I wrote a bit about this in the last post at The Viral Garden but the first social media event I ever spoke at was SXSW in 2008.
Think about that for a moment; Here I am, an introvert that hasn’t spoken in a public setting for 5 years previously, and I am making my social media speaking debut at the Super Bowl of ‘social media’ conferences. I was scared to death, and the funny thing is, if this had been a smaller event, I probably wouldn’t have gone through with it. But since it was SXSW it was ‘too big’ to ignore. I knew that being able to say I spoke at SXSW was too important to not have on my ‘speaking’ resume.
So I bit the bullet, and did it anyway. Now 2 years later, I have gone from being an introvert that’s scared to death of speaking publicly, to an introvert that actually LOVES it. For any introverts out there that want to start speaking, here’s what I learned to make me more comfortable with the process:
During the creation process:
1 – KNOW your material, do NOT memorize it. Extroverts are just naturally chatty people, right? They are more comfortable ad-libing and making ‘small talk’, it seems. I think we introverts want to more carefully plan out our presentations, so we know exactly what to say.
But the big problem with that approach is that we can come off VERY stiff, and look as if we are reciting to the audience. Nothing turns off an audience quicker than a speaker that’s disengaged.
So here’s what I do. When I have created a deck and am ready to start rehearsing my presentation, I will carefully script out my session, so I know exactly what I want to say, and when I want to say it. I’ll do this about 5 times so I have pretty much memorized the material, and the key points I want to make.
At this point, I throw the script away. And I keep rehearsing the presentation without it. I also break up the flow, if I have 5 points I have been rehearsing in order, I’ll now do them in a different order, just to force myself to break away from the script and actually TALK about the points I want to make, instead of reciting them. I’ll even be in the middle of rehearsing a point and will cut myself off as if someone asked a question, then after a minute or so I’ll try to remember where I was and go back.
In the end you want your presentation to be a conversation with the audience. You want to KNOW the material. Because something will ALWAYS happen to throw you off base. If you KNOW the material, you can get back on track, but if you don’t, then you’re in trouble.
2 – Tell stories. Everyone has case studies, and everyone has numbers that back up the points they are trying to make. Big deal. What you want to do is weave those case studies and numbers into a story. A story that is entertaining, but that also shows the attendees why and how Company X used social media, and gives them actionable takeaways for how they can take what Company X learned, and apply it to their own situation.
When you arrive at the event:
3 – Find the room where you will be presenting, and get a feel for the layout. Walk around the room. Make sure you know where everything is, where your laptop will be setup, where all the jacks are. Will you have a mic, will it be a clip-on or standalone? Walk around the room. Sit in some of the chairs and make sure the audience can see you from everywhere in the room. Simply familiarizing yourself with the room beforehand really helps, especially for an introverted soul 😉
And try to attend sessions in the SAME room before yours. This gives you a chance to see how other speakers do. Are there some problems with the audio/video? Watch how the audience reacts to the session and the speaker. What does the speaker do that gets their attention, what does she do that they don’t like? Incorporate what you learn into your own session and delivery.
4 – Attend any pre-show meetups/tweetups. Most conferences will have a tweetup/meetup the night before the event kicks off. This is an excellent chance for you to connect with speakers and attendees. Try to connect with the attendees, especially the ones that will be attending your session. If you meet someone that’s planning on attending, ask them what they are hoping to learn, and why they are interested in the topic. And this also gives you a way to incorporate that into your talk. Like “Now let’s talk about getting more comments on your blog. I was actually talking to Carla last nite in the lobby about her blog…:” Suddenly Carla and all her friends at her table will immediately perk up and pay attention (if they weren’t already).
5 – Get to your session at least 15 mins early, so you have time to setup everything. This gives you plenty of time to get the laptop connected, your deck ready to go, and make a last-second bathroom run. Also, make sure you have a glass of water on hand. You’re going to be talking for 30-90 mins probably, and if you’re like me, you WILL be nervous, so not having dry-mouth helps 😉
If you have any extra time before you start, what I like to do is walk around the room and introduce myself to some of the attendees and thank them for coming. Good way to connect with them, and increases the chances that they will pay attention during my session.
Oh and one extra tip, if you are SUPER nervous right before you are to speak, eat a couple of saltine crackers, it will help settle your stomach and calm down the butterflies.
During your presentation:
6 – Thank everyone for showing up and MEAN IT. When I spoke at #optsum a couple of months ago, I was a bit worried about the topic, which was Think Like a Rockstar: How to Build Fans and Community Around Your Social Media Efforts. I was afraid that it might not be what the audience (mostly property managers and apartment complex owners) was looking for, and was a bit worried about how well it would be received.
Somewhat to my shock, the session was literally standing room only, and we were still bringing in chairs to accommodate everyone 5 mins into the session. I was beyond grateful for the turnout, especially considering the caliber of the other speakers and sessions at that time slot, and made sure everyone knew how appreciative I was.
