doesn’t seem to work is overloading slides with information.

Ultimately I’ve found the best presentations come from a speaker who gives the impression they could do the talk off the top of their head… particularly when they are confident enough to let their passion for the topic shine through. Anyone who has been to Web Essentials can probably instantly think of five speakers who fit the bill :)

I’ve been running a knowledge sharing group at work for the past two years (a group for web developers at a university). My role largely consisted of chasing people up to speak at the meetings. I was amazed to find just how reluctant most people are to speak to a group - even a small, friendly group like ours! It just hadn’t clicked for me since I don’t have that level of fear (a little nervousness is natural, keeps you on your toes).

The interesting thing was that most people do just fine once they stop worrying and start talking, particularly on topics they care about.

Carsten Wittmann says:
February 28, 23h

Great collection of presentation basics. From my experiences, I would like to add a few things:

- if you do not know the background or expectation of people, try to find out at the beginning; this offers you a lot of opportunities to refer to during your presentation and even makes a standard presentation more “customer”-focussed

- be careful with jokes or humor; not everyone has the same sense; some might find it boring, unappropriate or even offending

- stories you experienced yourself are always a good thing to tell; they make you authentic and prove that your presentation is relevant to practical issues

- if possible do a dry-run of your presentation with people, who know both your target group and the topic you are talking about; this helps to find the most common errors and/or missing links in your chain of logic; you will also get used to your presentation - and not do it first time, when it really matters

March 01, 00h

A couple of thoughts:

- I categorize all of my slides into “must deliver”, “should deliver”, and “would be nice to deliver”. I scatter time points throughout my presentation, such as by slide 10 I should be at 25 minutes, and slide 20 should be 50 minutes.

As I present I watch the time - if I’m ahead, I spend more time on “would be nice” - if I’m behind, I stick with “must”. Its tricky to do this, but if there is a lot of audience participation, you can often use this as a chance to regroup.

- I create an awful lot of slides, and actually present very few. Many of my powerpoint slides are merely structure for what I have to say. An outline, if you will. What I actually write on powerpoint and what I think will add value to the audience by displaying them are two different things

- My goal for any presentation is “what do I want my audience to DO as a result of this presentation?” Anything short of that goal makes the presentation unnecessary. if you just want to inform them, write an article and hand it out.

- The single most powerful tool in Powerpoint - the “B” key (it makes the screen go blank during a show). When you have a point that is critical - hit the “B” key. Then say “Now, this is VERY important”. Just the shock of the screen going blank brings every eye in the room back onto you.

Gordon says:
March 01, 02h

Tomorrow I have my first ever public presentation - a seminar on blogging and communities. It’s 45 minute slot.

The advice in this post and the comments is excellent, and I hope I can remember it all. But one thing springs to mind.

I’ll be making sure that, at the start, people are aware that they will receive electronic copies of my presentation. I’ve been to conferences where the same has happened and it immediately removes the need to frantically scribble down notes from the displayed slides.

Love the “B” tip, will be using that and Molly - some excellent advice on body language that I hadn’t considered.

I may even point to this post as an excellent example of how blogging works!

reese says:
March 01, 06h

I was a comfortable speaker in my youth, but a professor in college was integral in teaching a better way to public speak.

He wouldn’t let us read directly from paper. And he abhorred “memorization.” The human brain can only memorize so much, and then it gives up. He contended that this WOULD happen during a public speech and leave the speaker 10 times more anxious than they were to begin with. So, much to the chagrin of the majority of the class who saw notes as security blankets, he banned reading from paper or memorization. Instead, he taught us “speaking on the fly.”

You take your topic, research it and follow this simple formula:
1. Tell them what you’re going to tell them
2. Tell them it
3. Tell t hem what you just told them.

You use small notecards to put in brief points about what you’re telling them, and you learn to adjust on the fly your intro and conclusion.

For the security seekers who clung to paper, it shattered their world, but once they got used to it, they realized their comfort levels with public speaking increased because they were ALLOWED to make mistakes. The structure ensured they didn’t go off on tangents but gave them flexibility to make changes and engage in a more animated “discussion” than a stoic speech. Audiences, in general, appreciate this. Because you repeat yourself 3 times (but you mix up how you do) their memory retention of the message at hand increases greatly.

