Tips, Tricks and Resources for Public Speakers

In my time recruiting, coordinating and observing speakers, I’ve witnessed a wide array of speakers. An interesting topic cannot survive a bad speaker, yet a boring subject can come alive with an excellent presentation. While I’m far from an amazing speaker, I’m constantly trying to improve, as such I’ve built a collection of resources that you may find helpful.

Tips & Reminders

If you’ve presented before, you’ve likely heard these suggestions, but if you’re new to presenting before a group, you should know that these ideas can make a huge difference to your success.

  • Practice. This is the most important thing you can do. At a minimum you should run through your full presentation, out loud, as if you had a group in front of you a minimum of five times. The more the better.
  • Present to one or two other people first and learn what questions they have. Weave the answers into your presentation.
  • Be prepared. Ensure all of your equipment and materials are ready and check with the organizer to verify that they’ll have all the other required equipment that you aren’t providing.
  • Verify that your computer will be able to hook up to the projector – VGA, DVI, Min-port… there’s a lot of room for problems.
  • Will you be using a microphone? If so, ask which type – it will impact how you present and you should account for it in your practice runs.
  • Make it easy for people to follow-up. Include contact information at the end of the presentation. Even if you don’t plan to use slides, you should have one that includes your contact info (URL, e-mail and Twitter).
  • Do you plan to post the slides online? If so, include the URL at the end of your presentation.
  • Have fun. Really. Your attitude will flow into the presentation, making it more engaging and memorable for all.

Sites

Books

This is a small sampling of books, chock-full of ideas that should help you get started.

Slide:ology

Presentation Zen: Simple Ideas on Presentation Design and Delivery

Confessions of a Public Speaker

Give Your Speech, Change the World

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Some Tools to Make Life Easier

There are a wealth of tools that you can tap to cut down on your workload and make it easier for others to participate. Here are just a few I’ve used:

Communication

Refresh Austin uses Google Groups as the central point of communication. It’s convenient and easy for us to administer and provides our members the ability to choose how they want to interact with it. Each person can choose to receive every message posted to the board as it comes in, or opt to receive a batch message each day, or they may choose to use it as a message board, visiting whenever is convenient for them. Keep that last option in mind – you may have a significant amount of members who do not receive any e-mail from the group, and who may not check the message board very often, if at all. The one downside to Google Groups is the lack of a decent spam solution. You’ll spend some time weeding the garden, but its worth it.

Tip: A spammy list will destroy your group. Set Google Groups to moderate all new members. This puts a bit of work on your shoulders up front, but once you see a valid message from a user, you can set them to “Always Allow” and you won’t have to moderate them any more.

I’ve also set up the Refresh Austin Google Group to auto-tweet to the Refresh Austin Twitter account whenever there is a new topic or job posted to one of our mailing lists.

Don’t forget other methods, like chat rooms or IRC channels if your group would be into it.

Feedback

I’ve used SurveyMonkey to gauge which subjects we should cover in our Refresh meetings as well as to gain a better insight into what members would like from the group. The basic level is free and has served my needs well. There are many similar options.

Scheduling

Refresh Austin used to use Upcoming to provide event information and to track potential attendance, but has shifted to Facebook given the amount of people in the network. Ultimately I chose to go where the people are and that’s Facebook. Meetup is another option, but they charge an annual fee, which doesn’t seem like a worthwhile use of money for our particular group. You can also keep it simple, and just send out notices to your group and keep your Web site up-to-date, as the Austin 1759 Society does.

Tip: Keep in mind that you can’t rely on the RSVP numbers on any of the sites, as many members of your group may not RSVP or may not stick to their option. Enforcing an RSVP will result in less attendance unless yours is an exclusive group.

Web Site

This is a bit of a no-brainer, but I want to ensure I include everything I can think of. Make sure you have a site that includes the most up-to-date information regarding your meetings and topics, even if you are posting to multiple other sources like those mentioned above. You want to ensure that your group is findable via search engines and a URL that’s easy to remember. You may also want to include a wiki or a blog to make it easier for your members to follow group news and contribute to the expansion of the site through comments and new content. As to which platform or content package you use – the only thing that matters is that you have a t least a few people who know how to use it and keep it up to date.

