Archive for the ‘presentation’ Tag

Top Presentation Tips

billowing curtains in the window. Classic.

Random Observation/Comment #251: The number one fear in the US is public speaking. Number two is death. This means that in a funeral, you’d rather be in the casket than performing the eulogy.

Ever since that embarrassing speech during high school, I’ve made it my duty to prevent future occasions of embarrassment. I tried my best through public speaking workshops and getting myself out there as much as possible, but it didn’t really work that well. And believe me, I’ve been to a lot of presentation workshops – a lot of them – but the most important ones were very interactive with real-time feedback. (Actually, the most useful one was backpacking in Europe.)

To prepare for an important project at work, I had a 360 speech evaluation class, which inspired me to write this entry.  This 2.5 hour class of 5 students was basically a full analysis of good and bad habits with real-live feedback on improvement and next steps.  I wanted to highlight this class because most workshops I take on public speaking are usually with a large crowd and repeat a lot of obvious, but unpracticed items of focus.  It doesn’t always give hints that apply to me, as my strengths and weaknesses may be different from others.

The main goal of the workshop was not to make an expert speaker overnight – it was to pinpoint one or two habits that could be improved upon or unlearned, and then give tips and tricks to work on this after the workshop.  I found this particular format especially useful because it kept me focused on the big ticket items that would make the most difference.  For me, it was my vocal variety and energy.  I didn’t know this, but I don’t act enough in my speeches. I need to practice on speaking with more deliberate gravitas and bringing the audience into my story with pauses and enthusiasm.  My voice just needs the deep projection from the lungs that delivers the overall message with strength and authority.

The best part of the workshop was the 360 review with the camcorder.  We introduced ourselves and did a 30 second speech in front of the crowd. Right afterwards, we watched it again and specifically pointed out the positive and negative points with specific focuses on things to improve. Immediately afterwards, we did the whole thing over again with a focus to improve that one or two major points.

Anyway, here were some of the main weak points and recommended solutions:

  • I am afraid to be judged in front of everyone, so I get nervous.  This happens to everyone, but the real key is to know what you’re talking about extremely well and then stop caring what other people think about you and your image.  I was told not to pretend that everyone is naked, but to pretend that I’m naked.
  • I fidget a lot and I don’t know what to do with my hands. Stand with feet shoulder width apart, properly planted with a strong posture – do not lean to one side.  Straighten the spine and speak with the air from your chest cavity instead of your throat so you can project your voice – what sounds like screaming is really a normal voice. Use your hands in a natural manner and especially think of ways to emphasize the content in your speech.
  • Some people say I sound childish in my speeches. The childish or high school tone naturally comes when people end with a high tone. In this case, everything sounds like a Blonde question when it should sound like firm statements.  For example, saying your own name should end in a low tone with a strong, clear, and audible paced voice.  Use words that represent your level of professionalism and avoid using too many filler words like “umm” or “like” by completely pausing and gathering thoughts before speaking again.
  • I don’t have enough energy in my speech so it doesn’t sound genuine or convincing. This is very common, but it can only be improved by copying the emphasis made with acting.  If you can, take an acting course. If not, listen to more audiobooks and really listen to the pauses and tones to note how they tell the story and paint the picture with using all of the punctuation.  Practice this while you tell stories at the dinner table or with a group of friends.
  • I have trouble making eye contact because it’s really weird with my Asian culture. Get over the Asian culture thing – it’s not rude to make eye contact. It actually seems like you’re lying and deceitful if you don’t.  During a speech, try to segment your talk into conveying particular sections of the speech as ideas to one person.  Once you’re done with an idea, make eye contact with someone else around the room and convey the next idea.  This should be around 3 or 4 seconds per person.
  • I spend too much time thinking about the next thing to say to pay attention to these little tips and tricks. To improve upon this, you just need to know your material better. Either do this, or make the presentation techniques second nature.  If you are engaging within a one-on-one conversation, you can basically mimic this in front of people once you get over the whole judgment thing.

The best advice I had was to actually practice these techniques in everyday conversations. Try to tell more stories in front of your friends and be more social. This will help you with the eye contact and confident tone of voice.  Once you get a hang of that, try to add some vocal variety and use some hand gestures or impersonations to get the idea across.  Also remember to remove those “umm”, “y’know”, “like”, “but… uhh…”, and “so…”s in normal conversation – instead, fill them with pauses and think of the next thing to say without dragging the sentence onward.  I never said it would be easy.

