ISTC presenting TCUK

Presented at TCUK 2012

This blog post is about how I presented at the TCUK conference in 2012. The TCUK conference 2015 takes place 29th September – 1st October 2015, Glasgow. See the conference website for details.


It’s over. I presented at the TCUK conference in Newcastle.

And survived….

The TCUK conference is an event for technical communication specialists. My colleague suggested it would be a good opportunity for me to present. Not sure if that was secret business code; “opportunities” are rarely fun.

So anyway, if you trawl through some of the past posts you’ll see that I’ve ended up giving this presentation twice before the big TCUK event. These previous events were a good “opportunity” to practice my talk and get used to standing in front of a group of people. Both of those practice talks went well so I was relatively calm about doing this one.

Mine was on day three of the event. I was pleased about this as it gave me a chance to acclimatise to the venue. The books I’d read said that you need to have some control over your environment, so I was keen to see how the rooms were going to be laid out. Was I going to be able to move about a bit, or was I going to be tied to the lectern? After one of the sessions on day two, I had a sneaky stand at the front when no was about so I could see what it was like standing at the front of the room. Not so bad.

My session was in the second slot on day three. In each time slot, delegates have a choice of three sessions to attend. I think there was somewhere between 150 and 170 people at the conference, so I had the possibility of between 0 and 170 people attending mine. During the session before mine, I was finding it pretty hard to concentrate on what I was listening to, and then the audience wanted to ask a million questions. I thought I was going to get to my session late. But, I got there with 7 minutes to spare.

But, there were already people sitting down in the room. I hoped I was going to get the room to myself for at least a couple of minutes so I could practice my mike and maybe practice the opening lines a couple of times. Alas, that wasn’t going to happen. I got to the lectern, and saw the mike, but no one to help me. Tiny moment of panic. Thought I’d best leave it alone. If I didn’t have any help and no mike, I knew I could probably project across the room well enough. David Farbey arrived and put me at ease straight away. David chairs this conference and does a tremendous job of it. He is incredibly natural and confident when he speaks in front of an audience.

I decided when practising the night before, that I would listen to some music before I had to speak, hoping that would get rid of any last minute nerves. So, I listened to The Killers “Flesh and Bone” on my iPad (low level, didn’t want to scare the audience), and that certainly helped; by the time came when I was introduced I was raring to go.

And what happened next?

The talk went much better than I could have hoped. The room was full (50+ people). They laughed in the right places, they listened attentively, and I managed to get a sneaky double applause out of them. Feedback after the session was humbling. A theme running through the presentation is that I hate presenting, so it was really nice to hear people tell me that I was a good presenter.

If anyone wants some good, solid advice about presenting, I recommend
The Presentation Coach: Bare Knuckle Brilliance For Every Presenter – by Graham Davies. It really is brilliant.

Would I put myself through this experience again and do another one?
Well, since my presentation was all about stepping out of the comfort zone, I’d have to say yes, or I’d be a massive hypocrite. I strongly believe that it’s important to keep stretching yourself, and seeking out new challenging experiences. It’s the only way we’ll ever discover our potential for doing wonderful things.

One down, two to go

So, that’s the first presentation done. My overall impression was that it went quite well.

I got there early enough to do another rehearsal on my own and this was time well spent. It might even have been enough to just spend some time in the room, but having some extra time to practice again, was a bonus.

I was a bit nervous but followed some advice and began to think of my nerves as anticipation instead. That definitely helped. Concentrating on work was a bit tricky but I managed to move a topic along I’d been struggling with.

Next time, I’ll need to make sure I’ve eaten properly. A couple of bananas at 4 o’clock wasn’t enough, and during the first presentation, my stomach was starting to rumble. In the interval, when I should have been trying to remain calm and focussed, I was stuffing a sausage roll into my mouth while chatting with a delegate. Yeah, that wasn’t cool.

Ankur, our presenter from Adobe, was great. He chatted to me before everyone started arriving and told me that he controls his nerves by reminding himself that during the presentation, he is SUPREME, and his audience WILL listen to him. He also said that if that doesn’t work, just imagine them all in their underwear…

One curious thing I noticed was that the audience in the main didn’t look that interested during my presentation. I found this a little off-putting but I don’t know what I was expecting. I was incredibly grateful for two members of the audience who were making a deliberate show of smiling and nodding appreciatively. I spoke to a colleague the next day and as a former trainer, used to speaking in front of groups, we agreed that a neutral expression is most people’s default setting when listening to talks. Only those who are used to presenting will make a conscious effort to put a smile on their face and show signs of interest. If I’d have known that beforehand, I would have been a bit more comfortable.

