I hope parts one and two of this series have fired you up. It turns out that even though you’ve finished talking, you’re not done yet. There’s still work to do to make sure you get the most from the opportunity you’ve been given.
Follow up and follow through
1. Thank your gracious hosts. Be sure to personally thank the people who organized your talk. Chances are they did at least as much work arranging the venue and inviting attendees as you did preparing for it. In many cases they’re not getting paid for their efforts so the least you can do is show your appreciation. They just might invite you back again.
2. Get feedback. Strive to always gather and review feedback. There’s no way to get better if you don’t. Evaluation forms are a great way to do this. A word of warning: you’ll need to swallow your ego and be objective when reviewing the feedback – much of it will be negative. Your natural tendency will be to go overboard and hyper-focus in the things you did wrong. Don’t go down that path. If the feedback makes sense, adjust your presentation. If you feel the feedback doesn’t represent the feelings or needs of the entire audience, FIDO.
Confession: I have several friends who also deliver technical talks and when they attend my talks, I ask them directly for constructive feedback. Their critique is much more valuable than the typical attendee survey.
Double confession: To make sure attendees fill out evaluation forms, we usually raffle off books or software at the end using the forms as raffle entries. This helps us get better and also keeps the audience from leaving before the talk is over.
3. Make yourself approachable. Be sure to share your contact information on screen and pass out business cards liberally. Encourage anyone with follow up questions to contact you at any time. Believe it or not, less than 1% of the audience will ever take you up on it and if you handle it right, those that do may very well become your biggest fans and champions. Which reminds me…
4. Follow up on every inquiry. No question is too big or too small. Read and respond to every follow up email you receive from your audience, even if all you have to say is “Thank you.” This shows that you value and respect them and care about their success. Some audience members will never ask questions in a public forum for one reason or another. This is your chance to connect with them one on one and really drive your points home.
Confession: Due to the nature of my job, I get a LOT of esoteric “tech support” and “debug this for me” types of follow up questions. I respond to every one. If I know the answer of the top of my head, I provide it gladly. If I don’t, I typically offer strategies for how they might solve the problem themselves or offer links to other people or blogs who might be able to help. We work in an extremely broad field and there’s no way we can know it all. I’m not afraid to admit that.
5. Publish your content online. It should be trivial for your audience to obtain the materials you presented. Plus, with all the hard work you put into your presentation, wouldn’t you want even more people to see it? Ideally, you want the materials available right away so you might want to upload them somewhere a few hours beforehand and provide the link at the end of our talk. If attendees email you looking for the content, you can send them a quick link instead of a 4 MB email. My favorite tool for this is Slideshare.net.
Confession: My most most successful presentation to date (Organizational Politics – A Survival Guide) has only been delivered live to about 50 people. However, through online buzz it has been viewed and/or downloaded nearly 10,000 times . You gotta love it when your stuff goes viral!
6. Take your show on the road. You’ve put a lot of time and effort into your presentation. It’s a waste to only deliver it once. You owe it to yourself and your potential audiences to get out there and deliver it again. If your material was well received and feels solid to you, start applying to other venues right away.
Confession: We evangelists always try to book our speaking tours starting with the smallest city in our district and work our way up to the biggest. This lets us practice our delivery, get a handle on the commonly asked questions, and tweak our deck appropriately. By the time we deliver in the last city, the presentation is polished and the biggest audience gets the best show.
Double confession: Landing a speaking slot at a regional or national conference is a great way to get free admission. You have to commit to an hour or two to deliver your own materials, but in return you get to see all the other great sessions and rub elbows with the other speakers. You couldn’t pay for a better experience at a conference.
7. Jump at the chance to deliver on the “big screen”. There’s no more exciting experience for a speaker than delivering at a big event. These opportunities don’t come along often so be ready to take advantage of them when you can. Never turn one down. It’s a real thrill.
Confession: This is me at DevLink in Nashville in front of what I fondly dubbed the B.A.S. (BIG ASS SCREEN). It was over 50 feet wide and the auditorium had upper and lower decks. The acoustics were crazy - my own voice was bouncing back at me from the back wall of the room. It was a lot of fun and I’d do it again in a heart beat.
8. Learn from the best. Each year the best thinkers and speakers in the world are invited to the Technology, Education, and Design Expo (aka TED). There’s no better resource for watching others deliver moving, world class technical presentations. I HIGHLY encourage you set time aside to watch one or two each week for the next few months. Study them and you will get better.
I want to close this series by mentioning a funny dream I had the week before I started writing it. It went something like this:
It was the morning of a big regional conference. I woke up, shaved, showered, put on my smurf blue Microsoft event shirt and went downstairs to eat my normal morning breakfast. After that, I got in my car and drove to the event. I felt prepared so took my time and enjoyed the drive. I was in no rush.
Once at the conference hall, I spied several of my friends and fellow speakers. After chatting with them briefly, I new the time for my presentation was getting close. I made my way towards the door to the room I would be speaking in. While waiting for the previous speaker to finish, I mingled some of the other attendees who came to see my talk.
As the last speaker was finishing up, the host of the conference walked over to me, welcomed me, handed me a thumb drive and said “Here’s your PowerPoint presentation. Good luck.”
Then I woke up.
What’s funny about this dream is that it wasn’t a nightmare. I didn’t wake up in a panic, scared out of my mind that I would have to deliver material I’d never seen before. In fact, I wasn’t the least bit phased. I suppose after three solid years of delivering presentations, my subconscious mind is telling me that it thinks I can finally do this job. It’s a good feeling. For me, I think the next big leap is to ditch PowerPoint and learn how to deliver compelling presentations without any props, crutches or safety nets.
Here’s a complete list of the resources I’ve mentioned in this series.
Audition by Michael Shurtleff
Zoomit from Microsoft’s Sysinternals group
Credits: All images are licensed under Creative Commons and have been linked to their respective creators.