How to start a conference talk and / or presentation.
We can’t all be blessed with a hype-man like the one above, although if you are to speak at any kind of event, making sure you’re introduced properly is so important. Why? Because the first line of any talk and / or presentation is not the beginning of the experience the audience has of you, that is what the MC’s role is.
And we’ve probably all been to conferences where on occasions, they go too big, expounding statements of wonderment and pedigree beyond expectation and how much wisdom is now going to ensue. Other times there’s hardly a set-up, no context and a hospital pass of ‘will allow them to introduce themselves’, oof!
As a speaker, make sure you connect with the master or mistress of ceremonies (or whomever is doing the intro) and share with them a bio which is succinct enough to take about thirty seconds to read out (if it’s longer just highlight the important bits for them). Impress on them (if they don’t already know), how the aim is to aid them in enabling you to start with that arresting question and / or statement to hook the audience in.
How exposing yourself to out-loud speaking opportunities is one of the keys to finding voice.
Venture Up is a four-week entrepreneurship programme for young leaders. I visited to share some insights on the art of storytelling and delivering it publicly (I have visited in previous years and talked about social media):
“DK delivered a workshop that gave our cohort rich insight into delivering a story that hits the hearts of audiences, while helping many to begin overcoming a deep rooted fear of public speaking.”
Aaron Power, Venture Up Programme Manager
At the session, was wonderful to hear the groups are invited every day to give a one minute ‘pitch’ or update on progress. This continued ‘exposure’ to hearing ones voice out loud and to gain that visual / emotional response from the rest of the group is one of the purest ways to get better at this stuff.
Just like a sportswoman needs to train and constantly work on specific aspects of their game, nothing can replace the true nature of that learning she gets during ‘match-time’—this ‘match fitness’ is what separates great speakers and story tellers from the rest as they have again and again, with intention, shared stories and hopefully, noted the impact and iterated when things did not land.
Learnings from developing / delivering an effective and profitable conference.
Last week, over 150 people attended Speaking With Purpose, a one day conference for those looking to increase their public speaking confidence and hungry to develop their storytelling techniques.
This was my first independently-produced, medium-sized, personally-funded event, with folks attending from Tuaranga, Christchurch, Queenstown, Auckland, Palmerston North, Dunedin and all over the Wellington region.
Here’s what I learned:
Pay Your Speakers
In NZ, paying conference speakers for their time / talent is not commonplace (unless you’re bringing someone in from overseas it seems).
Committing beyond the usual “we could maybe find a couple hundred bucks for your time” ensured there’s not only an expectation of quality but also a contractual effort from your deliverers. What better way to contribute towards building a trend for valuing this talent and skill.
I didn’t use a ticketing service and invoiced everyone individually just to see if it could be done (both saving myself some money in ticketing fees and not passing those costs on to attendees plus allowing for a more personal touch). The seven day payment policy for attendees once they registered (which most stuck to) gave me the working capital which enabled quick payment of the 50% venue deposit (every ticketing service keeps the money till after the event you see).
A lot of the above could’ve been outsourced although it was just as simple for me to do than find someone, explain my expectations and follow up with it all.
Offers & Freebies
I experimented with the above offer although it yielded only four sales (the Early Bird rate sold out in a couple of weeks in January and 25s-and-under rate a few weeks before the event).
Finding and gifting on freebies to those in the community who do good things already, drove more traffic and sales than any other strategy as they positively shared the event details with their audience.
Was surprised with the small amount of creative pitches received for those who couldn’t afford the attendee rate (got three, reduced rated two). Although a few offered their services for the cost of attending which is an easy yes. Thanks to Francesca for doing the video above, Jane for looking after social, and Trent for taking some wicked pics.
This wasn’t just a money making exercise, although, to keep a roof over my head and food in my belly on top of the meaty risk of covering the $20k venue costs plus speaker fees, printing charges etc., a financial profit was one of the blatant goals.
