December 10, 2013

Dear public speaker, do not be a stranger

As an education technology startup, we are often asked to make presentations or run panels at events and forums. In the last couple of months, we have had the good fortune of sharing our ideas in places as diverse as Indonesia, Malaysia, Oman, Russia and Vietnam. There are lot of pages online on how to create a good presentation or how to tell a good story but in this article we wanted to share a presentation technique that may help our fellow educators and education entrepreneurs. This technique has always helped us feel comfortable with large audiences and improve interaction.

We always try to drop in early at the venue. We start talking to the people who are coming in. We ask them what they do, and what made them to come to the event. If it is an event where you have a pre-talk lunch or coffee session, we will always excuse ourselves from the speaker’s area and we will try to join in the tables where some of participants are hanging out.

Mingling with the audience helps them warm up to you. You can also fine tune your content based on the conversation you have with the audience. You may also pick up interesting anecdotes or funny stories. You can then ask the participant if you can share their story during the talk or better still invite the participant to talk about it. This way the people in the audience feel that you are in their team.

Knowing your audience also helps reduce the awkwardness when you open the session for audience questions. If you sense silence, you can put your own questions to the audience. You can invite the people you were with earlier to answer or share comments. We can learn as much if not more from the people in the audience. And the audience is more forgiving if you are not a stranger.

Do not be a stranger

One more thing! Ask yourself if you can make your presentation even if the technology fails. We often make a Google doc or presentation of the pictures or slides that we want to show. Next we generate a memorable short URL via services like If the projector fails, the audience can load the content on their phones. Better still, think of ways you can make your presentation even if there is no technology. For small groups, we print photos and pass them along. Can you use the whiteboard? What if there is no whiteboard. Thinking about making a presentation without technology has helped us introduce activities that makes the content more memorable for the audience.

One last thing! Once you get used to making more interactive presentations, you will realize that a desktop presentation application is limiting when it comes to making last minute updates. We prefer using an iPhone or iPad. The camera in these devices are handy when you want to take a picture of the person in audience who told you a good story. You will find that the mobile version of Keynote is probably the friendliest application when it comes to editing presentations or adding pictures. So now when you invite your new friend to share their story with the wider audience, you can show their photo while they are talking. Nothing pleases the audience more than seeing themselves featured on your slides. We often start our presentations with a photo of something unique we observed in the host city. This gives the audience a good vibe about you and they think of you as a person who is keen on learning more about their culture.


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