Dave S. says:
March 01, 09h

I think a common theme emerging here is that the more natural and spontaneous you can make your speaking, the better it will come across to everyone. Which is exactly what I’ve discovered for myself.

Carsten in particular (#18) raised some great points I missed – knowing your audience is tricky, do what you can to find out in advance. Personal stories are a huge win, if told well. You humanize the presentation, and it’s easy enough for you to tell them since they happened to you. And planned jokes almost always bomb (or at least they have for me), it’s the things you don’t think people would find that funny that get the biggest laughs sometimes.

Jeff says:
March 01, 09h

When you feel comfortable with your material you can talk WITH your audience not at them.

While everyone is there to hear you, when the opportunity arises to interact with people it eases any tension you might have about speaking. It’s like having a conversation where everyone wants to listen to you and you don’t have to fight for air time! -g

March 01, 09h

These same tips can be applied to those who run Podcasts (I say that because I do one myself). During the first few episodes I had found that just having a small outline in front of me helps tremendously to simply just stay on task.

In earlier shows there was plenty more “ums, hmms, and uhhs” than I anticipated. That was only revealed to me after the fact.

On the flip side, I do in fact think one can be a bit too slow… pausing for the sake of thinking you’re going to mess up in every single instance can get a bit out of hand. It will indeed take away part of my personality if I chose that route. It’s nice to let people know that you’re human and you too have a thought process and verbalizing that isn’t all that bad.

Then again, not all of us are Veen or Molly.

Lesley says:
March 01, 11h

Great tips. What I would love to have is my notes on the computer screen in front of me and my slides on the projection screen that the audience can see. Does anyone know if there any way of doing this without having a two-screen set-up (not available in most conference venues)?

Joe Clark says:
March 01, 13h

I’m strongly in favour of new material for each session. However, I charge for that, which means I’m more expensive, which means I have fewer sessions (and none of that speaking-for-free-at-SXSW nonsense anymore).

Don’t be afraid to swear onstage if necessary. I have, however, never gone beyond two syllables.

March 03, 12h

While having notes on one screen and slides on another is good, don’t forget that a simple paper outline or (as others have mentioned) note cards can do just as well or better.

Oh, and another point: confirm and reconfirm and re-re-confirm what equipment and connectivity there will be at the venue. Then prepare for any of it, or all of it, to be missing.

I have had to give talks about websites where there was no Internet connection, even though I’d been promised and re-promised, and re-re-promised one, and was only able to pull it off by caching a bunch of examples on my laptop in advance, just in case.

In a worst-case scenario, you can make do in a smallish room with just a whiteboard or a flip chart and some pens. I’ve occasionally planned it that way:

Now, if you don’t get the gear you were expecting, you _can_ just say, “Well, I can’t do this” or stand around waiting for some AV helped to rush stuff in for you. But if you are well prepared and can semi-wing it with what you do have, you’ll make an excellent impression. “We don’t have a projector or an Internet connection, and my laptop’s battery just died because there’s no power strip up here, but I’m going to get started anyway.”

If you can give a good talk like that, you’ll (a) blow ‘em away when you do have what you need, and (b) get asked back, if that’s what you want.

Dave S. says:
March 03, 15h

Oh, I’m surprised I missed that one. Excellent addition Derek, make DAMN sure you’re prepared to speak without an internet connection.

Another from direct, painful personal experience – also make sure your slides are backed up in at least three places: your laptop/presentation computer, a USB drive, and the internet. (And if you’re using Keynote, export them to something that’ll work on a PC.)

Chances are good your computer won’t die on you a few hours before you go on stage, but I’ve had that happen. Backups are essential, as is the ability to port your slides over to another platform if that’s all that’s available. (More of a Keynote issue, I’m sure Powerpoint users are safe)

March 06, 12h

Some great advice, especially about preparing, preparing, preparing, and then letting go and having fun.