7 – Let the audience know exactly what’s coming. Tell them exactly what you will be talking about, the exact order of the talk, and tell them how they can get involved. Most sessions have a talk, then questions at the end. I generally encourage the audience to ask questions as they think of them, rather than waiting for them to wait till the end, when they might forget the question. But if you do this, you need to be mindful if the question-asking is cutting into presentation time. If you realize that after the 5th of 23 slides that you’ve just spent 10 mins answering questions, then you probably need to tell the audience that you need to move on at that point.
8 – Move around. At one of the first events I spoke at, the speakers were provided a podium up on stage, above the crowd, with lights shining down on them. No matter what they were talking about, having them chained to that podium having to stand in one spot behind a microphone made the session seem less interesting. The audience seemed less interested as well, I think the unintentional message that the format sent was ‘this is a lecture’.
When it came time for my talk, I told the organizer ‘You’ve got to mic me up, I can’t stay up there’. So I was the first speaker that didn’t present from a podium on stage. I was down eye-level with the audience, away from the lights, and interacting with the audience. The guy that was in charge of videotaping the sessions didn’t like it, but by simply being ‘ground-level’, the audience perked up. They paid attention, and that made them more engaged.
One thing I also like to do is get to the CENTER of the room. I’m sorry, but I just hate staying in front of a group for an hour. Chris Brogan had a great point one time about the difference between an audience and a community is the way the chairs face. I want to spend some time in the middle, interacting with people where they are.
9 – Realize that you WILL screw up, and likely no one will notice. Remember my first point about knowing your material, and not memorizing it? Here’s an example where I screwed that up. In preparing to moderate that first session at SXSW in 2008, I made a COMPLETE script of what I would say to each panelist. I knew the exact questions to ask, etc. I even made two scripts, one was detailed, and the other was a ‘loose’ script to keep me on track. I kept the detailed one to my left and the loose one to my right.
So as our session started, I set the groundwork for what we would be talking about, and the format of the session, closely following my very detailed notes. All was going off without a hitch.
Then I moved to introducing the panelists, and went back to my detailed list, and carefully started reading off who each panelist was. Then….it happened. I read the bio for one of the panelists off my detailed list, and looked up at the crowd to tell them about the panelist. Then when I looked back down…..I looked at the ‘loose’ script, instead of the ‘detailed’ one. I was expecting to see the detailed bio for Mario that I could read off, and instead I saw ‘Introduce Mario’.
At this point, I was completely confused, and after what seemed like 20 years (in actuality it was probably a couple of seconds), I realized I had stopped talking, and mild (read: OH SHIT!!!!) panic set in. After another second or two of literally being scared to death, I finally found my place in the script, and went on. The rest of the session went off without a hitch.
But the FIRST thing I did as soon as the session ended was apologize to my fellow panelists for the disaster I made during introductions with that seemingly 5 min pregnant pause. They had no idea what I was talking about. So I assumed they were just being nice, so I found a few people that attended the session and asked them about it, and they didn’t know what I was talking about either.
So in reality, I thought I had totally ruined the session 2 mins into it, over an ‘error’ that apparently no one noticed but me. That’s usually the way it goes when you are speaking, and I think introverts take even minor mistakes much more seriously than extroverted speakers. But the reality is, most people won’t even notice them.
10 – Engage with the people that are engaged with you. Another big advantage to knowing your material is that you can talk about it, and while you are, you can connect with the audience. I spend time looking around the room as I am speaking to see who I am connecting with. The woman at the front left table that nods along when I make a point. The guy in the middle right table that laughs when I tell a joke. If they are paying attention to me, I am paying attention to them. And they see this, and that makes them more interested in what I am saying.
11 – Close the presentation by thanking the audience for coming (and mean it), then tell them how to get in touch with you. This is where you can pimp yourself and your site. Make sure the audience understands that you want the session to be the START of a connection between you and them, not the end. Encourage them to email you if they have any questions, and I always give out my Twitter name and tell the attendees to please follow me, and I will follow them back.
12 – Let the audience ask questions. Even if it means you cut your presentation short, the audience deserves to ask you questions. And this is a little trick I picked up (actually it’s more about being considerate of your audience), but if someone in the BACK of the room asks you a question, walk TO that person and answer them. First, this keeps them from having to shout at you, and two, it means you don’t have to shout your answer back at them. Also, it makes other audience members around her more likely to ask you a question as well.
Doing things like this and thanking the audience for coming might seem trite, but by doing this you are showing the audience that you care about them, and are genuinely grateful that they came. This makes them far more likely to pay attention to you, and be interested in both you AND what you have to say. Simple common courtesy goes a long way.
After the event:
13 – Stay connected. One of the first things I will do is check feedback on Twitter. I will thank those that leave feedback, and pay close attention to what they are saying. Which points resonated with them. Did I do something that someone didn’t like? Did a particular story really hit home for attendees?
But the bottom line is that I am living proof that introverts can not only have successful speaking careers, but that you can learn to ENJOY it. Seriously if you had told me in high school and college that I would love speaking, I would have thought you were insane. But I really do, and I think you can as well. Fellow introverts, what tips for speaking do you have?
Pic via Jeremiah