When I first started at Microsoft 8 years ago, I was an awful presenter. I hardly made any eye contact and I spoke really, really, really fast. Over the years, I’ve had some training by some really good instructors and gotten a lot of practice. Now I like to think of speaking as one of my strong points.
Mentally, I’ve been keeping a little list of tips and tricks – many of which have come from fellow speakers – that have helped me. I thought I would share some of them in this post. A lot has to do with doing technical demos since I feel like that is one of my strong points in any presentation I do.
Make sure the audience can see what you’re doing
It can be really hard for an audience to see things on the screen when you’re doing a demo; particularly in a complicated user interface like Visual Studio. There are some things you can do, and utilities that you can use to help them out.
Try the following from Tools -> Options in Visual Studio
Keep things snappy
Performance is always important for any demo that you might do. It goes without saying to get a machine with as much RAM and CPU horsepower as possible; here are some of my other favorite tips.
This is something that I use to really, really struggle with - trying to slow down my speaking pace. What I’ve found is that I can’t just tell myself to slow down. What I try to do is concentrate on maintaining my volume from end-to-end when I’m presenting. One thing I’ll notice when I’m speaking quickly is that my voice tends to trail off at the end of a sentence. This is usually because I’ve used one breath for the entire sentence and by the time I get to the end of that sentence, I’ve run out. Using one breath for a sentence like that is usually a sign for me that I’m going too fast. So, I concentrate on making sure I take a breath somewhere in the middle so that I can finish strong. To get that breath in, I’ll need to pause somewhere between my words. With some practice, I’ve been able to take a quick breath and still sound like I’m speaking naturally. That has really helped me slow down. I’m still a fast speaker, and I probably always will be, but what I’ve found with trying to breath better is that I can make myself easier to understand.
A funny thing to keep in mind is that I think that no matter how experienced of a speaker you are, there is some inaccuracy in how you perceive yourself and how your audience perceives you. This is particularly true for pace. What tends to happen is that when you’re trying to slow down your pace a bit on stage, your brain will tell you that you’re speaking way too slowly and that you sound like an idiot. In reality, you sound perfectly normal to your audience. This is where video tape comes in handy. What I’ve done in the past is record myself speaking at various speeds. I’ll go really, really slow; so slow that I can barely take it and then go watch myself on tape. What I’ve noticed is that you can go really, really really slow and feel awkward doing it, but it looks and sound perfectly normal. I didn’t have to do this too many times before I got a better at gauging my actual pace versus my perceived pace.
All that said, the last thing you want to do is stretch out every single word and put your audience to sleep. Varying your pace is always good and makes you sound (and be) much more a genuine speaker. If you’re excited about something, let yourself speak a bit faster, a bit louder. Just be sure to slow down now and again when you wanto make a point or do a re-sync with the audience.
We’re lucky to be in an industry that is driven by so much passion. If you’ve taken the time to put together a presentation, take the time to enjoy delivering it. No matter how badly you think you did, chances are it wasn’t that bad. Chances are, you did a good job. In almost all cases, your audience wants you to succeed – so if you meet them 1/2 way, you’ll have done a nice job more times than not.
Anyways, just some thoughts I wanted to share.