It took nearly 4.5 months of my time, probably 25 hours a week (then again I already knew every speaker plus have experience of running events via my TEDxWellington and Collider experience).
The total profit reached into five figures with no sponsors to bring the costs down or partners involved to take any of the operational activities on.
There’s are definite areas for improvement or just things I learned from this endeavour, including:
Refocussing success targets—I was very precious about selling out and hungry to do so. Even though there were only 10 tickets left, it bugged me that I didn’t (and not because of the money I would’ve made). Should learn to celebrate what was achieved instead of getting stressed out on this one big goal (see final lesson).
Invest in (ethical) PR—I could’ve afforded to pay for someone to get some coverage of the event in gatekeeper publications and in return would’ve probably sold out.
Learning to steer—being an MC is not my most comfortable role, although I’m getting better and a good skill to have in the arsenal, it’s still something which needs more honing.
Build a team—even though I hired my good pals from TEDxWellington to assist on the day, adding a couple more specifically to look after tech and little minor things would’ve been nice.
Find partners / sponsors—see business model above.
Celebrate—I just created a medium sized skill based event in a very small market and succeeded on all accounts. Yet I’m struggling to figure out why I can’t celebrate (with grace):
There have been calls to replicate the event in Auckland plus some individual enquiries to repeat for specific organisations. Will follow up the latter to see if it’s viable, and explore the former through some partner organisations like the Council and economic development agency there.
Later on in the year, am looking to develop and deliver another broad skill / topic based event in Wellington and to build on this experience and learnings.
And next year, do it again as looking at the feedback there’s a desire.
Watch this space.
And finally, the event was wonderfully wrapped up by Ali Jacs, summarising the whole day in one superb poem:
Any successful presentation is not judged by what is said,
but by what the listener received.
So tell me,
What have you received?
Today we’ve heard from some of the best
To help us put our storytelling to the test
Under the microscope of enquiry
To dig down deep
into our own stories
DK brought us the practical slide deck tips
To present like a ninja-boss
To make each word pop like a hot toast out of the toaster, perfectly done
Emotions wrapped up inside each and every word
And in every slide, a story
When it’s all said and done, at the end of the day,
What’s the word you want people to remember?
Speaking with Purpose
Sometimes the quietest people have the loudest minds
And Dr Michelle Dickinson is one of those of those indeed
She started out as Santa Claus
Pulling out gifts of introverted wisdom from her sack,
for us to all receive
before revealing her true identity
The character she became to overcome
The sweaty palms and heart beating like a drum
Those balled up words that caught in the back of her throat
the superhero conjurer
Who can turn sabertooth tigers
Into a room full of kittens,
And with that, the warm, furry, fuzzies of connection began
to weave their way through the room
Michelle reminded us that successful presentation is not judged by what is said
but by what the listener received
And I don’t know about you,
But I received the glorious image of a room full of kittens,
And that’s pretty freaking awesome in my book
Sarb Johal reminded us,
That we should tread with our verbal footprints
Ever so carefully
Social relationships are not rocket science – they’re far more complicated than that.
With so many parts of the brain to process the stories we hear,
Language can be a bridge or a barrier across the spaces in between
For my interpretation of your “we”,
May be more than simply you and me
It could be,
my friends and not you,
Or we as in I,
Or we as in you
Or we as in every liked minded person on Earth
And all in all these situations, “we” has been found wanting in authenticity
And always remember,
Whether you’re finger tapping, gesturing or playing with intonation
Never communicate that you are nervous, you’ll only be atrocious
if you don’t believe your message, your body will betray you
Be Mona Lisa calm, and you will always be tremendous
Just simply tremendous
Now just as that energy loan shark from the morning’s caffeine hit
was knocking on the doors of our attention, to collect….
