Last year I spoke at the international game development conference called Games Gathering`19 in Kyiv about how to build modular architecture for games that scales and will probably repeat that experience this year at their next event in Odesa. This was the biggest crowd I talked to and I was really nervous about it, being afraid that the topic is not good enough, that I will fail the public speaking and nobody will understand what I am talking about and that I will finish too early, and, well, I was nervous about many things. The last time I had a similar experience in university on a few conferences and on the defense of my postgrad studies but it was some time ago and had its specifics. But it went pretty well, even though I did finish a bit earlier than I expected. I even managed to gather some public, bigger than previous speakers did at that stream, so the topic was relevant. My colleagues also visited that talk and told me that they were surprised I could speak that good to the audience and I was really happy to hear that. That was an accomplishment for me I am proud of.
You see, I am an engineer with a background in mathematics and an introvert from the beginning — talking to people never been my thing. But with time and working experience I understood that it is vital to know how to speak to people and to convince them. Being a good software engineer you will bring value to your team, but how can you bring value to the company as a whole? It’s obvious — you need to convince other teams that your ideas, your designs, can bring them value as well. And most of the time it will lead to some sort of public speaking. This is one of the reasons I decided to go to public speaking courses. I wanted to be more persuasive and fight my shyness as well. So in early 2019, I finished a month-long course of public speaking that I glad I took and I want to share a few notes that I made and use every time I need to do something like that. One interesting thing about those notes is that they are all extremely obvious, simple to perform, make your presentation better, and are so often neglected that I decided to write about them.
First of all, you need to prepare to start building your presentation. And the first thing to answer to yourself is why are you doing this? So you need to define your goals. The important notice here is that you should think not only about your goals but the audience as well.
Your goals in the process. What would you do and get through the presentation? Maybe you will get some experience, the reaction from the audience on your topic or you can even get some valuable data from them.
Your goals at the end of the presentation. What would you get in the end? Maybe you want just to inform people about something, or maybe you want to get new supporters or even sell something?
Your audience goals in the process. What would people get from all this in the process? Maybe some valuable insights or inspiration. Interesting speech, at least.
Your audience goals at the end of the presentation. What would they get in the end? A solution to some specific problem or improvement of the process they have?
This will help you to assess whether you keep focus throughout the presentation — reminding why and how you should do it.
Then it is useful to define the main elements of the presentation — topic, thesis, and arguments. The thesis should highlight the main idea of your presentation, what you want to prove or reveal to the audience. Maybe it’s about modular architecture that is the efficient way to set up development, or a new shiny library you built that will cost your audience effort to adopt to solve the problem they have.
The basic structure of the presentation consists of 3 blocks — introduction, main part, and closing. I won’t talk too much about the main part, cause this is very specific to the case and worth separate article, but I will talk about the other important parts the value of which many speakers underestimate — introduction and closing.
The purpose of the introduction is to get acquainted with the audience and present yourself — to set up your relationship and convince the public that you are worth listening to and also interesting to listen to. It is very important as your topic alone can’t make it. This is beautifully demonstrated in our local universities — lectors usually don’t bother to make their presentations exciting and as a result, students that pay to study are sleeping at their lectures. The main point of this example is that the fact that people came to listen to you doesn’t mean they are ready and will do so.
The first rule:
You should not go straight to the point, especially with a cold audience
The cold audience is the audience you speak to for the first time and they don’t know you, they might not even be experts in the field of your topic or realize the problem you talk about.
So start small — greet the crowd, do some compliments to the audience or the crew. The next step is called “the hook” — you need to attract the attention of the people to yourself. This may be some personal story that will lead to the topic, a series of rhetorical questions that might resonate with the audience or just something unusual that will surprise the people. When the attention is drawn and people stopped looking into their smartphones you should tell about yourself — why are you standing there and why they should listen to you. Probably, showcase your competence. This is best to accompany with a few numbers — years of experience, the number of successful projects, delighted clients, etc. After this tell the audience about the goals of this presentation focusing on their goals.
The next rule:
Focus on the needs of the audience rather than yours
At the end of the introduction, you can announce what exactly you will be talking about and the regulations of the presentation — timings, breaks, etc. At his point, you can proceed with the main part of your speech.
The structure of your main part depends on the purpose and type. It may be selling, information, persuasion, emotion transfer, etc. This might be the idea for some other article. But there is one more rule popular in speakers’ communities:
Repeat your main thesis at least 3 times in your presentation.
This is the best and simple way to help people remember it. And you do want them to remember, right?
The purpose of the closing is to fix the main concepts and ideas for the audience. Actually, if you fail at this point — your entire main part might be useless as people won’t know what to take from it. For the closing, you need to start by going shortly through your main arguments/concepts/ideas — wrap up your main part and make a call to action. What would you like the audience to do? Maybe subscribe to your twitter, clone and try out your library or framework or just chat with you on how to proceed with that knowledge further — tell your audience.
Then it’s time for the questions — you should prepare for this beforehand, as you would probably be capable to imagine what questions people may ask you. Maybe there are some things you removed the presentation to save time. Also, it might be a good idea to prepare a few questions that you might use to answer yourself in case people will be too passive.
And then you should repeat your call to action you announced before to remind and fix this idea. Here you go, the next rule:
Always repeat your call to action, if you don’t want people to miss it
The final touch may be picturing the future with your proposal or just some instructions. It should be rather emotional than logical to create a positive image in the heads of your audience in the end. Like “imagine as your product owner decided to add that nasty feature in your project at the end of the development that is critical for business, and instead of going into the crunch you realize that guys from the other team already made a module you can just import in your project. Everybody relaxed and happy and you get a yearly bonus for achieving company goals and now you can fly to the isles at last”. Nice, right? Just an example from my head, but you should get the idea.
While being through several places of work I observed bad decisions, lack of community, and unity that was always bad for both — business and people working there. Today most companies try to be horizontal and build empowered cross-functional teams that can deliver by themselves only and so reduce the interdependencies. That’s a great idea but if teams have no common dependencies that might lead to the dilution of productivity of the company as a whole. I mean, if the team is used to rely on itself only — it starts to ignore others. I will give you an example from my experience, the company that builds video slots. Having a few studios with a bunch of teams that are working on new games. How to make use of the fact that you are a big company to make those games faster? You need to cooperate. But how can you cooperate when you are used to doing all by yourself and was not even interested in what is happening in the other teams? One of the ideas is to have a common platform to share some parts that you could reuse if you have none. But how to introduce that platform? You need to show obviously to everyone that this is something everybody needs. You need to get supporters and early adopters of the idea, support from management. And here you need to know how to speak to people to convince them. The times when you have one superior telling you what to do is over as it will always have too many bottlenecks and now you need to build communities to be effective, use the power of the brains in your company rather than bet on one brain.
Good ideas should prevail
I believe that public speaking should be a part of everybody’s education as this is so common than people with good ideas loose to people with good tongues and we need to stop letting this happen.