As a native English speaker, life is pretty easy for me when presenting around the world. Oracle is an American company, so people are used to having to deal with English speaking presenters. Either the audience speak English already, or the events and audience expect to use a translation service. Even so, I often joke that when I’m presenting in other countries I’m still having to translate what I say on the fly, because my everyday language is not really suitable for an international audience. In this post I’ll look at some of the things you need to look out for when speaking in other countries. Some will be equally relevant to other English speaking nations.
Volume of information and speed of presentation
A really good way of improving your presentation skills is to watch other speakers. I will often go to sessions by people who I know to be good speakers, just to watch their technique. It’s actually easier if it is a session you’ve seen before, or on a subject you don’t have much interest in, so you can focus on the presentation skills, not the content. There are a few speakers I try to get to see at every conference, having seen the same presentation several times for this very reason.
In yesterday’s post I was kind-of dismissive of feedback, in so far as not letting it ruin your performance on the day. Once the sessions is over, that is the time to reflect on your performance and start looking for feedback. Feedback and advice from others is the best way to decide what you need to work on to improve.
Many conferences ask their attendees to fill in speaker evaluations and make the results available to speakers. The actual marks don’t always tell you too much, but the written comments can be very interesting. They tend to focus on extremes, people who either love or hate you. Even so, it’s worth checking this stuff out to see if there is something obvious you need to work on.
Provided your title and abstract accurately describe what you are presenting (see deliver what you say you will), you’ve got to trust the audience have made the right choice to come to your talk. Frits Hoogland made this comment on that previous post.
“It works the other way around too… Got a comment on a deep dive presentation saying ‘stuff way over my head’…”
This was my response to Frits.
“You did what you said you would. They picked the wrong session. Not your fault!”
If you describe a session as a “deep dive” and a newbie comes to it, they can’t complain about it being to complicated. If you describe a session as an introduction, experts can’t complain that it didn’t go into enough depth.
Live demonstrations are something I’ve done from day 1. It wasn’t so much a decision I made, it just seemed the right thing to do. Does that mean that you should use live demos too? As Tom Kyte always tells us, the answer is “it depends”. :) If I am honest, my desire to demo things comes from my own insecurities. If I don’t show it, I feel like I’m a liar. Is that the right motivation for doing a demo? Hell no! Here are a few thoughts about live demonstrations.
You can demo too much!
A big shout out goes to Amardeep Sidhu, who pointed me to WPtouch to me recently. Install and activate this plugin and your WordPress blog is mobile aware, presenting a trimmed down view on mobile devices.
It really is that simple. No messing involved. If you have a WordPress blog, you may want to have a play with this plugin.
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.