Fuzzy thoughts on Confessions of a Public Speaker

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Aside from all the presentations we do here at Fuzzy Math as part of our interaction with clients and the community, we often design prototypes for inclusion in slides to help clients share the vision of how new product or service works. These slides are a narrative of users and scenarios, with visuals of where and how the product would provide value to users.

To learn and improve our work I read blogs and books on presentation design. My favorites are Nancy Duarte’s blog and Garr Reynold’s Presentation Zen. Now, I have a third.

At the end of last year I attended a really good webcast over lunch hosted by Scott Berkun for his new book, Confessions of a Public Speaker. The book is super-good, with a good blog on the companion website. Berkun is also awesome enough that he got his notes from the QA session posted, oh, 100 days before I did. (Forgive me, I forgot this post in a backlog of drafts!)

In any event, I grabbed a few screenshots from his presentation and took a few notes I hope you find valuable.

His big point about preparation is: Don’t be afraid of the crowd (negate your lizard brain). The point he makes here is that your subconscious will go into fight or flight mode in front of a crowd. You need to work against your lizard brain by preparing for speaking and calming it down. Some specific tips to calm yourself down:

  • Familiarize yourself with the venue by sitting in the last row before your speech, working out technical issues in advance and getting to the venue early.
  • Work out the morning of your big pitch, speech or presentation to get rid of your nerves.
  • Practice your speech to keep you from dealing with slides or mistakes without a backup strategy.
  • Finish your presentation early so you can work on what you’ll say over the material in the slides

He also made a few good points about presentation style:

  • Don’t be a “turtle on drugs.” Hey, I told you it was a good session.
  • Get in a steady rhythm, don’t bore people and move too slow. Culture has sped up, speakers haven’t.
  • Slow is bad, slow and unpredictable is super-bad: Give them wayfinding elements in your materials.
  • Cognitively, people will pay attention for 5-10 minutes to any one thing. Divide your material accordingly.
  • Emphasize rhythms that move people along accordingly. Put in sign posts as you shift topic to topic.

How to make it interesting:

  • If it is interesting to you, it will be interesting to them.
  • Instead of “Something 101” pump up the title to make it represent your key point.
  • Make the key points your passionate points, and you will get natural energy. Even if your content is boring, you’ll come across as interesting to them.
  • Your audience’s heart rate drops over time as they sit in a lecture. They get snoozy. You need to shake it up.
  • Smart people increase complexity level of language when they argue. Don’t win arguments by TKO (syllable count).
  • Make your points clear and concise, spend the effort to simplify your presentation to get your message across.
  • Don’t put language on slides, it invites you to stare at the slides and chains you to speaking to points on the slide instead of flowing naturally.
  • Your slides serve what you are saying. Sloppy slides with high information density shows a lack of practice and preparation on your part.

His big points are to make sure you do the following things for any public speaking event:

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