Public Speaking: Organisation Tips

The other day I was asked to write about how I approach public speaking from an organisational point of view. Things like “do you have a general roadmap”, “how do you start creating your slides” or “do you use spreadsheets“ and so on.

I thought this was really interesting, so here we are, without further ado: tips on how to keep your life as a public speaker organised.

The Trello board

Just like almost everything else in my life, it all starts from a Trello board. My Trello board for public speaking helps me navigating across the grand scheme of things: biographies, headshots, speaker media kit, talk titles & abstracts.

trello-ps-board

The first column on the left has static info as well as a bit of meta—always explain how to use the board as it has to be accessible to mentors or colleagues. As I write this article, the Info column has four cards: a readme with instructions, a card for the Speaking Media Kit with the link to Dropbox (I’ll talk about this later), my biographies, and the abstract structure.

Second, third and fourth columns are New Ideas, In Development, Completed. Every card in those three columns is a talk, with the abstract in the description and everything else—comments from peers or mentors, checklists, links, attachments and so forth—where appropriate.

Every time I have a new idea for a talk I just create a new card in the New Ideas column. There’s no such thing as Hmm, shall I add this here? Hmm… not sure if… hmm… at this stage. Wild ideas must be encouraged. You never know.

The In Development column have only talks that I’m currently working on. Might be talks that have been accepted for an event, talks that I’m preparing before applying with them, or talks that already exist in some incomplete form for some reason. When a talk is in this column I want slide deck and speaker’s notes to have enough meat as soon as possible. When the talk reaches that stage (talk ready to be delivered, but if there’s time I’d appreciate the opportunity to give it some extra love), I apply a label to it, which I named “MVP” (buzzwords, yay), but remains in the In Development column.

The Completed column has only talks that are ready to be delivered or have been already delivered.

Talks are moved around among those three columns, with the usual movement being left to right—New Ideas ➡️ In Development ➡️ Completed.

Labels help a lot with the process. No label means it’s a regular 30–40 min talk. Labels can include workshops, lightning talks, flash talks, keynotes, “MVP”, etc.

Biographies

You’re probably asking why biographies. The answer might be more than one, notably type of events (I’ve got a bio specifically for WordPress events), and languages. Always keep them updated and make sure they reflect the speaking application you’re putting together: if you’re applying with a talk about business development, make sure your bio highlights your experience with business development.

Abstracts

My abstracts usually have three short paragraphs. In the first paragraph I define a problem, an issue, a current situation worth talking about. In the second paragraph I propose a solution, which normally is the major part of the content of the talk. The third one is all about the ideal audience (answering the question “who’s this talk for?”).

The folder for talks

I have a “Public speaking” folder on my computer, which is sync’d to my Dropbox account. This folder has two folders inside: the Speaker Media Kit and the Talks folder. The Talks folder has one folder per talk, and every talk has a “Images” folder (with all the image files that I use in the slide deck), and the Keynote presentation(s). Why plural? Because if I give the talk at different events the deck will inevitably change (from the event hashtag to cultural adjustments).

To recap: Public speaking ➡️ Talks ➡️ Talk name ➡️ Images folder & keynote file.

The Starting Deck

When I start creating a presentation for a new talk, I don’t want to start from scratch. No one likes blank pages, and let’s be honest here, some elements are common across different presentations—every slide deck has at least a cover and a final “thank you” / “questions?” page, right?

In my Talks folder there’s a “Starting deck” folder, which is set up in the exact same way of other talks: an “Images” folder, and a Keynote file.

The Keynote file has a cover (with dummy title, subtitle, hashtag and background, plus my Twitter handle and company logo), a slide about me, a couple of slides about Human Made, and a final “thank you” slide.

Every time I have to do a new talk, I will go to Trello and make sure the talk is in the In Development column, then duplicate the Starting deck, move it to its talk folder that I had created beforehand, and give the file the right name.

It’s definitely easier and quicker to do it rather than to explain!

Speaker Media Kit

I mentioned the Speaker Media Kit a couple of times already, and it’s time to go a bit deeper on this.

A SMK typically is a folder that has your biography, headshots (include only those you’re happy with, as they’re going on the event’s marketing campaigns, website, etc.), contacts, speaking topics (all the topics you’re comfortable speaking about, with some issue / solution-based explanation, very similar to talk abstracts), and testimonials.

It’s particularly useful when event organisers want your complete profile as a speaker.

The Speaker Sheet

An alternative to have separate files is a “Speaker sheet”, which has everything in one single PDF file. I’m a fan of this solution, in fact my SMK has only a PDF and a folder with headshots.

I would love to know how other people involved with public speaking keep everything organised. There are a million ways to do this, so please do weigh in with your processes or feedback in the comment section!

3 Non Obvious Ways to Improve your Slide Deck

Let’s face it: we’ve all seen slides that suck. Business meetings, sales pitches, conferences, you name it, someone brought a terrible deck with poor colour contrast and tons of text, maybe written in Papyrus or C**** S***.

Luckily those days seem to be over, or at least close to their end. At the last conferences I’ve been to I’ve mostly seen good slides, even from not-designers – slide design is an art on its own: it requires a fairly wide variety of skills (communication, psychology, design itself), and needs you to be familiar with software you wouldn’t use on any other situation.

These are some nice tricks I’ve recently discovered while working on my presentations. The overall idea is to help the audience focus on things that matter. Great slides support your story without stealing too much attention, and are easy to remember and understandable at a glance.

Play with opacity

Let’s assume you have a slide with a full-screen image, followed by some content about it.

