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author's profile photo Katarina Nonhebel

I want to become a Star – … or just a better speaker

Yes, I would say I am a happy and pretty self-confident person – but when it comes to presenting and speaking in public I have to admit: I am nervous.

And then it doesn’t matter if I am in front of 10 people or 6000 people. And it also doesn’t matter if I know the topic or not.

I feel stress, sweaty fingers, faster heartbeat, dry tongue, loss of English vocabulary or even loss of language at all… “ääähh”, jumping from one leg to the other…

Sure it helps if you are presenting stuff that is your expertise. But sometimes you have to cover a team mate, or your manager. And then you have to present slides that you haven’t built. Slides that you did not “give birth” to, where you did not spend hours and nights to make them nice and colorful with cool animation and attractive pics. And maybe you have to talk topics in which you are not a “pro.

This got me thinking about ways that could help me to improve my speaking. So I started self-coaching by watching TED presentations and investigating the www.

I noticed there hundreds of possibilities to overcome nervousness and ways to improve speaking skills. What are the right ones for me?

  1. I found a guy (a psychologist) who really boiled it down to this: the content you are showing in your PowerPoint isn’t as important as the way you present it. [Ok good – as I really did not like my former boss’s slides]. I don’t mean to encourage you to talk totally “BS”, but it might relieve you from some weight: Professor Albert Mehrabian came up with the very famous (but also famously misused) 7%-38%-55% Rule. Our words convey only 7% of the meaning, our vocal expression 38% and our body language a whopping 55% of what the audience will remember and believe!
  2. Then I stumbled over 4 big letters that really helped me: BEGS = Body Language, Eyes, Gestures, Speaking Voice.

So this means I just have to breath, smile, make sure I have “BEGS” and “Mehrabian” in mind? From then on I practiced, practiced, and practiced

PowerPoint Karaoke? 1-minute, random topic, random slides — GO!

Please find here my slides that I presented at SAP Inside Track Walldorf in January, summarizing my findings.

And then we did something a little bit different… There’s a great exercise for speakers to practice their skills: PowerPoint Karaoke.

Wikipedia describes presentation karaoke as “an improvisational activity in which a participant must deliver a presentation based on a set of slides that they have never seen before.”

We had 6 volunteers, presenting on a totally random (and funny) topic - I tell you, this is so much fun to play! Please find the links to my battle decks (which you could use) here.

There is an app that is designed to be downloaded from GitHub and run directly on your local computer: https://github.com/eleybourn/presentation_karaoke

Pic from SAP TechEd Bangalore 2019 where we practiced PowerPoint Karaoke

With Professor Mehrabian and BEGS in mind I am now able to calm down better and to concentrate.

What are your tips and tricks? Can you share them? Looking forward to hearing from you!

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46 Comments

  • Feb 11, 2020 at 12:27 PM

    Brilliant! :-)

    Here are some things that immediately come to mind from my perspective:

    - if you have (to use) slides use them as support, not the main content, and keep each slide super simple (I often have only a chunk of code, or a single word or phrase, or a diagram or picture, per slide, when I do use slides)

    - try to resist the old fashioned request to send slides in early; reserve the right to keep modifying your content until you walk to the stage; you are the one presenting, not the organiser

    - if it makes you feel more comfortable, insist on using your own laptop and not any provided for you (with weird keyboard layouts etc)

    - never present anyone else's content (for all the obvious reasons - the content won't be interwoven well enough with what's in your brain and what you have to say, it's often not to your own high standards or liking, etc)

    - try to avoid being given a hand-held mic - ask for a headset then your hands are free for typing / waving about. Insist that no mic at all is better than a hand-held mic

    but above all (and you've covered this in what you wrote):

    - talk about something you're passionate about, fascinated in, or just generally something you can enthuse about. And the rest (your body language, expressions, intonation) will follow more easily

    Finally:

    - for anyone presenting in a language that isn't their first language, you have my utmost respect and admiration.

