Today I went to the Spotify office in Stockholm to test-run a training I’ll give at the MozCamp in Singapore next month. The topic was turning geeks into presenters, how to foster a culture of speaking and presenting in a company and tricks how to become a better speaker.
This is a quick introductory talk on how to foster a culture of presenting and speaking and a few tips on how to become a better speaker yourself.
The first question to ask yourself is why you’d want to start presenting. There has to be a reason for it.
It is not easy for geeks to start becoming a presenter. In a lot of cases our nature doesn’t lend itself to being an outgoing person that other people understand. There is a reason why we chose IT as a profession and not something where we primarily deal with people.Furthermore years of bad experiences with company presentations and boring lectures have us conditioned to dislike them. The other issue is that speaking and presenting is considered a task people do who do not code any longer. You know, those managers and the suits and the like. It seems we are more excited about people who write amazing code that never gets released than people sharing what they want to do and get input before we create it. And complaining that people don’t care about our issues without reaching out to tell them about it doesn’t sound too logical either.
Presenting is translating, not selling
The best presenters I know don’t sell with their presentations.They explain, share their excitement and point people in the right direction to find things out for themselves.
People listen if you talk to them!
Giving a presentation internally is a great way to get people up to speed with what is happening. We can have all the documentation and emails in the world – if we don’t know that people read them we can not assume people know what we are on about. Scheduling an internal presentation means people hear at least once about it. External presentations are of course even better, not only make they learn people about what you and your company does, they also give you internal leverage. You are known on the outside for knowing your stuff and the company can benefit from you being associated with it.
Starting a speaking culture
Many companies already do have a culture of presenting but in many this privilege is given to only a few people. Those are coached to be perfect pitch presenters and drive an even larger gap between the people who do things in the company and those who talk about it. Of course we need good professional presenters (and every manager should have some training) but the real success comes by sharing the fame and the responsibilities with everyone in the company.
A few tools
Just in terms to break down barriers and to get people out of the woodwork and start speaking there are a few things companies can do that proved effective in the past.
Powerpoint Karaoke is a great way to get the fear out of presenting. Here is how it works:
Download random powerpoints of the interweb
Pick a random person
The person should present the deck for 5 minutes
Seemingly just a silly thing, powerpoint karaoke can have a lot of positive effects.
It teaches you to not be a slave to your deck
It breaks down the initial barrier – everybody can look the fool for five minutes
You get to know what to avoid in your own slides
You start to learn speaking, not just re-iterating (you are not in your subject matter)
Lightning talks are a great opportunity to discuss issues and solutions and get people to do their first talks.
15 minutes each week
5 minutes: a problem we encountered
5 minutes: a solution we found and applied
5 minutes: discussion if this is a good solution and should become a best practice
I’ve found lightning talks in the past a very good solution for people to get their first speaking experience. They are not scary and they give you a chance to say what you want to say. The reasons are:
The speaker knows his stuff
The speaker talks about a positive experience – fixing something
A Fixed time and duration means predictability which is less scary
Everybody gets to have a go
Content repos beat a slide repository
Instead of archiving slide decks and sending them around the company to present over and over again create a content repository much like a pattern library. This allows people to get information they need and assemble their talks from it rather than repeating someone else’s talk flow and fail at that.
Preliminaries – what to do yourself
There are a few things you can do before you start even thinking about speaking. These may sound weird, but they will save you a lot of time in the future and make you a much more focused and better presenter.
Forget about the slide deck
The first thing to consider is forgetting about your slide deck. Your slides are the backdrop to your talk, if you read them out you are redundant. Furthermore everything you can think of can go wrong about your presentation – be safe, don’t rely on them.
In order to really give good presentations, you need to be excited about what you present. If that naturally happens, good. Move on. If not, find an angle that makes the subject matter exciting for you and then tell a story around that angle.
Share pain and excitement
One big obstacle for a lot of new speakers is to move from human to expert that needs to inspire. This step is much less hard to take when you stay human and think of human ways to interact with the audience. Share that you are excited and/or afraid of being on stage and talking about this. Be human, be honest. Good stories on how you reached conclusions, how you bettered your ways and how a failure got turned into a success are a great way to give an inspiring talk. Use them.
Learn to endure and adore yourself
One big step to becoming a good speaker is to get used to yourself, to the sound of your voice and the person you appear to be. How other people see us is very different to how we see ourselves and this very much starts with the voice. Our heads vibrate when we speak which means we hear ourselves muchdeeper than we really sound.
Speak loud, clear and proud
Being understandable on stage is incredibly important. A lot of this is about breathing technique and timing yourself the right way. This takes practice and gets better the more you do it. A great little but also very goofy trick is to put a cork in your mouth and speak at the same time. Try to become as understandable as possible – that way you learn how to breathe correctly.
Record and playback
Watching videos of yourself is awkward but a very important partto becoming a speaker. This is how you come across, and this is the person you are – get used to it. You are your worst critic and that is good. Also have good friends watch you and tell you what can be improved.
Body language is a massive part of presenting or communication over all. There are many studies on the subject with at times scary findings. People do judge you by how you project, not by who you are. This takes time and effort and not many people are happy to go that far. Therefore you need to be aware of what body language works and what doesn’t. What you give the audience is how they react. You need to lead not only with your words but also with your body.