There are a few tweaks I’ll look to make in the presentation, but I’m going to give myself a week off from looking at it.

So, the big question, did I conquer my fear?

Possibly, hell yeah, you know what, I bloody got up there and spoke in front of a bunch of strangers, even got them to laugh on a couple of occasions. That’s a win in my book.

What I guess I should be just as pleased about was the networking I did, before and after the event. I’m not a natural networker but in the end I spoke to most people and acquired a couple of business cards. People were kind, and chatty. It was a good crowd.

Three weeks to the next one.


Getting ready to present

I’ve got my first presentation on Wednesday.

It’s a work-related presentation to a group of my peers, most of whom I don’t know.

A few weeks ago, I was terrified at the thought of doing this. Now, not so much.

The presentation is all about how Technical Writers can offer their businesses much more than writing a help file, and uses my own recent experience with a project to demonstrate this. So, naturally to a non-presenter, talking about myself for forty minutes was incredibly daunting but I found ways to make this less so.

  1. I did quite a bit of reading. I thought the two books I read were both excellent and would be hard-pressed to recommend one over the other. These were Presentation skills for quivering wrecks by Bob Etherington, and The Presentation Coach: Bare Knuckle Brilliance For Every Presenter by Graham Davies.

    You need to give yourself some time to read these and follow the advice. I had a couple of months to prepare and that seemed a good amount of time.

  2. I kept telling myself I had nothing to worry about. One of the messages from these books is that most presentations are so unbelievingly bad, that you don’t actually have to do much to get to the level of a competent presenter. And that’s what I’ve focussed on: I’m not aiming to be the best presenter, but merely a competent one.
  3. I used a mind map to structure my thoughts. Freemind is a free and simple tool to use. With a mindmap in place, the actual writing process became very clear.
  4. As a writer, it was much easier for me to write a complete script of the presentation. At this stage, I wasn’t sure whether I was going to read the script verbatim (frowned upon in the books) or produce a set of note cards.
  5. I read the whole script out aloud. This is an important step in listening for clunky language. I found a fair bit of clunkiness so edited accordingly. During this read through I timed the whole thing. I was a bit surprised that it came to the required forty minutes.
  6. I prepared slides that supported the presentation. If you remember little else about making a good presentation, it’s that you, the speaker, are the presentation, not your powerpoint slides. My slides were drawings I’d made using an iPad app and would help illustrate what I was saying. There is no chance I could turn my back to the audience and read the powerpoint slides to them. There simply isn’t the information on them.

    Incidentally, I did use Google Docs to make the presentation and loved it. For me, it was a piece of cake to create the presentation using these. However, because I’m not confident the locations I’m presenting at are going to have web access for me, I’ve downloaded these as Powerpoint slides.

  7. I did a full run through with slides and script in front of my line-manager. I got a lot of good feedback and incorporated this as soon as I could.
  8. I recorded the script and put it onto my iPhone so I could listen to it a couple of times on the drive in to work. My hope was that familiarity with the material would help when it came to making note cards.
  9. Note cards – I was wanting to produce a set of note cards that I could use as prompts to drive the presentation. But, I struggled with this. It was taking too long, and I just didn’t feel comfortable. So, what I’ve done is a bit of a compromise. I’ve taken my script, and made the point size 18, so it’s very clear to read. I’ve underlined all important words to help my emphasis, and I’ve inserted breaks to pause and show slides. I’ve PDFed this and have it on adobe reader on my iPad. And this is how I’m going to present – with iPad in hand.

    I’ve practised a couple of times and it works really well. I’m not a slave to the script because I know it pretty well. There are few places where I read directly from the script at all, most of it is paraphrased, which is what I’d intended to do with note cards anyway.

    And it’s large enough that if I lose my place I can find it again easily. The manual breaks are great because they’re forcing me to slow down.

On the day, I’m hoping to get into the room for the presentation an hour early so I can practice again in the room I’m presenting in.
I’m surprisingly calm about the whole thing. I trust this is a good sign. 
By single take-away from this is that if you need to do a decent presentation, you need to give yourself time. I think I’ve spent maybe thirty hours on this so far (and finding this time when you’ve a young family and a busy job is a challenge all of its own).
I’ll report back and let you know how it went.