    • Feb 11, 2020 at 04:43 PM

      Unless it is a small or extremely acoustic-friendly room, no mic at all is probably not a good choice. A club I'm in and used to be on the board for has monthly presentations to the members -- some of which I've given myself -- and many of the presenters are very uncomfortable with hand-held microphones. So, they often try to not use it, and in almost all situations people in the back of the room have to ask them to please DO use the mic, as otherwise they cannot hear.

      But then the other problem with being unfamiliar with handheld mics is that many folks do not know where to hold it in relation to their mouths. Often they hold it down in front of their chest, pointing straight up, but most of these mics are highly directional (in order to reduce feedback and background noise), so this is no different from not using it at all. The usual advice then is to "eat the mic," i.e. put it directly in front of and even against your mouth, with the handle pointing away horizontally so the mic points at your mouth, not up past your face.

      And that brings the third problem: when folks start off by holding the mic too far away from their face, often the volume or gain is turned up higher in a vain attempt to correct for that through the electronics, so when eventually they do place the microphone correctly, it's too loud and overwhelms the audience with a booming bass note.

      A headset can solve many of these issues, so if that's available, I'd agree, go for that.

      And presenting in a non-native language.... words do not express how much I'm in awe of people who can do that.

      • Feb 11, 2020 at 07:30 PM

        Lucky are those with a loud voice and don't have to struggle with low batteries, short cables, and "Off/on" buttons :)

        • Feb 12, 2020 at 12:02 AM

          At our club, the mic is wireless, but it seems to frequently just turn itself off, mid-speech!

      • Feb 12, 2020 at 05:44 AM

        No mic being better than a hand held one is true in some situations, just not all ... but really the insistence was to bring to a head the issue of hand held mics with the AV folks, rather than a comment on different room setups :-)

        • Feb 12, 2020 at 04:10 PM

          I cannot disagree that good wireless headset would be preferable in most circumstances. After all, it's not like we're seeking the full audio quality of a Shure SM57 for a simple presentation, are we? ;)

  • Feb 11, 2020 at 12:57 PM

    Great post, Katarina Nonhebel and honestly, I am still so sad that I couldn't either attend the Bangalore nor the Walldorf session. It really sounds like fun!
    I have two tipps:

    - the first 10 seconds decide if the audience will love you or not - and that is before you even started with the content. So I agree with "BEGS" and would also change it to "BEGSS" and the second S for smile :-)

    - keep in mind no one knows what you want to present so if you miss anything, no one knows, too ;-) - btw, this hint has been given to me by my manager ;-)

    Great tipps also from you, my dear colleague DJ Adams

    • Feb 11, 2020 at 01:35 PM

      I read "BEGS" as "BSEG" which brought back happy memories. Anyone else read it as "BSEG"? :-)

      • Feb 11, 2020 at 02:23 PM

        True, DJ - although "happy" and "BSEG" are not things that I normally associate with each other :)

        • Feb 11, 2020 at 02:25 PM

          My spectacles are rose-tinted ...

        • Feb 11, 2020 at 04:36 PM

          There are not enough rolling-on-floor-laughing emojis to express my reaction to this statement! Lol! Not so many years ago, BSEG was the bane of my life.

      • Feb 11, 2020 at 07:31 PM

        I needed to google that BSEG thing .. :-(

        • Feb 12, 2020 at 12:04 AM

          It's a very large table for financial data in classic R/3 systems that just grows, and grows, and grows, making running reports against it a race against timeouts.

          • Feb 12, 2020 at 05:41 AM

            I was thinking further back than that - R/2 actually :-)

    • Mar 01, 2020 at 09:05 PM

      Only you know what you wanted to say! I recognize that one ;-)

  • Feb 11, 2020 at 02:22 PM

    Great tips, Katarina!

    I echo DJ's praise for those presenting in a second language - I was always in awe when ABAP instructors from Waldorf came to meet with us and present new materials and Train-The-Trainer sessions. (European schools *DO* place a heavier focus on multilingualism than US schools, and it shows.)

    Here are some tips I have picked up along the way:

    - NEVER read the slides to the audience: they know how to do that already. Guide the audience to the point of emphasis the slide is trying to make. (The slide isn't making a point? Redesign the slide.)

