Public Speaking and Presentations

I remember being in a French class at middle school where the teacher caught me using my favourite tactic of raising my hand to answer a question just as she asked someone else. I was busted, and had nowhere to hide at that moment. I still cringe at the thought!

As I entered the professional world I knew I had to address this fear so I forced my self to speak up, give presentations, and do anything else I could to get over it.

Today I find myself regularly addressing audiences of varying sizes both at internal presentations and external events and I LOVE IT! I get an amazing buzz out of talking to groups of people so I thought I’d share the three rules I try to stick to whenever I pick up the mic.

RULE 1 — Tell a story

Everyone loves a story, or rather everyone prefers hearing a story than being talked at. If the talk I give is literally a story then great, but if I’m talking about something else I always try and start with a little background story to get my audience engaged. I keep it fairly short and find that starting this way gets both the audience and myself into a comfort zone for the rest of the talk.

RULE 2 — Slides are your enemy

Sometimes I can’t avoid having a few slides for a presentation especially if there’s something visual I just have to show, but I try to keep them to an absolute minimum.

Death by Powerpoint is a real thing and nobody wants to strain their eyes reading tiny fonts painted on a wall by an old, burnt out projector. If there is a chance to go with zero slides then I take it!

If I do have to include slides then I have two sub-rules

1 — use dark backgrounds with white/light text to ease eye strain

2 — NEVER EVER put up a slide that needs the introduction “I know you can’t read all of this but….”

RULE 3 — Practise, practise, practise

Once I have decided on my content and delivery approach I practise over and over. For me I find the best practise is in my own head, I’ve found that using this method means I can practise anywhere, anytime. In the shower, driving to work, at the gym — this maximises my rehearsal time rather than it being limited to whenever I can get a trial audience together.

I also self review and found I’ve got better at this too over the years to the point where I can self censor and self edit as required.

This is probably my most important rule because when I come to actually speak I’ve already delivered the talk in my head multiple times, which gives me great confidence when I do it for real even if it’s the very first time I’ve actually spoken the words out loud.

And that’s it! I stick to those three rules an I take opportunities to speak whenever I can.

Recently I spoke at the Major League Hacking launch event in London, as ever I used the rules above to frame my talk and I think I gave a pretty decent presentation, even if I do say so myself! Check it out here — http://youtu.be/w9txbkuSNAI?t=1h8m57s

Pete.

Geek.