I will heartily disagree with two of your points, however. First, using 40-50 slides as a backup for being nervous is a poor solution. In my experience, fewer slides are better. For an hour presentation, no more than 10 slides or so, and ONLY if they illustrate a point better than you can say it. In short, more slides won’t make you less nervous!

Also, with regards to time–if you don’t know how long your presentation will take, you haven’t prepared. “Preparing” isn’t just writing out a talk; it’s actually saying it OUT LOUD, real-time at least three times, just as if you really had an audience. If you don’t know EXACTLY how long your talk takes, then you haven’t rehearsed it enough.

Tabitha Stevens says:
March 07, 01h

The golden rule of presentations:

Tell them what you’re going to tell them.
Tell them.
Tell them what you told them.

This way, they get the message three times.

Marc Jones says:
March 08, 12h

Having seen Dave in action I can say that despite him not being the funny man, the illusionist or the evangelist he does just fine.

Here’s why. First up his credentials precede him - I wanted to hear THE Dave S speak. and That leads me to my second point - the audience WANT to hear you. I don’t care if you stumble a bit I really don’t. Be yourself and remember you are amongst friends.

The only thing that ever frustrates me is when I’ve paid good money and I don’t get all that was promised. Timing is all, the rest will largely take care of itself I believe.

March 16, 13h

Just a few years past, I was pursuing a History major, and it just so happened that the courses I was taking required a lot of speaking in front of groups of people—something I always dreaded and generally bumbled. No matter what I tried, I was always nervous, fidgeting, clammy—and it would always reflect on the presentation.

I soon realized History was not the path for me, and I eventually gave in to my inner nerd and started taking design classes (heck, I needed _some_ kind of excuse to buy a mac).

Well, wouldn’t you know it—more presentations. Actually, a lot more. And you know what? The only times I’m ever nervous presenting—whether it’s to a class or a client—is when I personally don’t believe in what I’m selling. That’s why I could never convincingly pitch the French Revolution or Louis Riel—I didn’t care: I didn’t believe.

So while I may not be delivering speeches at world-class conferences, I think it’s still important to note that as long as you’re passionate about what you’re preaching, your audience is bound to pick up and feed off the energy, regardless of whether or not you keep up to or fly pass your slides.

Or maybe those television evangelists are getting to me.

swi says:
July 13, 10h

Oh, and another point: confirm and reconfirm and re-re-confirm what equipment and connectivity there will be at the venue. Then prepare for any of it, or all of it, to be missing.

Justin says:
August 22, 07h

My first career was aimed at the theatre industry, having studied both stage performing, and then focussed on the backstage production work. A voice coach once dispensed advice that has proved invaluable: forget water, eat a bananna.

There is something about water that never fully quenches your thirst and takes away the dry-mouth feeling. If you take just a single bite of a bananna it will soothe your throat and leave you free to speak clearly and comfortably.

A performer in a small caberet-style production (lots of singing required) showed up at the performance with almost no voice. The bananna was litterally the only thing that kept the show from being cancelled.

Over the years I have made many presentations to small and large audiences and this little piece of advice has always served me well. Of course, I keep water with me too, but I rarely need it.

September 02, 03h

Some good tips….

I’m a voice & presentation skills trainer - the voice work I do is based upon the technicues used by the Royal Shakespeare Company - and I need to add a cautionary note about point number four.

Water on stage isn’t a good thing for your voice; if you need it for lubrication in your mouth, it’s too late! You should have drunk more water BEFORE the gig. (It can be useful as a prop, to give yourself time to think though :) )

In fact, drinking on stage just dries your mouth out in the longer term, making you more and more dependent on using water more and more. As it evaporates it takes the mouth’s natural moisture with it.

In any case, as your vocal folds are working at aboutg 150 times per second (for a guy), why would you want to put something cold like water anywhere near them?!? You’d not take a cold shower after playing a hot game of squash would you? (Go on, admit it, you like a hot shower, don’t you?)

The “propper” advice is to drink plenty of liquids early (not tea, coffee, cola, fruit-juice or alcohol) to give you body time to prepare itself.

Simon -