On Wednesday, I attended an evening seminar on public speaking, run by IGD Leading Edge, a networking association for the grocery industry (I joined this despite not working in the grocery industry because I do a lot of research into retailers and grocers for work). It was interesting for me to attend an event like this run by a non-library organisation actually – I’ve been to similar seminars run by CILIP and SLA Europe before, so it was good to see another industry’s perspective on this sort of topic. I had also hoped that it might be an opportunity for a bit of echo chamber escaping, but as the only time for networking was at the start of the session, and I got there late due to a delayed train, that didn’t really happen! Ah well…
The session was billed as a chance to learn how to use your presentation style to engage your audience, and boost your confidence as a speaker. I was impressed by the presenter, Andrew Ivey – he obviously knew his stuff very well, and was good at getting us all involved at trying out various techniques and exercises.
Andrew went over the various stages you must go through to plan and deliver a presentation. The focus was on giving presentations to management within your workplace, but it was all pretty broad-ranging so I think could apply to any situation where you had to give a presentation. I’m going to outline some of the key stages below, as I think it’s advice worth sharing.
Andrew outlined various essential components to your preparation, starting with setting your mission and objectives. Your mission is what you want to ultimately achieve with your presentation, i.e. what do you want your audience to do with the information you’ve given them. Andrew suggested that this can usually fit into one of four categories: you either want your audience to know something, understand something, believe something, or do something. Once you know which it is, you need to set objectives. Objectives serve three purposes: they give you a framework for success, so you know if you have achieved your mission or not; they stop you from rambling; and they give you a way to get from a to b.
The next stage in your preparation is to research your audience. you need to know who will be attending, what sort of roles they’re in, what kind of background knowledge of your topic they’ll have, etc in order to best tailor your presentation to their needs.
When you begin writing your presentation, you’ll need to gather as much material as you think you’ll need, and then some more besides: Andrew recommended aiming for 150%, e.g. if you’re giving a 30 minute presentation then gather enough material for an hour. You can then start to organise your material, and can cut out anything extraneous.
Andrew made an interesting point about structure: that you should always structure your talk with three main points. Each of these points could have sub-points of course, but basically if you’ve planned for an hour’s presentation and you find out immediately before that you’ve only got ten minutes, you should be able to make three standalone points and still get the gist of your message across. I’m not entirely sure how this would work in practice, but it sounded like an interesting thing to try! It was also pointed out that, typically, 24 hours after your presentation most people will only remember 10%. Having a clear structure built around 3 key points should help you to ensure that people remember the right 10%.
Another useful tip around structure was to keep your words and sentences short. You should have no more than 8-10 words per sentence – any more is fine to read, but gets complicated to listen to. And obviously, avoid technical terms and jargon wherever possible – ask someone with no background in your field to listen to your presentation before hand and note down any words they don’t understand.
Um, er, so well, um…
Andrew spent a bit of time going over the evils of umming – useful for me, as that’s something I do an awful lot of when speaking! He gave a really good explanation of why it is important not to um and er while giving a presentation. Saying “um” is a conversational device – it’s essentially a cue to the person you’re speaking to, a quick way of saying “I’ve stopped talking for a moment because I’m casting about for a word, fact or idea, but don’t interrupt me (unless you can supply the word, fact or idea I’m looking for) because I’ve still got things to say”. I’d never thought of it that way before, but that’s actually very true! This is why saying “um” in a presentation is distracting for your audience. You’re essentially sending out two messages: that you don’t want to be interrupted (but no one would anyway because you’re the one on the stage), and that you’re trying to remember what you need to say (which makes you look unprepared). We went through a few exercises aimed at raising our awareness of how often we say “um” when speaking (hint: a lot!) and encouraging us to stop doing it. We went up in groups of three to read out a prepared statement, and each time someone said “um” or “er”, they had to stop and the next person took over. Interesting way of drawing attention to this verbal tick, and gave us all a bit of a laugh! By the end of the evening, almost no one was umming, so it certainly made us more aware of what we were saying.
Dress for success
The final tip from the presentation that I found useful was about how to project a confident image when presenting. This is something I certainly struggle with, so it was good to hear some strategies to deal with this! The first piece of advice was simply to dress the part. Andrew made the point that you’ve probably never been specifically told by a prospective employer that you must wear a suit to a job interview, but most people do anyway because it projects a professional image. Dressing in a way that projects this kind of image can make you feel more confident in yourself.
Secondly, remember to breathe! If you’re nervous you’ll talk too fast and take shallow breaths. Shallow breathing will increase your heart rate and blood pressure, which will in turn make you feel more nervous. Pay attention to how you’re breathing, and if you start to feel nervous, pause and take a few deep breaths.
Finally, remind yourself how awesome you are! Andrew didn’t use that exact wording, but that was what it boiled down to. He suggested reminding yourself of why you were there: you’re speaking on a topic because you know the most about it, or have the most interesting take on it. Before you step up, remind yourself of your good qualities, and of the fact that people are there to hear you speak, because you know your stuff 🙂
Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed the session, and hopefully have picked up some tips I can put into practice.