This article is all about the experiences I gained with presenting at the NLVMUG conference last March. Read on to learn about my preparations and do’s (and don’ts).
Taking the leap of faith
In February this year I took a leap of faith by submitting a presentation outline for the NLVMUG event. I never would’ve guessed it was going to be approved. But as you could’ve read in this article it definitely was!
Shit, I actually doubted a bit right after I heard it was approved. Now what? I really have to go on stage for so many people!?
The first thing I thought of was preparing myself. Like we use to say in the Netherlands: “Good preparation is half of the effort”. I wanted to deliver an awesome presentation, something that would “trigger” people and get the audience enthusiastic about the things I had to share with them.
To make sure I was able to transfer this message, I followed a presentation course to learn more about the techniques, structure and of course do’s and don’ts. Most of the information shared in such a course is obvious, but some of it was very, very valuable. One of those things was for example using catchy things in your slides (images or sentences) to get people’s attention. Or using a “storyline” kind of slidedeck, where you take your audience through a story instead of seperate items.
Using your voice in a specific way, walking on stage (which I overdid in my presentation in my opinion), using a whiteboard next to your presentation screen and so on. I would advice anyone to at least try a presentation course to examine your current skills and discover where it still needs development.
When submitting a presentation outline during the call for papers, you need to tell something about your presentation. A short title describing the subject and a description that describes your session in more detail.
After submitting mine, I was actually doubting about the title and description right away. This was the first time submitting a presentation outline, so maybe that caused some confusion.
It’s very important you decide your content and the sooner you do it, the better. I wasted quite some time by changing content based on the title and description I chose. If I would’ve picked this all in an earlier stage, this would’ve saved me a lot of time and effort in the end. But hey, everyone has it’s first time right?
The first step is deciding the goal of your presentation. What do you want to achieve? What do you want to share with your audience? Based on this decision, you can start working on a draft structure of your presentation.
Basically a presentation has a head, center and a tail. The head should build up to the center, where you will be telling all the nasty bits and details, after which you are “fading out” into the tail, where you will summarize and end the presentation.
What I did, was writing a structure in plain text. Write down these three parts and fill them with information like your introduction, an overview of what you will be telling, the detailed parts and the summary and the tail, including time for questions. After writing everything down, review the whole and try to write down how much time each item will consume. Make sure you are within the total time limit of your presentation and make adjustments if you feel the need.
The slide deck is your assistant. It supports you throughout your presentation. YOU are telling the story, not the slide-deck. Use images in your slides (but keep your slides neat and don’t overfill them) and use a minimal amount of text. Use bullets instead if you need to share text with your audience and explain the bullets by using speech.
When building your slide-deck, it’s better to have some spare slides in my opinion, than running out of slides when you still need to fill 15 minutes like in my case. If it every happens to you, use it to answer questions.
After you think your slide deck is ready, be sure to do some dry-runs! It may seem unnecessary, but these dry-runs will provide you with a lot of feedback that you can use to improve your slide-deck and overall presentation.
I did some solo dry-runs at home, using a stopwatch and my TV as presentation screen, recording myself with a compact digital camera to view the results afterwards. This way I could check if my slide-deck was compatible with a larger screen, check timings and see if my speech would fit the slides correctly. Finally I was able to hear my speech and see my stance and movements, even though this was very confrontational.
Next to solo dry-runs, you should really arrange a dry-run with a real audience (at least once!). This can be colleagues, family, friends or anyone you can think of. They don’t even have to judge the content, but judging your stance, speech and slide-deck (readability and such) is worth a lot to you as well! I did two dry-runs in the office for a different audience and got loads of feedback. Not all feedback suited me, but most did. Remember it’s your presentation and you should do whatever you think is best in reaching your goal. Be fair and accept improvements from others if they improve your presentation.
The 19th of March 2015 was D-Day for me. I spent the evening before walking through my slide-deck once more and decided to relax afterwards and went to bed early to maximize sleep time.
In the morning I checked all the stuff I wanted to bring: 3 USB sticks with my slide-deck on it, presenter, laptop and charger (even though this was already provided by the conference) and something to eat and drink (als provided by the conference!). Jumped into the car and drove to ‘s Hertogenbosch where I arrived at 7:30 AM. I actually wasn’t nervous at all this morning, which is still a mystery to me.
After reaching the check-in desk I mentioned I was a speaker. That felt good! I received the program on paper and yes, there it was at 10:30 AM in the Dexter room:
I went to my room to check it out and get comfortable with it. Woa! A big board next to the entrance of the room. This is definitely the room I had to be in.
After entering the room I checked out the stage, the screen and tested my slide-deck. I had to make some minor changes to make the text of my slide fit on the screen.
The camera guy was there as well (yes to my surprise the session was being recorded). I was able to do a sound check and walk around in the room a bit. I think there was room for about 150 people. Not too bad! I was thinking of hundreds! So with all this, I was getting quite comfortable and was ready to start!
Before I could, Joe Baguley was going to open the conference so I had some time to listen to his story and some minutes before my room was open for audience, I went in.
I set up my slide-deck, got the audio equipment ready together with the audio and equipment guys and was waiting for people to walk in. It took some minutes after Joe was done, and then people starting checking in! *Beep* *Beep*, badges were being scanned.
To chill myself out even more, I shook hands with the first three people and then got up on stage. The seats filled up rather quickly and people were even sitting on the floor or standing in the door opening to see my session. It was time to start, so I kicked off the session.
How did it go?
It went absolutely great! Everybody was quiet and paying attention (from what I could observe during the presentation). Didn’t see any phones in people’s hands so I guess that’s a good thing.
My speech was in line with the slide-deck perfectly and I felt really comfortable. The first 5 minutes were scary and taking a sip from my water made me aware of trembling hands, but that went away soon enough gladly!
What unwittingly helped me relax was the fact that there were about 7 colleagues of mine in the first row and throughout the room, thanks for the support guys 🙂
As mentioned before I finished like 15 minutes before my original ending time so I tried filling it up with Q&A but there was no question at all! So people had an extra long coffee break due to my enthusiasm (causing me to talk slightly faster then I want to).
After the session I got a lot of positive feedback and I felt great afterwards!
The session got recorded and is placed on the YouTube channel of NLVMUG so I guess this means eternal fame until the Internet dies. The recording can be found here. Next I also have some pictures to share with you, taken by the NLVMUG crew and audience (thanks!) which can be found in the gallery below.
Before wrapping this article up, I want to thank some people that really helped me during my preparation or just by being there when I was on stage.
- Eric Groot
- Erik van Helden
- Erik Kruijswijk
- Geordy Korte
- Jeroen Jonckers
- Jesse Teeler
- John van der Steen
- Marcel van den Berg
- Marnix Wolf
- Nick van Ogtrop
- Peter van de Bree
- Robert van den Nieuwendijk
- Rogier Fransen
- Sandor Vennink
- Tim Lemmob
- Willem van Engeland