Emma Hart took to the stage, to take us on a journey
Beyond the stats
Beyond the facts
Beyond communication just for relevance
Into communication for elegance
Whether we seek to shift the world with our words
Or just to stop being bullied in the boardroom
The metaphor is a tugboat
that can begin to turn the course
Of the freight liners of our predominant narrative
pulling us from the dull oceans of the mundane
Into the vast, limitless seas of visual language
Where we share our stories with intent
The less words, the more meaning,
Talk like you talk, not like you write
Any if all else fails, find your inner Eminem or Lauryn Hill
And channel the rapper within
To close us off for the evening,
We turned our attentive ears,
To Glenis Hiria Philip-Barbara, a living, breathing story of culture
The woman who last year inspired me to set out on a journey
Towards kotahi miriona kōrerorero i Te Reo Maori
One million conversations in Te Reo Māori
When you start the narrative of your life,
Where do you begin?
A good place to start is with the purpose
The foundations of your story
Literally to hold fast to your foundations
And Glenis’s middle name Hiria means to be held
So let’s hold these words like the gift of language
Balanced on the tips of our tongues
Or like snorkestral maneuvers in the wharenui
Punctuating the darkness until the early morning light of te rā whiti
Let’s store them in the treasure trove of our voicebox,
To call upon anytime we need to find our kaupapa
We each hold individual strands of story
That have unravelled behind us throughout our past
But when we weave them together,
With purpose, passion,
Presence and conversation
We get a beautiful rope of storytelling creation
One of the key lessons I’ve learned in telling stories is to be succinct,
So haere ra, ka kite ano koutou,
to both the introverts going home for a nap
And those heading downstairs for a drink
Was very surprised how little my ideas and tactics have changed, spruced them up a little though and here they are:
1. Finish the presentation the night before—it stays fresher in your brain than if you completed it a few weeks previous. Gives you time to add in new industry and sector developments plus it also offers the opportunity to add in references from earlier talks (if it’s more than a one day event). Most importantly though it doesn’t give you a chance to practice (GASP)…
2. Don’t practice—a great talk is like a conversation (and no conversation goes the way you planned, no matter how many times you practice it in your head). Sure, run through it once or twice to check the timings plus transitions etc but this is more an exercise of knowing what you want to convey rather than rehearsing exactly what to say verbatim. Remember, you can practise your talk but you can never practise speaking in front of a room of strangers / your colleagues / your board etc.
3. Don’t do lecterns—it forms a physical barrier between you and your audience. Less is definitely more in this instance and before you say, “where do I put my script?”…
4. Never use a script—if you know your stuff you don’t need it written down. This method means: head down, losing intonation / connection with your audience / professionalism. We don’t talk the same way we write and it just doesn’t work. If you’re an organiser of any events / conferences, ban podiums and scripts. It will scare a lot away but I guarantee you’ll be left with fantastic speakers who simply know their stuff.
5. Let your client dictate the topic not the content—I once had a very needy client who heavily dictated the content of a presentation to the point of even signing it off weeks before. It’s the ONLY time the organisers didn’t think I delivered (even though three quarters of the audience thought I was good/very good). Coincidence maybe, but experience tells me otherwise.
6. Move—the best speakers are passionate and passion means movement. Move around the stage / floor. Move your arms, your face, your eyebrows. Communicate with your body not just your words / slides.
7. Look at your audience—don’t pick a spot at the back of the room / hall and drift off. Sometimes this is hard if you’re speaking on a lit stage but you can still make people out. After a while you can have some fun with this: I like to pick out those yet to be convinced (you’ll spot them through body language—the ones with their arms crossed and sitting back in their seat—once you have them coming forward and sitting on the edge of their chairs and nodding their heads you know you’re onto a winner).
8. Bullets kill people attention—people can read faster in their heads than you can read it out loud. Break each point up into a slide and use one word titles for each to direct your talk. They act as cues for the topics or a point I want to convey. The figurative underline comes from the images/video plus the story weaved around it.
