The road to public speaking
I gave my first conference presentation on Saturday 9 April at WordCamp London 2016.
The topic, covered in my last post, was The How and Why of Small Business Blogging.
It was quite a journey to the presentation day, I can tell you!
The invite came from Diane Wallace, who was in charge of speakers this year. I put in a proposal for a lightning talk (10 minutes) the night before applications closed.
A few days later I had an email back saying my proposal had been accepted, but they’d like me to do a long form talk of 40 minutes.
If you know me at all, you’ll know public speaking isn’t really my thing.
I’m pretty introverted. Which is why blogging suits me so well.
I had so many worries:
- How will I put the presentation together?
- How do I make it the right length?
- What if no-one comes to the talk?
- What if I fall over on stage?
- What if no-one can hear me? (I’m quiet by nature – I’m always being asked to speak up)
- What if I get a question I can’t answer?
- What if I don’t get any questions at all?
- What if there’s someone cleverer than me watching who thinks my talk’s rubbish?
But my main concern was:
What if I’m ill on the day, and can’t do the presentation?
This was top of my list, as I was actually due to speak at WordCamp Edinburgh in November last year.
I had a pretty crappy month then and couldn’t prepare the talk properly.
I just about managed to drag myself to the Edinburgh WordCamp, but I was tired with a headache.
I knew I wasn’t up to presenting.
I was SO disappointed.
And I didn’t want to go through that feeling again.
… and reassurance
Fortunately, I had a good chat on a Google hangout with Diane and Jenny Wong, lead organiser for WordCamp London.
They assured me that they did want me to speak, and that there was plenty of support:
- There was an information guide for speakers.
- As a first time speaker, I could get mentoring help to put the presentation together.
- I’d get to see the room beforehand.
- There was a Slack channel to chat with the organisers and speakers.
- Speakers got the use of a green room before the talks.
- If all else failed, they had backup speakers.
- And no-one would think any less of me if I couldn’t speak on the day.
So with my fears somewhat allayed, I agreed to give it a go.
My fabulous mentor
I was assigned Tammie Lister as my mentor.
Tammie is an experienced speaker at WordCamps and other events, and I couldn’t have been in better hands.
We caught up regularly via Skype in the weeks running up to the WordCamp, and I could email her or leave messages on Slack at other times.
I found it helpful to read Jo Waltham’s post about speaking in London in 2015, and I watched Ariel Rule’s presentation from WordCamp Portland on WordPress.tv.
Learnings in creating a Keynote presentation
Luckily, I had the bare bones of a presentation already created from my Edinburgh experience, so that was a good start.
I realised that I wasn’t that proficient with Keynote, and I had quite a bit to learn.
I went with one of the predefined templates (Showroom) which had slides with a grey background. In the end, I removed the gradient as I thought a plain white background looked better.
I modified the slide master to included my Twitter handle on all slides, and later removed on Tammie’s advice it to avoid clutter.
Instead I put that information at the beginning and end of the presentation.
Font choice and size
I wanted to make the font clear and easy to read.
The font for the Showcase template is Gill Sans. I changed the font weight from Light to Regular to make it more readable. The headings were made semibold.
I used a minimum size of 38pt.
Tammie advised me to minimise slide transitions. In the end, I don’t think I used any!
I didn’t see any in the talks I attended either.
Full screen images
Tammie encouraged me to be bolder with images and use full screen ones rather than small images, especially for screenshots.
I had to be careful with colour contrast to make sure that headings and bullet points showed up on these slides.
I had a few slides that were just difficult to do.
Originally I had my 6 WordPress plugins on one slide with the names on (what looked like) buttons. I didn’t think it worked that well, and Tammie agreed.
The presentation improved after I separated them out to one per slide, and I could show proper screenshots from using each one. I also moved the list of links to the end.
A bullet list of types of blog posts with examples became a graphical slide with thought bubbles, and I cut down the examples. It just made it flow more smoothly.
I also lost one introductory slide for a section which I didn’t have much to say about. It was redundant.
Thanks again to my mentor!
I didn’t just want to read the slides out, so I needed some additional information and justification for what was there. That’s where the speaker notes came in.
Initially, I wrote some rough notes for each slide. I soon realised that it was hard to relate my notes to the slide content. There was a complete disconnect and I lost track of what I was saying.
