Improve your public speaking

Today I received a mail from one of our Belgian SQL Server MVP’s titled speaking in public tips & tricks. I don’t why he sent this to me, maybe he thinks I need more tips & tricks to make my presentations better, well he is right. Once you get into this speaking engagement thing you cannot learn enough and learning from two well known and experienced speakers is a privilege.

The mail he forwarded was about two blogposts made by Kimberly Tripp and Paul Randal on how to improve your speaking skills, presentations and how to get started.

This made me think about my first presentation, which was in my eyes one of my worst ones, I remember it like it was yesterday. A couple of years ago (three to be correct) I was working on my first Dev & IT Pro Days (now known as TechDays) and the day after the event I had to present my first presentation. Well I didn’t really need to present any slides I did a demo of 45 min for almost 100 attendees. The night before the event my colleagues and good friends Tony and Daniel made me do a dry run which was the worst experience in my life so far. It was almost 2 O’clock in the morning when I did my dry-run in my hotel room. I have never been that nervous before, nothing went right, I couldn’t say one sentence right. After 20 min’s they stopped me and said to me it’s fine you will do a good job tomorrow. I never believed them, I felt awful, went to bed and I watched the clock ticking. Every 15 min I looked at the clock, didn’t sleep at all. At 6:30 AM I decided to go back to the office to practice more. I still had a couple of hours before the stage was mine.

The time had come I needed to go on stage and the organizers who invited me were introducing myself as being the Belgian counterpart of Tony and Daniel, who did a great job presenting Vista a couple of weeks before. This was not really the introduction that made me calm down :). I started the presentation with just one slide talking about the improvements we made to Vista and then I jumped into the demo’s. I do believe that there demo gods exists and from time to time they don’t like us. They didn’t like me that day, I had to recover from at least two blue screens. After 45 mins my presentation was done and a big relief felt off my shoulders, I felt good even though this was not the best thing I ever did. It felt good because I started doing something new, something outside of comfort zone.

I talked to a couple of colleagues to see if they had the same experience when they presented for the first time. Yes they all are nervous and it’s like Paul states in his blogpost it’s all about how well you deal with it and how quickly it goes away. I was worried that I would stay that nervous for all my upcoming presentations. I still wanted to continue because after a each presentation you get such a good feeling (adrenaline) that it’s very addictive. The first couple of presentations you still will be nervous (I was) but it goes away trust me. Now when I need to go on stage I’m nervous just a couple of minutes before but once I opened my sessions it goes away.

I’m still not the best speaker in the world and might never become that but I think my speaking skills improved and are still improving each time I present. So my piece of advice for all of you who wants to start presenting, is practice and do it as often as you can. Start with smaller audiences like speaking at user group events or record screencasts. Talk to the audience before you present so you get to know the audience and learn what they expect from you. Put you at the same level as them, talk with passion, prepare your demo’s and even then they can fail (remember to make an offer to the demo gods before each session).  Prepare, prepare, rehearse, rehearse, rehearse,rehearse and you will find yourself much more comfortable delivering the content you prepared.

Read and learn as much as you can about improving speaking skill, currently I’m reading Presentation Zen 

Here are some links that can help you improve your presentations (or not):

Chicken Presentation

Killer Presentation Skills

How NOT to use PowerPoint

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