Christian Heilmann

My public speaking survival kit

Friday, January 26th, 2007 at 9:36 pm

I must be a nightmare for organisers of conferences and summits. I am prone to change my speeches in the last second and actually starting to write them the day before if not on the way to the summit. This is OK for me as I work much better under pressure than when I feel confident of knowing the speech by heart. Fact is, I get bored of my own stuff very quickly.

However, there are some things I learnt to be a good idea to take care of before you go on that stage and monkey around in front of a powerpoint or keynote:

  • Keeping a copy of your presentation online (on a reliable server or in your webmail)
  • Keeping a copy of your presentation on a memory stick (preferably one that is compliant with USB 1)
  • Knowing your presentation – nothing worse than a presenter that is confused by his own slides (“and this seems to be a doodle of me – in a sombrero”)
  • Not expecting anything to work on the presentation site – plan for the need to speak up, use flipcharts as the projector died with a bang, maybe even the need to paint on a OHP (wow, blast from the past).
  • Bringing a power lead – your laptop battery is less reliable than you think it is.
  • Bringing a connector to plug your laptop into the oddest outlets there are (a lot of airlines sell these onboard, with differences of up to 8 pound from airline to airline for the same thing) – god I wished they’d standardize power plugs world-wide.
  • Arriving early at the site and assess the audience. They are there to see you, but you should also make sure you speak their language and change nuances on the spot if need be. This also gives a cool surprise effect as somebody in the audience out of a sudden becomes the presenter and it may entice clever people in the audience to do the same one day (come on you sleeping geniuses, go out there!). For reasons unknown to be this trick never works for me though, there seem to be features of me that people can spot in a crowd…
  • Having some water with you on stage (and a coffee if you are an addict like me) as your voice might need it
  • Preparing for your body to surprise you in unpleasant ways. Your mind might be strong but traveling and time differences really mess with your biological clock. So, bring some medication to stop nasty issues like bad stomach, tummy trouble, headaches or heartburn right when they occur. Your mind should be free of these troubles when you are up there.
  • Being open to and expecting some really tricky questions from the audience – or none at all…

During the presentation I realised some other things to work for me:

  • Being honest and WYSIWYG. If you don’t know things, don’t bring them up or sell yourself as knowing them. An honest “I don’t know, but I am happy to help anyone find it out” is much better than smoke and mirrors.
  • Being yourself as a presenter. If you are a shy “only the facts” person, make this your presentation, if you can and want to entertain as much as educate, do that.
  • Not seeing the audience as somebody who scrutinizes you but as somebody you want to communicate with. This is the old “dance as if nobody sees you” trick.
  • Never taking yourself serious, instead mention other people’s work and what you learnt from it.

How was it for you and what worked for you?

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