Having taken my own advice and really moving out of my comfort zone to give my first ever talk in front of a large number of my peers and colleagues at a conference last week, I’ve put together a tongue-in-cheek list for anyone thinking about stepping up to the stage, mic in hand…
As I was talking about cooperation in the translation world, I was joined by my Trend Translations business partner Paula Hedley, which made things a lot more fun and slightly less scary. But if we are ever tempted to sign ourselves up for another instalment, we promised to remind each other about all the prep work and panic that precedes the actual fun part of getting up there and connecting with the audience. The entire process involves a lot of work and stress for the more introverted among us, but on the whole it was a really rewarding experience and definitely one to tick off the bucket list!
My top ten tips for would-be speakers
- Have something to say.
This might sound obvious, but it really isn’t. A glimpse at the emotional actors receiving their golden statues at the Academy Awards or even a peek into a lecture hall full of students discussing Nietzsche will show you that plenty of people are happy to take to the stage and witter away simply because they can. Make sure you have a concise message you want to convey.
- Take your audience on a journey.
It took you time (possibly years!) and a measure of experience to come to the conclusions you have drawn, so take your audience with you on that journey, because that will be of interest to them if they want to follow a similar path. Start from the very beginning and wrap things up with a solid conclusion.
- Don’t use photos of cats or dogs (or lions or any other animal) to illustrate your points.
Please. Just don’t.
- You got a mic? USE it!
Oh, and it won’t work if you wave it away from you to point at your pie chart.*
- Tell it to me like I’m five years old.
Things that seem completely obvious to you may be deeply mysterious and arcane to others, so break it down into bitesize chunks.
- Don’t rant or diss.
You feel like humanity is heading to hell in a handcart? Feel free to go and vent down your local pub or to your BFF, but don’t think ranting is going to change anything. Least of all on stage, in front of hundreds of people. Don’t just add to the noise.
- Laugh at yourself.
We are all human. We forget to switch mics on, we mix up the slides. Everyone does that, but if you accept it with humour and grace it adds to the appeal of the fascinating talk your audience will get to hear, rather than destroying the mood. Perfection is boring.
- Keep it short.
Don’t drag it out unnecessarily. Apparently 18 minutes is our critical attention span, but however long you’re speaking for, make sure to repeat the message. And repeat it again. And again. Most audiences have the memory retention of a toddler and it might not sink in the first time, especially when they’re trying to simultaneously tweet about you.
- Don’t assume everyone thinks you’re stupid or boring.
If you are especially nervous, you might be worried that 65% of your audience seems to be busy texting their best friend. But don’t let that distract you. They’re most likely posting on social media about how awesome your talk is!
- Connect with your audience after the talk too.
If you get the chance afterwards, chat to the people who attended your presentation and answer any questions they may have. Ask them questions too. Find out what they thought and what they took away from your presentation. You’ll soon find out that they didn’t notice your knees shaking or that you were reading a bit too much from your notes. Ask them for feedback. You’ll be pleasantly surprised. Now breathe and have a drink to celebrate. You did it!
*And remember to switch your mic off at the end too – I spent a good ten minutes exchanging pleasantries with members of the audience before I realised my comments were still coming loud and clear from 20 different loudspeakers throughout the room. *blush*