This is our team at Human Made.

human-made-team copy

This is the following slide, containing our logo and some information about us:

hm_text

Here’s an improved version of the second slide. It features the same text, but has the previous image on the background, with opacity set at 33% and your deck branding colour behind:

hm_pic_logo

33% is a number that feels most of the time right to me, but it’s not a rule. Play with your image and see if you need a lighter or darker effect.

The transition is quite smooth and pleasant:

TqfOy1

Use the no-shift effect

You may have two slides that look almost the same except for some details. Here’s the idea: duplicate the slide (cmd+D in Keynote) and edit only the piece of content that actually changes.

Let’s get back to the previous sequence, and let’s say we’ve got another slide with more information on Human Made, i.e. some products we have built:

products

The transition highlights the new information.

EakbAx

Respect brand guidelines

If you look at the previous slides, you will notice that I haven’t typed in Human Made or our products’ names. Instead, I’ve dropped logo files in Keynote and adjusted size and position. Let’s do the same when we mention external brands.

Many products these days have brand guidelines on their site. Here’s Slack brand guidelines for instance, and that’s a really good example of a company explaining how to use their brand assets.

Look at the difference between these two slides:

slack

Slack with logo

Whilst the first one may follow your deck branding in terms of fonts, there’s no doubt that the latter stands out more. Logos are designed for people to remember them, and the visual support for a presentation has pretty much the same goal. Take advantage of brand guidelines to increase the chances your audience remember and recognise the object of your slide.

The folks at Slack also explain when to use the coloured logo or when to opt for the white or black monochromatic version instead:

The colored version of the Slack hash logo can ONLY be used on a white background. If you are using the Slack logo on any other background color, use either the black or white monochrome logo.

Brand guidelines are not just annoying requests product people make. Think of them as reasonable design decisions they’ve taken for you.

I really look forward to reading your feedback on these points. Although I’ve spoken quite a few times over the last year, I’m still working on improving every aspect of public speaking. However, if there’s one thing that is clear to me, is that a slide deck you’re happy with design-wise has a huge impact on your confidence and therefore your delivery.

(photo header credit: Yann Ropars)

My talk at the Surf Office meetup in London

I’ve recently spoken at the Surf Office meetup in London.

Surf Office is one of the most famous remote working-related experiments out there: it’s a place that combines workspace, accommodation and surf, with currently three locations (Gran Canaria, California, Lisbon). If you’re one of those human beings that can work from anywhere, or if your startup is looking for a nice spot where to host a retreat/hackathon, you should definitely check it out and get in touch with them.

This guest post I’ve written for their blog summarises the main points of the talk, and expands on some questions I’ve received afterwards.

And here’s the slide deck. I’m quite proud of the design, with the same font combo of the Sofia deck but richer in visual elements (pictures and colours). Unfortunately, looks like Speaker Deck made it a lot darker than it was originally.

WordCamp Sofia: My talk and slides

Last WordCamp of the year, for me, in Sofia (Bulgaria).

Here’s the video of my talk. The feedback I received was remarkably positive, people were interested on the subject and follow up a lot afterwards on social media and email. Looks like the people of Sofia loved me almost as much as I love them. It’s so great to get the chance to visit Bulgaria.


And here are the slides. For this deck I chose to go with almost no images, some emojis, a minimal colour combination that I really liked, and a couple of fonts that I think will become a staple on my slides.

photo header credit: Bunny and Mimsey

The one rule to get better at public speaking

So you want to get started with public speaking, huh? One year ago I was at the same point. Did I have something to share? Yes. Did I have an audience? Maybe, big cities have enough meetups. Was public speaking really that scary? More than death.

During 2015 (and my entire life) I’ve given nine talks. I’ll get to ten before the end of the year (no further details yet). Can’t say I’m an expert yet, but the feedback I’ve gotten so far has always been on the positive side.

If you’re asking “How did you manage to get from zero to nine with no prior experience?” and want to follow in my footsteps, here’s my golden rule: get yourself a couple of mentors.

Someone who tells you what you need to hear, looks at your slides and explains you why they’re not ok, listens to your practice sessions and tells you what’s wrong with your delivery, is sitting in the audience then tells you what you’ll need to improve before the next time – even when everyone else seem to have loved you and your talk.

You won’t relax, practice more or realise what the real source of the fear is because you read it on some blog. Read a couple of good books on the subject (Talk Like TED by Carmine Gallo seems to be the industry standard), and have someone tell you the brutal truths you deserve. Accept them, fix the mistakes, repeat what was successful.

photo header credit: @localancers

Hello, public speaking. So nice to meet you.

Do you know when you take a look back at the resolutions you’ve made before the year kicked off and then realise you’ve failed them all? I’ve lost the count of how many times it happened to me. I think we’re pretty close to 30.

Anyway, this year I’ve decided to do things seriously. Instead of making a silly list with 10+ impossible intentions, I came up with only three precise and feasible resolutions:

As a result, February just began and I can already say that I have succeeded with one. Last Thursday I have spoken at the WordPress London Meetup about user support as a growth tool for online products and tech startups, and in less than a week I’m going to give some tips for good tech support at the WordCamp Norway, this time in the lightning talk / PechaKucha format.

wordpress, wordcamp, wordcamp norway, wordcamp oslo, public speaking, conference, tech event
WordCamp Norway 2015 logo – Here we come, Oslo.

Really looking forward to being in Oslo again, hanging out with some of the Humans (Scott, Jenny, Petya and Noel) sharing something with the community and having fun at another WordCamp!