Help! I have to present. How to rock it?

Posted on in Sencha

Public speaking. Whether it’s at a (tech) conference, a training for a group of people, or an internal presentation for your colleagues or boss. It can be scary.
Since I work for Sencha, I’ve spoken for a crowd, now maybe a hundred of times. I’ve developed myself a real “speaker voice”. I speak loud from out of my stomach, I’m enthusiastic and I try to teach and entertain.

I wasn’t always that good in it. Actually, I was a very shy person before I worked for Sencha. My hair was covered over my eyes, I didn’t walk up straight and I would never chit talk to strangers. I remembered, when I was kid and I would go to theme park with my grandma, she was always talking to random kids. It made me feel ashamed.
I’m a total different person now. I learned how to speak loud in front of lots of people. I learned it by doing. I know how to rock the stage and I can show you the tricks what helped me.
So take a deep breath, and read with me further…

Be prepared

Prepare your presentation well and at least the half of the presentation will be good.
When you are presenting at a tech conference, you will probably bring some slides with you. Preparing good slides can take some time but it really helps you with bringing your message over to the crowd.

  • Give your story or slide deck a “flow”. Start with an easy introduction and slowly move to more advanced topics. Think about it as story telling.
  • Is it an international conference? Are people attending from outside your country? Prepare your presentation in English, so everyone can enjoy.
  • Don’t put whole book chapters on a slide. You want people to be focused on you and your story, so limit slides to pictures and bullets. Also make sure the font-size is big enough to read for the people that are sitting in the back.
  • Make sure your slides are pleasant to look at. It shouldn’t look like a PowerPoint slidedeck, it should look like a “real” presentation. So start using images. (Pictures say more than words.)
    Also, think about headers, font and color choice.
  • Start with an introduction about yourself, and why you are here. End with a “thank you” slide and take questions. (I usually plan 10-15min for those). The “thank you” slide should contain your contact details. (I usually take my fullname, email address, my personal website and Twitter handle. I also share my speakerdeck.com URL, where I will host my slidedeck for after the show). When showing the last slide, thank your audience and pause for applause.
  • I always prefer to present from my own machine. You can setup your PowerPoint or Keynote, with presenter configurations, which include presenter notes, a timer, current slide and next slide. Run a Tech-check at the area where you are speaking, before your presentation starts, to make sure you are using the correct screen resolution, and to test if your audio is working fine.
  • When presenting from your own machine, bring the right equipment. This includes a power adapter and a working clicker (with laser?). Are you a Mac user? Don’t forget to bring the right cables to support HDMI and/or VGA input.
  • Don’t assume that everyone understands every concept that you are introducing. I received this tip while writing my book for O’Reilly. You not always know your audience. They might be an expert as well or maybe not. Maybe they are no developers at all. This means every keyword or new concept that you introduce, requires explanation (in baby language). Explaining stuff, works best when you give people examples that they recognize. When keywords or concepts are important, repeat them over and over again.
  • When showing code, make sure your code is readable. Make short lines of code in a decent code-font and size. When I am programming, I love light code on dark backgrounds. Nowadays it’s the default color scheme for editors like Atom, but mind you, dark color schemes are not really great when a projector projects it on a white wall. Therefore switch your code schemes to white backgrounds. When demoing code in editors, make sure you know the shortcuts for zooming in on text.
  • When running demos, make sure they all work. At conferences the WIFI connection is always poor and slow. Ideally all your demos work in offline mode. When I demo examples in a browser, I make sure that I have a browser open in the background, with each example running in its own tab. You don’t want to look stupid, when things don’t work.
  • Take audience questions: “…and now it’s time for some questions…” Often nobody sticks out his hand right away. Maybe because they are shy, or don’t want to show others that they don’t understand something. Pause. Raise your own hand in the air and let them feel comfortable. “...Come-on guys, I am sure there must be one question.”. You will see after the very first question, there will be more. Try to repeat or rephrase the question, so everyone else can hear it too. I believe I have heard every possible Sencha question at least once. However, I am not a walking Wikipedia. It’s not a shame if you don’t know something. Just be honest. Tell them: “I don’t know the answer for now, but lets look into this together after the talk.”

Be confident

Once you are well prepared, it’s not difficult to feel confident. Being confident and having your presentation well prepared, makes 70% of a good presentation, so you only need to be there and tell your story! 🙂

You have been asked to present at a conference, or to give training. So obviously you are good at something. You are the expert. Stand up straight and keep remember this.

What also helps for me, is to dress properly and rehearse my presentation, multiple times. So I know exactly which slide comes after, and it brings me in my ideal speaker flow.

And last but not least, just be on time. You don’t want to feel rushed or stressed. You probably want to run a Tech check beforehand, and it’s very social to watch some of the previous speakers.

Make it personal

What helped me to feel confident is by making my presentation personal and interactive. Start with a short biography and tell everyone who you are. What you have done, and what you like. You don’t need to give a whole life story, but just some things that are relevant for everyone to know.

When I am presenting for a small group, I just make a round, and ask everyone to tell something about himself or herself and to tell something funny.

Telling something personal, begins to open up people. That way, people are not shy to ask questions. They feel connected, and you have their full attention.

Make a joke

Make a joke. You don’t need to be a comedian, but a simple laugh and smile at a time, makes people feel positive.

It’s not difficult to come up with a funny reference. Know your audience.
Are you presenting in front of other developers? Most of the developers like the same things that you do. Like; movies, superheroes, comics, videogames...

Even if your audience doesn’t understand anything at all, from your presentation, they will leave and think: “Well, at least I had a good time!”

And finally...

Public speaking requires practice, you will become better over time.
I have one final tip: “Share the happiness!”.
Try to enjoy your speaking moment. When you enjoy it, other people with notice that, and they will enjoy too. I think that’s probably the magic solution here. Talk about a topic you like and share your passion with others!

Want to speak at a conference? The SenchaCon 2016 team is hard at work on building an incredible agenda for SenchaCon 2016. We’re looking for great content from our customers and partners about experiences with using Sencha frameworks and tools. We’ve put together all of the benefits, track descriptions, requirements and process details.
The theme of this year’s conference is Winning with the Modern Web, and we will be exploring innovations and best practices around designing, developing, and testing HTML5 applications.
There are guidelines available: https://www.senchacon.com/speaker-guidelines
And you can submit your paper here: https://www.senchacon.com/speaker-submission-form/

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