Many people have recently asked me for advice on presentation skills because I’ve had a number of speaking engagements so I figured I’d share some of my so-called skillz. I’ll do a series of posts because the knowledge I have spans 16 years, and I want to give people the full spectrum.
The rules of software product creation apply to presentations, the main goal of a presenter is to keep people engaged and coming back for more! Sure there’s an element of information exchange, but really a presenter should be entertaining and captivate the audience for the entire length of his presentation. So instead of doing a bunch of how-to posts or lists, I’m going to take a slightly different approach and present narratives based on my experiences as a presenter, which I hope will still be informative and instructive, but mainly fun
Poornima’s first presentation
At the age of 8 I decided I was going to be a lawyer and after watching one too many episodes of Matlock I knew that I had to have good presentation skills, but I was still a little shy four-eyed introvert so it wasn’t until the age of 12 that I signed up for the debate team. The first real presentation I ever did was for the “Optimist Oratorical Contest” it had the tagline: “The time for…”. The grand prize was $1000 towards a college scholarship. I spent 2 months preparing for my presentation. One of my neighbors, Anne-Marie was a 30 something lawyer. I idolized her, because she was articulate and drove a Toyota 4-runner SUV. I asked Anne-Marie if she wouldn’t mind helping me out and she responded that she’d love to.
A picture is worth a 1000 words
I started drafting up my oratory. First thing was to figure out the tagline. I looked up the word optimist to understand what it meant, and then completed the tagline with “The time for action is now!” I sat down outlined my speech, wrote it up with lots of catchy phrases, and then took it to Anne-Marie. Anne-Marie being a sweetheart at the time did what anyone who is approached by a precocious 12 year-old would do, she sat down with me, and proceeded to teach me a few things about speech writing. The first thing I learned was imagery. The words I had chosen were flat, I need to paint a picture in the minds of my audience. She handed me a speech she had written while in law school and I read over it. It visually depicted the effects of alcohol of a fetus and I was appalled, but more importantly I got the point. I took my speech back and changed it to included sentences like “bestowed upon your shoulders”, which is really the only sentence can still remember to this day.
Practice, Practice, Practice
Once I had nailed down my speech in writing I proceeded to practice it. I rehearsed it everyday and timed myself, because it had to be under 5 minutes. On the day of the speech I needed something to calm my nerves and prevent me from forgetting my speech so I outlined it on a notecard. I was one of the presenters in the middle going up against a few other girls my age from other middle schools across the school district, and only knew the one other girl from my school, Margaret. I liked Margaret she was a head taller than me (who wasn’t at the time?) and we were on the debate team together. The speeches began. I got up and was a little nervous presenting to an audience of my peers, their parents, and a few adults who were judging. My heart was racing, but I began the intro strong and then kept going. I didn’t even look down at my notecard, but just held it in my hand and used it to gesture.
Then Margaret got up, I noticed she was the only presenter who didn’t have a notecard or set of papers that she was reading from. Her speech went well.
After all the speeches we took a break while the judges decided our fate. I wasn’t too concerned with the cash prize, because I knew $1000 wasn’t going to be enough for college, but I still held on to a shred of hope. During the break a lot adults came up to me and commended me for my speech, which I thought was OK, but they thought was fantastic. I didn’t see them commending anyone else so my shred of hope got bigger.
The judges came back. We all sat eagerly awaiting. They were going to announce the people who placed and the winner would go on to try out at regionals for the $1000 scholarship. They announced the 3rd place winner, it wasn’t me… I started to get a little excited but was still nervous. Then they announced the 2nd place winner, the announcer paused to pronounce the name slowly… It was me! Wow, second place not bad. Sure I hadn’t won but hey I had placed! Margaret ended up winning.
After the awards I ran into one of the judges, who told me I had the best presentation out of everyone, but the panel had docked me points for using a notecard. DOH! Regardless I liked the feedback and from that day on knew that whenever I did a presentation I would do it empty handed.
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