I recently gave a presentation at a college in my town and stood before an inquisitive audience of young web designers, doing my best to deliver some wisdom about the industry. Despite diligent preparations, the event gave me some unexpected takeaways that broadened my knowledge.
Once I share what I learned through that speaking engagement, you can take my tips and apply them to your own future talks.
1. It’s Necessary to Tailor the Topic to the Audience (ie: College Students)
Public speaking is not a one-size-fits-all activity. A presentation given three months ago to a group of web designers who had been working in the industry for five years or more wouldn’t also apply to a college audience. During this recent presentation, I realized how important it is to know the audience and make sure whatever I’m speaking about resonates with them.
What kinds of insights would a college audience appreciate knowing? Since they’re just starting to break into the industry, they’d probably like to know about subjects that would fit well inside the pages of a book containing “secrets” of the web design industry that most people are afraid to ask.
Without knowing the specifics of the students’ aspirations, I brought up topics like my daily routine. I talked about how I manage my time as well as some issues I’ve faced. Then I went into detail about the ways they were conquered. When you’re presenting in front of a similar audience makeup, consider how effective you can be by coming across as authoritative but not overwhelming.
I wanted the audience to realize I was well-versed in the topics discussed without feeling like they were in class.
2. Make Your Presentation Relevant
We live in a fast-paced world with many distractions competing for the attention of audience members. A speaker who fails to connect with people will likely notice an increasing number of individuals pulling their smartphones from their pockets and tapping on the touchscreens.
That reality is why I knew it was crucial to answer the “What’s in it for me?” question that people typically have. The organizers of this event had given a substantial amount of freedom regarding things I could talk about and the tone to take. So, I decided to pepper my presentation with relatable stories that helped me connect with the audience.
When taking this approach, it’s essential to ensure a story has a clear moral, motivation or lesson learned. Otherwise, it becomes nothing more than anecdotal filler material.
Another way I gave my presentation relevance was by thinking back to my college days. Noting the various uncertainties, hopes and dreams that characterized them. Generations evolve. However, the consistencies I identified made me able to convey that I understand what today’s students are facing. And I can offer suggestions to help.
3. The Room Acoustics Matter
After accepting a speaking engagement, ask if you can see the venue before the day you’re scheduled to speak. Knowing the room layout in advance will help you understand whether you’ll have to do specific things to ensure your voice projects to the last row in a large room.
The auditorium I spoke in was huge — fortunately, it had absorption and diffusion panels mounted on the walls. Absorption panels soak up unwanted noise and diffusion panels deconstruct and redistribute sounds. The latter installations reduce echo, so they were particularly necessary for such a massive space.
It was possible to visit the room before the speaking engagement. Seeing those panels gave me more peace of mind from knowing I’d not have to work as hard to be heard. When you’re evaluating the space before a speaking engagement, consider bringing a room-related checklist that reminds you to verify crucial specifics before leaving.
Before speaking in any environment that requires using a sound system, be sure to show up plenty of time in advance to test out the equipment. When it works well, such technology is extremely valuable. However, it can also cause extra stress when things go wrong.
4. A Well-Run Q&A Session Can Be as Valuable as the Presentation Itself
After taking the advice from another web designer who had given a presentation at an out-of-state college a couple of months ago, I decided to work hard to manage my Q&A portion properly. That choice paid off and even resulted in some students coming up to me after the presentation. They were grateful for the chance to bring up things in a non-judgmental setting.
There are some key things to do that should make an audience more willing to ask questions at the end. Start by addressing them and saying you welcome questions and will have a dedicated time to ask them following the presentation. Also, try not to be exhaustive in your coverage of the presentation topic. If you are, people will feel like you’ve mentioned everything and be unable to think of appropriate questions.
I also tried to set expectations for the Q&A session. When someone got long-winded, I politely interrupted them during a pause. I simply asked the college student to try and summarize the question. Also, when an organizer gave a signal to indicate I only had five minutes left, I told the audience there was time for one more question.
Coming across with an approachable attitude helps, too. I’m proud of my web design experience. I’m often called upon to educate up-and-coming individuals in the field, but I don’t ever want to seem boastful. If audience members feel intimidated, they won’t want to ask anything for fear of sounding stupid.
These four things were the most powerful realizations I came away with after my speaking gig. I’m confident you’ll be able to learn from my experiences. Apply them to your upcoming opportunities to speak in front of an audience and create memorable outcomes.