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Tips for Public Speaking for Meetup Groups

As a frequent MeetUp speaker and audience participant, I’ve come up with several simple suggestions for people who are comfortable presenting in a corporate meeting room, but are beginning to speak in front of larger audiences–MeetUp groups in particular. Although this is aimed primarly at speakers on technical topics, the tips apply to just about any public speaking setting.

Prepare Your Slides Well in Advance

Most business presentations will involve some type of slides for projection. As a starting place, figure about three minutes per slide in most cases. If you are planning to do a demonstration, make sure to do screen captures and include them in your slide deck; this usually works more smoothly than trying to do a demo.

Have a Plan for a Bad Internet Connection

If your presentation requires web access, make sure that you have screen captures or some plan on what you will do if the network is down, or all 256 of your audience members connect to WiFi and use up all of the available IP addresses. I’ve seen this happen and it was pretty ugly the time that the speaker did not have a plan B; everyone expected an interesting 90-minute talk, and got 15 minutes of AV problems followed by “see you next month.” The speaker was so embarrassed, he didn’t show up again for a year.

Use Black Slides as Your First and Last Slides

You will probably want to have the projector turned on prior to your presentation as part of your AV testing, but you may not want to have your presentation displayed–especially if you start out with a slide that is a joke. To deal with this, you can use a black slide as your first slide so the screen is dark even while you are being introduced.

Similarly, after you are finished, the meeting organizer may have other announcements after your presentation. It might be appropriate to leave a contact slide up, but it is also handy to have a black slide as the final slide in the deck for situations where you do not want to distract from the speaker that follows you.

Video Adapters

If you are not using your own projector, make sure that you have video adapters to connect with the projector at the meeting location. In most cases, you will need to be able to connect to an HDMI cable or a VGA cable; if you laptop only has HDMI or VGA, make sure that you have a VGA to HDMI converter or vice versa. If you have a MacBook (or recent Windows laptop), make sure to have the appropriate Thunderbolt to HDMI (or VGA) converter.

Never assume that the projector will have the video adapter you need. Always have a copy of your presentation on a flash drive so that you can use someone else’s laptop if necessary.

Mark the Camera Field of View on the Floor with Tape

If your presentation is going to be live streamed or recorded, make sure that you get to the venue with enough time to work with the person running the camera to put tape marks on the floor at the edge of the camera’s field of view. You don’t want to distract your audience by walking in and out of the picture, or require the camera person to constantly move the camera back and forth to keep you in the picture.

This is especially important if the room is much wider than it is deep, or the room has two projection screens; if you use the projection screens as the boundaries for your stage movement, you will almost certainly go out of the field of view of the camera.

Make Your Stage Movement Count

Standing still on the stage can become deadly boring, just as constantly walking back and forth can distract your audience from the content of your speech. Use your stage movement to emphasize the content of your speech–start across the stage and then stop when you want to emphasize a point. Integrate your stage movement with your speech content to emphasize the key points in your presentation.

Use a Cell Phone or Better Yet a Slide Clicker to Change Slides

The days when you could do a speech and tap the space bar to advance to the next slide are rapidly coming to an end. For both Android and Apple cell phones there are apps that will allow you to move forward, backward or in some cases blank the screen. Make sure to have two of these installed on your cell phone–one for controlling Microsoft PowerPoint, and one for controlling Apple Keynote. You need both in case there are problems with a laptop, and you suddenly have to run your presentation from another machine.

The downside to the cell phone apps is that most of them really require two hands to forward to the next slide. If you speak frequently, purchase a dedicated slide clicker that is easy to operate with one hand like the Logitech Wireless Presenter R400 that I use. This allows you to gesture with both hands and to move to a new slide while using your hands for a gesture.

Rehearse for Time

Make sure to rehearse your presentation so that you know how long it will take and then add a few minutes to handle questions. If you are presenting in a city where people use trains or buses to get home, they will absolutely, positively get up and leave if you run over.

Ask a Few Questions to Learn the Skill Level of the Audience

I’ve seen some outstanding basic presentations that were delivered to an audience of experts, and killer expert presentations that were delivered to neophytes. At the beginning of your presentation, always ask for a show of hands on a few questions so that you know what level of detail to present and which parts of your presentation to emphasize.

Have the Confidence to Say “I don’t know”

If you don’t know the answer to a question, do not try to wing it, as you will only diminish your credibility. Admit that you don’t know the answer and ask if anyone in the audience can help with the question. Particularly in Meetup groups, someone will know the answer and will be happy to share it. By admiting that you don’t know the answer and giving control to someone else for the question, it will be easier for you to get control back. If you try to wing it through a question, someone who knows the subject will wrest control from you and it will be much harder to get control back.

Consider Joining a Toastmasters Club

If you plan to speak regularly, join a Toastmasters club to practice public speaking and get friendly and constructive feedback on your speaking. To find a club, use the Find-a-Club app on the Toastmasters web site. Find a club that meets at a convenient time and place so that you can attend regularly. You should visit a couple of clubs before joining and look for clubs that get 7 or more points in the Distinguished Club Program as these clubs are among the best at getting members through the education program.

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