Using your own voice

Last week I delivered a presentation here in Zürich. It was called, ‘Thinking outside the box: Integration strategies for newcomers in Switzerland’. (Obviously I talked about Star Wars.)

During the preparation and writing process, I realised it was more of a learning curve than I thought it would be.

I’ve presented on radio before, and I’ve done my fair share of acting, but I’ve not had to speak to so many people with my own words.

And that’s A Big Challenge. It’s fine to hide behind other people’s words, or behind a producer or director. It’s a bit more confronting to have to speak with your own voice, about your own experience, to a sea of faces.

However, once the speech was more or less ‘written’, I realised I faced Another Big Challenge: I needed to find a few hot tips for presentation.

I mailed a few pals who have presented at big events, whose opinions I value, to find out what they do in this situation. (How they deal with nerves, and that sort of thing.)

Interestingly, the main points of their advice were exactly the same:

  • Be yourself.
  • It’s okay to not know the answers to questions.
  • Be honest rather than clever.

It occurred to me that writing fiction is a bit like this too. Clever and Funny can only go so far without Authentic. [Meta: You can read more on my thoughts about humour and characterisation in a previous post.]

I suspect that while presenting is about entertaining, it doesn’t have to be witty and a-gag-a-minute. It all hinges on the story.

Some of the best speakers I’ve seen have engaged the audience without the aid of slides, precisely because their story was so good. They were able to pull pieces of the context together in an interesting, cohesive way. Other speakers have used slides well when their content is information-heavy, and the audience might need to take notes.

I um-ed and ah-ed about it for a while, but eventually I did opt for slides, even though my presentation was less information-heavy. Mainly because I’d seen some great images that I thought would enhance, rather than repeat my message.

(NB. For those who are interested, I used a set of images for my presentation that the photographers had licensed under Creative Commons Share Alike/Remix/Non Commercial/With Attribution, because I was speaking as a favour for an organisation, not for my own profit. It gave me an opportunity to tell people about these photographers’ fantastic works, and it gave me the freedom to enrich my story/presentation with their images. You’ve gotta love a spot of recreational Creative Commonsing.)

I’m happy to say the presentation went well. I am lucky to have had an opportunity to speak to such an open and appreciative bunch of people for my first real attempt. I’m also lucky to have had such generous advice from my colleagues.

Please feel free to comment and let me know if you have any hot tips for presentations and, if so, how you feel about using slides. 

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