Christian Heilmann

Posts Tagged ‘speaking’

Speaking at BarCamps – its not that complicated

Thursday, May 27th, 2010

BarCamps are a wonderful opportunity to get your first experiences as a public speaker. I’ve organised a few and attended a lot in the last few years in various countries and love them to bits. Lately, however, I found that the original ideas and freedoms of BarCamp have been washed out and people get stressed far too much about them (or don’t use them to their advantage). When I talked to the organisers of the upcoming London BarCamp about that they asked me to jot down some of my ideas on how you approach speaking at a BarCamp without getting yourself worked up too much.

So what is a BarCamp? It is an Unconference and as such totally the opposite of a conference:

  • There are no predefined speakers – only a grid of speaking places and times to be filled on the spot.
  • Everybody who comes to a BarCamp should also present something – just camping is frowned upon.
  • The emphasis is on sharing and networking – not on listening and getting inspired whilst feeling inadequate or disconnected from those “cool” people on stage.
  • In terms of topics anything goes – there is no theme to a BarCamp – this is why people do specialised camps instead.

All of this is a wonderful opportunity to do a few things:

  • You can get your first speaking experience without having to submit a paper, follow speaker guidelines or any other such nonsense . Go there, sign up for a slot and go nuts. You can dance your talk, rap it, use sign language, semaphore, mime it, bring a guitar and sing it – whatever. This is about you talking about something you want to talk about rather than something that you think you have to talk about because it is hip right now.
  • You can host a discussion round. If you don’t feel confident as a speaker yet but you really want to get some insight into a certain topic or shine a light on an elephant in the room, simply take a slot and facilitate an open discussion about the topic.
  • You can show a problem and ask people to help you solving it – which is as important as showing a solution. Geeks love to solve problems. If we don’t find any we come up with arbitrary ones. If you have something that you always wanted solutions for, bring it up at a BarCamp. People will talk about it and share for you.
  • You can do a showcase. If you found something working immensely well for you, show that off. It could be a piece of software you use, a methodology you follow, how to get cheap theater tickets by showing up five minutes before the show – whatever. What makes you more efficient might be exactly the thing other people were looking for.

OK, but what if you are scared of the mere concept of standing up in front of a lot of people and talk but really want to face that demon? BarCamps are your opportunity to do that. Simply keep the following things in your head:

  • It is not a conference – people didn’t pay to see you and everybody in the audience has to present,too so there is a very high chance that they are as worried as you are.
  • Find a subject that you are passionate about – passion breeds confidence. If you are more interested in getting a subject matter across than how to present it then you will be great. Pick a topic you love and you want others to love, too. This could be timely but doesn’t have to be.
  • Don’t plan your talk – unlike talks at conferences there is just no need to meticulously plan your talk. BarCamps are total chaos. People will come and leave during your talk and disrupt you. There can be questions from the audience during it – all of that is allowed and encouraged. For you this means that you need to be confident about the subject – not about the few dozens slides you want to use as your lifeline. Get in there armed with the knowledge you need to answer questions about your subject – not with a presentation you learnt by heart.
  • There is no way you can mess up – BarCamps are a pressure free environment, this is why people invented them. The plan is to have ideas floating around and sharing them. If you are not a funny person or feel unhappy being the centre of attention don’t be – show what you want to show and ask questions about it – deflect the attention to the subject matter and back to the audience.
  • People are on your side – nobody at BarCamps will try to shoot you down in flames. There is nothing to be gained from it as the person will also have to present and has to deliver better. In conferences people try to show off by disagreeing with the paid expert on stage – at unconferences this will just make them look pathetic (well, more pathetic, really)
  • Your main task is to have and inspire fun and interest – simply find something you are passionate about and try to spark the others into feeling the same. Even if that doesn’t work out you came across as someone who believes in something and is happy to share it. It makes you confident, interesting and effective (watch Serenity and learn about the assassins in that movie as an example of that – if you believe in something you are much stronger)

The main trick is to concentrate on the subject you want to cover and not the talk. However, if you want to make sure you deliver an amazing talk here are some resources I’ve written for training:

Another great tip of course is to look for videos and presentations given at other BarCamps and learn from other people’s mistakes and successes. Be aware of not falling into the trap of copying other people’s style – you are you and the speaker should be you not a faded carbon copy of another person.