Practice your stage voice and manners
If you have kids – lucky you. If you don’t, get access to some. Then take a good children’s book and read to them. Loud and with lots of gestures and different voices for the different characters. The kid will love it and you break out of your shell and get more confident in projecting and speaking clear and loud.
The first step to being a good speaker is to get inspired and learn by watching other people do it. A lot of conference videos are available on the web, so check them out there. TED is a great resource for seeing amazing talks – but be aware that this is the master class, don’t feel bad about these talks. A lot of rehearsal and work went into them and they only look very easy to deliver.
Go to (un)conferences and share afterwards
Going to conferences is a very good step, even better are unconferences as it means you have to speak, too. Whenever the company allows people to go to conferences it should be on the condition to give a talk (or at least send an email report) about the event afterwards. That way there is no jealousy amongst people and you can set up an archive of what conferences are worth while and which aren’t.
Do not copy!
The danger there though is to copy verbatim what other people are doing. This will not make you or the audience happy as it is a lie to yourself and them. You can find things that you like and start using them but it needs to be natural – don’t force it.
Would you like to know more?
There are a few online resources you can check out.
When writing documentation or doing examples you constantly run into the same issue: how do you display and demo the code at the same time? You don’t want to have a code display and live code as they will get out of sync (on the other hand I always found that when copying code into a document I also cleaned it up and optimised it).
The easiest way for this are all the “new” services like JSFiddle, JSBin, Dabblet, Tinker.io and others (there seems to be a new one every month now) and you can even embed them into other documents, but it means you need an iframe and load content from another service (which might go down or get forgotten in the future).
However, you can do a simple demo and display of the same script much easier these days using CSS. Check out this demo page for an upcoming Smashingmag article:
If you do a view-source you find no other script in use, yet it displays in the page. What is this sourcery*? Simple, and it was Mathias Bynens who got me onto it: just display script elements as block and add some generated content to show the “Source” text:
Yesterday night was the first Speaking out – public speaking made easy event in London and I was lucky enough to be one of the speakers. Speaking Out was the idea of my friend Laura North who hates public speaking and has been pestering me for a while for private tutoring on the matter. Instead, I told her we should organise a bigger event and this was it.
Our not-too-hidden agenda was that we encourage more women to get out there and do more public speaking – be it in a meeting room or at conferences in front of hundreds of people.
The event is open to all, but women are especially encouraged to attend and subjects include speaking in public from a woman’s perspective.
Speakers include Katie Streten, Head of Digital Strategy at design agency Imagination, Christian Heilmann from Yahoo!, and Dave Bell from Merrill Lynch, who has been helping young women in Tower Hamlets make public presentations. All the speakers share the same aim of helping participants to communicate in a more relaxed and informal way.
On the day about 45 attendees (5 of which were men) got up the 4(!) flights of stairs to see what this is all about.
The first surprise was that Katie made Laura do the introduction talk and thus put the money where her mouth is and take the plunge into her first public speaking appearance (and if you wonder, she mastered it brilliantly).
Dave Bell: Focus on presentation styles & contexts
Right after this was Dave Bell who talked about dealing with public speaking in smaller groups, boardrooms and in pitches.
Dave’s main conclusions were:
Connecting with your audience is vital
Preparation is the key to being relaxed
Be selective with your material – think big picture!
Your style will develop over time and comes with practice
Presentations are performances – sometimes they go better than others.
And please remember: Everyone gets nervous – you aren’t the only one!
Katie Streten: Reasons not to like public speaking and some suggestions for dealing with them
Katie Streten delivered a very engaging talk with a much better focus on the women’s perspective to public speaking than Dave or me (strange, that). She listed a bunch of reasons why people are afraid of public speaking and gave tips how to work around them. The reasons Katie managed to debunk during her talk were:
No one will be interested in what I’ve got to say
I will start speaking and go completely blank
I’m afraid that everyone will find out that I’m a fraud
I will look out over the crowd, see their faces and go blank
I will lose my place and just stall!
I will ask something that everyone else understands. I will look like a complete idiot.
It feels artificial. It should feel like a conversation, I hate the awkward feeling.
Katie’s slides and the audio recording will be available soon and I encourage you to check them out – there is some very good detail in there and I loved the way she kept it personal by introducing the people she got the above reasons from instead of quoting them as de facto truths.
After loosening up the crowd with free drinks and food, Laura thought it safe to let them hear what I had to say.
Christian Heilmann – How to inspire as a speaker
My talk was all about finding peace with yourself about doing a public speech. There is a lot of information out there about being a great public speaker but most of it is hokum and no matter how trained and well dressed you are – in the end it is you on stage. If you are not happy with being the speaker or if you are forced to be someone else or talk about things you don’t believe in you will do a terrible job. If you are yourself – with all your flaws and problems – then you will be believable and go off stage with a smile on your face.
Here are the slides of my talk on SlideShare synced with the audio:
This was a great little get-together and I hope we managed to relax some of the people who came. I think we should do this much more often – maybe next time do some PowerPoint Karaoke, lightning talks and only one talk one a more detailed sub-topic. I am very happy that we ran this event and can only hope that there will be more of those. Thanks to everyone involved and thanks for coming!