This is one of the higher quoted, linked, and viewed blog posts on the site.
Originally published, August 14, 2007.
PubCon Street Tips on Giving Presentations : Investing in our Speakers
||“According to most studies, people’s number one fear is public speaking. Number two is death. Death is number two.
This means to the average person, if you go to a funeral, you’re better off in the casket than doing the eulogy.”
- Jerry Seinfeld
I am sitting here in a sea of speaker and session proposals for PubCon Las Vegas 2007. I have never had to make the kinds of decisions we are facing for this year’s PubCon. We have increased the number of sessions again and the amount space we have reserved.
We get many questions about presentations at every conference. PubCon is known as a conference that embraces newbie speakers that are experts in their fields. We have seen it all. Even the old school professional speakers like to keep up with the new techniques and make a better presentation every time. So, while we prep for these presentation assignments, I am reminded of what it means to be a good speaker and how to develop into a good speaker. I think I am an average to above average speaker. I only got to that point by being a student of the presentation. I know there are many quality speakers that never take the time to study presentation for presentations sake, but the majority of us have to put some work into it.
At WebmasterWorld, PubCon, and other industry conferences, I’ve seen close to a thousand presentations. I’ve moderated over half of those panels. I’ve felt nervous, envious, sympathetic, and elated for those speakers I have seen. I mostly feel like I want to help them become better speakers. I have seen great first time speakers, and I have seen seasoned pro’s fail. The one clear difference between a great presentation and a presentation I should have stayed in bed for is speaker preparation.
The Power of a Confident Presentation
Your ability to give a great presentation will help your career, ring a sales bell, or promote yourself effectively in an ever increasingly complex business world. Speaking with confidence is a skill that transcends the presentation and will help you throughout your life. Public speaking breeds confidence that will be the difference between getting a promotion, making a sale, or winning a friend. While chair of PubCon, I have seen people go from wallflowers to confident public speakers. The affect it has had on their lives and careers has been profoundly positive.
The old saying that business is a contact sport has never been more appropriate than today. You have good odds of making a great contact at a conference face-to-face. Exercise that opportunity and it will come back to you many times over. Making new contacts is part of the reason people attend a conference.
Stop 1: Who is in the room?
- 20-30% of the attendees will relish your presentation. Anything you put on the screen – they will love.
- 25-50% of your attendees are there to see someone else on your panel.
- 20-30% of your attendees will loathe all PowerPoints and are in the room because they need the information and don’t want to miss anything.
- 5% are there just for the question and answer period (Q&A).
- 5% of your attendees are there because their boss said they needed to be there.
- 5% of your attendees are there because the WiFi is good in the room.
- 2% are there because their phone/laptop needed charging and there is a plug on the wall.
- 5% are there because they don’t wish to walk back to the room while waiting for the next session.
- 5% are there because they are blogging about the session and need to beat Barry to the post button.
- 5% are there because there is a cute guy/girl on the panel.
What Should it Look Like?
The Big Opening:
- Gracious: Thank your host, thank your moderator, and thank the audience for being there. This simple act will help to get a repeat invitation to speak. Always promote and thank the host up front. They got you there – thank them for the honor. Never try to upstage your host, or become the master of ceremonies – that is your moderators job. Don’t take over the session – participate in it. You are a guest in their house.
- Cheers Dudes: Let the audience know that you want to meet them and they can see you around the conference and should feel welcome to come talk to you.
- One Theme – One Theme Only Please: Follow one central theme and nail it. Use every slide to prop up the core theme and should in some way refer back to your overall presentation theme.
- Respect the Scope: Limit your bullet points. Be very selective. You don’t want people reading your bullets, you want them looking and listening to you. Your power point is a tool – don’t let it overshadow you by reading your own bullet points. Instead, read your notes about your bullet points. Try old fashioned 3×5 cards with large print for your notes.
- The Big Five: Each presentation should have at least one slide for each of the big five: a chart, a graph, a list, a human picture, a funny picture, and finish with 3 take aways and your contact info.
- The Stunner Opener: Start with a stunner of a statistic, a really funny experience, or a real world case study. However, don’t attempt to tell a joke unless you are really really good at it. Nine out of ten jokes fail during presentations. Leave the comedy to the professionals like the one at the right.
- The Survey Opener: Finding out who is in the audience with a survey question is a great ice breaker and opener. So ask for a show of hands. Some people in the audience just get giddy over being able to participate and they hang on your every syllable. Bueller?… Bueller?… Bueller?
- Lead Them: Let your audience know what you are going to cover and what your theme is all about. Some people even number their slides backwards so the audience can follow along to the end.
Hitting the Sweet Spot:
- One Slide Per Minute: Use a maximum of one slide per minute. You can talk that long. If you do more than one slide per minute, the audience will follow only the screen and not you.
