I speak at events every so often, mainly to project management audiences, but occasionally to techies. For example, I spoke at a BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT, event earlier this year on conflict management in teams, to their Young Professionals Group. They were all much more technical than me – web developers, infrastructure people, network specialists. Working as I do in IT, it’s good to understand how to connect to a technical audience, even when it isn’t in a formal presentation setting.
I expect, like me, you also have to talk to groups of people, either in meetings, doing presentations at work, or large scale presentations at events. It’s daunting. I’ve been speaking in public for years, but I’m still not very confident at it.
Last week I attended an event hosted by Speaking Out! and London Girl Geek Dinners, which was a combined effort to raise the confidence levels and public speaking skills of the people attending. Three speakers talked about their experiences of public speaking and gave us some tips. Here’s a summary of what they had to say.
Claire Lee, Developer Evangelist at Microsoft Emerging Business Team
- Prepare, but not too much, otherwise you’ll sound stilted and not natural.
- Know your audience and tailor your message to them.
- Use facts.
- Use humour.
- Play to your strengths.
- Be yourself.
- Tell stories.
- Prepare properly if you are going to be on a panel discussion. Find out who the others are and find something that ties you together.
“Get out there,” she said. “What you have to say and show is worth saying and showing.”
Margaret Gold, Gold Mobile Innovation Ltd
- Make mistakes and encourage others.
- Play and be playful.
- Slow down.
- Be open.
- Move your body – it shows enthusiasm.
- Use Twitter headlines – short phrases that get the message across, especially on slides.
“Forget about impressing people,” she said. ‘We’re often surrounded by super clever people and get caught up in wanting to appear extra smart.”
Margaret echoed what I have said before about the “deplorable lack” of women on the podium at tech events. “It’s our fault,” she said, “we don’t put ourselves forward.”
Christian Heilmann, Developer Evangelist at Yahoo! (although he has a new job now)
- Tech audiences want the facts.
- What you wear doesn’t matter.
- The first talk on the second day of an event is not a good slot.
- Tech glitches are known and understood – if you’re pitching for work, poor technology or the inability to use it will kill your pitch, but conference audiences are more understanding.
- Tech audiences have a short attention span, and you’ll lose some of them as they’ll be tweeting.
- People are looking for mistakes, so don’t make any. Tech audiences value the use of the right words, so use the right terminology.
- Use citations in your slides or handouts, as it makes you appear more intelligent.
- Feedback will be polarized – they’ll either love it or hate it.
There are more notes and a copy of his slides on Christian’s blog.
The speakers recommended Nancy Duarte’s work if you want some inspiration on producing good slides. I’ve read her book slide:ology: The Art and Science of Creating Great Presentations and I can recommend it. They also suggested taking a look at Bryan Rieger on slideshare, and after having a look I think that’s certainly somewhere I’ll be looking for inspiration in the future.
How about making a new year’s resolution to volunteer to speak at an event in 2011? Make a pledge to improve your public speaking skills – you’ll only get better through practise!