Public speaking may seem easy when you see a politician talking about the current situation or simply when you see a teacher giving a class. But the first day you have to answer a question to a teacher in the middle of your class with many students staring at you, you realize that the situation is not so easy…
Then, the first day you make a public presentation, you discover the meaning of the word glossophobia (fear of public speaking). Many celebrities that you might never have imagined, such as Warren Buffet, Joel Osteen or Mahatma Gandhi are some examples of people who were totally overcome by the situation of having to speak in public. And don’t miss the anecdote Sabrina Zeidan told us recently, about how she prepared for her first presentation in a WordCamp.
Hardly anyone is “born a speaker or presenter” and in no other subject or field you will find more solidarity and understanding about the difficulty of speaking well in public. So, if you are worried about how to prepare your first presentation in a WordCamp, you can rest assured that, I insist, all of us who will be listening are aware that it is not easy. And although it may not seem like it, there are techniques to prepare yourself to make a presentation in public.
Please note that, once you have been accepted for a WordCamp talk, the content team organizing the WordCamp will give you a set of instructions to follow, requirements and dates to meet, etc. What’s more, you can also ask for help and be assigned to a person who will help you throughout the process of preparing your presentation.
In this post, I will try to give you a pragmatic view of what you should keep in mind when preparing a presentation for a WordCamp.
What Is a WordCamp Presentation?
An inexperienced presenter, instead of giving a talk, reads aloud. He hides behind the lectern, he is not able to look at the audience, and all of who were eager to hear him quickly stopped paying attention to what is being said. This is not a WordCamp presentation.
A presentation in a WordCamp is a conversation with three key features for good communication:
- maintains the openness and spontaneity of an informal chat,
- it’s lively and colorful,
- it is in tune with the reactions of the listeners.
Openness and Spontaneity
For a beginner’s presentation to seem natural, the first thing you need to be clear about is that it needs a lot of preparation and rehearsal. Ideally, if you are able to rehearse in front of the mirror or with a small audience as many times as you can, that would be better. And yes, contrary to what it may seem, it is precisely after all that preparation when you can give an image of openness and spontaneity.
But let us go to our big concern: anxiety. Anxiety is a widespread problem that bothers almost all of us who have to speak in public. Typically it is the result of adrenaline rushes accompanied by butterflies in the stomach, sweat, palpitations, dry mouth and trembling legs and hands. For your peace of mind, be aware that all these symptoms are always more obvious to the sufferer than to any observer. Although, I must confess that in a conference in which I became blocked without being able to speak for a while that became eternal, at the end, a colleague told me that I would never again make him suffer like this. For a moment he thought that I would not start 😰.
I hate to tell you that there is no quick fix for this kind of anxiety. In addition to preparation and rehearsal, there are several things you can do to reduce your discomfort. You can practice selective relaxation to reduce your body tension. Focus on communication rather than content, keeping your focus on the value you are bringing to your listeners.
Practice cognitive restructuring which consists of replacing any irrational negative self-induced message with positive messages. For example, when you take the stand just focus on smiling and giving an image of being a charming person. If you get stuck when you should have already started, keep giving yourself instructions that help you regulate your thoughts, such as: “Take it easy, you knew this was going to happen, but remember that you are capable of reacting, so take a deep breath and go.”
Develop and test visualization scripts that help you imagine that you are successful and the audience loves your talk. All this, along with the rehearsals you’ve done previously in front of the mirror, often helps you develop more confidence.
Also, keep in mind that there is a positive side to communication anxiety: it can stimulate your performance. The lack of any kind of anxiety often results in a boring and uninspired presentation. I remember reading an interview with a professor, a Nobel Prize winner from the University of Chicago, who said that the day he wasn’t nervous on his first day of class, he would retire.
Lively and Colorful
All (or I would say most) of us who participate in a WordCamp go with the desire of learning and interacting professionally but also with the desire of having fun.
Some presenters were very clear at WordCamp Europe 2019 in Berlin that a WordCamp talk should be lively. I give you a couple of examples.
Brian Teeman, in his presentation came to us dressed in a very special suit (or would I have to say spatial?).
