When Maciek Aniserowicz invited me to the Devstyle Speakers event one year ago, I couldn’t believe it. Completely free workshops on public speaking? In my town? But why would someone try so hard to do something like that? Turns out, Maciek, after motivating hundreds of people like me to start blogging by organizing the “Get Noticed!” contest, also dreams of improving our presentation skills, to enhance the quality of Polish conference speeches. One year ago I couldn’t make it - I just read and watched many stories of participants, all of which being so positive.
This year I knew I had to make it. It happened during the most busy time of my year, but it didn’t matter.
These two day workshops have a really brilliant form, at least from my point of view. The first day was for learning and the second was for practicing - everyone was to make a 6 min presentation and we were speaking in front of each other. During the first day Maciek gave a presentation on how to prepare, create slides, what to wear, how to behave - so many practical tips, that I couldn’t stop taking notes. The second part was lead by wonderful Monika Malinowska. She taught us how to stand, how to train our voices, how to deal with stress and generally - how to speak and look professionally.
Since I like to quickly deal with stressful things, I signed my presentation for the extra slots on the first day. During the first 10 min of Maciek’s lecture I realised what a mistake that was.
I did everything wrong. :)
My key takeaways from this lecture were:
Mindset is really important - full engagement is crucial, because… Public speaking IS HARD. Maciek recommended two inspirational works - the book “War of Art” and the film “Bohemian Rhapsody”.
Respect for the audience - Maciek told us to calculate, how many mandays are sitting in front of us during our speech. :) They are there to listen to us, instead of working, drinking beer or spending time with family. We have to do everything we can not to waste this sacrifice.
People will forget most of the content - so we have to have a clear vision of the purpose of the presentation, what the key thoughts are, because that’s what they will remember. We have to be entertaining and focus on the form, more than on sophisticated content. We need to inspire.
Train to become video - ready - just try speaking about anything to the camera, nobody need to watch that.
The topic = your passion + your knowledge
The keynote and 3 main values - what change do you want to instill in your audience? Cross out every bullet point from you conspect if it doesn’t serve any purpose. Take you time - some topics need to grow in your head for some time first.
Give something yours - stories, anecdotes.
Slides - the more the better, but the less text also the better - I saw all my previous speeches in really bad view. I had lots of text. During my workshop presentation it even distracted me - I knew exactly what to say, by I paused to scan through the text just because it appeared on the screen. Slides can have no meaning without your commentary and that’s fine - and I always thought that was a bad thing. Well. :)
And many, many more, regarding how to structure the presentation, how to create each part, how to present code (light theme please!), how to deal with awkwards situations. That was a solid dose of concrete, precise tips and facts, material for a full commercial course. I just can’t express how valuable that was for me. These eight key points really made a big difference in my thinking.
She started by reading a short fragment of text in English and made a stunning impression right away. We just sat there quietly and inhaled every word. It was really a perfect introduction to the class.
I didn’t have time to take many notes this time, frankly. :) We were exercising, yelling, role playing and generally having fun, while learning how to modulate our voice and stand. I think everybody will remember the exercise called “uziemienie” (grounding?) - two minutes of hanging with head upside down and everyone started to have a better posture. I try to do this regularly at home and I already see myself standing more confidently even when talking by the coffee machine with my colleagues. :)
Key takeaways from Monika’s lecture:
I can speak better if I practise - I kind of thought that my voice is just sentenced to sound like that, but Monika showed us many ways of improving the tone and modulation.
Read the energy of your audience - and start your speech at the same level, slowly going into the direction which you’d like it to be.
Mind - body - breath - voice - your attitude affects the body, which affects your breath, which has a great impact on the sound of your voice.
Warm up your mouth muscles before the speech
Stress is good!!! - probably the most important point for me. I always blamed myself for stressing out before each public speech. Now I will think of stress as my friend. Maybe I will name it - do you have any propositions how can I call it? :)
And, of course, many more, including exact steps to take before each presentation. I have to say - it was a great pleasure to even look and listen to Monika. She has a beautiful, soothing voice and is such a warm person, that I couldn’t stop smiling at her class. I am also very grateful, that she was there to assess my presentation. Which leads us to the next part of the show.
I was the second one in line to speak. If I could just change one thing, I would practice my presentation out loudly at least once. I just said it several times “in my head” and that seemed fine, but at the stage I simply did not fit into the 6 min constraint. All other mistakes were simply the result of my lack of knowledge and speaking skills. I was very well aware of these at that moment - I had all of the tips in my head and I tried to implement them on the run - but it wasn’t that easy. :) My biggest mistake (apart from not finishing in time) was looking at the screen too much, instead of making contact with the audience. I was aware of that during the presentation, but… I don’t know, I just constantly found myself looking at those damn slides. :D I guess I needed a safe place and it was easier to just stare at the laptop? Dunno. This is something I will DEFINITELY work on.
After the presentation, I got my feedback. Both from the other workshops participants and from Monika, and her comments were really different from the usual feedback that I get. It mostly involved my voice - being too weak, high and so on. This will be definitely harder to overcome than other parts of the feedback, but I hope that I will improve by doing these exercises I just got to know.
The audience feedback was also invaluable. All the primary allegations were pretty the same as mine. However! The audience feedback really made me feel better about my speech, as they found also some good things about it, which I didn’t realise. I made some statistics and it turned out that main problems were: time, looking at slides and no clear purpose of the presentation. This is definitely something I will focus on during my next speeches.
I was surprised how many people pointed out the topic and my introduction as the good things! I was afraid that the topic won’t be interesting to them, as they were all programmers and my presentation was about hyper casual games. :) I am afraid that my personal story at the beginning was the main culprit for me not fitting in time, as I came up with during the workshops and spoke from the heart, but on the other hand - that was what many people appreciated. There were many kind words between all the mistakes pointed out and it really lifted my spirits.
The second day - presentations
Feedback - it’s really hard to do it right. I tried to find good things in each speech, before I wrote my critical comments, to simply not discourage anybody. And I was really sure that other people wrote a good dose of critic too. :) You could really tell when someone was already an experienced speaker, but there were some people, who really kind of show some natural talent.
My by far the most favourite one was led by Alicja Kubera. She presented her road from being passionate about the space to working on space projects. Slides were all drawn by herself and were so beautiful and the story itself was entertaining and interesting. Great job, Alicja!
I also really enjoyed Olga’s presentation, as she managed to keep my attention despite talking about frontend, which I am really not interested about. :D She had really visually appealing slides too, was concrete and focused. She was speaking English so fluently, that it was a pleasure to listen to her. And I learned something new and I still remember it - applause for this lady please!
I feel so motivated right now to just create an awesome speech for the next conference season. Sitting for two days with all these passionate, self - evolving and hard working people made me realise, that I’ve unwinded and relaxed enough during this year, which I approach in a kind of slow and hedonic way. Time for the hard work is coming! :)
Again, big thanks to Maciek Aniserowicz and Monika Malinowska for creating these workshops. If you’ll ever have an opportunity of taking part in it, don’t hesitate! 100% value, no regrets. Maciek created a special website for the people how are interested in getting news and notices about future ones, so you can sign up here.
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