Tips for your first presentation

A conference room full of attendees

Creative Commons: https://flic.kr/p/nEKjaw

When I’m doing talks on personal branding, I’m always telling people that one way to help your brand is to start doing public speaking. Following that advice, someone I meet recently sent me an email with three interesting questions. I decided to write a post instead of answering directly by email.

Do you have any generic tips and tricks about presenting?

Let’s start with the material, the slides. You may not need them, but it’s nearly a defacto. If you do, slides are a visual support for your attendees, not for yourself! You can use the speaker note if you need support, like in PowerPoint, and display them on your computer only, while the attendees see the slides. You don’t have to create something amazing as people are coming for what you will say or demo, but boring slides are never quite exciting, right? Last, but not least, if I can read your slides, why would I need you reading them? In other words, don’t put too much text… There are a lot of great examples on the web: you can also check my past presentations, they are Creative Commons.

I think it goes without saying, but once you are on stage, you are the expert: it means you need to know what you are talking about! What happens if the projector doesn’t work? It happens to me once, and I had to give my talk without anything to show: it’s an extreme example, but you get the point. If you don’t know what you are talking about, people will notice it, and it won’t be good in any ways. It doesn’t mean you need to have the answer for everything: it’s perfectly okay to say, I don’t know. Take their contact information, and tell them you’ll check it later, and will get back to them: it’s way better than guessing an answer that may not be right.

It’s normal to be stressed out, but you see the people in the room? Right now, they are not speaking, you are, which mean you are doing something they are not and it’s amazing. So be confident, no matter what will happen, you did it, you were in front of those attendees! Some people won’t like your talk, and it’s perfectly fine: you can’t please everyone. Also, some people may seem bored during your talk, but you may be surprised: quite often they are the one who were the most excited about your presentation and asked a ton of good questions.

If you are doing code demo, please don’t code for an eternity in front of the attendees. First, it’s boring to watch someone code. Secondly, there are a lot of chances you made mistakes, your code won’t work, and you will stress even more. If you do, do a short one, and always have a fully working copy of your code somewhere in case something isn’t working.

How can I grab the attention of the public?

As I wrote before, not everybody will be as excited as you about your talk, and it’s ok. Some people didn’t read well the title or abstract. Some people just won’t like you, your voice, your tone, your accent, your slides or will have a doubt about your expertise. Again, it’s ok. Some people will even sleep during your talk, true story. It may be after lunch, they may have had a long day or maybe they just find you boring (sorry, it’s true), but who cares? If it’s everybody, now you have an issue, but trust me, it won’t. So once you understand this, you are good to go.

The most attention grabber you can have is without any doubt, knowing your subject and be excited about it. Of course, the new technology that all the cool kids are using may be nice, but won’t be as good if you don’t have both requirements I just wrote! I got some people telling me they didn’t care at all about the technology or product I was presenting after all, but they liked my talk as I was sweating passion. Once you got both, you can also use other tricks. Make variations on your slides. Use quotes from famous people. Be funny, but don’t overdo it: if it’s not your style, don’t go there. Ask questions. Do small surveys during your talk. If you show a video, take a small one as people didn’t attend to watch videos, they wanted to see you.

It will be my first time, what should I do so it won’t be the last one?

Firstly, do it because you want to do it. It’s not because public speaking can get you some notoriety, help your personal branding, get you contracts or anything else that you should do it. Make it happen if you like to help other to know more about a topic you like. Passion is the key. Be sure to be prepared, practice as many times it takes to be comfortable with your talk. The better prepare you are, the better results you’ll have: the attendees will find it useful and like it.

It’s also ok if people don’t ask questions, it’s always hard to get the first one. If people like your talk, they’ll come to tell you after, and even if they don’t it doesn’t mean they didn’t enjoy or learn something. Even if you have the impression it didn’t go well, don’t stop there: it’s like anything, it take practice to be better. Do it again, again, and again. Seeing the face of people loving your talk, knowing you made a difference and helped others achieve their goals is the real gift you’ll get from it. Trust me, you’ll get addicted.

I would be able to give a lot more advice, and I will do but in a blog post series as this post is already too long for my taste. I hope it will help you, and feel free to contact me if you have any questions.

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