Andrew Lightheart’s “Riveting Speaker” at #TCUK11

Technical Communication UK 2011 balanced sessions about industry standard methods (such as personas and minimalism) and about seemingly marginal topics which turned out to be highly relevant and “fresh”.

Wednesday’s coma slot right after lunch fell to Andrew Lightheart and “How to be a riveting speaker“. And Andrew excelled beautifully, for two reasons:

  • Andrew is a professional who’s helping specifically IT people to become better presenters.
  • He walks the talk. He lives his own advice, so his presentation was not just an example, it was an embodiment of how to get your point across.

Andrew shared five things which, in his experience, make a good speaker:

  1. A presentation is neither a document, nor a performance, so:
    • Don’t write out your soundtrack and read out your slides. Limit slides to what you cannot describe quickly, pictures, charts, etc.
    • Don’t try to perform, you just set yourself up for unnecessary stress and failure, unless you are a regular, seasoned performance.
  2. A presentation is a conversation, even if the presenter does most of the talking. Get into conversational mode, and you’ll be more comfortable, more personable – and get your points across better.
  3. Stay relevant by focusing on what you want your listeners to do. That is your outcome, and your major points should lead towards it.
  4. Be warm: Connect by sharing (ordinary, personal) stories. And for a pause, in a story or between two points, shut up. Silence is fine. Your threshold to move on is reliably slower than that of your listeners.
  5. Slow down. Speak clearly. It anchors you, and you can listen to yourself. – This point especially resonated with me: I sing in a choir and MC during concerts. When we perform in churches, I have to speak very slowly and clearly because of the reverb. It’s a good and humbling exercise. Try it: Take a friend, find an empty church, stand on opposite ends and to tell him or her something… πŸ™‚

In the subsequent Q&A session, Andrew answered our questions. Most useful to me were these tips:

  • Reformulate highly specific questions to repeat them (many listeners may not have heard it…) and so they stay generally relevant, then answer them.
  • Talk to an individual person in the audience. There is no crowd, there’s only the individual, 400 times…
  • A good general template for a presentation is to spend the first 15-20% on the elephants in the room and to spark your listeners’ curiosity. Then make a point and back it up by a story. Repeat point + story 3-5 times. Close by leading towards your outcome, which is what you want your listeners to do after your presentation.

– Andrew’s session was very relevant and quite influential for me. I heard it 20 hours before Chris and I were due with our own presentation. We were both there and couldn’t very well go ahead with our document of dozens of slides with bullets and text.

So rather than doing a run-through, we took out most text slides, leaving the pictures and examples and the bullets with big points. But it worked very well, and was very well received. So I can confidently say that Andrew’s tips actually work – even if it’s only your second presentation at a conference as it was for me! πŸ™‚

Thanks, Andrew!

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