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Consistency, Communication & Experimentation

Setting consistent meeting times and regular communication is key to the success of your group, but without a bit of experimentation, you may not find what works best. Each compliments the other.

Consistency

Set up a regular schedule for your meetings. Refresh Austin meets the second Tuesday of every month from 7:00 to 9:00pm. Those few times when we’ve had to find a new venue, we have made sure to get a guarantee from the new spot that we will have that day and time every month. Switching the day, time or location in any but the most extreme of circumstances is a recipe for confusion, resulting in reduced participation. Make a choice and stick with it for at least three months.

Your members will appreciate the consistent schedule as that gives them a chance to arrange for babysitters, reschedule other events and make it easy for them to avoid conflicts down the line.

Communication

It’s easy to let the days slip by without sending an update to the group, yet we all hate a communication vacuum. Make sure you let people know what’s happening early and often. This is your opportunity to build some excitement and provide some warning when change is in the air. Once you have established your routines and the group is running smoothly, make sure you continue to send updates. I cannot stress this enough – update update update!

Experimentation

It’s important to try things – what works for one group may not work for another, so be willing to give something different a shot. This may seem to go against the consistency point above, but it’s the one way that you can strike the right balance.

Be ready to kill off an experiment if it isn’t working, but make sure that you won’t frustrate the members of the group with too many changes in too short of a time. Don’t forget to communicate the changes and the reasons behind them to the group. People don’t likely care about all of the details, but everyone likes to know that there’s a reason for a chance.

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Benevolent Dictatorship

If you can get a dedicated group of people to sign up for the work involved and consistently meet their responsibilities, then you’re good to go. But if that doesn’t happen, it’s time for you to become a benevolent dictator. You may not want to be the sole person in charge, but decisions need to be made and work needs to be done. Step up.

Democracy is great, but if you put every decision up for a vote, or if you rely on people who can’t or don’t get the work done your group will fail. Step up. Make decisions.

Your group wants the group to work and they want decisions made. You’ll lose a lot of time and effort spinning your wheels if you wait for approval instead of actively building. Step up. Make Decisions. Move Forward.

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Organizing Leadership: Boards and Councils

As we covered in a previous post, leadership requires you make some key decisions and put in some effort to kick-start a group and to ensure it grows. This may all be on your shoulders, but there are many different ways you can structure group leadership, including the concept of a council.

Formal Councils & Boards

You don’t need a president, though if that works for you, go for it. Refresh Austin tried the concept of a rotating board, which allowed us the ability to split up the duties so no one person was overwhelmed with work. If you are trying to revive or improve an existing group, contact some of the most active members of your group and invite them to join the board. It is vitally important that you select people who are excited about the group and have participated in the past. If you have enough people interested then this may be a great set up for you.

Tip: If you’re just starting the group, don’t worry about voting to fill the roles, pick your most excited and competent people  and split up the roles. In Refresh Austin, we specifically set a three month cap on this first board so everyone understood that we were in the roles merely to get the group moving, and that after the first 90 days anyone could volunteer for a spot on the board.

Roles

Here are some roles that might be useful for your group. Mix and match to meet your needs, but avoid having too many people involved. Small groups can make decisions, big groups are constantly delayed.

The Venue Coordinator chooses and reserves a venue. The goal is to have a regular meeting spot that is relatively convenient for the group (you won’t please everyone), has the equipment you need (a projector, screen etc.) and is discussion-friendly., and at or in walking distance of a bar or restaurant where people can socialize afterwards.

The Topic Scheduler publishes the event schedule, including information about the discussions and presentations. This person gathers and coordinates requests for topics, receives feedback from the group as to what should be covered and lines up speakers.

The Materials Wrangler is needed if your venue doesn’t have the equipment required for your meeting. They ensure that a projector is brought to each meeting, and is responsible for gathering any other materials that may be needed. They do not have to own the materials, they merely need to ensure that someone will bring them.

The Communicator ensures that meeting notices, reminders and group news are sent to the group throughout each month and updates the Web site and any other tools.

The Archivist is responsible for gathering the presentation materials and posting them on the site after the meeting. Ideally the Archivist would capture audio or video of the event which could be turned into a podcast.

