Reminders for Frequent Speakers

I went to Blogword Expo about a month ago, and attended a couple of sessions put on by “Internet Famous” people. Their blogs are pretty well-known, their books are at Barnes & Noble, and they speak at conferences. A lot.

Guess what? Some of them were really bad presenters. As I was thinking about why this was, I came up with a few things to do / not to do when presenting … even if you think you are Mr. or Ms. Popular in whatever speaker circuit you frequent. Here they are:

Inside jokes? Don’t use them. One guy took the first five minutes of his talk to pass inside jokes to “his crowd” … which seemed to consist of a few buddies sitting on the front row. This was in a room of about 200 people. So there were about 5-10 people in on the joke. The other 190 of us? Not so much.

Inside jokes can be fun – if you bring everyone else inside with you. Use the joke as a point in your talk, and surround it with the full story. That way, everyone is in on the fun, you can tell your joke, and “your crowd” will still enjoy it too. I actually saw another speaker do that – he gave the background info, then used a person or two as an example, and it worked really well. Inside joke success.

Always give an introduction. You are not that popular. I’ve heard this from a speaker more than once – “You all know me, so I’m going to skip the introduction.” Guess what? We don’t all know you. The guy who did this at Blogworld Expo has a book out, and his blog is very popular. But I didn’t know who he was – never heard of the book or the blog, never attended any of his presentations before. I spent the next five minutes hunting down his blog instead of listening.

Yes, you know some of the people in the room. Yes, you know all the other speakers at the conference. Give at least a brief introduction anyway. At the conferences I regularly attend, the majority of people attending the sessions aren’t “regulars.” It’s either their first time at the conference, or they can only attend once every few years. So chances are, you are new to them. So make a quick introduction.

I’m too cool for slides. Same guy at Blogword Expo actually said this – “I’m too cool for slides.” Sure, Powerpoint presentations can be sorta boring if done poorly, and they aren’t always needed. But honestly – most of the time, if you are talking about the geek stuff I go to conferences for (technology, blogs, marketing, social media, etc), slides help drive home your point. You can SHOW that Twitter conversation. You can SHOW those Facebook Page stats. You can SHOW how your new-fangled technology site works.

Or, take a clue from the emerging web, which is getting more visual every day (i.e., Instagram, Viddy, Pinterest, etc). Your speech is good. Your speech, plus something to look at besides your head, is even better. Especially if the slides compliment the point you’re trying to make.

Prepare. At least the day before. One of the keynote speakers said he was working on his talk that morning in the cab ride to the convention center. And you could tell. The talk had some fine points, and the speaker knew his material, but he also stumbled quite a bit through the points he was trying to make. A little more practice and preparation would have done wonders for his talk.

So, you know. Get your slides done before you get to the conference. Actually run through the presentation once (with a timer). Preparation and practice are boring, but if you do the work, it will definitely pay off “on the stage.”

Your turn. What else should be here?

  • Deep Librarian

    Wow, it sounds like another tip could be “Practice some humility.”  It sounds like some of the not-so-good presenters you saw basically thought they were too popular, too smart, or too whatever to practice and put effort into preparing.  One of the things I’ve learned from presenting is that no matter how well I know my topic, there’s always something I can learn.  I figured that out the first time I presented and then decided to take questions!  It’s so important to go into a presentation confident, yet humble and willing to be taught.

    Also, I’m so jealous of anyone who got to attend Blogworld!

  • Kathy Dempsey

    Good stuff, David. I’d add: 
    * When you ask the audience, “Can you hear me?” actually pay attention to the answers! Many a presentation has been ruined for me b/c I couldn’t hear from the back of the room, b/c the person kept walking away from the mic, b/c they had it on 1 side of the shirt while facing the other side, or b/c they were so sure they didn’t need it. Just b/c you have a mic doesn’t mean you’re using it well. 

  • C Foote

    Great points.  I completely concur with your last comment–sometimes those speakers are paid a great deal also, and it irks me that I would spend more time preparing to present for free than they would.   I would also add don’t use a canned presentation with the same stories you’ve used many times before.  Chances are that some in the audience have heard you in this day and age with livestreaming, tweeting, etc.  

  • jambina

    remind me why you are up there talking to me about this! 
    this has become a huge problem with conferences. 
    some person has the cojones to talk about topic X, though they have never worked with X, planned for X, developed X, thought about the future of X. 
    X is just hot and they wanna talk to people about it.i can google with the best of’em, so remind me what you know about X that i can’t find elsewhere. i wanna hear about your experience with X and why i should be in the room listening.

    [also, why is this comment liking to a dead blog? yeesh, buckland.]

  • Johan Mijs

    Good ones! More tips and literature on the subject in a two-hour-to-read book ‘Confessions of a Public Speaker’ by Scott Berkun. Recommended!