Review of the Slide and Stage

Thank you.

That’s how today ended, with a rousing applause of Aral Balkan’s day long speaking workshop he finished with a simple thank you.

The conclusion tied the day nicely together though. Speaking isn’t rocket science, but it is a science. There are things that you can do to prepare and make the entire experience more enjoyable for both yourself, the audience, and the conference organisers, but at the end of the day the talk itself… the content, delivery and execution is all down you to you and your preparation.

Sound daunting? Well it is… but let me tell you why it doesn’t always need to be.

More to the point, let me tell you what Aral told us, and why it doesn’t need to be daunting.

You are not the centre of attention, your message is. You are the conduit. You are the messenger. People aren’t worried about what you look like, how you stand, what your past is… people are keen to hear about the message you’ve got to share with them. If you know your topic, if you know the message you want to convey to your audience, if you have practiced delivering that message to friends or a video camera or a mirror… if you have done all of those things then you don’t have anything to worry about.

Simply walk on stage, introduce yourself, and then relay that message. The audience will love you for it.

Aral used a great metaphor early on in the workshop. He ran through a situation where you were the only person who knew about a fire and how you would run into the room, announce that there was a fire and get people out safely.

That is your talk.

You have a message. You tell people that message. People are grateful for your time in telling that message. It doesn’t matter how you deliver it, it doesn’t matter about your presentation style, what you were wearing, or that fact that you’ve never spoken before. The thing that mattered was that you had a message that you were passionate about, and the people were there and keen to know that message.

A look back

Earlier today I created a list of things that I wanted to take out of today. Lets have a look at each item and see if it was addressed.

Preparation: How to write and frame your talk (beginning, middle, end)

Aral talked a lot about preparation. He talked through a checklist that you should have before speaking at an event as well as a check list for event organisers.

Some of the rules included

  • microphones – lapels bad, headsets and handhelds good (in that order)
  • Clickers – simple, not a phone app, forward and back buttons only
  • Always use new batteries
  • Always plug you laptop in
  • Always have a timer with you
  • Always pack a VGA/DVI attachment
  • Pack foreign power plug converters
  • Do a tech check the day before
  • Never have slide notes in presenter mode

There were more nuggets of information, but come on… buy a ticket to the next event if you want to know more.

Story telling: Get some tips and tricks on what makes a better and more compelling story

I asked this question in the QA session at the end because I felt that the organising of your ideas and how to tell an engaging story were missing from the session.

To be totally fair to Aral, he can not tell you how to frame your content because each topic probably needs a different approach. At the end he did allude to doing a combination of capturing content into EverNote, writing out your story in long form as a stream of consciousness to get you started, building up your slide deck to start to frame the order. The main point was to get your ideas down and out of your head, but into a format that allowed you to move them around and reorder them easily.

The things he did point out that were quite helpful include

  • ensure that you have access to a presenter display so you can see your next slide (allows you to hit words that segway nicely)
  • have your current slide and next slide in your peripherals so you don’t need to break gaze with the audience. As soon as you break connection with the audience you lose them a little
  • Don’t do bullet points. If you must, reveal them one at a time (but just don’t use them)
  • Your presentation is a conversation with the audience. Don’t regurgitate a talk but instead know what you want to get across and speak to that.

Stage Presence: Most great speakers look great before they utter their first few words, and the same goes for speakers lacking confidence.

Nailed it. NAILED IT! The first thing we had to do was get up on stage in front of everyone and say

  • who we were
  • what we did
  • what we were passionate about
  • why we were passionate

One by one we all were clapped up on stage, and clapped back off again. In between Aral watched our performance, right from the point we started walking up until we walked off the stage, and critiqued the performance. Early speakers had it the hardest because we all made the same mistakes, but one by one, person by person he instructed how we could make a good first impression in the first 30 seconds.

Speaking Rhythm: While story telling is focused on the actual story, I’m keen to learn how that is best delivered.

Aral touched on this and explained the rule of threes based on his TED talk. He talked about the fact that we need to incorporate

  • Pitch – change your pitch as you speak, go high when you’re excited and low when your serious or making a point… just don’t stick at one level and stay there (boring).
  • Tempo – same as the pitch. As you get excited speed things up, but yet when you want to make a point then you should make… a point.
  • Three’s – Explain important parts three times, but use different wording each time. The first time people will be “whaaaat?”, the second time they’ll be “Whaaa Oh I think I…” and the third time they’ll be “Yes. I’m on board with that. WOOT!”.

Power point – how do you make those slide transition things.

Oh man. I threw this in as a joke. To be fair to Aral he didn’t do anything about PowerPoint, but it was on KeyNote.

To be even more fair with Aral I actually learned a few tips during this session that I will certainly use in the future, particularly around how responsive design changes the orientation of content elements and I’ll use the Magic Move to accomplish that.

To be unfair to Aral, sorry, I think that this is stuff that can be taught by anyone at any time, and people could read tutorials online to get this kind of information. In saying that I did actually get something out of that session so I shouldn’t be so critical, but I think that with all Aral’s amazing knowledge and experience we would have benefited more about constructing our presentational stories or maybe even, dare I say it, another impromptu on stage exercise.

Wrap. It. Up.

The day was awesome. Aral’s teaching style is really simple and easy to follow, and that combined with having Seb Lee-Delisle do an on stage coding session made the day more complete.

There were plenty of great people attending, and I enjoyed the lunch chats and after workshop beers as much as the workshop itself.

I was amazed and very pleased by some of the content that Aral shared with us, particular around the business side of talking and I think that session alone would be worth the price of the ticket if you’re thinking about getting into speaking or running a conference.

I recommend anyone that is interested in improving their skills in delivering presentations to attend.

Thanks Aral.

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