Speaker Tip: Warm Up Your Audience With Conversation
June 27, 2017
Ever give a talk when you walk up to the lectern and everyone is chatting and not paying attention? You end up wasting several minutes of your time slot while everyone settles in. It kills your talk's momentum and makes it harder to get everyone's energy up. You're starting your talk in the hole.
This is an easy problem to fix.
When you begin to setup your room, start a conversation with people in your audience. Try to get in right after the previous speaker leaves. That way you can setup your gear and still have plenty of time to schmooze. Start off by asking your audience to help you with AV. Most rooms are a little different, so you usually need to tweak your settings. (Bonus tip: Don't wait until your presentation to adjust this stuff, that's an amateur move.) "Is this text big enough?" "Can you hear me okay?" etc... If you do this enough times, you'll be close, but it's nice to get some feedback.
After you get setup, ask your audience more questions. Ask them where they are from. Ask them about their tech stack. Gather information for your talk. Use this information to customize your presentation to the people who in the room.
Have a bunch of Java people? Reference some of their culture or relevant technologies. Doing a web talk in a room full of web noobs? Spend more time on the basics. Have a room full of .NET people? Explain new concepts using familiar terms. For example, I use attributes in C# to explain decorators in TypeScript. Use local jokes and references. Ask people about their concerns and try to address them in your talk.
Make your talk a conversation, not a monologue.
Ask people about previous talks in the conference or other conference activities. Specifically, ask them about talks they enjoyed. Besides being fun, it gets people to associate you with other good speakers. If you have a bunch of people from a previous talk, you can reference that talk in your own. This is also a good way to learn about new speakers or topics to check out.
There are other benefits to starting with conversation. Leading the conversation allows you to take control of the room early. That way, when your time slot begins, you'll already have everyone's attention. This maximizes your speaking time and the value you deliver. By leading the discussion, you can build energy. You can joke around with your audience and build a rapport. You can begin your talk with an engaged and energetic audience, which is ideal.
The next time you give a tech talk or presentation at work, show up early and start a conversation. It’s a great way to get things moving in the right direction.