In the small amount of spare time I have in life I am a Scout Leader, and recently we have been talking about presenting. This seems like a crazy idea to young people, but it’s an important life skill, be it presenting yourself at an interview, or giving a demonstration to a group of people - we all have the need for this skill.
Presenting is not a natural skill for most people; if you have ever been a victim of my own presentations you may believe I find it easy, trust me, I don’t!
My own journey with presenting took a twist many years ago when my job started requiring me to present new systems to users. We had all the scripts to hand, but had to put our own spin on the delivery. Of course, as it was so long ago, we had good old OHP slides!
Like most people, I guess I would just read out the slides, and get through it all as fast as I could. Nobody had shown me anything different. But then somehow I found myself on a Presenting course, two days of what I thought would be a living hell, with your own presentation at the end, yay!!!!
Well it wasn’t what I was expecting. They taught us how to control our nerves, when being funny was deemed appropriate, voice levels, camera work, movement in terms of sitting or standing, so many, many things. I completed the course with a practical demonstration of napkin folding. Afterwards, I asked to be able to teach my colleagues my new skills, and went on to do so for a few years.
Since then I have spent a lot of time at free conferences, free because they have a twist, people like you and me presenting, not professionals. Why? Because they are different, they do things in ways you wouldn’t expect, some good, some bad and some very bad. I started taking ideas from what I had seen and began incorporating them into my own style. I like to mix up my style each time I present, I think that matters to those who must endure it. I am sure once or twice will be more than enough for anybody when it comes to me presenting in the same style.
When I started presenting you had a choice - print your OHP slides, which basically meant text like you were reading from a book, or hand draw something onto the acetate. I’m not the best at drawing, so that limited my options. The advent of software which allowed you to create slides with graphics was mind blowing, Lotus SmartSuite – Freelance, that thing was amazing for its time.
By the time I discovered PowerPoint I was already hearing the phrase “Death by PowerPoint”, which to me says more about the presentation than the tool used to present the slides.
Let’s face it we have all been to one of those presentations where staying awake is all you can think about, sometimes it’s just not the subject for you. Often it’s the presenter and slides which turn us off and leave us looking at our watch in the hope time will speed up just this once.
In my time to date I have presented to individuals, small groups, large groups, huge groups, on BBC News24 (in the days when next to nobody could receive it), and still I get nervous. I have also seen hundreds, if not thousands of presentations, on numerous topics. There are some that I remember very clearly, and I want to share those with you as examples of good and bad, well in my eyes at least. The first was a guy from a very big software company, there were a hundred or so in the audience, a very professional lecture hall with a big screen and stage. He had to wear a microphone because the hall was so huge, but he hadn’t positioned it correctly, so it kept catching on his shirt collar and making the most awful rustling sound every few minutes. That was a distraction, but not the worst. He spent the whole presentation pacing back and forth from stage left to right, never stopping, it meant your head was going up and down reading the giant, and very wordy slides behind him, to left and right trying to follow him. Then there was his pen. I have always taught that you can hold something, like a pen if that helps you control your hands when presenting and to focus your own attention on when you get scared. The item you hold must not make any sound - oh but his did, it had a clicking sound which the microphone picked up surprisingly well. From the moment I left his presentation to now, I cannot tell you what he talked about, but I can remember him walking back and forth.
Next up was at a free conference. A young lady wanted to tell us about her cat. Now it was an IT conference and geeks are a strange lot at the best of times, so it wasn’t as strange as it may sound, although I did find myself thinking “I’m in the wrong session”, but then something strange did happen. She told us that her slides would move automatically, and that she would talk and try to keep up with them. Ok, I thought, that’s odd. Her slides started, and she started talking. About three slides in and she was waffling about slide number two and laughing so hard I didn’t think she could carry on. Twenty slides later and she was talking about slide ten, we had seen so many cats that she owned, and she had us all laughing as she could still not stop. This was Pecha Kucha (http://www.pechakucha.org). If you have never seen it, or done it, I urge you to check it out. I will write a separate blog about my own experience in trying it out.
Lastly, again at a free conference, this guy was talking about working on the Blue Planet website for the BBC. I have no idea now what the content was, I just remember him. Someone said to me I should go watch him, “he has a special style” they said…so off I went. He moved, a lot, but not like the bad guy, he was almost leaping and crouching as he described each part. I was mesmerised by his voice going up and down with the physical movements he made. He made the presentation about a web page seem so amazing, it was like a problem encountered meant a lower voice and him crouching down, the solution being found caused a leap in the air and excitement in his whole demeanour. I could watch that guy again and again, he brought the whole thing to life.