Conferences and Social Presentations

While at the annual conference of the CIPD, I look quite closely at the presenters themselves while on stage. They put themselves into a position of authority because they’re asked to and because they have some level of credibility in being there. It is of particular interest to me because I want to ensure that when I am delivering a presentation, I’m learning the right things, practicing them, and showing how to do it. In addition, I’m also looking for how to make presentations better.

So let’s assume some things are in the bag. You’ve prepped in advance. You like the shape of your story and you’ve practiced. Your slide deck is there to aid and build on your content. You’ve practices some more in front of others and gained feedback. You’ve chosen your clothes and you’re feeling good about it all. Things are in good shape, and you’ll deliver well.

Yesterday, Mike Collins taught me something I’ve completely dismissed – the social element. People will be tweeting about your talk, and those not there will be following the backchannel to follow the conversation. Before the talk, he was letting people know when he was talking, and he shared his deck through social channels. Here’s what Mike did which was just brilliant. He scheduled tweets to be posted that were in time with and in line with the content of his presentation. He didn’t just deliver his presentation, he was involving himself in the backchannel while delivering a live talk.


Too strong a description? No, it really isn’t. Think about what he’s done there. He’s giving his own context to any tweets about his talk. You know how a lot of people reading from afar get annoyed that soundbites are out of context and the hashtag doesn’t always help? Mike has shown us, quite simply too, how we get around that issue. If people want context, I’ll give it to them.

It takes concerted effort, and it takes careful planning. It also takes practice and a clear idea of where you’re going with the presentation. It doesn’t allow for going off piste, and it doesn’t allow for questions mid presentation. What it does do is allow the backchannel to have a full picture of what’s being presented.

There are some thoughts to consider when doing this:
– It can really only work if you’re prepping the audience to be involved in the backchannel before the talk. They need priming, and you need to be the one doing that.
– There has to be a hashtag which is in use, promoted well and a clear link to the event you’re talking at.
– It could work for keynote style talks, as long as the presenter is willing to invest the time in social tools. If not, they may need to partner with someone who can help them with it and get it right.
– You have to be sure you know where your presentation is going. A clear structure and flow will allow for the tweets to make sense, otherwise it will look very out of sync.

I thought at #ppia I was being clever by making it a social workshop, and trying to make the content interactive before the event. Mike has helped me to see that formal presentations can be made interactive in a different way.

Great Presentations

Yesterday, I delivered a course on Advanced Presentation Skills. Today, I’d like to share what the content of the day focused on and other pieces I think are important.

Rehearsal is key.

That’s it. Everything else I’m about to describe is more about finessing, state of mind, and some basics. The only way you can deliver a great presentation is rehearsing it. Practise, practise, practise. Preferable at least one of those should be in front of someone skilled enough to observe, see what you’re doing, hear what you’re saying and give you feedback. Nothing else is more vital, nor more important. Every great presenter, every great comedian, every great orator will make the time for this to happen. And all those times you’ve seen someone be able to ‘wing it’ and still deliver a compelling story? It’s because they’ve done so much practise in a variety of settings that they are confident in knowing how to craft their message quickly and draw insight from their experience.

Take your time.

Why are you rushing your presentation? In all likelihood it’s because you haven’t practised, which means you don’t know what your message is meant to be. People are listening to you deliver a presentation because they want to hear what you have to say. Speeding that up isn’t going to help them, and certainly won’t help you. Your mind moves quicker than your speech, and what ends up happening is you start to become a bundle of nerves very quickly. Those nerves will manifest in a variety of ways – quick speech, fidgeting, rocking from side to side, fast pacing, and more.

Have a clear message.

It doesn’t matter if you have to deliver a 1 min presentation or a 45 min keynote. You need to know what your clear message is. That’s what your audience is looking to understand and gain insight from. The length of time you take to deliver it is neither here nor there.


This is in line with taking your time. It helps you to collect your thoughts. If you’re using notes, it gives you a moment to see where you’re at and what you want to move on to. If you’re using a tool like PowerPoint it allows you to see what slides you have coming up (in the Presenter view). It also allows the audience a moment to get up to speed with you. You’re delivering a lot of information, some more important than others, and people need to have time for their thoughts to collect before you speed on.


You are commander of the stage. Whatever form that stage takes, you control it. You are the one who has power at that moment. But this isn’t power in terms of hierarchy, or structures, or decision making, it’s about authority. You have been chosen/self-selected to deliver this presentation. This puts you in a position of privilege.


You have equal status to everyone in the room with you. No one in that room is more knowledgeable than you, no one has more control, no one has more importance. You and the people listening are one and the same. Don’t assume more, and don’t believe less.

Language is key.

The best way to deliver a powerful message is to keep it simple. Do not over complicate with jargon, or terminologies, or cleverness of the English language. The people listening are (in most cases) educated and clever enough to be able to understand complex messages. But they don’t want that. They just want a simple message that makes them think about something. The English language is brilliant and I love it.

Own the space.

You have a stage, and on that stage you will have space. Use it. Don’t dance around, and try not to stand rigid. Find a rhythm that works for you and shows that you enjoy the space you have. This also includes gesticulations. You might want to express yourself with your hands, and you should. But don’t get carried away with it. Allow your hands to show progressive movements that support your message. And then keep them still. The power doesn’t just rest in how you move on the stage and your non-verbal language, it lies in the words you’re using.

Personalise to audience.

This doesn’t mean know your audience, although that is important. This means you have to build rapport with them, and share information with them in a way which they can connect to. Anecdotes, personal stories, insights are all powerful ways of doing this. When the people listening get the feeling you have made an effort to do this, you’ll have them in the palm of your hands.

The detail is not important.

In most cases, your presentations are about a story, a message and an idea you want to present. In most cases, the people listening want to hear about that. The detail of how you got there isn’t important in itself. It helps to support your message, but your message isn’t the details. They’re supportive and that’s it. The message is the insight/idea/story. That’s what you need to focus on. The people listening will ask questions if they want the detail. They just need to hear that you’ve done the work necessary in order to get you to your message.

Have a conversation.

If you’ve done all of the above (and there’s a lot there), it just ends up being a conversation, not a presentation. And that’s brilliant.

Don’t hold back.

You are clever, intelligent, articulate beings. Why are you holding this back? What are you afraid of? Not only are you there to share a message with the world, but you are there to be a powerhouse of knowledge. Allow it to happen when you think the time is right. This might be in a Q&A, it might be a small anecdote that really strengthens the message.

Have aids, don’t rely on them.

You’re the one delivering the message, not the aids. There are myriad tools to help you deliver a great presentation. And they should be used because they’re pretty awesome. But never forget you are the one with the message. The aid just helps you to deliver it.

Manage the hecklers.

Don’t let them take your power away from you. Just because they might seem to have more importance, doesn’t mean they have. You’ve been asked to deliver a presentation for a purpose. Enquire what the heckling is about, figure out if you need to deal with it there and then, and get yourself back on track. No-one likes a heckler, and if you have an amenable audience, they’ll jump in and tell that person to pipe down. If not, learn this skill, and learn it well.

Practise. Practise. Practise.

Below are two great examples of great presentations. The first is delivered by Malcolm Gladwell, author of the books Tipping Point and Blink amongst others. The actual content isn’t great, but his delivery is. The second is the acceptance speech by President Obama in Chicago in 2008. There’s so much right with this that you just have to watch it.