Personally I don’t show up much at BarCamps any more. The reason is that space is limited and I don’t want to take away the ticket from someone who’d love to come and have their first go at presenting. If I go there I love seeing new talent and giving feedback though so if you see me and I attend your talk, don’t be shy and ask.

I think it is time for us to re-think our BarCamp strategy and go back to its roots. I’ve been to quite a few unconferences lately that end up with an empty grid with only a few talks by already known speakers. This is nice as it gives people a chance to see those speakers in action without spending money on a conference ticket but it also means that others are scared of presenting themselves or hunt the known presenter instead of concentrating on sharing some of their knowledge themselves.

BarCamp is there for you and for others to learn about you. They are free, but they do cost a lot of time and money. If both these are wasted on people not presenting but instead consuming or playing Werewolf for a whole night we might as well call them GameCamp. It is hard to get funding for unconferences when there is nothing coming out in the end – so if you like the idea of BarCamps be part of those who make them a fertile ground of information sharing.

Always outnumbered, never outgunned – Speaking out event at London City Hall

Wednesday, April 21st, 2010

If you had told me a few months ago that I would be the only guy in a room with 75 women in London’s City Hall (the crooked thermos near Tower Bridge) about to hold a workshop on “how to be an inspiring speaker” I’d have nodded understandingly, taken your pint away from you and called you a cab. Yesterday, however, I found myself in exactly that situation.

Speaking Out at City Hall by  you.

In the next round of Speaking Out events my friend Laura North partnered with the Greater London Authority Womens Network to have an afternoon overseeing the whole of sunny (yes, really) London to talk about some of the aspects of public speaking from a woman’s perspective.

Rosie Boycott on public speaking

The first speaker of the day was Rosie Boycott, who didn’t mince her words when it came to explaining her arduous journey in a male dominated environment to become a speaker. I liked what I heard but there were a few things that made me cringe:

  • Rosie praised the idea of a lectern to give your talk from as this gives you a stronghold and some place to put your notes. I think lecterns are the work of beelzebub and represent everything that is wrong about a bad presentation – a barrier between you and the audience. Speakers are scared of speaking and the audience is scared of being bored or having wasted their time and money. Anything that visually divides you makes this even more obvious. It is you on a stage – you have to overcome the fear of showing yourself and using your body language to stress out some points. This doesn’t come natural to northerners – go and see some Italian or Spanish speakers to see how it is done.
  • Rosie also told us about “being put on Twitter now” which made me cringe and want to have a long talk to her PR people about the value of sincerity and personality in social media. What really threw me though was a long story of her being very upset that someone on Twitter complained about the shoes she wore in one of her talks and that she felt it unfair that her talk was reduced to that. It wasn’t. Some person who wanted to profile themselves and had a thing for shoes needed one thing to criticize to be cool on the web – both comment and Twitter feedback works differently than the real world. People should not get discouraged by them!
  • On the topic of jokes Rosie said flat out that women should not try them as men are much better at them. Funnily enough also Katie, the second speaker said the same and opted for funny quotes instead. Again, my experience differs as I have seen female speakers deliver amazingly well timed, subtle and very tasteful jokes even with very crude topics (something no man I know would excel at) – a great example is Mary Roach’s talk at Ted (embedded below). So ladies, if you are naturally funny and if you think a bit of irreverence can bring a point across or liven up a very boring topic – do not hold back!

Mary Roach: 10 things you didn’t know about orgasm

Katie Streten on feeling comfortable as a speaker

After Rosie the ever inspiring Katie Streten from imagination got up and talked about the art of feeling comfortable about public speaking from a woman’s perspective. I love working with Katie as she is very straight forward in her approach and has the same attitude towards speaking as I do: just do it and worry about your own fears later on. You can only get better with experience.

