The Personal Disquiet of

Mark Boulton

Speaking and Audience tips

– November 15th, 2013 –

I’ve been speaking for a good few years now, and over that time, I’ve amassed a bunch of little tips and tricks I use to make it more of a pleasurable affair. This post was prompted by a colleague of mine, Nathan Ford, who, this morning, asked for some tips as he has a couple of speaking gigs lined up next year.

So, here we go. Some tips for speakers, and for audiences (from a speaker’s perspective).

  1. Smile. This is a fun thing to do and you are thrilled to be there (even if you want to vomit in your shoes at that point).

  2. Check your flies. You don’t want that breezy feeling half way through a code demo.

  3. Take off your lanyard. It can bang against your mike.

  4. Take off your earrings. If you have long, dangly ones they can interfere with headset microphones.

  5. Do a sound check and walk the stage. If it’s being filmed check for black spots on the stage and avoid them. Get comfortable with the size of the stage, especially if you plan on wandering around.

  6. Never apologise. You know your mistakes, your mistakes in your slides, things you forgot to say, technical issues. What the audiences doesn’t know, doesn’t hurt them.

  7. Make sure you have water. A bottle by the lectern is enough. But, don’t drink it all the way through your talk like some kind of nervous tick. It’s just there for emergencies.

  8. Use a good clicker. Check the batteries.

  9. Check your radio mike is off before you go for an emergency pee. You don’t want to do a Naked Gun.

  10. Don’t fall off the stage, but if you do, don’t acknowledge it. See point 5 to avoid this.

  11. Finish strong. Empower the audience. Encapsulate your main point in one sentence. That last sentence should stay with everyone. Pause. Then say ‘Thank you’. Then the crowd will clap.

  12. Don’t hide behind the lectern. It can feel like a barrier (or a safety net). Sometimes this is tricky if people are doing code demos or the like, but personally, I can feel like it’s a barrier between me and the audience.

  13. Gaffer tape! If you do stay behind the lectern, pack some gaffer tape in your bag. Lectern’s have a habit of having a small lip that Macbook Airs tend to ride ride over. On a number of occasions, I’ve had to tape my laptop to the lectern.

  14. Pace yourself. Put in pace notes in your slides. Just a simple 5:00 will do. Meaning, ‘At this point, I should be 5 minutes in’. This helps me know when to speed up, or fill. Plus, it’s a good barometer of your overall pace.

  15. Make your point, but don’t make it angrily. Passion can sometimes come across as shouty arrogance.

  16. Don’t say ‘can you hear me?’. If they can’t, they’ll let you know. Good sound crews will fade up your mike as you start speaking.

  17. Focus on your words more than your slides. Again, this maybe personal, but I’d rather listen to well considered points, than look at pretty slides.

  18. Find a friendly face in the first few rows. Try to block out the people looking angry, bored or just asleep. Yes, people fall asleep.

  19. If you finish early, don’t worry, it just means people get more coffee.

  20. Dress comfortably, not necessarily smartly. That doesn’t mean a suit, or a blazer, or a fancy dress. It means dress so you’re not thinking about your clothes. If you’re thinking about uncomfortable you are – for whatever reason – you’ll be off your game. People aren’t there to see what you have on, but what you have to say.

  21. Don’t sell yourself, your company or your product. It’s not the place. People will not listen and get angry.

  22. Questions and Answers. I’m not one for Q & A, but if there is, then make sure you repeat the question before answering it. Don’t take for granted everyone else has heard, plus, if your talk is being recorded, then listeners will need to hear it.

  23. Is it being recorded? If the talk is being recorded make sure, when referencing something visual, you also provide enough context over audio so that people listening understand. Less of ‘this thing over here’, more of ‘I’d like to draw your attention to the heading in this example’.

I think, above all else, remember that if you’re planning on speaking this coming year is to enjoy yourself. Yes, it’s stressful. You’ll be nervous, you’ll be thinking ‘why am I doing this?’, but there can be so much fulfilment in sharing your work with your peers. And, really, that’s what it’s all about, isn’t it?

And, now, if you’re attending a conference this coming year, then here are a few tips, from a speakers perspective, on how to get the best out of attending the actual talks.

Audience tips

  1. Be in the room. Personally, I’m not one for laptops, iPads or phones being on, but I understand people take notes on them. People also Photoshop pictures of the Queen and engage in Skype conversations with their mum. My guess is, these people aren’t listening.

  2. Try not to fall asleep. I get it. You’re tired, you were out late last night, it’s warm and dark. But, really, it’s quite off-putting if, as a speaker, you’ve spent weeks fretting over the next 45 minutes and some bloke is catching flies in the front row.

  3. Huddle up. Move along the row to the centre so people can get a seat.

  4. Don’t talk, or heckle. Only the most experienced speakers (and I don’t count myself in that group) can deal with that kind of interruption. Plus, it annoys the people around you.

  5. Be a friendly face. It means a lot to catch a friendly face in the audience. A disgruntled face can derail a speaker or a talk.

  6. Be on time. Get in your seat in plenty of time before the scheduled session.

  7. Listen and think before you tweet. I’d like to think people give talks the time to play out before forming an opinion. Sometimes, it can take 20 minutes for a speaker to make their major point.

Filed in: Speaking, Conferences.

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