How Should I Present?

How Should I Present?

While still borrowing from the titles for my series on why you should blog and some tips on how you could get started blogging I want to follow up to my earlier post on why should be speaking with some tips on how you can get started.

Hopefully you read the first post and have decided to give presenting a shot. Even if it is to coworkers in a brown bag lunch setting, it is great to see you wanting to share your knowledge with others. It’s one of the things that makes the SQL Server community so great.

In this post, I hope to give you some tips that have worked for me, some links to resources that helped me out and maybe answer a point you are still a little nervous about. This isn’t going to be an exhaustive list but the points are the ones that helped or would have helped me. Please add your tips own in the comments if you have something  that works for you.

  • Don’t worry about it – I touched on this a lot in the why post. Remember the audience is likely to start out on your side, they are there to learn, they saw your abstract and want to hear you speak on the topic. You start out in the neutral (at worst) or win (at best) column when you get in front of most groups.
  • Topic selection – I touched on this a bit in the last post also and Joe Webb left a comment with a blog post he has on topic selection and abstract preparation. Read his post. Biggest point to me is pick something you are interested in, know about and feel comfortable talking about.
  • Where? Start local. I started by giving talks to developers I worked with on performance minded development. I went to local User Groups and SQL Saturdays after that. I felt comfortable enough to submit to the SQL PASS Summit for 2010 and was accepted as an alternate (and ended up being asked to speak at the last minute). I am one of the selected speakers for the SQL Rally in the Professional Development track also. Remember what I said in the first post – I am that shy kid who failed communication class, the one who refused to talk in meetings and when forced to my voice trembled with fear. I am really excited to be heading to the SQL Rally to present, what I hope will be, a fun and important topic. I got there by starting small and building confidence.
  • I use a blanky – Seriously. My logitech wireless presenter clicker thingy is my security blanket. It keeps at least one hand from fumbling aimlessly (well sometimes they still fumble). It gives me the ability to walk around and interact with the crowd through body language and position.
  • Speaking of moving and “interacting” bodily – I don’t care how nervous you are. If you stare at your slide deck with a closed stance towards the audience and talk to your shoes or the ceiling, you’ll lose that friendly crowd I told you about. I have seen really smart people give presentations like this and it kills any interest usually. Have a non verbal dialog with your crowd through-
    • Keep your body open – You can look at a slide deck or whiteboard a minute but when talking have your face and body towards the audience. Closing yourself off (showing your shoulder, shrinking into a ball, etc.) is what you do when someone is about to attack you. You are telling your audience that they are attacking you and you are scared. Face them. Have a welcoming posture and attitude.
    • L-l-l-l-look at people – Now I don’t mean stare one person down. I don’t mean constantly scan eyeballs like you are seeing other people for the first time. While you present your points make meaningful eye contact with your audience. Stay with one person for a complete thought before moving on.
    • Talk to your allies – Sometimes someone will zone out and the eyes look lizard like when someone is in that about to fall asleep state while in the audience. Sometimes people will look frustrated. Don’t waste your eye contact there. Find those who are showing you interested body language. Find the people with good questions and interaction. Find the people you talked to before the presentation. They are even more on your side and it’s okay to spend a little more eye contact there for a confidence boost.
    • Work the room – Speaking of the above point – Don’t just get to your room, nervously fumble through your slides, gulp water and avoid eye contact with the crowd until your presentation starts. You’ll look nervous, scared and unapproachable. Just the kind of person folks don’t want to give their attention to. Come prepared already and say hello to folks. Be real – Be You! If you are a joker, then  joke around;  If you are serious, ask some questions of folks and learn about them; etc. Basically get to know your audience and let down your guard and let them get to know you.
  • Come prepared – I tend to do some of my most creative work under intense deadlines. I do wait until too late (for some) to take an abstract and turn it into the presentation I’ve been chugging through in my head. I always still leave time to prepare, learn my slide transitions and really think about what I want to say. I spend a lot of time on knowing what I want to say where and what the main point is for each section.
  • Don’t memorize – You aren’t giving a speech written for you by a team of speech writers (and if you were you’d have a teleprompter anyway). You are trying to teach people something you know about (topic selection) and something you prepared for through research, study and crafting a presentation. Don’t read from note cards written in your brain! I have one presentation I’ve given a lot and it is different each time. Yeah I have some jokes that come out the same in most deliveries, that’s okay. The minor content changes each time, though. I mold my presentation to questions, audience response and puzzled looks and change how much I talk about each major point I wanted to make. I know my slide transitions and memorize what I generally want to say before switching the slide. Especially on my presentations where I have a lot of pictures as slides instead of words.
  • Got feedback? – Seek feedback. I use speakerrate which is great when people give feedback. Looking at feedback forms (sometimes you have to bribe for feedback forms filled out). Ask friends (who aren’t afraid to be blunt with you)  to sit in a session. Ask others who share with the community to provide honest feedback. Look at it and look for the ones with comments (negative or positive). Find out what worked and what didn’t work and make adjustments if you believe they are warranted.
  • Keep doing it – The first time I presented to non co-workers was at a SQL Saturday in Waltham and I was nervous. It didn’t feel great. If I wasn’t scheduled to talk later I don’t know if I would have kept going. The second talk I gave had more people and it went better. I decided to give a SQL Saturday in Charlotte a shot and got some really positive feedback (honestly surprised me) and I just kept plugging away.
  • Have pride in yourself but no pride – Have pride in a job well done on the preparation and work like you want to really teach folks and be motivated by that. Let go of your pride in other ways, though. Learn from mistakes, learn from feedback and stay motivated by sharing knowledge with others and you’ll do just fine.

Again I could keep going but this is already pretty long. I’ll leave you with a couple books that were recommended to me and I’d recommend to you as they did help me and still do:

  • Made To Stick, Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die – I reviewed this book earlier. It is a great book that investigates why we can remember the details of an urban legend better than we can critical lessons we learned in school. They analyze the main points of ideas that work and stick and show us, as teachers, marketers, employees or presenters, how we can help leave sticky ideas.
  • Confessions Of A Public SpeakerThis is a raw look at public speaking from someone who has done quite a lot of it. He shares his stories (including some horror stories) and a lot of tips on how to be successful.

And Remember… Presenting is a lot of fun. It really doesn’t seem like that is possible until you’ve done it a few times and interacted with good material and a great audience (regardless of size). The professional development presentation I am working on that analyzes real world disasters for lessons to the IT field is one I am excited to give at the SQL Rally. Instead of being nervous while working on this one, I am excited to look at some disaster causing attitudes and situations and see people hopefully take something away from the conversations. It really does get fun.

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