    - The audience is there to learn something, so frame your comments with the goal to make sure the audience can see the value in what you are presenting. Unless it is the boss's mandatory daily 2-hour stand-up meeting, the audience came to the briefing/meeting/conference intending to learn something that will improve their working life - make sure they get that something.

    - If you do make a mistake, laugh it off with your audience. It shows you are human (not some sales-bot) and connects you with the audience, because they can relate. Remember, some of them are afraid of public speaking too, and are admiring you for giving the presentation.

    Again, congratulations on taking on the challenge of public speaking, and continued success to you!

    • Feb 11, 2020 at 04:49 PM

      Hear hear on NOT reading the slides aloud! If you're doing this, then you might as well just hand out the slides and save everyone's time, because you aren't adding value to the presentation. In fact, the slides probably shouldn't have any text on there at all...

      ... ok, maybe some text, but I'd go with no more than 2-3 bullet points per slide, and no descriptive text, only subject titles (2-4 words?) per bullet point. The "description" is what you're delivering as the speaker. And if your slides are mostly text, then don't bother with them at all. Why even have slides? Just talk! Slides are an aid to the speech, so they really don't need anything more than illustrative graphics. Text on slides is superfluous.

      There's a strong argument that the prevalence of PowerPoint in the business world has ruined the art of giving presentations by encouraging everyone to constrain themselves to the linear progression of a slide deck. This is where I like Florian's ideas below.

      • Feb 12, 2020 at 05:47 AM

        Completely agree here - if it's just text, then don't use the slides, and yes, Powerpoint has indeed helped to ruin the art of presentations, and because Powerpoint specifically has a myriad bells and whistles, some folks are tempted to add those and not think so much about the overall message or delivery.

      • Feb 12, 2020 at 09:24 AM

        Matt, while you make good points regarding text on slides in general, I'd say that there definitely are exceptions to that rule. Even cartoons often need some text! Which is why I do have some text-heavy slides in most of my climate-related presentations (examples are in my community call recording from last November).

        • Feb 12, 2020 at 04:39 PM

          Well, I may have exaggerated slightly in order to make a point. ;) But even looking at your title slide from your presentation, while yes, it technically qualifies as "text heavy," but it's not a long list of bullet points, each with full sentences, that cause the eyes to glaze over.

          Here are a couple examples from my own organization (with identifying information blanked out).

          A "text heavy" slide that we actually used, but which I would never recommend today:

          vs...

          A more appropriate slide using both text and graphics:

          In that first example, today I would have the speaker verbally present almost everything that is in that descriptive list. In the second example, the speaker could talk about some of the details involved in the process shown, with the slide simply as an illustrative touchpoint to keep the audience interested.

          • Feb 12, 2020 at 05:58 PM

            What I like to do when bullet lists and therefore more text seem appropriate is to show them in stages so that only one of them gets the focus during the presentation and the shared PDF-version than contains the complete list.

          • Feb 16, 2020 at 05:42 AM

            but the upside is you could finish preparing your slides much faster(copy pasta) than representing them in images :P :P

            Jokes aside, I totally agree with the graphics representation. I usually don't listen to people who present with paragraphs of text in their slides, I just read those slides by myself instead :D

    • Feb 11, 2020 at 07:33 PM

      Thanks Loyd. And I like the human factor. Most of the people in audience would be also nervous. So yes a big SMILE, making a joke, breathing and then moving on :)

  • Feb 11, 2020 at 03:14 PM

    I try to remember Matthew Broderick's tips - rehearse, rehearse, rehearse and enjoy rehearsing! That is the main one

    • Feb 25, 2020 at 11:28 AM

      That's my usual advice to people who are nervous of public speaking - rehearse until you think you've rehearsed enough, and then rehearse some more because you haven't. And some of that rehearsal should be with an audience. I always speak more slowly when I'm speaking to people. A run through with just me goes faster and my timings would be wrong. Also when preparing the content it is too easy to assume the audience knows more context than they do, and so leave things out. A rehearsal with an audience will catch that sort of thing.

      This all gets easier with practice, but even after doing this for a few years now I find rehearsal is something I can't do without.

  • Feb 11, 2020 at 03:43 PM

    Hi Kati,

    have some tips for you.

