Public Speaking

20 07 2014

I used to be terrified of public speaking. I now really enjoy it. When I go to a conference, I like to present and share my thoughts on the themes.  It is a great way to meet people.

Over the last couple of years, I’ve adapted my presentation from the traditional “here are my slides listen to me talk” to a more back and forth interactive sessions.  My new motto is “make it fun.”  In fact, I think you’ll be much more likely to remember what I share, and who I am, if I “make it fun.”  Because boring is boring and at conferences with of sessions and hundreds of people, most people forget more than they remember.  By “making it fun,” people are more likely to remember who you are, what you do, and think of you for opportunities to collaborate on like minded projects — or in other words, make more fun.

Here are some ways I’ve “made it fun” while speaking at conferences.

  1. A simple one.  If you are still in the “here are my slides” mode of delivery, add a video.  Don’t worry about fancy embeds in PowerPoints, and don’t count on the wifi (you can download that YouTube video easy enough) — bring it with you on your computer and a thumb drive.  Play it where it makes sense in your presentation.  Video is very powerful, always the same, gives the audience a break from you, and you a break.  Good video can really pull in an audience that has sat through a lot of people “speaking at them.”  Right now, I’m using this 3 1/2 minute video explaining 30 years of the Neil Squire Society.  Don’t forget to bring speakers and wiring to connect to sound systems.
  2. I’ve used PollEverywhere a few times now to interact with the audience and connect the online and offline worlds. I can pose a multiple choice questions and participants can vote using twitter, texting or a webbrowser.  The results of the group are shown as a bargraph to the audience. These are used all the time in webinars to get a sense of the audience, and provides a solid measurable benchmark on the room on topics. I’ve used this mostly when speaking at educational technology conferences as the audience is super connected techy people, most recently in at ETUG for a gameshow trivia presentation — it is a group version of “Who Wants to be a Millionaire.”
  3. Continuing my gameshow love, I did a Family Feud style presentation.  I did this with an audience I’ve presented to multiple times.  Instead of, once again, “this is what we do” presentation, I framed it as “do you remember what we do?” This flips the presentation and haves them drive it, while I keep score.  This is complicated to use well but I was able to do this a couple of times by following this Family Feud Powerpoint with no mouse blog post and rehearsing a few times.  Not for the weak of heart or one with fear of computers.
  4. Don’t want to use fancy tech? In a presentation I made to an audience of 500 sponsored by the Government of Alberta, instead of showing stats, I asked audience to guess the stats. I was in the “after lunch on the last day” slot, everyone appreciates anything that will keep them awake after an overload of information and usually, a carb-packed lunch. An example question, “What is the disability rate in Canada” is posed, and I work through the audience getting them to guess the answer. I respond “higher” or “lower” until we hit it. Nothing fancy, just a wireless microphone to help the entire audience hear the participants.
  5. Finally, one of the easiest for me to perform but most impactful was just using twitter.  When I presented at Pecha Kucha New West Volume 1, I had some help from CHIMP, an online donation platform. Everyone that used a specific hashtag in a tweet at the event were given $20 to give to any charity of their choice. It was an easy way for people to become socially engaged beyond my allotted 6 minutes and 40 second presentation.

There are certainly better speakers than me, but I promise to always make it fun. The next time you are given the opportunity to speak at a conference, I encourage to think how can you engage the audience to speak and share at your session. And please, make it fun. I ate a lot at the lunch and am feeling tired.


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