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Step Up and Lead

When no one makes decisions, nothing gets done. Having a strong voice, or a set of unified voices is key for setting and achieving goals.

The foundation you put into place is key to your success. Build a group that you would be proud to join if it already existed. What do you want to gain from the group? This is a pivotal time for your group, so step up, or support someone who is willing to step up.

“Who’s going to do all this work?”

There are many structures that you can adopt and while each is dependent on the willingness of your membership to step up, ultimately its on your shoulders to get this going. Yep, the fact that you care enough to read this means that it’s on your responsibility.

I know that can be a heavy burden and it’s tempting to ease the weight by making this a democratic endeavor from the start, but before you can vote on anything, someone has to rase the banner for people to gather around. That’s you.

Odds are good that you’ll find some volunteers early in the process – people who have ideas and want to share their passion for this idea. Great! Help is good, but you need to ensure that the help follows through. That may come off as dismissive, but it’s not. We all have the best of intentions, but this modern age keeps us busy, so we prioritize how we spend our time and energy shifting our priorities.

So, how do you balance the need for resources with the reality of priorities different than yours? There are a few of ways: go it alone, create a formal division of labor or form an informal coterie of people that you can rely on. Each has benefits which we’ll cover in upcoming posts, but its important to realize that you may well adopt each of these at different points and that’s fine. It’s not a progression, it’s a set of tools that help you do what it takes to be successful.

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You Can’t Please Everyone and You Shouldn’t Try

The reality of the situation is that you can’t please everybody. Any decision for a group larger than five (if not smaller) is likely to work out poorly for at least one member. Someone will likely feel slighted, if not altogether pissed off and you’ll hear about it. Luckily, it’s not your job to make everyone happy.

Really.

Your job is to move your group forward. Your job is to ensure that as many people as possible (within reason) can participate. It’s too easy to miss an opportunity because one member isn’t able to participate, or doesn’t care for the topic or the venue or the day. Make a decision that will benefit the majority of the group and move forward.

People who want to be a part of the group will find a way to participate if its important to them and in time you’ll find the right balance to ensure as many people as possible can participate.

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Two Questions to Ask Yourself

The hardest step is the first one, but it doesn’t have to be. Let’s start with two key questions that will help you roll forward.

What Do I Do First?

Have you defined the purpose of the group? It doesn’t have to be fancy, but you need some semblance of purpose. Not sure? Start with something simple like “I want to hang out with other people interested in _______.”

Next, set a date, decide on a location (preferably with food and/or drink), call a meeting and spread the word by inviting the people you know who are interested in the topic and ask them to spread the word too.

Tip: Make it easy for people to recognize you. In your communication, tell people how they can recognize you and where they will find you – “I’m wearing a blue cap and an Atari t-shirt and I’ll be at the round table in the back”.

People are Here, So, What Do I Do Now?

So, you have everyone together, what’s next? Well, hopefully people will start chatting. Informal introductions are good, but it’s up to you to say hi to people, introduce yourself and attempt to get folks involved. Nothing fancy, just be friendly.

Tip: Try to come with a few questions, topics or ideas to discuss to kick off conversations and reduce conversation gaps.

As the event rolls forward, gauge people’s interest – are they having fun? would they like to meet up regularly? Hopefully you’ll get a yes on both counts or you’ll learn how to improve the next one. It’s time to set the follow-up gathering. You might want to do this while everyone’s there to see when they would like to meet next, or you can set up the next meeting later if that’s more convenient. Make sure to set up the next meeting shortly after the first.

Wash, Rinse, Repeat

Maintain your momentum. If this is fun, keep it going by setting regular meetings. In time you can decide if you like the group exactly as it is, or if you want to step up, which we’ll cover in an upcoming post.

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Ignite Your Community

KickSpark is a resource for any and all interested in starting, expanding or reviving a group. We’ll discuss the tips, tricks, trials and tribulations that come with organizing a community. While most articles will center on communities that have a significant physical component, many of the techniques can be applied to online groups and loose social networks.

As this site grows, I will expand authorship to include voices of experience from around the world as there are many different methods that can lead to success, acknowledging that what may work well in one environment may not prove successful in another. I need you to help me steer the site and it content. Your questions, suggestions and tips are pivotal in the success of this site.

Ready?

Good.

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