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PASS Summit 2014 Speaker Idol—Judging You, Part I

Nov 13, 2014   //   by Karen Lopez   //   Blog, DLBlog, Fun, Speaking, SQL Server  //  No Comments

PASS Summit Judges/Judgey Table Sign

This year we had a new item at the 2014 PASS Summit: Speaker Idol. Run by Denny Cherry ( blogs | @mrdenny ), this is a contest where people who have never been selected to speak at Summit get the opportunity to win a golden ticket (an automatic speaking slot) at Summit 2015. To win, speakers must put together a 5 minute lightning talk, then impress the judges more than any other speaker in the competition.

I competed in a similar contest at TechEd two years ago. The difficult part about this is there are no criteria for which you can prepare. You don’t know what the judges think are good habits or what topics they might enjoy. They might even give conflicting advice. It takes a lot of courage to stand up in front of a crowd, give your presentation, then be critiqued by others in front of a crowd.

A few of us judges are blogging today about the things we commented on to the presenters:

Denny Cherry discusses the overall process used to put it all together

Joey D’Antoni focused mostly on physical presence while speaking

If others blog, I’ll update this post with links.

Today I’m going to continue on with Joey’s theme of physical presence.

Move, But Don’t Wander

It’s really difficult when you are stressed or nervous to get the timing and location of moving around right. Some people hug the lectern as if they are on flight experiencing extreme turbulence. Others pace back and forth like a caged animal hungry for fresh meat. At some conferences at Summit, this is compounded by a speaker set up where there’s a table, a lectern and several chairs. The AV equipment is often taped or strapped down so that your laptop must be located on the lectern. I find this annoying because presenting isn’t the same as giving a speech. Presenting and training involve more discussions with the audience and need more engagement than just speaking at a group of people.

The raised podium effect also means that moving around can lead to falling off the stage. Not a good thing.

Joey gave advice to stand with your feet together. I usually give other advice: stand with your feet shoulder’s width apart, then move your feet about 3 inches further apart. This sort of forces you to stay put for a while because it feels slightly off, but not enough to make it feel awkward. It’s harder to move out of that stance and it tends to be a more powerful, competent looking to the audience. Move around to ensure you aren’t blocking the same audience members for your whole presentation. Move to show that you and the audience are working together to learn.

Remember: pacing back and forth is bad, but taking a few steps in a variety of directions can help you engage different members of the audience. Have a purpose when you move.

A Mic Changes Everything

Most speakers would prefer not to use a microphone. A hand mic plus a remote means both our hands are tied up. A lavaliere mic (one that clips on your shirt and has a pack that has to be stuck in a pocket or worn in the back) means everything you do or say is being amplified. But when sessions are recorded, broadcast or in large rooms, audio equipment is mandatory.

One of the more common mistakes the speakers made was leaning forward then turning their heads to read the slides on the screen. This meant that as they were talking, they were talking away from the mic. We judges were in the front row and I had a hard time hearing what was said.

The trick is to turn your whole body when you are mic-ed up. Do this even when you are turning to speak to an audience member and to highlight something on the screen.

Remember: The audio portion of your presentation is just as important as the visuals. Probably even more important.

Don’t Read Your Slides to the Audience

This is a tough habit to break, especially if you are running short on time. It’s the most common feedback I hear from people who are attending sessions and are frustrated by the speaker. This is especially common with lightning talks because time is so limited. If you read your slides to the audience, you are basically showing them that you don’t really need to be there speaking. You could just email blast out your slides and be sitting in the bar enjoying a conference-themed beverage.

One of the ways to break this habit is to have fewer words on your slides. More on this later.

Another way is to have speaker notes that you can see when you are presenting. These should have different words/bullet points and that will force you to explain things in different words. PowerPoint shows these notes when you are in presentation mode.

The best way to break this habit, though, is to not look at your slides when you speak. Look at the audience. Engage with them. Offer insights into what is on the slides, but do that while having a conversation with the audience.

Remember: You are there to give insights and to engage with the audience. Your slides are there to support that, not the other way around.

More…

One of the more interesting things about being a judge is that we all talked about how we are also guilty of many of these speaker vices.  We recognized that while we were giving all this advice, we all needed to take care when we presented, too.  I’m sure it was difficult for the contestants to be judged in public.  It was difficult for us doing that as well.

I’ve blogged about what to do when something goes wrong during your presentation, but I’ll be blogging about those things and more as part of this series.  I’ll be talking about equipment, preparation and delivery. Plus being judge-y Smile.

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