I’m no speaker-guru but here are the techniques I’ve picked up over the years that have helped me create some of my best, and I think most fun, presentations:
- Focus first on what you could say, don’t arbitrarily filter at first. I find a big list of possible topics, including experience-led (sometimes funny) stories also go in the mix. Just dump everything you could speak about, regardless of flow or quality control, down on a piece of paper (mind map if you prefer). NOTE: Big thanks to the wonderful Damian Conway for this top tip from his workshops on presentation skills!
- Tell a story next. Take each arc of topic and drop it into a flow that becomes a story if you can. Try to imagine yourself listening to the talk, what are you looking for next and say that. Drop topics if they don’t fit in the story, you’ll have plenty of topics anyway and there’s only so many things you can convey...
- Another Damian-Conway-ism is to only have 5, plus or minus 2, key takeaways. I actually aim lower, I aim for one major and 2 supporting takeaways almost regardless of talk length.
- Drop in experience! Talk about what went right, and what went wrong. Crack jokes at your expense. That’s the unique stuff that everyone is looking for, not just textbook, theoretical perfection that they could get from a book! If you’re feeling the flow of the experience, then so might your audience and if you get them feeling then you have an opportunity to get that major point across.
- Silence is fine. Take gaps in your sentences.
- Avoid rhetorical questions, in particular rhetorical questions that make your audience feel dumb! In fact, as a rule help your audience feel as smart as possible, never dumb!
- Go for a walk if you get stuck. Get away from that keyboard as it’s only going to try and convince you that you’re inadequate. My best talks get created when I’m just waking up, going to sleep, or when I’m out walking or taking a shower. Go figure.
- Rehearse to a level that works for you. I’m a “two or three times” rehearser; if I rehearse more times than that I lose the freshness of a talk. Some rehearse 20 times and totally knock the ball out of the park; find your sweet spot.
- Know your first line. It doesn’t matter if the first line is incredibly boring, just introducing yourself, or something that would make Shakespeare glow with respect, make sure it’s in your pocket and ready to go. Go topical if you can.
- Aim for a little giggle, if you can, off the bat. I like to share a joke, something observational that plays lip service to the slightly odd situation that myself and the audience find themselves in to break the ice a little.
- Just be yourself. Drop the persona. Dan North does this in spades, he really is that friendly, smiley guy who’s enthused and bouncing around the stage. You don’t have to be “like Dan”, just be you and speak naturally.
- Speak to ‘One Person’, figuratively… I’m an introvert and one technique that I discovered that worked well for me was to imagine I’m speaking to one person at a time. Basically, whoever I’m looking at at that moment, I’m speaking to. If I try and speak to 30, 300 or 3000 people, I think I’d freeze. One person at a time works for me, even if I have to pretend.
- Smile! and have as much fun as possible. If you're friendly on stage, the audience tends to be friendly back (most of the time...).
That’s just a small dump of the things I keep in mind when planning and executing my talks. I do give a two-day workshop on giving great talks, especially looking at dealing with introverted constraints (I am quite introverted, honestly! Many great speakers are), content generation and achieving great delivery. If you’re interested in attending then please just give me a ping at Simplicity Itself.