Some key takeaways from a workshop I conducted recently
Now that I got your attention, let me share what happened over the weekend.
I was asked to talk about social media and how should one “survive it.” So I culled lessons and some ideas from my past presentations, plus additional notes from a colleague. I needed to engage attendees in a three-hour long workshop about social media. But prior to the workshop, I created a quick and simple survey to understand my audience. The demographic was quite diverse: I had young, social media savvy attendees who were doing social media management full-time (at least that was what I gathered). There were also a couple of older attendees who wanted practical tips. The other people in that workshop where somewhere between “I am familiar with social media, but I also need to understand how to create a strategy.”
As I went on to research on my talk, I stumbled into numerous “rules on social media.” One of them was this article that identified seven simple steps to understanding social media management. So, I took inspiration from that, and added them to my presentation. I also found this interesting take by George Takei who distilled five lessons he has learned about dealing with social media.
Takeaway #1: Know thy audience before working on your presentation.
Good thing I did a survey. It gave me an idea on how to frame my presentation. I used surveymonkey.com, a very intuitive service that provides you the fastest way to get feedback (in my case, answers to questions I had about my audience). Presentations may all look the same, but it becomes more effective if you know who you’re talking to. (I learned this lesson the hard way, believe me).
Takeaway #2: Show more than tell. Use visual cues, videos and photos well.
I grab videos from YouTube. I download free stock images from Pexel.com and other services. I try to find some funny cartoons to make a point. And, I use less words in a slide. One idea/message per slide. And if you want to reiterate several ideas in one slide, make it 3 points only. Five is a stretch.
Takeaway #3: As much as possible, avoid reading from your slide. Create a narrative, if you can.
A pet peeve of my former boss. Everyone can read a slide, he would often chime in when he catches any of us reading from our slides. Don’t make your slides the highlight of your talk. Use the slides as visual aid. It shouldn’t take away attention from you. (Even the best of us are always tempted to read from a slide). Don’t…fall…into…that…lazy…trap.
Takeaway #4: Pause. Take a break. Give your audience time to digest your ideas.
I cannot talk for 3 hours. It’s impossible. I would stop listening at a speaker at 30 minutes or less. So how can you sustain the audience’s attention? Play a game. Ask them a question. Call them out, especially those who seem to have disengaged. In my case, I created games that would allow me to get some audience participation. Or, just do some more research and find an appropriate physical exercise that would get your audience’s blood flowing. I’m not kidding.
Takeaway #5: No matter how much you’ve prepared, you would get curve balls.
After I finished the workshop, I immediately got an honest feedback. A man in his 50s told me bluntly that he only understood half of what I said (the exaggeration was from me). I asked why. He replied that he attended the workshop to pick up more basic lessons. He found my talk to highfalutin. That statement floored me. But it was an opportunity to understand what he needed to learn. We ended up exchanging contact information.
Takeaway #6: Always find a way to insert some humor.
I love a laugh. Why not an audience in a workshop. Sometimes I learn faster when I’m having fun. Laughter also breaks the ice, the tension, and the invisible barrier between me and the audience.
Takeaway #7: Listen to what your audience is telling you. Observe them.
I try to always look my audience in the eye to see if they are paying attention. I feel lucky if I can find at least 3 to 5 people listening and even “smiling” at some jokes that I throw at them. Again, look at your audience. Don’t stare at them.
My biggest fear
I’m no expert in doing talks, or conducting workshops. But years of failing and learning from previous talks that I’ve done helped me improve my presentations. Mind you, I’m scared of public speaking. I’m a nervous wreak. I’ve also been told to speak louder, as I tend to speak softly in public. I’m scared of standing in front of a crowd.
With practice and with a lot of preparation, though, I have overcome one of my biggest fears. Talking seems so natural to most of us. However, being able to pass on some knowledge to an audience who doesn’t know you is one of the toughest challenges for me, at least. I am storyteller (at least in writing). And then I remembered my Sunday School stories, in particular, Moses.
Writer’s Note: This writer turned corporate still finds time to read and…write. He often gets told that he is too hyper-educated, which refers to a person who keeps on learning without any clear action in mind. Okay, it’s a joke.