A couple of months ago I published a blog about how my friend Melanie approaches giving a workshop. She mulls on the topic, does some research but writes nothing down. She then launches herself into the live event without even a few bullet points to help her, and trusts that the right words will come. Anything more formalised feels too static for her.
Around that time I received an email asking if I’d like to co-present a workshop on my favourite topic — writing and editing. I said yes and set about coming up with lots of ideas on what to include. I was in my happy place writing up the handouts and the powerpoint slides. As I had a nice lead-in time for these workshops I gave myself two weeks to ignore the fact that I would have to actually stand up and deliver this workshop. I settled back into my usual work life of writing and editing.
Then began two weeks of being pretty terrified. I realised my biggest fear was becoming frozen and not being able to extrapolate from bare bullet points. During this time I received some great advice from others (including Summer Turner), and through trial and error I also figured out a series of small steps that enabled me to move towards getting up in front of an audience.
So, for all of you who just get up and do it, read no further! You don’t need this advice. This is for nervous presenters only, for those of us who have reason to fear the words won’t just magically arrive when we stand up to give a workshop or a presentation.
1. Write it all out
The first thing I had to do was accept that the approach of the natural speakers (the mullers and the bullet pointers) was not going to work for me. In order to know what I wanted to say I had to write out the whole thing. This is the biggest lesson I learnt through this process.
The good news is that even if you are not a natural speaker, there are other ways to achieve the goal of getting up in front of an audience. It takes longer, but it can be done.
I wrote my notes by looking at each slide and then imagining what I would like to say when talking to it. However, it doesn’t pay to get hung up on perfecting these written words, as the content changes as you practise it.
2. Read it out loud
As you read out your full notes associated with each slide, you will hear what jars, or is too cumbersome when spoken out loud. Slash those bits and add the other things you find yourself saying off the cuff.
3. Record yourself speaking to each powerpoint slide
Record yourself speaking to each slide. To do this open your powerpoint presentation on your computer, select ‘Slideshow’ in the menu, then ‘record slide show’. (I just worked on one slide at a time at this stage.)
Look at the slide while speaking, with the aim of reducing the amount of time you are looking at your notes. Listen to that recording, then do it again as an improved version while still having your notes at hand to glance at.
I found this really useful. In all cases the second version was much better.
4. Record yourself speaking to all of the workshop slides
Download the app ‘Easy Voice Recorder’ (or similar) on your Tablet or Smartphone, and speak to all the slides in one go. Again, you can have your notes in front of you, but mostly look at the slides so you are practising saying your message rather than reading it. It will come out slightly differently each time, and that’s fine.
5. Listen to the recording
Listen to the whole recording several times, with your eyes closed. When I did this I was surprised to find I liked what I was saying. (Also that I say ‘um’ a lot!)
6. Listen to the recording again
Listen to the recording an hour or two before your workshop or presentation. This takes less energy than rehearsing it live, but still reminds you of your content.
7. Start small
Start with a small and friendly audience if possible. I was fortunate enough to be able to do a run through with an audience of four people who already cared about the topic.