And Sebastiaan Van Der Lans got everyone in the room dancing:
Don’t worry, you don’t need to dress up or have the level of a professional DJ to give a talk at a WordCamp, but remember that those of us who are going to listen to you do not want to get bored.
If you’ve been accepted for a talk on a WordCamp, that’s already a good indicator that the proposed topic is interesting. Of course, there are many ways to explain any topic and never lose sight of the fact that you want to have a conversation with your audience. Still, there are certain elements that can help you achieve more quality in your presentation:
- Facts and Figures: support your ideas with facts and figures. Make sure any information you provide is relevant, recent, credible, and reliable.
- Testimonials: if you quote ideas or words from others, be sure to mention them and contextualize them appropriately, validating their veracity.
- Examples: examples are a very useful tool to help arouse interest, clarify ideas, keep attention, emphasize main points, demonstrate how an idea can be applied, and make it easier for your listeners to get the message across. If you also use people’s names to personalize the example, you increase its impact.
- Narrative: a narrative tells a story that illustrates some truth about a topic. Good stories are engaging and help set the mood. They should be told in concrete and colorful language, and if dialogue and characterization are used, the better.
The structure of your talk should be simple, balanced and follow an order. Simplicity is achieved when you have limited the number of main points and have used clear and direct language. It will be balanced when the main parts receive the right emphasis and work together. And your talk will be ordered if it follows a consistent pattern of development. To do this, first structure the body so that later you can build an introduction and conclusion that fits your message. Then develop the body, determining the main points, decide how to organize it, and finally select support materials that are effective, lively, and colorful.
Tune in To Your Listeners
This point is very important: be clear that you are not the only protagonist of your talk. There is a whole group of people who are there with the desire of listening and learning from what you are going to tell them. With this in mind, and before you start talking, you should make eye contact with some of those present while letting your eyes scan the room a couple of times. This helps create a certain intimacy with the people who have come to listen to you and will make you consider them, individuals, companions or even friends instead of a part of a great gray mass called the audience. This feeling of complicity with people curiously will also make you feel less nervous, more comfortable. This eye contact should also be carried out several times during the speech.
Besides, reading aloud is not public speaking and if you don’t get them to listen to you, all your effort will have been absolutely useless. When presenting, it can be useful to bring some notes or even your entire written presentation, if that makes you feel more confident, but keep in mind that giving a talk in a WordCamp is a conversation in which, as a general rule, you should spend more than 50% of your time looking at your audience.
Your voice must be clear and strong. Speak slowly, so that everyone can follow you and assimilate the information you are giving them. You can change the speed so that it is not monotonous but never speak too fast.
I insist, in a WordCamp talk it is not just you and your presentation. You are part of a conversation in which there is a set of people who carry out the process of listening to you. And keep in mind that the process of listening consists of 5 phases: receiving, understanding, remembering, evaluating and responding.
If your goal is for your listener to be able to remember, evaluate and even ask you an interesting question or comment at the end of your talk, don’t forget about these 5 phases. And here, unlike when you talk to a friend, there is an essential tool to use when speaking in public if you want to get feedback from your audience: repetition. Keep in mind that your listener’s ability to focus is more limited than if you were to speak in private. Your ability to tune into their reaction is also more limited as your eyes are not able to see all faces at once and your mind is not able to process as many reactions either.
Therefore, if you want to make sure that the message you want to convey has been captured, understood, remembered and evaluated, repeat it several times. Of course with different words, with differently structured sentences, introducing ideas at the beginning, remembering key concepts later, providing varied examples and summarizing them again at the end. In this way, you give the listener the opportunity not only to hear you but to have the ability to process what he or she is listening to and have the time to think about how to give you input.
If you are accepted to give a talk in a WordCamp, the topic that you proposed will surely be of interest to the public. So don’t worry about it. Just focus on finding that style you’re comfortable with and being yourself. Prepare the content in advance. All good presentations have had more hours of preparation than those who made them will recognize. Ignore the braggarts who say, “Bah! I prepared it the last day and I haven’t had time to rehearse it”. I assure you that the difference is obvious.
I’m sure it’ll be fine. Remember that your main objective is to get listeners to ask you interesting questions and contributions at the end of your presentation.