Giving a talk? Don’t! Until you’ve read this…

Posted on Posted in Events, Networking

It’s conference and events season again.
Tony Blair WEF 2008 cropped

In the first year or so of setting up Limeslade we’ve probably been to more events than the previous eighteen – whether that’s because we’ve been employed to help organise them or as attendees. But people keep making the same mistakes. We can’t all be like Tony Blair (love him or loathe him, he’s a good speaker).

So here are a few key principles for you if you’re preparing a talk. Think of these as five golden rules – if you break any of them, your talk will be unsuccessful. I can almost guarantee it…

  1. Keep slides simple, and don’t use them as handouts. No more than a few lines of text at most, ideally just one striking image and a headline. The length of quotations that were acceptable in your LLM dissertation are not acceptable in PowerPoint slides…
    1. My most memorable slide has to be the Irish lawyer who simply put up an image of Angelina Jolie as Cleopatra, and likened himself to Emperor Augustus. It was a talk about adjudication, and it (and its content) will always stick in the mind. You don’t have to be that clever or cute (in fact it’s safer not to) but don’t clutter up slides with more than a few words.
  2. Keep to the point and don’t have too many slides. A variation on having too much text on a slide, is to have too many slides.
    1. If slides fly past at a rate of more than one every minute or two, you’ve far too many slides. And you’ll annoy everyone. You should have half as many slides as you have minutes to talk. Ideally fewer. The best talk at a recent event we attended had six slides, and one of those was the title page.
  3. Prepare Prepare Prepare – we’ve said this before, and it seems obvious, but people don’t seem to prepare talks.
    1. This is your chance to showcase your skills. You might not get another. So rehearse, proof, prepare and rehearse again. Practice makes perfect.
  4. Don’t sell – Nobody (apart from you) cares about you, your company, it’s age, the number of customers you have, turnover for the past decade, your staff turnover, the projects you’ve worked on, etc.
    1. Take the first slide (or ten) out of the presentation. If you’re good, you’ll win work from the value and quality of your talk. You definitely won’t win work by boring everyone for the first twenty minutes of a forty minute speech. This is surprisingly hard to do, particularly if you’re passionate about your business.
  5. Keep to time: You might think the latest tip on construction adjudication is important. But it’ll fall on deaf ears if you’re keeping an anxious parent from attending Johnny’s first appearance as Joseph in the school nativity.
    1. This fits with the earlier points. Prepare, check your slides are concise and keep to the point.

In conclusion, this can all be boiled down into a few succinct points. Keep it simple and concise, prepare and rehearse, and whatever you do, don’t try and sell stuff. Try these points as a starter for ten, and I can guarantee you’ll begin to get great feedback very quickly.

Best of luck. And if you need help – you know where we are!

PS – here’s an extra tip for free: throw in some interaction or a workshop. Everybody talks, very few people listen. If your talk involves some engagement your results (and as a result your workload) will go through the roof.