Everybody can talk

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The Challenge

After I had given my talk on talking at Webcamp Zagreb, I asked the audience if there was a single person I could help with talking. I offered some free training to overcome stage fright and delivering value. There was only one thing I asked for this: the person needed to give a talk of maximum five minutes today in the so-called "Lightening talk rounds."

One person came. He said: "I recently gave a talk, and it was the worst presentation ever given. Can you help me?"

We went to a more silent spot, and I asked him what happened to the last talk. He said, he spilled water over his presentation gear, then became nervous and finally mixed up everything he wanted to say.

Awesome Frameworks

Find out what you want to say

To me, it sounded like he was relying on his equipment and didn't feel comfortable with the "value" he wanted to give. I told him, for his Lightening talk we would prepare some small script. The script would help him to stay focussed.

For 5 minutes of speaking, you would need around 500 words. When you speak, you need to breath, and the audience needs small breaks. One should not mix up reading speed with presentation speed.

We searched for a topic, and I recognized, he thought "value" is tied to "complexity." But this is not. We found a valuable topic that he knew about: a personal working experience. More specifically we decided to speak about a too high workload. A specific customer caused his problems. He even didn't want to work for this customer anymore. What a great story!

The burnout topic is hot of itself. But it was even better he could speak from experience. I think personal experiences are always good to speak about as they reflect the truth. With "opinions", you'll find people who oppose. With purely technical talks, you might have people in the audience who know better. Finally, I have learned people are more connected to your story when you show you are "vulnerable." It is hard to believe Superman when he speaks about overcoming the fear of flying.

Being vulnerable, honest, open and speaking from experience work not only for soft topics but also for technical topics.

Script structure

With that in mind, we worked on the script. I learned text structuring can be troublesome. I recommended the following strategy:

  • show a problem, issue or make a point
  • give an example or two
  • optional: tell a story what you tried (and what didn't work)
  • give a solution or a reason you think as you think now

We showed the problem of too much work. 14 hours is too much. Not being able to live healthy is a symptom of it and we took it as our example. As another example, we explained why it is even more important for him, as he was suffering from serious medical issues. It was a bonus that he was willing to speak openly about this to others.

Then we decided to add a story: he initially tried to send out his CEO to solve the problem - which didn't work.

Finally the only solution - and the whole point of his talk - was to have the courage and stop to work for the customer. It was the only way to get back to a healthy life and fun in working.

Editing the script

Once we found this clear path, he went on and wrote a few sentences what he wanted to tell. The problems we were now seeing were:

  • too many details
  • too long sentences
  • too complicated words
  • no time for breaks, because of too many words
  • not writing as he spoke

For public speaking, you need to have a script written in a way as you would speak it. Whatever you want to say, say it in very, very easy words. Otherwise, it is too exhaustive to follow, and your audience will fall asleep.

A good trick is, to look at every sentence and make it as minimal as possible. Remove all complicated words and use professional jargon only if appropriate and necessary. You can expect people on a web conference to understand what browser is, but everything else would need explanations.

Also, too many details break your speaking flow. Nobody wants to know everything. We removed everything that explains why his medical condition was working badly with stress (it related to Calcium transport). Instead of that, we simply said: Stress increases the Symptoms. Too many details distract us from what the speaker wants to say.

Test run

In the end, he read it a few times. When he was stumbling about a term, we considered it too complicated and removed it. When you have a lot of time to prepare, you can learn new words. But when you only have a few hours to prepare, you need to use the vocabulary you have already.

When we finished editing, the script was small. It had a lot of room for breathing. But it was to the point and told a story.

I asked two random guys from the audience to make a beta test with us. It all went well. We were confident our choice was right.

Memorization, and the stage

After that, my "trainee" memorized the content. When I met him an hour before the talk, he could speak freely and without any issues to remember what we agreed on. The script was "natural" to him, so he had no issues memorizing it.

And on stage it was almost perfect. It was great to see him speaking in that a self-confident way. He could move and talk freely, use gestures and everything.

It proved me one thing: most of us can speak, maybe even all. It is just the preparation that causes us problems in a first way. But when we find a way that works, and when we are willing actually to invest the necessary time, there is no reason we should not talk.

After all, I know only a few people who want to speak professionally. For us developers, speaking is a community thing - and a communication thing. And with these little tricks most of us can come already far a give something of value to the community.

If you try it and have any question - write me a message and ask. I am here for you.

Image credits

Tags: Speaking, Conference, WebCamp, Training