Speaking tip: Rehearse!

18 May
by mjeaton, posted in Uncategorized   |  5 Comments

Justin has started a series of posts on tips for giving technical presentations, so I want to throw my hat in the ring and give a tip that will help all of us do better in our presentations.

The Past

I’m terrible at not fully preparing for talks and it has definitely shown.  I’m not proud of my WPF talks at the recent Central Ohio Day of .NET, Stir Trek and the Indy Code Camp.  I struggled with content at Central Ohio and with other problems coming up during the talks at the other events.  I never gave any thought to what would happen if hardware failed or if I forgot some important piece of code.  The ratings for those talks were justifiably low because I *did* run into hardware problems and I did forget important code.  I was NOT prepared.  Ugh.

At Central Ohio, I made a change to my WPF talk the night before the session, but never ran through it before actually giving it in front of an audience.  HUGE mistake.  At Stir Trek, I spent more time worrying about how to get the damn HP TouchSmart to display on the projector than I did on what I was actually going to say.  HUGE MISTAKE.  At the Indy Code Camp, I discovered DURING the presentation that I copied the WRONG virtual machines to my laptop so I didn’t have the correct code.   HUGE MISTAKE.  I ended up having to remote into my home development VM and demo from that.  Ugh. 

A Revelation

I gave two talks at the Indy Code Camp.  One was very successful, one was a failure.  During the day, I spent some time talking to Mike Wood.  Mike is not only a friend, but a fantastic speaker, so I opened up to him on how poorly my WPF talk went versus how my Software Estimation talk went. 

Because my Software Estimation talk was new, I spent a lot of time over the past couple of weeks on it.  In fact, I did something I have NEVER done with one of my talks before: I rehearsed it.  Let’s be clear on what I’m talking about – I stood in my office, alone, and gave the Software Estimation talk to an empty room.  I didn’t stop.  If I ran into a slide with no notes (I was using Presentation View), I forced myself to say something.  This was a HUGE WIN because I realized BEFORE the live presentation that I only had 45 minutes of material for a 75 minute session!  It was also a HUGE WIN because once I was in front of the audience I *knew* what I was going to say!

During my conversation with Mike, he said he does that for every one of his talks!  You know what?  It shows.  It shows when he’s in front of an audience and it shows in his speaker evaluations.  I will admit though that standing up in my office felt strange.  It felt strange talking to no one.  It also felt very satisfying!

A Promise

I will NEVER do another presentation without first running through it out loud in the comfort of my home/office.  I will do this multiple times if possible. 

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5 Responses to Speaking tip: Rehearse!

  1. Matt Casto

    I ran through my Stir Trek talk 3 times. Once to my cat, once to some colleagues at the Quick Solutions training center at lunch time, and once more the night before in front of a turned on TV. (the last one was suggested by Tim Wingfield)

    I think it was my best presentation to date.

  2. Jim Holmes

    +1, and thanks for writing up a post like this.

    I felt the same way after KalamazooX. I was very disappointed in my Leadership 101 talk there. I only used five slides with a total of three words, and I completely forgot two major talking points during the session. I’d done a couple dry runs, but not enough to feel completely at home with the very sparse format of the talk. Ergo, more practice would have made that a better presentation.

    Good on you for your post!

  3. John Burns

    Great post.

    I would recommend getting some type of mirror “in front of you”… this way – you are the audience and you get to see what you look like while talking.

    Thinkgs like standing or sitting up straight. Hand movements, how much you look around – they will all jump out at you as you watch yourself talk.

  4. DeanWeber

    Although I didn’t get the chance to see your WPF presentation, I can attest to the fact that your Software Estimation talk was great. I was amazed at how calmly you talked through the subject matter. The slides contained little content yet you were able to address each one with great anectdotes and interacted great with the audience. I especially liked how you used props to point out a concept. I would agree with the idea of rehearsals prior to presentations. I think it would be even better if you could present before a couple of trusted friends for some feedback. It was great seeing you at IndyCodeCamp.

  5. rapid4me

    Good tips, they are sure to be helpfil!