Handling questions was certainly one of the things I most feared when I started speaking at conferences. If there is one thing you take away from this post, it should be this.
Here’s a comment Jonathan Lewis left on my first post in this series.
“I think a very important thing to believe before anything else is that it’s perfectly acceptable to say “I don’t know” or “I’m not sure” if someone asks a question you can’t answer immediately.”
It sounds so simple, but it takes a surprising degree of confidence to say this when you are in front of an audience.
Here are some general thoughts on handling questions and basic crowd control.
Go to a conference and I can guarantee you will hear people complaining about sessions they sat through that bare no resemblance to the title or the abstract.
It’s not easy to come up with an eye catching title and abstract, but don’t fall into the trap of trying too hard, then failing to deliver on the day. It’s better that you are honest and don’t get selected, than promise people an enlightening experience and fall short.
My first presentation for UKOUG was at a Special Interest Group (SIG). I was invited to speak by Andrew Clarke, who at the time was the chairman of that SIG. I admitted I was a complete newbie and asked for some advice. Being a seasoned speaker, he gave me lots of good advice, but one of main things he told me was to have a disaster recovery plan. As it turns out, that was one of the best bits of advice I could have received so early in the game. Andrew is a really nice bloke and a great speaker. When I met him again at this years UKOUG event in Manchester I asked if I could take a picture with him, because I’m such a fanboy.
Your presentation should be on a subject you have a genuine interest in. There will be a number of these tips that relate back to picking your subject for a presentation, but for now I will focus on this specific aspect.
Enthusiasm goes a very long way when you are presenting. When you are genuinely interested in a subject it draws people in. It is very hard to “appear” enthusiastic about something you have no interest in! It is even harder to maintain enthusiasm when you are presenting the same session multiple times. There has to be something there that gives you that spark, which the others around you can feed off.
When I look around at all the great speakers I’ve met and tried to learn from, they are all really into their subject. They are all speaking about something they feel passionate about. To do anything less than that is cheating yourself and the audience.
If you take a step back and think about it, it’s funny how we attach such significance to a day of the year.
For myself, I hope during this year I can put in the effort to achieve the things I want to achieve, rather than just sitting back and day dreaming about what it would be like for them to fall into my lap. I guess to some that sounds kind of funny, but I look around at this time of year and I see many people living in a rather delusional state. Those new years resolutions, that will last about 30 seconds when you see your first piece of cake.
I can almost hear the chorus of, “Well durr!”, but stick with me…
Do you remember the kids at school that always said stuff like, “I’ve done no revision at all for these exams!”, when you knew full well they had been slaving away for weeks to prepare. Speak about rehearsing for a presentation at a conference and those kids all come out of the woodwork, but in the guise of Oracle geeks… Now I’m not calling these people liars, but rehearsal means very different things to different people.
For me, rehearsing involves the following to a greater or lesser degree:
A number of people have asked me how they can improve their public speaking. I don’t consider myself an expert, but I thought I’d share my thoughts over a series of posts. Why a series? Because I figured if I tried to write an all encompassing post on the subject it would become long and boring, so small sound-bites it is!
So the first suggestion I would make about improving your public speaking, is to actually do some public speaking. There’s a pretty simple rule in life, you tend to get good at things you do regularly. I would suggest that very few people in life can stand up in front of an audience for the first time and feel the audience is about to witness greatness. No matter how bad you are at presenting, after you’ve done 20, you will be better than you were at the start. After 40 you will be better than you were at 20…
You know you’re a geek when you are dreaming of a conversation with someone, reach for your tablet to search for the answer to something and can’t find it. Due to your frustration in the dream, you wake up in real life, reach for your tablet and continue to search for the thing you couldn’t find in your dream!
That is exactly what happened to me this morning. In my dream I was recounting watching The Word as a kid and seeing Louise Lecavalier from La La La Human Steps. I was totally blown away! This was before the days of YouTube, so I had never seen anything like it before. I can’t find that performance on YouTube, but if you are interested, this was what the “dream conversation” was about.
Just a quick note to say I’ve had to temporarily lock my forums. As happens every so often, the spammers are hitting it pretty hard at the moment. I’m a bit sick of spending every waking minute deleting hundreds of spam posts, so I’m giving myself a break for a while. During previous episodes, after a couple of days of no joy it’s died down, so hopefully it won’t last too long this time either…
Update: It’s late and I’m tired. I just remembered I can prevent new registrations, so I’ve unlocked the forums, but stopped all new registrations. That way, existing members can carry on as normal…