9. Fool your nerves—those damn butterflies can turn into courage-eating moths which can eat you from the inside out. Trick them. The emotional and physiological response to fear is exactly the same as when you’re excited. Tell yourself it’s not nerves but positive anticipation and after a while you will create an ingrained learned response.
10. Enjoy it—if you don’t have fun speaking then don’t do it. There are other ways to promote yourself or spread your message.
Have seen so many folks stand and speak about their particular topic then struggle with the storytelling aspect of their message. Or suffer with nerves and other nuances which detract from the talk in some. Or fail to understand the importance of a well crafted slide deck in assisting their delivery.
This conference is for them.
It’s the wrong time to be announcing any kind of new initiative, let alone a medium-sized conference, however, just couldn’t keep it under wraps till the new year.
Check out the current impressive line-up who will be sharing their wisdom (more to be added soon):
The early-bird offer along with the 25s-and-under registrations rates are currently active under a first-come-first-served scheme*:
As already mentioned, the day will include a mix of keynotes and workshops focussed on deconstructing presentation styles, understanding the psychology of what makes a good talk, exploring models of speaking, other good practice insights and delivery methodology. On top of the usual food and refreshments and networking opportunities.
*At the time of writing, over half of the early bird spots have already been registered, so please act quick.
Would truly appreciate you sharing the above announcement:
with team members, colleagues, friends, family members etc.;
HUGE thanks to Michelle and KiwiBank for filming and allowing me to share this presentation on ‘speaking with purpose.’
Twenty minutes, full of advice, sometimes contradictory and hopefully some useful.
It’s a concentration of learning from a decade of public speaking experience, what we do with our five/six week coaching course for TEDxWellington (which is where the presentation starts, after I showed the latest review video from the 2016 event) and some stuff borrowed (like an artist) from others.
What did I miss out? What do you agree / disagree with? What were the takeaways for you?
We were very privileged to have DK present to Kiwibank as part of our Knowledge Cafe series. His presentation highlighted tips and tricks for improving as a public speaker, and I was very impressed with both the presentation and his advice.
As someone that fears presenting, his tips provided easy yet elegant advice for how to overcome that fear.
I would unhesitatingly recommend DK for anyone that is looking for either a presenter, or a coach. His techniques are excellent and he is inspiring to work with. Michelle Farrell, Knowledge Manager at KiwiBank
In the last six months I’ve been lucky enough to secure some paid coaching work around public speaking. The first was a three half day sessions for a major production studio in the capital, the second with a science communicator sharpening her delivery and confidence, plus the latest is a set of one-to-ones with senior executives and public sector officers for an important NZ-based government-led symposium early next year.
Think it may be time I updated my website to include this in my offer to the world.
For some people it’s what they fear most. For me, it’s where some of my best thinking occurs.
Yesterday I spoke to 30 young professionals on social media and personal branding—an attempt to advocate for using social to build pedigree which sustains and moves with them.
My speaking preparation style is counter to most (don’t practise or have a script or write out bullet points) although it works for me and manifests two very important things:
the talk becomes more of a ‘conversation’ not a rehearsed lecture;
forces me to construct improvised value based on the audiences needs with the stories being shared.
In this loose and open approach, new concepts are created and interesting ways of presenting or mashing up old ideas occur. Some, are remembered which then form new blog posts or strategic leads. Others are luckily recorded by the tweets of those in attendance (here are just three of my favourite takeaways from the session):
"Blogs are great for metacognition: even if no one reads them, think of them as training your brain to contribute meaningfully" @justadandak
It’s a shame there’s such a small event and speaking scene here in New Zealand. Although come the end of February I’ll be revisiting North America for several opportunities to get back on that stage to think out loud.
A huge thank you to DK for his engaging and thought-provoking workshop yesterday. Not only did he open our minds, challenge our understanding and perceptions of social, and dare us to be digital curators, but we’re all heading out to make moleskin pen holders, and feature them on our new blogs!
Behold the new wave of social media users. Alexis Trevethan, Vice President, Wellington Young Professionals