18 assorted tips for aspiring speakers
Although I’m more on the conference organizer side, I’ve been a public speaker for years. I still do it occasionally but it’s not the primary focus. That said, I’ve managed to gain experience on the topic during this time and I thought it would be a good time to put them to a post as a friend of mine that’s starting his career as a speaker brought up the topic.
Not every piece of advice should be taken literally and you should use your own judgment before applying any to your own talks. What might work for me might not work for you and you should consider the context before applying.
Preparing the content#
- Rather have less content that’s well delivered than a lot of content that’s not. Focusing on a few core points and re-iterating them from different angles get the point across more effectively.
- If you don’t know how to structure your presentation, start from the classic 1. Tell what you are going to tell 2. Tell 3. Tell what you told. As it’s easy to be distracted or miss a point, repetition will help to get through to the audience.
- Before the big day, it’s worth it to train the presentation either by alone or in a pair with someone else. When you run through your presentation, you’ll notice when something is off. You might have to move things around to improve pacing or even add/remove content to improve the structure. When you present in person, you can also see if some point is too difficult to understand.
- For longer talks, one technique is to compose the talk out of smaller sections (say 10–15 minutes). Each of these sections is then a mini-talk of its own and doing this lets you be more focused. At the end you can then bring the threads together.
- If you are in a session with other speakers, get in touch with them to coordinate as this gives you chances to tie your talks better together and even reference each other.
Tuning the slides#
- Be careful with gifs as they can steal attention when you need it. Conversely, gifs can help to relate to the audience when used the right way and make the talk feel lighter if that’s the feeling you are going for.
- Try not to cram too much content per slide as then you’ll be competing for attention as people read through while you deliver your talk. If you feel slide has too much content, perhaps you can get to the point by some other way or maybe you have to split up the slide into multiple.
- If you are into Twitter, put your handle in the slide corner so people can find it easily and you don’t have to bring it up separately. Fade it down a bit (lower opacity) so it doesn’t stand out too much but keep it legible enough.
- You should check the contrast of your slides against the actual hardware before the presentation and perform a sound check. You should make sure people can see clearly even in the back. Often an easy fix is to convert text black and background white.
- Provide slides to the audience and the organizer afterwards. If your slides are based on the web, then you can include a short url to them at the last slide and tweet about your slides after your presentation.
Considering the audience#
- Do your homework about audience. It’s worth trying to figure out the composition of the people to figure out how to customize your message. Often it’s impossible to reach everyone but sometimes it’s about getting through to some. That’s when people thank you after the presentation and this can lead to interesting conversations and even business opportunities.
- You should consider the audience when pacing. If your audience isn’t native (i.e. English as a second language), you shouldn’t rush. Instead, take your time. If there’s live captioning, it can help with the problem. Sometimes presentation software has the capability in itself or the conference organizer might provide it as a service.
- If you do a QA and don’t know an answer, it’s alright to answer that you don’t know and that you can get back to it personally after the presentation is over. This lets you address the question more personally while avoiding wasting time of the audience.
- Interacting with the audience can be a good idea to make the topic more personal. It can be as simple as a show of hands or something more complex. Activating the people can break tedium and stimulate focus.
- If you know beforehand there are slides people are likely to photograph and you notice people doing it, give them the couple of seconds they need.
Delivering the presentation#
- Start with a joke or a personal anecdote. It’s the low point of the presentation and it can only go better from there. Beginning is the place where you can relate with the audience and this is where I usually try to show my cultural knowledge while being respectful.
- Introduce yourself so people know who you are and what you do but don’t spend too much time on this especially if the presentation isn’t solely about you. It’s good to show a couple of projects people might recognize you from briefly.
- Sometimes speakers are too quick in their delivery — use pacing to your advantage to put emphasis on the right points. There’s room for silence in a presentation. I feel this is the point that sets apart especially less experienced speakers from more experienced ones.
- I often use slides to set the context of what I’m talking about. I never memorize my presentations by word but rather focus on the higher ideas I can then delve into depending on the audience and the amount of time available.
- It can be a good idea to use a clicker. The main advantage is that it lets you avoid being a prisoner of your laptop and connect with the audience better. It lets you move more freely on the stage and even be more relaxed during the presentation.
I am sure there are more points to bring up but I feel the above have served me and I hope you’ll find them useful too.
To have another take on the topic, read the tips from the legendary Gary Bernhardt. Gant Laborde has a nice take on it too.