    DJ Adams mentioned that already a few I would name also, so I repeat the important one for me.

    Take topics you love to discuss

    and make it your presentation. ME personally like to not have a presentation and build it trough the session. Using flipchart or the digital versions. That make it easy to go little left and right and react on maybe some questions I get during the session.

    Also a funny fact is, that more people in front of you mean less questions during the presentation :-)

    Search for someone in front of you and make your mind as you would talk if there is only this person around. Worked always for me.

  • Feb 11, 2020 at 05:26 PM

    I love this idea of Power-Point Karaoke.

    Toastmasters has many clubs throughout the world that can help you polish your talks and presentation skills. Some larger companies have clubs that meet internally. I know Dupont had one years ago. Back when they were a company that actually had some relevance in the world.

    http://www.toastmasters.org/

    I could see this being a good team building activity in a department or group. Get each person to build an 5-10 slide presentation and then randomly assign them when people arrive. Give the person their slides they have to present when the person before them starts to present.

    I think it would be a fun exercise for a group of 5-10 people.

    I had a really bad panic attack once during a small group presentation back in my late 20's. Shaking, heavy breathing, sweating, racing heart, couldn't talk. I had to leave the room and go out for a walk outside and get my control back. Took about a two mile walk. I was able to go back in and completed it. Fortunately it was a fairly informal group. It was a class for teaching CPR instructors. As part of the training we each had to get up in front of the other students and instructor and teach one of the assigned components of the course to the room. I think I freaked out the class. I think they thought they were going to have to give me CPR!

    Since then, I've presented many times. I've taught for SAP, taught a number of classes in fire, search & recue world, done community talks and of course lead meetings and teams in my job.

    I still get nervous for certain events. But mostly I've realized that you don't have to be perfect on stage and when you realize that, you get ok with doing it.

    People are very forgiving and understanding. Most expect a hiccup somewhere along the line. They don't expect you to know every answer. Audiences appreciate honesty and know when you are bluffing. It's better you just say you don't know the answer and you'll get back to them and move on then to try and bluff your way though and come across as unprepared or unqualified. If you try to cover it up with boiler plate nonsense, you'll look like a pompous a$$. :-)

    The best way to get better is to get out there and do it.

    Craig

    • Feb 11, 2020 at 07:36 PM

      Thanks for sharing your story! wow - and you are lucky they did not call the doctor :) Great words from you too!! Love it

  • Feb 12, 2020 at 06:34 AM

    Toastmasters is the answer. You would be surprised how scientific it is.

    Reading out slides is the work of the devil. It has been said that a good set of slides is 100% meaningless without the presenter. One exception was the CIO of Australian company Fortesque Metals who played his slides with a musical backing whilst standing off to the side, and then did the rest of his speech with no slides at all. That worked quite well.

    Another trick I saw at a conference was twice during the presentation the speaker played a humorous video and whilst the audience was looking at it he sneaked off, and when he came back he was dressed differently and spoke in a different voice. That worked quite well.

    I went to a Toastmasters thing once and the special guest was Darren LaCroix from Las Vegas who won the world championship speaker contest some years ago. He was great and does a weekly email broadcast you can subscribe to and all these free podcast and video things on the internet. He is after money but the quality of the free stuff he does as a loss leader is more than good enough for me.

    At Toastmasters evaluating a speaker is prized just as highly as being able to speak in the first place. Darren was asked to evaluate the speakers that night (generally 4-6 minute talks) and warned everyone that if they did not want a brutal evaluation don;t give a talk. Everyone talked anyway and he ripped them apart. However everything he said made 100% sense and I wished it was me up there getting the abuse, because it would make be a better speaker.

    Cheersy Cheers

    Paul

    • Feb 12, 2020 at 06:44 AM

      I also just want to mention the "Table Topics" part of a Toastmasters meeting. You have to speak for 1 to 2 minutes and you are given the topic out of the blue and then have to compose your speech in the 15 seconds where you are walking to the lectern.

      Another top tip- human beings cannot absorb more than three things at once. If you have six points to make, three of them are going to be forgotten. So don't bother, stick to three. And don;t do the Q&A at the end, do it in the penultimate slide. People tend to remember the first 30 seconds and last 30 seconds of your talk, and if the last 30 seconds is someone asking a dumb question like is there an IF statement in ABAP (actual question from real life) then your actual message gets lost.

