Saturday, April 24, 2010

Speak to Me

This week I did a presentation at an industry conference. We had about 20 people in our workshop, and I already knew the fairly important ones in the audience. My copresenter has the charm and grace of a talk show host. She fell in and out of jokes and stories casually to make her point. I was impressed with her ease of public speaking.

Two weeks prior I had a poetry reading and I've been advised by experienced poets that it's important to memorize your poems. Brillant idea! But it doesn't really work since I was editing and flip flopping between the poems as I waited for my name to be called. In the end, I read 85% , improvised 10% and memorized 5% of the poems. The one thing I learned from my disasterous experience in high school when I forgot half of my poem for a French language competition is to always have paper in front of me.

Nowadays, I'm comfortable with public speaking as I'll ever be. I'm used to discussing workflows and technologies in front of clients. I deal with the challenge of facing 25 seven-year olds every Sunday at culture class. This alone has forced me to learn to maintain my audience's attention and be flexible with the program.

Last week's presentation was a new situation where the topic was definitely familiar as it was related to my work for the past two years. I had spent a lot of time on the presentation slides, adding color and custom animations. Fast forward to the day and it's not what I thought it'd be like. I'm used to standing in front of my slides and pointing out key items. This time, my slides were projected on a large screen while I was behind a podium on a stage! First of all, I had the microphone too close and had to adjust. My copresenter didn't need a microphone since she knew how to project so well. I started reading my notes for the introduction and I sounded so awkward. Let's go to the slides.

I wanted to talk about something on the screen and felt at loss because I couldn't point it out. I panicked for a moment and then I clicked the Enter button on my powerpoint. Voila, little arrows and message boxes! Oh, yes, I did add these pointers to highlight the areas because I thought it ahead it may be hard to define those.

All of a sudden, I relaxed and trusted my slides. I had spent a lot of time on them, and thought through the design carefully. And, so what if I say something incorrect. It's like the poetry reading where I improvised some of the poem. No one knew I did that, unless my face expressed it.

More importantly, I had to trust myself to say the right thing. I had started off trying to be very formal and was reading my notes (remember the poetry reading?). This was all wrong. I needed to just speak the way I would - not the way people expect me to speak. It feels like running with someone else's shoes, and all that will happen is I will trip.

So it's not so much about being able to perform in public, but to trust yourself and have confidence when all eyes are upon you. Some people thrive in this environment, while some of us have to come around to it.


J.Doe said...

I'm sure you did a good job at the presentation from start to finish and are just being overly critical.
I don't know who was in the industry group, but unlike a room of 7 year olds, if you were bad they just would have just walked out of the room and caught the presentation later on Youtube at their own discretion.

Indigo B. said...

Thanks J! With the 7 year olds I start clapping my hands to get their attention. I've caught myself "shushing" my team at work when discussions get heated and no one is listening to each other!