Are you a professional speaker, a fair to middling speaker, or a fresh faced noob who is ready to step out onto that stage and risk the derisive laughter of your peers in a manner that can severely impact your future professional career options?
If so, then you need this handy, dandy, however many points I can think of, guide to public speaking. If you follow each of these tips to the letter then you’re going to hit the heights of the conference circuit and then it’s only a short step getting your very own TEDx talk in a foreign city or getting a ghost writer to put a book together for you…
- Submitting to speak – Do it, otherwise you’ll not be able to follow the rest of this – but you’ll still be able to complain about the speaker selection from those who did pitch.
- Selecting a topic – Ideally pick something that you know about. If it’s not, then it’s perfectly fine to present something completely different to the session description, conferences expect that.
- Location, location location – Make sure that the conference is somewhere you want to be. If you’re a conference noob, you probably won’t have a choice, so you’ll find yourself in Juneau in December, Jakarta during monsoon season, or Detroit at any time of the year.
- Connecting with co-presenters – Most likely you’ll not be doing a solo talk, so you’ll need to connect with the rest of your panel. If you give them the choice they’ll cherry pick the best bits of the topic, and leave you with an unconnected mess of topics around the theme. So it’s best to lie and say you’ve already done your deck, and tell them what it covers. (NB: if they ask to see it, send them a bad dropbox link, and feign ignorance when they can’t access it)
- Actually put a deck together. Assuming you can’t talk the panel into doing a powerpoint free Q&A session, you’re going to need a deck. It should be loosely relevant to the topic you said you were going to cover, and contain no more than 5 slides per minute. If you can theme it to Star Wars or cute cats, bonus points. If you are hurting for ideas, don’t worry – some other SEO has probably presented this topic before. Just head over to slideshare and start searching for slides you can use. Don’t forget to include a sales pitch for your company. Conferences love that.
- Practice the presentation – You’ll want to practice until you’re so comfortable with it, that when the inevitable problem with your deck not displaying on the screen happens that you can stumble along by rote if needs be. Get your timing right, once you have that nailed you know that you’ll be within 2-3 minutes of it, either under or over… or maybe more
- The day of, panic and add in 5 more slides that don’t make a great deal of sense – this is when the concerns about not having enough material for the audience really hit. Just find some pictures of mountain goats and meme them to vaguely fit your theme. Be prepared to completely bypass them as you realize you’re running over.
- Make copies of your presentation – Have one on a thumb drive in your pocket, one on your computer, one emailed to the moderator, one in the cloud, and one on a golden disk sent into space as part of a first contact protocol.
- Arrive early – Get a copy of your presentation on the laptop, so that you can run through it ahead of time and discover that it was supposed to be 16:9 not 4:3, that the special fonts you used aren’t on their machine, nobody else knows how to open your ClarisWorks file, and that there’s no sound set up for you to play the video that completely ties everything together.
- Focus and prepare – go to the bathroom for your 3rd nervous wee
- T-1 minute – inform your fellow presenters that you’d like to go first, so if you run long they’re the ones that’ll have to deal with it.
- Showtime – Start with a joke, once that falls flat, move onto the actual presentation, forgetting that you added in the goat pictures, and slightly changed the order of the slides. Spend at least 20% of your talk reading bullet points from the screen to the audience.
- Be patient – You’re all done, you only stumbled over 3 of the slides, made the complete opposite point you were intending to make twice, and passed wind as you walked away from the podium that caused the next speaker to gag for 20 seconds. Just sit there and smile serenely, nodding as your co-presenters deliver their pearls of wisdom, even if they say the exact same / opposite points to what you said. This is also a great time to pull out your cell phone and see how many twitter mentions you got while talking.
- Q&A – this is your time to shine. If you can warble on and on for several minutes not answering the actual question from the audience, but sounding legitimate to the lay person, then all the errors from your actual presentation will be forgotten. Make sure to talk over your co-presenters, jumping in first on every question, and either nodding in agreement when they agree with your points, or loudly talking over them when they say anything else.
- Post show – It’s all over, but now you have a presentation you can reuse elsewhere, over and over again for the next few years. All you need to do is drop the logo for the next conference over the logo for the last one, and you’re set.
Well done you!