      • Feb 12, 2020 at 04:41 PM

        Solid advice! I'm going to try to remember all this for my next time.

  • Feb 12, 2020 at 09:52 AM

    Really good points in both your OP, Kati and the many comments which have already accumulated!

    One thing I do - especially when there's a strict time-constraint for the presentation - are some dry-runs at home which I also record via the now really helpful tools available in PPT. Even though it feels somewhat strange speaking towards an inanimate audience on our couch in the living room, it really helps to avoid running out of time during the actual presentation. For presentations in English - and depending on the setting - I sometimes use my iPad to actually read the text to go with the slides, basically my version of a hand-held teleprompter. This avoids blanking out on specific terms and decreases the risk to forget important things to say.

    While on stage, I try to make regular eye-contact with some people in the audience as a constant reminder to speak to(wards) them and not the slides behind me on the screen or wall. I also make sure to have the laptop/screen with the presentation in my direct line of sight.

    Cheers

    Bärbel

    • Feb 12, 2020 at 04:43 PM

      I think not enough people make use of having "speaker notes" attached to slides that don't show on the presentation screen, but do show for the speaker to help them keep on track. It also helps later when slide decks are sent around for folks who could not attend, as it gives them more context as if they had been there for the presentation.

      • Feb 12, 2020 at 06:02 PM

        In one of my presentations, there are several slides which are not self-explanatory. As I usually share them as PDF- and not PPT-files, notes are lost which is why I prefer my "cheat sheet" on my iPad in most cases. Not to mention that the presenter notes in PPT are sometimes difficult to read on the screen without squinting.

        What I have done is to also share a "presenter notes" PDF providing context for slides where that is needed.

      • Feb 25, 2020 at 11:34 AM

        I don't use powerpoint speaker notes any more. I used to, but that was just because I hadn't discovered the "rehearse, rehearse, rehearse" rule (see comment above). But when I did, they contained stuff I wouldn't want to be distributed with the slides, so I never sent them out anyway!

  • Feb 16, 2020 at 08:10 AM

    Great post & tips, Katarina.

    To be frank, I hardly spoke 5 times till now :D the only reason I think of is due to my anxiety and nervousness. I think I can speak without any big issues, but the first step where I fail is to take the lead/opportunity to present. I have lost many opportunities where I could have presented on something because of this. I should overcome my anxiety and nervousness somehow to take this first step :). But again, giving training to your peers is where I felt more comfortable, as it involves just taking about code and presenting the code :D :D.

    But the good news is, we are having every month community meetups (from last 4 months in Dubai) and I even presented a topic last time, I found that I speak way too fast (probably due to anxiety :D ), maybe that is something I have to have to fix in my next session. Hopefully I will overcome the fear of public speaking this way :) :)

    BTW tips from others are really great & useful!! SAP Community team should consider giving a badge for those who are giving tips :) :) Audrey Stevenson ;)

    -Mahesh

    • Feb 17, 2020 at 04:24 PM

      It sounds like you did overcome your anxiety and took the first step at the monthly community meetup! Congratulations! I remember how it was in the beginning when I would present, too; I would speak too fast. Even now I have to remind myself to speak normally, although I've presented dozens of times.

      To be honest, there probably won't be a badge for this, but I do hope that the act of sharing and encouraging other folks to overcome their fear of speaking is a great enough reward in itself. Thank you for sharing your experience here too.

      • Feb 18, 2020 at 05:12 AM

        Still it's there, I was not having much anxiety as that was just me talking about technical I guess :D. ohh, it's normal for most people to speak fast then, but you have to listen to a non native speaker, speaking fast (me :D :D )

        I thought maybe folks who gave the amazing tips will get one badge similar to the learning hacker badge. looking forward to some new badge introductions soon :) :)


        Thanks,

        Mahesh

        • Feb 25, 2020 at 04:46 PM

          Mahesh, you had no issues speaking up in the Coffee Corner Weekend Movie Club discussion! So maybe the secret is that if it's "just for fun," then you aren't nervous? And presenting code to your colleagues is fun, too, so... just make sure whatever you speak about is something you find fun!

