When I was a senior in high school, I won awards for extemporaneous speaking (yeah, I was one of Those Guys in high school). I felt secure in being given a topic, having 10 minutes to prepare a talk, and standing up in front of judges and audiences to blather on about energy policies or dress codes or whatever the topic du jour might have been.
Fast forward to my first speaking engagements in the greater user experience world, and I took that ability to extemporize to heart as my guide to speaking. I also observed the “Cool Kids” of UX dashing off slides just an hour before their talk.
So my first forays into speaking built on what I knew…or thought I knew about speaking. Some of my talks went well, I must say. Yet I found myself sometimes in mid-talk, forgetting why I’d chosen a certain image or reverting to reading bullets on the slides.
So I felt there had to be a better way.
Fast forward a few years when I met Adam Polansky from Dallas. He began offering advice to speakers at the Information Architecture Summit. After I’d pulled a talk out of my…hat in Miami, I realized I could use some advice. Adam started a speaker’s studio at the IA Summit, which evolved into a frequently offered service at the IA Summit and other conferences.
First through Adam and then through others such as Karen McGrane, Jared Spool, and Denise Jacobs, I learned that preparation is key in speaking. No longer do I dash off an off-the-cuff ramble that might, just might succeed. Instead, I plan, prepare, practice, and present.
You’ve written your response to the call for presentations. You got accepted. Yay! Now you have to plan your talk.
Look at your time slot. Think about how much time you have. Bounce that knowledge against the thoughts and themes you want to present to your attendees. Collect the information, images, ideas, and points you want to make and start crafting your talk.
Russ Unger told me how he uses index cards to plan his talks. He sketches each slide’s content on cards, then puts them on the floor and starts moving them around till they start to make sense.
The physicality of this approach helps get you thinking about the talk itself early on. You can then move into your presentation software and use the light table view.
Ensure that you take a hard look at your content in light of your audience. At edUi, you’ll encounter webmasters of small colleges, librarians from large collections, project managers from museums, and consultants from local agencies. Make sure you connect with your intended audience.
Once you have your plan, once you’ve organized things at a high level, prepare your talk by creating not only the slides but also your script.
Yes, I said, “Script.”
Whether you use it verbatim is much less important than the fact that you create it. Writing out the text you would say for each slide is critical in preparing you talk.
Craft any transitions carefully. A little bit of animation goes a long way. Yet, a little bit also adds a lot.
Create a low-tech alternative in case software craps out on you. If you rely on an internet connection, have a local backup of that content, just in case. Bring a printout of your talk…just in case.
Once you’ve got everything assembled, you need to rehearse your talk. Don’t shortcut this step. Do it out loud and proud.
Set a timer and see how well you can manage your time. Don’t rush it! Instead, speak at the speed you will on game day.
Make sure you have fresh batteries in your pointer/slide advancer/presenter stick thingy. Make sure you have any connectors you might need, for example, a display-to-VGA connector. And make sure you also have your power cord.
When it comes to the conference, enjoy it. Get involved. Don’t hide in your hotel and futz with the slides ad nauseum. After all, you’ve planned, prepared, and practiced your talk. So, enjoy interacting with peers, new folks, veterans, heroes, and all manner of edUi attendees.
Check out the room you’ll be presenting in before your time slot, if possible. See how much room there is for you and your computer and your notes. Know where the power outlets are.
When you set up your computer, test it out—make sure you can advance a few slides. If you have audio, make sure it’s able to be heard. And turn off any energy-saving modes or automatic power savers, just in case.
When you present, make sure you have water in case you encounter the dreaded dry mouth or dry cough. Speak at your natural rhythm so that you’re comfortable. Remember: Once it’s show time, it’s your time. Own the podium; people are there to hear what you have to say. You belong there. Be confident, and be natural.
Presenting at edUi is a wonderful way to connect with old friends, new friends, and people from many different organizations, backgrounds, and roles. It’s also a great way to give back to the community.
We’re glad you’re here. Looking forward to your talk!
About the Author
For 20 years, Joe Sokohl has concentrated on crafting excellent user experiences, using content strategy, information architecture, interaction design, and user research. He helps companies effectively integrate user experience into product development. In addition, he’s led teams as small as three in the same room to as large as 25 across three countries and six sites. Follow him at @RegJoeConsults.