- No Pitches: Dude, you work for a cool company — maybe even yourself — but please only mention your company name or products one time. Nothing turns stomachs faster than a sales pitch.
- Big Quote: A witty saying or quote from someone always grabs attention. (psst: the one with Ford at the right)
- Work the Room: Go clockwise around the clock and look at each of your audience members in turn. Don’t fixate on one person (like a college friend or coworker). Work the room.
- Don’t Distract: Don’t look at the projector screen and don’t use a laser pointer. People find them annoying and rarely can see them in the back of the room.
- Stay Tech Light: Double check your tech prep. Avoid software or tech that is nonstandard on a simple machine with Office installed. I have seen every type of technical problem. Never ever use any type of software your host doesn’t explicitly say is on the presentation machine. For example, software such as movies, sounds, or flash all have problems. Never count on an internet connection and always have a Plan B if you do. Internet connections have a staggering 50-75% failure rate at conferences. I have seen internet problems at every conference I have ever been too. PubCon, SearchEngineStrategies, and even Traffic, have all had internet failures during presentations. Never count on a live internet connection.
Always prep a presentation that does not have the whiz bang version of software X that you really need. Even if it is supposed to be on the presentation machine, they could have swapped machines. Plan for the worst – especially if you are at a tech conference where attendees will saturate the WiFi with their own laptop connections.
- All Demos Suck: Don’t ever do a product demo unless the session is a product demo. People loath product demos – especially software demos – they are 95% unintelligible in a big room.
- Bring A Backup: Give your PowerPoint to your host via the accepted means. Take a copy on USB stick and/or CD (careful – many systems don’t have CD’s these days).
- Movement: Find out if you are allowed to walk-n-talk while you give your presentation. If so, practice with a remote mouse/clicker and take it with you to your presentation.
- Bond with the Panel: Refer to one or two of your panel members during your presentation. Then make sure to say hi, or shake their hand before your session – build a bond. You are a team and that panel member may be the best contact you make at the entire session.
- Leave Props to Home: Props rarely work. Handouts work even less – they cause a distraction.
- Give Aways: “If you come up and see me after my presentation, I will give you a new pen, a new hat, sign your conference book, or give you a new car.” Then swap business cards. At PubCon Vegas 2005, I gave away simple key chains at a presentation once and was given the business card of a producer who later put me on national TV.
- The Big Surprise!: You will have a moment of surprise in your presentation. Watch for it and react accordingly. You will have no idea when your audience will find something you have said funny and laugh, moan, or groan. Don’t panic – just smile — pause as necessary — and move onward.
- Dramatic Pause: A pause here-n-there in your speech gives your audience a break and lets them think, breath, and take a drink of water. Oh yeah – always have a glass of water near the podium. Only half full because you might shake and spill it.
- Panel Topics: Cross check with your other panelists about their topic coverage. Always respect the topics you are asked to speak about. There is no more solid way to end your speaking career at a conference, than by talking about apples when your host asked you to talk about oranges.
- FONT SIZE: Use one font size larger than you think you need.
- Three Words: charts, graphs, lists. Three more words: people love them!
Ok, fess up — how long did you stare at the pie chart at the right, before you realized it didn’t mean anything? People love charts, graphs, and lists. They will see them before they see anything else on the screen. You can even do an entire presentation (or blog post) in nothing but list style presentation. Nine out of ten people love a good list. Tenth guy? There is a bad seed in every crowd.
- Eye Candy: Be sure to leave a chart or graph on the screen for a couple of minutes for people to grasp the data. Even if the data is not necessarily what it seems. For example – you tell people you have 26 points to make and you only really have 25? If you don’t leave that on the screen long enough, they won’t notice. However, if it is to be published on a CD, a blog, or printed in the conference book – consider it.
Fear Factor: Nerves of Steel – Prep Work
- Know the Audience: Ask your host who will be in the room. What is the typical attendee make up? Why do they come to the show? Don’t assume you know from just looking at the layout of conference website. Many people think that PubCon is just the WebmasterWorld crowd – when in fact, less than 50% of the 2006 attendees are WebmasterWorld subscribers.
- Visualize: Practice, visualize, practice, record, and practice. Visualize your presentation. Stop and walk through your entire presentation in your mind. Make it go perfectly as you expect. Practice your presentation until you can almost recite it from memory. Now relax, slow down, smile and exude confidence. The old saying; Fake it till you make it is accurate and appropriate. No one knows your presentation better than you.
- Record: If you have a tape recorder, or a camcorder, then record your presentation and watch it. Yes, it can be hard to watch yourself the first few times, but nothing will make you a better presenter than watching yourself and taking action.
- Be Casual – Stay Cool: How should I dress? Unless your host says otherwise, business casual is the rule of today’s conferences. Dress one notch above what is appropriate for your audience.
During Question and Answer Period:
- Repeat the question back to the audience so you make sure everyone in the room heard it.
