Tag Archives: public speaking

Vintage microphone

Week 15 in review: everyone’s favourite fear

On the way home to Vancouver from Nanaimo for the week, I ate my White Spot meal and listened to podcasts and thought about how I started my communications career in radio news – waaaaay back when I was a sixteen year old, still in high school. How that work seemed to come naturally to me. I’ve never been afraid of speaking in public. It has always been a mystery to me why people freeze up when they have to talk in front of a group.

I’ve read the news to tens of thousands of unseen listeners, I’ve given impromptu speeches to convention halls filled with thousands of people. I’ve given presentations to hundreds, or at least several dozen. I’ve been the corporate spokesperson giving media interviews on television and to newspapers, always confident in my messaging and my delivery.

Until today.

Vintage microphoneMy staff may or may not have known it, but today, when I had to speak in front of all of them assembled at the staff meeting, I very nearly choked. Suddenly, as I looked out to their faces, I realized I wasn’t saying everything I wanted to say – that I should have prepared more.

I told them they have lifted me up as I embarked on this journey: a new city away from my family, a new job, a new institution with its history and culture that I knew nothing about three months ago. I’ve had to run to catch up. It’s been intimidating and wonderful, and I truly couldn’t have done it without the talented, amazing people I work with.

As I talked, I worried. A doubting voice in my head chided me: “What if they don’t believe you? You’ve made some changes since you’ve been here and you know some people don’t like all of the changes you’ve made – what if they think you’re full of malarkey? What will they think of you now, hearing you trip over your words because you’ve suddenly become nervous?”

So – I tried to speak from my heart. I acknowledged there have been a few bumps, and thanked them for not letting me stumble too much. Then, I thought I’d better just shut up and buy them all a drink, which is what I did.

But if I had to do it again, I’d acknowledge the three graphic designers who turn out such stellar products day in and day out, often on the spur of the moment, often without the client even knowing exactly what they want. I’d acknowledge they have been having a hard time with the uncertainty of the departure of their well-liked manager, and a new one not hired yet, and myself not being able to give them the hands-on support they’re used to. One time last month, we had to completely re-do a major piece just before we went to print – and by god they pulled it off with alacrity and grace. Now that’s professionalism.

I’d acknowledge the communications team that writes speech after news release after speech, and handles media calls, and successfully pitch stories to local news outlets. In addition, they’ve stepped up enthusiastically when I asked them to “lead with benefit,” pay more attention to our (newly-minted) corporate key messages, change the format of speaking notes, and do a little more advance communications planning, all mixed in with instituting an issues management process that was completely new to them. Oh – and also work closely with the graphics team in re-jigging that major print piece. Add to that – they’ve taken on more of a role in social media integration and planning.

I’d acknowledge my one sole events person who makes sure everything is perfectly organized at each lecture, open house, trade show, and conference that comes along. She will stay to tear down, even if she has to do it herself. She works her ass off to make everything seem easy and seamless at the front end. She’s the go-to gal for an idea for how to dress a stage, decorate a cafeteria, or come up with a fun party activity.

I’d acknowledge the UR assistants who take on the myriad little tasks: getting out the digest twice a week, doing data entry, answering switchboard calls, offering help in the Welcome Centre, always with a smile, even as they’re being interrupted by someone needing a stapler, directions, change for parking (“Parking is in the building right behind us sir…”) or just a chat.

I’d acknowledge my web team – the Bearded Ones, as they are becoming known – who in addition to keeping the “lights on,” juggle multiple and competing demands from internal clients to convert a complex network of pages over to a new Content Management System.

I needed to acknowledge that I have asked a lot of my team since I arrived at VIU such a short time ago, and they’ve done everything they could to make it happen. I hope they’re reading this, because they really did deserve that drink. Cheers! And all the best for 2016.

Photo credit: Vintage Shure Microphone B&W General Lee by Lex McKee; used under Creative Commons 2.0 license


Context is everything, but I’m sharing my slides anyway

I had the pleasure last week to attend the spring ETUG workshop (http://etug.ca/) in Nelson BC. ETUG is sponsored by BCcampus, my employer, and once again reminded me why I love my job. The passion and enthusiasm of educators and technologists in the post-secondary system is inspiring and infectious.

The morning of the last day was a hands-on session, and I chose “Developing your Elevator Pecha! Are you Open4Learning?” during which Elena Underhill and Kyle Hunter from BCIT presented the “Elevator Pecha:” a mash-up of Pecha Kucha and the Elevator Pitch which consists of 10 slides, 10 seconds each.

Jo and Samantha (both from Royal Roads University) and I collaborated on an Elevator Pecha. In 25 minutes, this is what we came up with:

In this instance, I added in some words that I used when I gave the presentation, because I thought the photos without the narrative might be inscrutable without context.

This is the real nub: what’s the point of putting slideshows online so people can view them in isolation? Presentations are not about the slides, they are about the presenter.

Alan Levine, the keynote presenter at this ETUG conference, made this point clear by way of example. He spoke without notes, and showed his collected stories in the form of short videos. He also does his keynote justice by presenting all the videos on his blog.

I met Alan three weeks ago at the Online Community Enthusiasts day in Vancouver. There, we got into a discussion about bringing playfulness to events. As it turns out he had written a post last November arguing that people who make presentations really need to learn some improv skills rather than Powerpoint skills.

Hear hear! I had popped in on Alan’s blog before, now I am a subscriber.

I am a half decent public speaker, but my background is in radio broadcasting. I have a fear of speaking off the top of my head, and I have a terrible head for memorization. I need that piece of paper (or more recently my Evernote notes on my iPhone) as a crutch. It’s a shortcoming I’m acutely aware of in my spoken word poetry, but I’ve been lackadaisical about improving on it.

However, my Elevator Pecha went extremely well because it was so focused and concise. I sense a crack in the dam in terms of my performance skills! Elena took video of everyone delivering their Elevator Pechas that day. If she posts them online I’ll share the video, and you can judge for yourself, and see the presentation in context, the way it was meant to be delivered.