If you want to improve, listen to audiobooks, watch TED talks for amazing presentation deliveries, practice with friends, and join Toastmasters. Oh yeah, don’t forget to backpack through Europe J.

~See Lemons Learn to Present

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An Epic Presentation

 

 

Ghetto Cooper

Ghetto Cooper

Random Observation/Comment #129: It’s difficult to publish entries when you’ve spent 4 days away from your laptop, and 70% of that awake-time in an inebriated state.  Work hard.  Play hard.

 

I summarized the majority of 1.5 years of torturous brain-fug work in a little more than an hour.  I didn’t necessarily rehearse this presentation – I already knew what I was talking about after spending hours (I want to say something like the ‘decade’ version of hours, which exists in Chinese as ‘see suns,’ which I think is 3 hours – it just seems like the emphasis would make my writing much more entertaining, although this explanation is interesting as well) writing those 90 slides (Yes, it was 90).  For some reason, I was never very good at memorizing lines and acting them with gravitas or even much fervor.  Every carefully phrased sentence written in my 20 pages of “talking points” was completely ignored – I decided to just refer to the intentional animations for different topics.  In fact, I used each of the slides as a simple bullet point reminder of what I should mention within my stream of random commentary. 

I say random commentary, but what’s a little more appropriate, is background song.  For the most part, the audience is concentrating on reading the slides and trying to follow the overall story.  The words that actually came out of my mouth didn’t really need to make that much sense.  I think it would be fine if I just ran the slides behind me while I sang a song and practiced Thai Chi (I choose Thai Chi because after 2 minutes, you’ll probably rather be looking at the slides).  The flashy animations and overall flow of your inflections are so much more important than your actual words.  Once you get famous, I’m sure there will be much more criticism, but I do not hope to enter this type of world anytime soon.

I know this wasn’t the best idea for a Master’s presentation, but I basically winged it*.  I went through a few practice runs, but it really didn’t help that much.  The hour-long speech was just too much to memorize.  Instead of seeing the entire presentation, I split it up in my mind to talking about smaller topics.  The slides were used to indicate which topic I should discuss next.  By thinking about this as 10 smaller presentations squished together, it became much less scary.  I stayed on topic and spent the extra time making sure I knew all of the cues. 

Throughout undergraduate, I’ve learned that the level of success for an engineering presentation is the amount of knowledge your audience absorbs by the end.  If I leave the presentation intellectually stimulated, I feel like my time was not wasted.  I focused the creation of my presentation surrounding this main idea.  In order to do this, I needed to bring an “earthier,” realistic aspect to the points I was making.  Since it was a Master’s presentation, it was definitely technical.  But I broke it up such that the theory and experiments related to more real-world examples.  For example, if I were explaining elastic collisions in a transfer of momentum, I would use the example of playing pool where we focus on the resulting action from a cue ball colliding with another ball.

For the most part, presentations are used to sell a product.  When you’re an engineer asking for more funding, you’re trying to impress investors with the practical usage of your topic.  When you’re presenting on financial road shows, you’re basically selling the services of the IPO to potential stockholders.  Given these examples, it may seem like the following is true: When you’re a graduate student presenting to professors, you’re selling the knowledge and hard work put into your thesis. 

In reality, your advisor usually knows how much work you’ve put into your graduate work, so the presentation itself is really not for him; it’s actually just a formality.  The success of the presentation is gauged by  the reaction from everyone else in the room.  The advisor just wants to see that you’ve understood the essence of engineering – the process of filtering research, conducting experiments, drawing conclusions, and (the most important, but usually omitted) transfer of results back into the community. 

One team of researchers cannot expect to cure cancer.  Instead, they focus on specific procedures that may propel other research in less ambitious areas to further the field.  This concept has been available and actively pursued for many decades.  The importance is the transfer of knowledge.  Engineering schools should further emphasize writing skills to make sure other people don’t waste time picking apart poorly written papers.  I found most of my frustration is the lack of a uniform agreement in units or notation to represent the basic ideas.  Well, I guess that’s why they call it research.

~See Lemons Finish

* Wing(-ing/-ed) it. Verb. The act of entering a task relying on a keener use of bullshit skills, rather than a practiced set of logical answers.  This does not necessarily imply being unprepared, but it does indicate a level of hubris or “oh, fug-it” nature.