- Write the question down – even if the question isn’t directed at you. While someone else responds, you can formulate your own answer. It is surprising how many good speaker don’t use this trick. Even more surprising is how good it works.
- Answer the person’s question. Sound silly? I regularly see people respond to a question and finish their 2 minutes of time by asking, “what was the question again“?
- Answer any question you are confident about answering, but never try to fake it in the question and answer period.
- Watch how the pro’s from the big corporations handle Q&A period. They have huge public relations facilities and train their speakers. They are masters of public speaking and Q&A sessions. At every PubCon, I am amazed at how the big search engine speakers always write down questions from the audience. That gives them time to think about an answer and finish by referring back to the question when done.
- Want to ruin a great presentation? Be a blabbermouth during Q&A. This is where some great speakers die a quick death.
The Meet-N-Greet Strategy: Some people say you should meet as many people in the audience as possible. That means you should get into the room while the previous presentation is still going on. During the break – don’t run to the podium to grab a chair – talk to the audience that is there instead. Also, if the panel before you is at the stage, walk up and ask one of the speakers a question to get a feel for what it is like to be on the receiving end of a speakers attention. How do you feel, and how do you want your audience to feel when they talk to you?
On Friendly Ground : Visit the room where you are speaking. Check out the room you are speaking in, as soon as you can. If there is a lunch break and the room is empty – go up to the stage, stand there and practice your presentation from memory.
Press Props: Everyone has a blog these days and there will be press and/or bloggers in the room. Ask the host for a press list. Identify those people and let them know you are available for an interview before you go to the show. At the show – find them and shake their hand – talk shop – bond – write an article for them. Backlinks rule the web.
Problems: Always acknowledge problems. If there is a problem with the projector, or the sound, or room is too hot/too cold – feel free to mention it. Don’t apologize for it, but do acknowledge it. It builds a bond. People like to complain together and they also like to celebrate together. If you acknowledge problems, you don’t seem like you are trying to ignore it. Some speaker trainers say you should ignore problems. I think telling people what they are already thinking, deflates the issue and makes you seem like one of the gang.
Multi Speaker Order Strategy: Go first or go last, but try to avoid the middle ground. The first speakers has the attention of the room. The last speaker can add some occasional comments about the previous speakers presentation. By the same reasoning – never give a presentation when someone elses slides are on the screen.
The Big Finish
- At PubCon, we always ask speakers to end with three take-aways, (don’t call them take-aways, call them real world applications of what you just talked about).
- Finish on time, but if you run late – be ready to roll to your last screen at any point. Be flexible – stay loose, and don’t fret if it changes.
- Put your contact information and logo on the screen last. If you go last, you can often get your last screen left on the screen during a Q&A period.
- Ask for links. Yep, ask people to link to your website if they liked your presentation. People laughed when Guy Kawasaki ended with asking for links, but he got enough to make it worth his while to come back again! If it works for a seasoned pro like Guy – it can work for everyone. (note: Guy, there is your link. Thanks)
After the Panel
- When your session is over – stick in your panel chair like glue. If you have people in front of you that wish to talk – don’t move – make the next people remove you. Go to the hall and continue talking with people that came up to you. This is your customer base – your fan base – use it wisely.
- When someone hands you a business card – follow up.
- One word: Toastmasters.
PubCon: Grade A Speaking With a Hangover
- Lay out your speaking attire the night before going out to a fun PubCon bash. Put your PowerPoint on a USB stick and put it in the pants pocket. Make sure you have cab fare and directions prepared if you are staying away from the conference hotel.
- Pack some eye drops in your overnight bag for every conference. Use ‘em for the redness.
- Light colored or clear alcohols are better. They have fewer byproducts. Milder hangovers.
- Less than one drink an hour and skip the beer bongs, jello shots, and tequila twisters.
- Fill up on as much food as possible while drinking. Multivitamins and especially Vitamin C are said to help some people.
- Pain killers (aspirin tends to work better with hangovers).
- Eat as soon as you think it will stay down.
- Bland liquids – lots of water – caffeinate liberally – Gatorade if available.
- Take a long hot – then cold shower.
- Go last on your panel.
- Warm climates like Vegas, make partying much easier than cold climates like – oh say – cold and windy Chicago.
- Turn down the brightness on the presentation laptop then request the lights be lowered so people can see the screen better.
- Buy a pair of lightly tinted sunglasses that look like real glasses.
- Women – avoid high heels the day of your presentation. Men – clip on ties only.
- If you expect a hangover, then bribe your chairman to put you last in the day very early on in the speaking selection process.
Speak every chance you can. Submit your name to every conference that you can. Toastmasters – everything – do it all. The more you do it – the easier it gets and the more people will want you back as a speaker.
Thanks, cya in Vegas Baby!
…“Remember to be nice to the people on the way up the ladder of success, because you will see the same people on the way back down.” – unknown