Some thoughts on speaking


My recent adventures have prompted a good deal of thought around standing up in front of people and talking. I’m loath to call it Public Speaking, because that’s a Thing. But maybe I should get past my issues of nomenclature…

Preparing and delivering my presentation on Innovation and Idea Management to the UCISA Support Services Conference last week resulted in several, often conflicting, feelings.

Firstly I was pleased to have been asked – the invitation came off the back of being awarded Best Poster from the Poster Presentation at conference in Brighton earlier this year.

Secondly, I was terrified (although perhaps not quite as nervous as I pretended on the day!). As I explained at one point, speaking in front of the Department is one thing – I’ve been at Surrey a good while now and figure that they’ve all made their minds up about me one way or the other! But here was an audience who hardly knew me (unless they followed me on Twitter), waiting to be shown something new and ready, consciously or not, to form their opinions largely based on the 35 minutes I stood at the lectern.

Slide10Thirdly, I had fun doing the prep. Structuring the presentation, drafting text, playing with PowerPoint, sourcing media was all good fun. Practising it got repetitive quite quickly, but I persisted and could have done with more. And interestingly the whole exercise helped me structure my thoughts and reach new conclusions about my topic, which I hadn’t expected.

On the day of the talk I had the pleasures of the conference to distract me at first, as well as some engaging presentations and discussions to enjoy. But I will admit to being distracted as my warm up (as John and co. probably won’t like being described!) talked about… something.

And of course, when the time came, the nerves all washed away.

During the talk it was difficult to gather my thoughts around how it was going. I was mainly aware of random things, like how I couldn’t stand behind the lectern because it was too tall / I was too short. I had a random cough which I’ve interpreted as a nervous tic (and probably infuriated the sound guy).  I looked down at my notes a lot. And on a couple of occasions I slipped out of sync with the presentation.

As a side note, I was quite intentionally oblivious to what was happening on Twitter, despite having lined up a series of timed tweets using Buffer. This was a last minute thought and the content wasn’t directly relevant to my material, but everybody online loved it.

But beyond all that, it felt like I just worked through it as I’d practised it, the only real surprise being when the audience laughed at a picture of Cilla Black, which I really wasn’t expecting. You don’t laugh at national treasures!

The feedback afterwards was fantastic and I had some interesting and engaging discussions about the topic with folk from organisations as diverse as the Open University, Oxford University and the University of the Highlands and Islands. Twitter was exceptionally kind as well.

I wasn’t looking forward to it, but I’ve now watched the performance back. It wasn’t easy viewing – I was painfully aware (probably because I was watching for it) of the coughing, the note-peeking and the slide-slips.

I despaired slightly (out loud, which was probably less constructive) but that’s a little bit because I’m English (and one doesn’t gush about these things, however secretly proud we are) and largely because there felt like a big mismatch between how I’d wanted things to go and how they actually did.

I’d hoped to be far more mobile during the presentation, to refer less (if at all) to notes, for it all to feel more dynamic – as befits the subject! Someone kindly described my delivery as “deadpan”, but that really wasn’t what I was going for. I’d hoped to have to refer to notes infrequently at best; heaven knew I’d gone over it all enough times. And don’t get me started on the “Um”s!

These are all things I know I can address through practice. And here’s the bizarre thing:

I’d quite happily do it again.

I’d cheerfully accept an invitation to do another presentation (even on another topic) and put in the approximately 30hrs preparation again – because it was all fun and felt genuinely worthwhile.

Next time I’d practice more. I’d not have quite so many slides (I joked at the start, but there genuinely were 100!) to reduce the odds of tripping over the order. I’d practice moving around while speaking – all my practices had been stood in front of mirrors. I’d make notes on tone, emphasis and not looking so bored when I’m speaking(!)

Because not only do I want to do it again, I want to be better at it too.


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