Over my career, I’ve had the opportunity to publicly speak at VMUGs, vForums, Partner events, and other technology focused events. Recently I was asked to provide some Public Speaking Advice and I quickly jotted down some notes in an email and sent them. This is by no means complete, but perhaps someone else will benefit from this:

Be prepared for the worst-case scenarios

  • No network – Assume you will have no network connectivity. Perhaps you will have network connectivity and will be able to link to your live demo system, however, you should be prepared to deliver your message assuming the connectivity is too slow or broken.
  • Broken Laptop – Assume your laptop won’t boot up or can’t connect to the overhead projector. Have your presentation on a USB stick or cloud storage so you can access your presentation from someone else’s device or from your secondary device.
  • Test and verify – Do a dry run of your presentation ahead of time if possible, if not, arrive early and make sure your setup will work.

If it’s a Web based presentation

  • Have a plan if people cannot connect, maybe use an alternate method (e.g. WebEx, Skype, GoToMeeting, etc.) or be prepared to just talk through your material without visuals.
  • Don’t move your mouse all over the place, it’s annoying to the viewers.
  • Make sure you engage the audience. Ask them questions. Don’t just talk and hope they are hearing you.
  • Leverage the web presentation tools to enhance your presentation – whiteboard, highlighter, marker, etc.

If it’s an in person presentation

  • Dress for success – In other words, dress how you want to be perceived. If its your first meeting with a customer you should probably dress up. Likewise, if you are on stage at a big event, then you’ll probably want to wear a dress shirt, sport coat, polished shoes. But if it’s a technical deep dive at a customer or a technical breakout session at a conference, then you might want to dress more casual, perhaps in your company golf shirt.
  • Empty your pockets – this will prevent you from fidgeting with your cell phone, wallet, coins, etc.
  • Eliminate other Distractions – Take off your badge, lanyard, or anything that’s distracting so that the focus is on you and what you are saying. Also, don’t pick up pens or markers and click them or open and close the cap repeatedly
  • Setup the Room – Sometimes it is not possible to rearrange the room, but, if it is, then make it so you can move around the room and engage the audience. A U-shape works well for this.
  • Posture – Stand tall, arms at your side in a relaxed confident manner to start the presentation and as much as possible throughout.
  • Hand Gestures & Movement – Use as many hand gestures as possible. It shows your passion and emphasizes the content. Also move around the room as much as possible. It forces people to pay more attention. If someone is on their phone or falling asleep, move closer to them.
  • Maintain Eye Contact – This is a hard skill to master, but, extremely effective when you do. It is the #1 way to help eliminate saying “um” and “ah” which is the #1 complaint against a public speaker. To practice, cut out faces and paste them on the wall. Say a sentence to one face, then randomly make eye contact with another face and say the next sentence or complete thought. Continue to move around and randomly change who you are looking at throughout the presentation.

Slides

  • Don’t introduce yourself. Have your opening slide with your name & title on it but don’t repeat that in an opening statement. Start your conversation with an interesting opening statement that makes the audience want to hear more.
  • Keep them as simple as possible. The focus should be on you, the presenter, not the slides. Technical presentations tend to have a lot of details to convey so it may be hard to avoid showing some complex slides, but use them as a trigger for your talk track; never read them.
  • Present what you know (i.e. deleting slides is OK). We in the tech industry often get handed slide decks from corporate marketing which are great, but, often there are certain slides that just don’t make sense or you cannot figure out how to talk to it. Its best to just hide or delete the slide than try to fumble around trying to talk to it, or turn your back to the audience and read it. Build a story that you can tell by only glancing at the slides once in a while.
  • Incorporate a product demo into your presentation if possible. People like to see things in action. Best to do this earlier than leaving it until the end.

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