Katie delivered a talk very similar to the one she gave at the first Speaking Out event about fears of public speaking and how to overcome them. She did once again a great job at addressing some of the problems and showing ways around them.

Some of my takeaways

All in all I learnt a few things about public speaking and women in these talks:

  • Gadgets are much more important – every speaker pointed out that Flash cards and the right clothing are very important. Also the (IMHO wrong) mention of a lectern as a safety net pointed in that direction. Every male speaker I know is happy to be wired up to a mic and have their slides. If the slides fail, we ad-lib (if we are gifted) or bamboozle (if we are asked to talk without wanting to). It is a confidence (or in the male case a not caring about the results) thing. It is good to have your gadgets when you start but be aware that they are a safety blanket and to be truly inspiring and very happy with yourself you will have to discard them in the future.
  • A lot I heard is about copying what other people do well. This to me is a danger as women can bring so much more to the table of public speaking (see more about that later when I talk about the happy moments I had). Copying is good but look deep inside you and find the thing that makes you, well – you. Then apply this to the subject matter and you will deliver a killer talk. You can’t be someone else – it will always show.
  • A lot I heard was about prevailing in a male dominated society. And I am getting tired of this. Stop trying to prevail and instead show men how things are done properly. One thing Katie said and promptly got told off by an audience member is that as a woman you should butt in at meetings if you have a good point to make as men do the same. Expletive yes – she is right about this. Just because other people don’t have manners it doesn’t mean that their point should be heard and not yours – especially when it makes much more sense.
  • The biggest obstacle to tackle is criticism of other women about what you do. Women are amazingly critical about each others mannerisms, looks and ways they deliver information. Men are much simpler that way (I guess that is why we always look scruffy in comparison). You know what? I blame the media for this. If you look at advertising and magazines you’ll find that a lot is about making women feel bad or inadequate about themselves. Ride the escalator up Leicester Square and you’ll find a lot of posters stating amazingly idiotic things like “start the year with new confidence – affordable plastic surgery”. Mitchell and Webb hit the nail on the head with their sketch about this:

That Mitchell and Web Look—Women: Sort yourself out.

The workshop

After the talks we split up into three workshops – “Making public speaking easier” by Katie Streten, “How to speak confidently under pressure” by Emer Coleman and “How to be a compelling speaker” by me.

The fun thing was that during my training as a trainer I learnt three things:

  • Workshops should be done in small groups (5-10 people tops)
  • You should get to know the people you train beforehand to see what kind of learners they are and cater your materials accordingly
  • Plan your session in chunks of time and have several activities for people – mix very physical ones with research topics

Which of course became wonderfully moot points when Laura told me a day before that twenty people signed up for my course and that they are of all kind of mixed backgrounds and that the sessions are 25 minutes and not more.

So I took this “horror scenario” and instead of giving people demos and exercises in finding the story in information (which was my original intent) I came up with four terrible scenarios and split the twenty people into groups of five each to deal with them.

The idea was the following: if you are prepared for the worst you are actually free to deliver what you need to deliver in a very inspiring manner. Confidence is the main key to success as speaker. If you are in a mind set of “throw anything at me, I can deal with it” then you have time to hone your speaking skills.

The “Horror Scenarios” to solve

Each group was to nominate a speaker and someone to take notes. They then got a “horror scenario” to solve and had ten minutes to answer three questions about the topic. After that each group had five minutes to give a quick presentation explaining the problem and their solutions.

The scenarios and questions where:

Clever Trevor

You give a presentation and you planned for a certain amount of Questions and Answers. However, the second person – with 10 minutes in – starts challenging you and explains that he is an expert in the matter and that you were wrong.

You can normally spy a “Clever Trevor” from far away as the question starts with him explaining who he is for hours and talking about the subject matter.

  • How can you make sure that you don’t have him as an enemy and still not waste time?
  • What could you do during your talk to prevent this from happening?
  • What are the positive aspects of a Clever Trevor?

