Grind and Repeat: 20 Presentations in 10 Months

by on November 18, 2013

This post was originally posted on Medium.com

In his book, Outliers: The Story of Success, Malcolm Gladwell discussed the “10,000-Hour Rule”, claiming you needed to practice a specific task for 10,000 hours to become an expert in it. At the start of 2013 one of my personal goals was to get better at public speaking. To make a dent in that 10,000 hours I set myself the head spinning goal of speaking 20 times in 2013. After recently speaking at the Content Marketing show I achieved that goal. Here are some of the things I learned about speaking over the course of the last 10 months.

It’s a Grind

There are no short cuts when you are trying to get better at public speaking. Worse still, you are gradually improving in front of a real audience. I spoke for only the second time in 2012 at a local search marketing event in Dublin. I had to speak after Rand Fishkin who is an incredible speaker. Anything I did was going to pale in comparison, even if I was good, which I wasn’t. I still remember that presentation. The content was good, but there was too much of it and I spoke way too fast, plus it sounded very rehearsed … because it was.

For most of my early presentations I rehearsed the hell out of them. It’s a grind. Countless hours spent in my room over weekends practicing. I also practised them in front of my team to get feedback before doing it live. For a 30-minute presentation, I could easily invest 10 hours just rehearsing the talk.

There are no short cuts to. Practise the shit out of your presentation. I can usually recite mine whilst having a shower.

If you can’t recite your presentation in the shower, go practise that shit some more.

Take all the opportunities

To get better at speaking, you need to have speaking opportunities, it kind of makes sense right?

I said yes too most speaking invites that were kindly put my way so I could improve. I was obsessive about getting over 20. I did meet ups, webinars, conferences, lectures. When all you are trying to do is improve, no opportunity should be wasted. I’ve spoke to people who want to improve their speaking skills, but they turn down opportunities because they are too small, or not the right fit. This doesn’t make sense to me.

If you want to get better at speaking, then you need to find opportunities to speak and take them.

The 2-minute rule

One of the best pieces of advice I got this year was in any presentation you have to nail the first two minutes. If you don’t, you will lose your audience. That rule has helped me more than most.

My last two speaking engagements got a lot of positive feedback because I really focused on trying to tell an interesting story in that first two minutes.

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Over invest in the first two minutes of your presentation, both in the content and delivery.

Feedback is important

This is something I didn’t do great in my early presentations, but always make sure I do now. Seeking feedback from people you trust is really important. There have been a couple of my presentations that have been saved because of the feedback I’ve gotten. For example, I presented a deck for my MD. He told me the first 10 minutes sent him to sleep. He was right, it was boring, but I didn’t see it until he pointed it out.

Get feedback before you present it live. It will always provide you with some valuable insights that you’ve missed.

Shit will go wrong, just don’t panic

If you speak enough times, it’s a guarantee stuff will go wrong. I’ve had laptops crash whilst doing a webinar for 100’s of people, slides auto play when presenting to an audience in Amsterdam who were struggling to understand me anyway, plus my presentation freeze for several minutes when presenting to 450 people.

Nothing can prepare you for things going wrong, but if you really know your deck, it’s usually not too bad. The more confidant you get, the better prepared you are to deal with things going wrong.

Don’t present, talk to a friend

This is probably my biggest goal in speaking at the moment, speaking naturally to an audience rather than presenting to them. If you watch and listen to the best speakers, they don’t sound like they are giving a rehearsed speech, they sound like they are talking to a group of friends.

It’s worth videoing yourself so you can pay close attention to your tone throughout a presentation. When you are first getting experience speaking, most of your talks will sound rehearsed. As you get more confident and experience, you don’t need to memorise every word you are going to say. Just knowing the key points will help you give a more natural presentation.

Buffer Tweets

One thing I’ve done in my last couple of presentations that seemed to work pretty well is buffer tweets to go out during my 30 minute slot with some of the key points. Although it’s impossible to line them up exactly with the live presentation, you should have a pretty good idea of what time to send them at.

I also buffer a tweet to go out at the end of my presentation with the slides on slideshare.

The most enjoyable thing about presenting is the feeling of getting better. It’s kind of like learning to drive. The first couple of times are scary and you are worried that you’re going to crash into a big fucking wall. But once you get a little more experience, you can start to enjoy it. It’s great to get positive feedback from a presentation you’ve given.

Any questions on this post, you can get me @searchbrat

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