I recently spoke to about 120 people at the Salem Tech Lunch about Continuous Integration and Continuous Delivery. I've come to find I enjoy the challenge of presenting technical topics in a fun and engaging manner and have learned a lot from the great Scott Hanselman (and seriously, if you've never watched him in action, stop reading this and go watch him present). The Tech Lunch group was a mix of both Technical and Business leaders in town. I was struck by a question asked by one of the Junior Engineers before going on stage; "Are you nervous?"
She doesn't like talking in public, and I understand all too well. In the 7th grade, I passed out while giving a presentation because I was so nervous. I conquered most of my fear in my public speaking class in college. In a previous career, I chipped away even further as part of my management duties included speaking in front of ~300 store employees. Despite the transition from being terrified to actually enjoying speaking publicly, my heart still races in the minutes before going on stage.
I waited for the MC to finish introducing me and decided to be mindful about the speaking experience, thinking it might be a useful topic for discussion.
As I was handed the microphone, I noticed that all nervousness evaporated. Looking back, I didn't even see the audience. My mind was fully concentrated on relaying the information on hand in a meaningful manner. I don't care for text on slides except where necessary, believing that a good understanding of the material should lend itself well to images on screen to prompt me as the presenter.
I recall forcing myself to deliberately look around the audience and focus on a face in the crowd as I talked. I didn't really see the face, it was just a place to rest my eyes while my mind formed the next sentence.
After finishing the presentation, I opened the floor to questions. About 20% of the questions were high level technical questions, which were the easiest to answer, as that was the content I had prepared. 10% were questions having nothing to do with the material or the group. For example, one audience member asked how my company planned to leverage blockchain technology. The answer to the blockchain question, incidentally, is that we've looked at it, but don't really feel it has an application in our organization. The remaining 70% of the questions were about my company, the tech industry in general, and getting into software development.
Tips for Being a Good Presenter
- Know your audience
- Know your material
- Know your equipment
- Know your presentation space
- Sprinkle some humor
- Plan for failure (missing adapters, dead battery, didn't get the slides, etc)
During the Presentation
- Measure the audience for boredom or interest and adjust accordingly
- Have water handy
- Every few moments find a face to rest your gaze upon
- Let lost thoughts go
- Plan for interruptions (Interactive presentations rule!)
- Measure your pace
- If you don't know, be honest
- Avoid getting stuck on "look how much I know" or "my edge case" questions
- Invite one on one discussion for tough, terrible, or non-relevant questions