          All that said, I get pretty nervous about public speaking, too. I think everyone does unless they do it all the time, so it's normal.

          • Feb 26, 2020 at 05:15 AM

            Haha, True Fun is the key :) and also there are less number of people in the call and I already kind of know you and jerry from community :)

            But these kind of community calls or giving sessions probably will help to build confidence about public speaking, which I am planning to get involved in as many as possible :) .

  • Feb 17, 2020 at 03:15 PM

    So - I used to hate speaking. Now I LOVE Speaking. Why? Because people ask me questions later. They approach me. That's very helpful for me.

    So my tips. I usually am speaking either about something technical or the community. I'm excited about both topics.

    NEVER read slides. Yes, you've seen this before, but it's good to see it many times.

    "Fake it, until you make it" is always a good idea. I think of one of the many good speakers I've seen over the years, and I try to do the same thing as they do.

    Always have a "Canned" version of your demo ready. I was giving a Teched speech - and I couldn't get a connection to work. I had to work off of my slides. It was not one of my finest moments. Now I record everything prior to speaking. I stop the recording and explain key points. Maybe some day, I'll try a live demo again. Someday.

    Be ready for questions you can't answer. Write them down and then make sure you answer them. Either via e-mail or a blog at a later date. Don't pretend you know the answer. You could send someone in a bad direction.

    My slides tend to have too much information. I like people to be able to take them home and immediately replicate and change what I did. Now after reading this, I may change the way I put them together.

    Remember everyone I know gets nervous prior to speaking. For me practice helps. I believe Sue said her dogs liked listening to her speak. My dogs listen, then my horses listen in the field if it's warm enough. Sad - sometimes the horses leave.

    I am in awe of people who speak in a language that is not your first language.

    Great tips in the blog and comments.

    • Feb 19, 2020 at 03:39 PM

      Michelle Crapo brings up a great point: "everyone I know gets nervous prior to speaking."

      Many professional stage actors and comedians mention during interviews that they have stage fright prior to walking on the stage to face an audience. It isn't surprising, actually, because when we speak in a public setting, we are the focus of everyone in the room, and subject to their praise when we do well and their criticism when we don't.

      So just remember that each of the great celebrities made a debut in front of a live audience - and they survived and prospered. So will you!

      And Bärbel Winkler's comment about practicing in front of an empty couch struck home with me. Part of my preparation to present a new class was to videotape myself presenting the material in an empty classroom. I would go through each section of the class, down to drawing illustrations on the whiteboards, manipulating the slide presentation equipment and explaining the exercises and solutions.

      This gave me a good metric for managing the pace of a portion of the course material as well as evaluating my drawing skills. That was, I could determine if the illustrations needed to be drawn larger - as well as trying to remind myself to print plainly on a whiteboard :)

  • Feb 25, 2020 at 10:43 AM

    I lost my fear of public speaking by attending a simple 3 days presentation skills course back in 1996. I never looked back. As a naturally introvert person (some people find this hard to believe, but it is true), I have to "put on" an extrovert persona. I do some acting in local amateur dramatics groups (currently rehearsing for one that's all in German...��), this really helps as all I have to do is act confident and outgoing.

    Improvisation workshops are very useful for preparing for unforeseen occurrences while you're on the platform.

    One of the best ways of learning how to present really well is to watch senior managers do it. Then don't do what they do! �� Seriously, some very senior people are utterly hopeless.

    • Feb 25, 2020 at 04:48 PM

      I'm not really an SAP Basis Administrator, but I play one on TV... ;)

  • Mar 17, 2020 at 02:25 PM

    Great blog.

    And, in my case that english is not my first language, the pin point when I´m feel nervous is lost the english words. This is the reason why I never (N E V E R) goes to an english presentation without my manuscript to be accessed for any "crash recovery plan".

    After did some technical presentations, in my own opinion, I think that build empathy with public is the easy path to do a great presentation without concern. When the public has a good connection with speaker, the life is easier. Otherwise, the "manuscript plan" must be started.

    FM

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