Blinded By Coolaid

You are asked to give a presentation at a big conference and the company sends you a great, beautiful and sanctioned slide deck. The problem with the slide deck is that it is not at all catered to your market and it expects everybody to love the brand whilst in your country it is not really known or relevant in comparison to the competition.

  • How can you make sure that you can own the presentation and not look like a total marketing puppet?
  • What can you do to get people excited about the subject matter although it is not relevant at this moment in time?
  • How can you prevent the audience from doing the obvious thing and pointing out that the competition does it much better?

Impaired Foresight

You have to give an internal presentation about your department and your Boss constantly fails to support you in the absolute basics to deliver your work. You are an expert in the subject matter and he is not – yet this doesn’t stop him from cutting your budget. You as the expert can see doom ahead and you know that it will be on your head cause god forbid your boss would ever admit to being wrong.

  • How can you prepare a project report that shows what is right now happening and give a positive view of the future?
  • What can you do in your presentation to show “on the sly” what really is needed?
  • How can you make sure that your boss gives you better support after the presentation?

Sudden Timewarp

This can happen in both external and internal talks. Weeks ago you were asked to prepare a talk on a certain subject and 20 minutes before you are on there is an agenda change – your talk is now not an hour like originally planned, but you only get half an hour.

  • What can you do in your talk preparation to take this scenario into consideration?
  • How can you make sure that the audience still doesn’t feel disappointed?
  • How do you prepare yourself for this?

Workshop proceedings or “why I love women”

The hidden trick in all of the solutions above is to put yourself into the shoes of the person that causes this terrible scenario. What drives a clever Trevor? Why is your boss so terrible to you and cuts your budget while not listening to your advice?

The thing I was actually very scared of was running out of time – 25 minutes is ridiculously short for an exercise like this. Frankly, I was very positively surprised.

  • Whilst a group of men would have spent the first 5 minutes arguing who will be the speaker and how to present the matters all four groups sat down, picked a speaker in a matter of seconds and tackled the job at hand.
  • Every single group understood that the main key to fixing these issues is psychological – they analyzed why the person was being a problem and found subtle ways of persuasion to work around them or them to change their ways.
  • The presentations were on time, to the point and explained both the way they came to the solutions and the solutions themselves.
  • The notes are readable whereas every man’s notes I’ve seen resemble the scribbles on prison walls (including mine, guess why I use computers).
  • All groups were very supportive to each other and asked questions afterwards about the problems of the others.

All in all I can only applaud the teams – I hoped for people to find the same solutions I offered as a takeaway afterwards and all of them got it. I only wished I had had more time with them.


I had a great time at the event and I hope to have inspired the attendees to take what happens to you as a speaker in stride. I have seen a lot of talent on the day and would love to witness some of them woo audiences in the future and bring good messages across. The only issue I had with the event is the timing – the workshops should be much longer and get some preparation time to be much more effective. The word “workshop” is thrown around much too lightly these days – it is not a speaker doing some Q&A – it is about a group doing something and getting their first experiences at doing it by themselves and finding their own way of achieving it.

TTMMHTM: Monitoring the web, Synth Britania, charting the Beatles and htc performance

Wednesday, January 20th, 2010

Sunnyvale, Frankfurt, Toronto…

Thursday, August 6th, 2009

In case you wondered why there is a bit of a lull from me on the internets right now (even before the Twitter DDOS), I am right now in Sunnyvale, California where I attended the iPhoneDevCamp and now got bogged down in team meetings and internal trainings. I feel that I am much less effective in the US because a) I am driving in a car and not in public transport where I can use a laptop and b) cubicles stop people talking to each other – I hate these things.

I am flying back across the pond tomorrow to go to Frankfurt to attend a Web Brunch and speak about mashups and YQL at the WebMontag. I then get a day to go to London, switch suitcases and fly off to Toronto, Canada to speak at the Domain Convergence.

There are some more things in the making, so bear with me :)