A few weeks ago I mentioned that I was going to be doing a short presentation at the Australian Evaluation Conference in Sydney.
So this week I fronted up (very nervously) and gave my five minute talk on getting past the imposter syndrome. You can watch it here. The sound is a little iffy at the beginning, but you’ll hopefully get the general idea.
I was very anxious about the whole thing so I’m glad it’s over.
But I wanted to talk more generally about the presentations and the communication styles of other presenters at the conference. I’m not suggesting that I’m good at public speaking (far from it – see above for evidence of this) but one thing that did surprise me was that the keynote speakers often seemed to have far too much content for their time-slots. I’m not sure if they were using a generic slide deck or whether they just think they will speak more quickly than they actually do, but in general lots of people ran out of time about half way through. I suppose that it didn’t matter because they were just so fascinating we were eager to hear anything they had to share, but nevertheless it surprised me a bit.
It sometimes felt as though they hadn’t really had time to think about their key messages.
There were a couple of really outstanding presentations. I was particularly impressed with a presentation by ARTD (an evaluation consultancy) who had clearly designed their presentation with the exact amount of information for the allotted time-slot. It was really interesting and really well done. They even had the key messages on a slide at the beginning of the presentation in case people had to leave to go to another session.
A notable thing at the conference was the big variations in slide decks.
The conference organisers had sent out a lot of guidance material about not putting too much details on the slides, but nevertheless some presenters couldn’t resist cramming their slides with a lot of very small text. I don’t think that I’m going to see this change in my lifetime but I would love to think that I’ll never have to hear anyone say “I’m sorry you can’t read this” again.
So there you have it. Overall it was a fantastic conference. I’m so glad I was fortunate enough to attend. Now I just need to go back to work and implement some of these great ideas.
I had to write a short bio for an evaluation conference that I’m presenting at in September. I’m actually only speaking for five minutes, but it was on my bucket list to speak at a conference one day, so at least I’ll be able to tick that one off.
I did some research about how to write a bio and the recommendation was to make it relevant to the audience and make it short. This seemed like good advice. I’m a big fan of simplicity, so I generally like things to be short and to the point.
The audience will be other evaluators and my short presentation is about building evaluation capacity when you aren’t an expert, so I decided to just write a couple of sentences about my role and the fact that I like to work collaboratively with people.
I was pretty happy with my efforts until I read some of the other presenters’ bios. By comparison, mine was way too short and simple, so I panicked.
They were mostly written in the third person and there were a whole lot of qualifications being cited all over the joint. The other presenters sound very, very impressive!
It reminded me of a meeting I went to when I was teaching at the local TAFE. It was the start of semester so we did a ‘go-around’ so that everyone could introduce themselves. I sat there getting more and more anxious (I hate go-arounds) whilst my colleagues cited their extensive academic qualifications and their very important titles. When it came to my turn I said “my name’s Margaret Moon and I’m a person”. I wasn’t trying to be especially funny or rude. It just seemed that this was the best way I could think of to describe myself. There seemed to be a lack of humanity and perhaps humility, in the room.
Back to my bio. In the end I did add a few details. I didn’t want to sound too pompous but I thought that people might want to know a little bit about my background and what kinds of things I find interesting. That list could be quite long if I got carried away, so I just talked about how much I enjoy solving problems and working alongside people. I didn’t talk about how much I love reading and drinking nice wine! That might be a discussion for another time.
I’m hoping that if I sound friendly enough some of the other attendees might come up and say hello. That would be nice.
I’ve just had an article published on the Better Evaluation website. You can read it here. I wanted to share some ideas about not being an expert while also encouraging people to think about evaluation as something useful and ‘doable’ rather than something that’s too complicated or too hard.
I’m also going to be doing a short presentation on the same topic at the Australian Evaluation Society conference in September. I’m excited but also a little nervous about that. Fortunately, it’s just a five minute “ignite” presentation. Just 20 slides and then on to the next person.
I’m guessing that most of us have spent at least a little bit of time recently deciding what we will focus on, and what skills or interests we want to develop in 2013.
I don’t know about you, but one of my biggest problems is that I am interested in way too many things, to the point where I flit from topic to topic always hungry for new and interesting ideas but not really digesting or absorbing very much. And while this is very entertaining, it results in knowing a little bit about a lot of subjects, but not being an expert on anything in particular. This is not a good thing in the world of business (so they say), which favours those with marketable expertise.
So this year I am going to focus on being more focussed.
This means finishing one book before starting another. (Well maybe I can have one fiction and one non-fiction on the go, but not five at once).
It also means spending more time writing about practical ways that you can craft your material so that your messages are clear.
This doesn’t mean that I’ll only talk about one thing. As far as I am concerned, there are many elements to clarity. Regardless of whether you are writing a report, creating a presentation or designing a website the principles and elements are the same.
Clear concise writing that makes sense to the reader
Consistent and logical ordering of your content
Plenty of white space so that your text is legible and doesn’t overwhelm people
Graphs, charts and illustrations that help people to understand your message
An understanding of how people learn and how they make sense of information
But above all, you need to KNOW what it is you are trying to say. Working this out is by far the most important thing you need to do and is the place where you should start.
So my plan for the coming year is to focus on writing helpful, inspiring and practical blog posts. What are you going to focus on? Are there skills that you want to develop and can I help you?
I overheard a colleague being very dismissive about a personal branding course that is being offered to staff at my workplace. The aim of the course is to get people to think about their skills and the way that they present themselves to prospective employers. Whilst it’s not my intention to start giving advice about employment issues, I do think that the topic of branding is relevant to presenting.
Developing your personal brand is about being consistent and credible and these are two things that are really important when you are giving a presentation.
When you are delivering a presentation, you really do want people to take you seriously. This means that your messages must be clear, concise and coherent and you also need to look and sound confident about your topic. This is not easy for those of us who get a little bit nervous when speaking in front of a group. My advice is to rehearse your presentation in front of a friend or colleague that you trust. If you really can’t bear the idea of rehearsing in front of other people, do it at home in front of your dog or budgie. Not only will this give you more familiarity with your material, it will give you an idea of how long your talk will go for and if it flows well. You don’t need to be word perfect. In fact this can often make you sound stilted and over-rehearsed.
Your credibility will be enhanced if you can manage to look reasonably comfortable (my advice is to fake it ’til you make it). Don’t make your audience feel nervous on your behalf. You want them to relax and be interested in your message, so you need to convey the idea that you are in control. There are lots of books about presenting that you can check out, but my best advice is to:
1. Craft clear and concise messages.
2. Be very familiar with your content.
3. Rehearse (but don’t over rehearse).
4. Get to the venue as early as you can.
5. Be enthusiastic about your topic.
6. Relax, breathe and smile – once you get going you’ll be fine, so let your personality shine through.