So I changed my approach and added the bullet points to the presenter notes highlighted red, with a short comment in black text underneath. It worked much better.
I went through my talk a few times with Tammie, to practice for length and delivery.
At firs,t it felt like I was reading too much from the notes. I got better as I got to know the material.
Some delivery tips I picked up were:
- Perform the talk standing up – it comes across differently compared to sitting down.
- Vary your tone when you speak – try saying it stupidly in practice!
- Be aware of what’s coming up so you don’t lose the thread – Rehearse Slideshow mode helps with this.
- Don’t throw in any swear words! WordPress.tv won’t upload your talk to their site if there’s profanity.
I bought a clicker from Amazon to advance through the slides. In the end, I didn’t use it, but I have it handy for next time.
Tammie recommended not practising the night before my talk, so I didn’t – I went to the speakers’ dinner instead.
The venue was an interesting choice – Bounce – which served up a buffet with table tennis! I got to know my MC for the talk, Ant Miller, over a game of ping pong.
I did wonder late that evening how I was going to export my notes from Keynote, just in case there was a hitch and I needed them on my iPad. After a bit of Google searching, I found a script online that did the trick.
I had to modify it a bit – here’s the code I ended up using, in case it helps anyone else.
Paste this into the Script Editor – found in Launchpad/Other on Mac OSX El Capitan. Change the path and the filename to your own.
tell application "Keynote"
set myFilePath to alias ":Users:claire:Documents:WordCamp London 2016:WordCamp London Blogging presentation 08.04.16.key"
tell front document
set presenterNotes to presenter notes of every slide as text
set the clipboard to presenterNotes
do shell script "pbpaste > ~/keynote-notes.txt"
quit application "Keynote"
Luckily, I had a good speaking slot, 10.50 am on the Saturday. This meant that I could get the talk over early on in the day and focus on enjoying the rest of the WordCamp.
I went to the previous talk to get a feel for the room. I was in track B.
I wasn’t as nervous as I expected to be as the hour approached. I was able to go to the green room and chill out for a few minutes beforehand. I used the time to upload my presentation to SlideShare.
After a couple of bathroom breaks it was showtime!
I had some help from the tech guys setting up. I still don’t know how it works, but I could see the presenter view with my notes while the audience saw the slides behind. They also took a recording of the slides as I went through.
I discovered that I couldn’t use the lapel mic as the battery pack wouldn’t fasten to my dress, so I had to use a hand mic. I had been warned about this before, but I really wanted to wear the dress!
Helen Monaghan had given me some advice on breathing. From a book she had lent me, I remembered about the “power pose” recommended by Amy Cuddy, which can increase your confidence. I practised it subtly.
Ant gave me a cracking intro – he said I’d beaten him at ping pong, which was sweet. (It was actually a draw!)
Once I got started and was relieved that everyone could hear me, the time flowed by pretty quickly. It helped that there were some friendly faces in the audience to listen to my talk – people like Graham Armfield and Rian Rietveld.
One cool feature that the WordCamp had this year was live captioning for the talks. I loved this. It was beneficial not just for hearing impaired people, but for everyone.
I needn’t have worried about questions as I did get some good ones. I was even able to think on my feet with the answers!
I spoke to a few people afterwards – I had mentioned that I was looking for advice with Facebook ads, so that started a couple of conversations.
I had a number of people thanking me for the talk and saying I did a good job.
Tammie’s reaction was “You smashed it!” Yay, hug time!
When I logged onto Twitter I saw a flurry of tweets and follows, which was really heartwarming.
— Ant Miller (@meeware) April 9, 2016
— WordPress1x1 (@WP1x1) April 9, 2016
A first time speaker reflects – learnings
- It’s not as scary as you think, and people are there to support you.
- Have backups of your presentation just in case, but trust that “it will be alright on the night”.
- Add some questions for your audience so they can participate.
- Remember to smile at your audience and thank them for coming.
- Validation from your peers is one of the best feelings you can have. 🙂
Thanks to the incredible WordCamp London team for all their hard work in staging the event.
The slides for my talk are in my previous post at the end.
Please share this post if it would help any other first time speakers at WordCamps – or any public event.