Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Speaker Training

Last Thursday I was at Microsoft Reading TVP attending a course on how to improve your skills as a speaker.  This was a free course for sponsored by SQL Bits and run primarily so that speakers at the forthcoming SQL Bits 7 could be taught how to prepare and deliver good quality presentations.  As not all the spaces available were taken by SQL Bits presenters the remaining spaces were open to anybody in the community which is how I managed to get on the course.

The ‘host’ for the day was Guy Smith-Ferrier who with 20 years experience of giving presentations to audiences big and small was ideally qualified to be able to help us improve our skills and Guy was ably assisted by 4
‘group leaders’ Mike Taulty, Dave McMahon, Simon Sabin and Andrew Fryer all very experienced presenters in their own right.

To help reinforce the information we were going to receive we had to come prepared with a 5 minute presentation which we would give first at the beginning of the day and then for a second time at the end of the day to enable us to put some of what we had learnt into practice.

The day started with coffee at 9:00 which was greatly appreciated and it also gave time for people to arrive as the traffic was really heavy with some attendees being delayed by it.

We started the presentations at 9:30 with ‘How to explain absolutely anything’ which not only covered how to decompose your subject but also structuring the presentation and the difference between demo and production code.  One of the things that I found especially useful was a tip from Mike Taulty about altering your content for the amount of time that you have available – if you only have 5 minutes what would you want to tell/show an audience? what if you had 10 minutes?

With the first presentation over we broke out into 5 groups of 4 people and gave our own presentations.  The intention was to give the 5 minute presentation and then have 5 minutes for the group to provide feedback on your presentation. The time allotted for this session was very tight and unfortunately we were not always able to keep to this schedule, time between presentations for people to set up their laptops (mine didn’t want to behave and I must have burnt 5 minutes just trying to get it to play nicely) and the feedback lasting longer than anticipated made my group in particular overrun.

After our session we were to break for coffee before moving onto our next presentation given by Guy but as I mentioned my group overran and we ended up missing the coffee altogether and unfortunately delaying the start of the next presentation.

‘Planning your Presentation’ came next which telling us the standard slides we should look to include in a presentation, the volume of text, how best to construct your slides, strategies for your slide deck and thinking about text vs pictures in your slides.  The tip that sticks with me from this presentation is tell ‘em, tell ‘em and tell ‘em again which several of the group leaders mentioned more than once in discussions.

We then moved straight onto ‘How to give great demos’ beginning with considering if you should ‘start at the end’ to show what you’ll create during the talk, covering various strategies for the type of demo (live, using snippets, canned) , what to do if you cannot perform the demo live, demo dos and don’ts and finally the difference between understanding and remembering.

We then broke for lunch which us a chance to talk to other people about what we had covered and some, such as myself, to go through our presentations and change them before we had to give them again later in the afternoon (breaking a cardinal rule of presenting – never change your presentation just before you are about to give it).

The afternoon kicked off with ‘Preparing your laptop’ which revolved around ensuring that your laptop display would be optimal for the people attending the presentation covering subjects ranging from changing your resolution and DPI to the fonts and colours that you use.  The general advice here from the experienced speakers was alter your laptop to the modified settings as soon as you know you are going to be doing a presentation and get used to using it.

Again we moved straight into the next presentation which was focused on ‘Presenting your presentation’ and Guy took us through what to do 15 minutes before your presentation, introducing the presentation, handling questions (to and from the audience), the use of humour and ending the presentation.

This was the end of the formal presentations, we broke for coffee and then proceeded to give our own presentation for the second time, this time we broke into different groups of people under different group leaders so that the group would be seeing the presentation ‘fresh’.

After we had completed the presentations everybody reconvened to provide group feedback on the what we had learned from giving and watching the presentations.

Then there was the normal eval forms to fill out but quite unexpectedly there was swag as well.

During the day the only resource that we were limited with was time, there wasn’t enough time to do all the presentations that Guy has created on this subject, no specific time for changing our presentations should we feel the need and the time allowed in the session for us to give our 5 minute presentations seemed ‘optimistic’ having a bit more time may make life a little easier.  Guy has already tweeted about this and I believe that it is all going to be taken into account if the day is run again.

So was the day worth it? Oh yes.  Not only did we have Guy sharing his knowledge of presenting but the discussions involving the other group leaders yielded yet more tips borne from their experience providing a wealth of additional knowledge.

It was a brilliant day, I’m sure it will be run again and it will be even bigger and better.

If you are at all interested in giving presentations and you get the opportunity to attend this in the future I wouldn’t hesitate to apply to go on the course you won’t be disappointed and most likely learn an awful lot.

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