Miserable presentation tips
When the thought of having to give a presentation comes up, my usual reaction is that it might be fun.
I’ve given a decent handful of talks over the last few years to medium-ish audiences, with the largest being to around 100 people. For various reasons, the most recent ones have been via video calls but I’ve done a couple in person and they don’t feel that different in hindsight.
This is where I could start to hock my self help book1 and say “Imagine the audience in their underwear” but instead, why not dump out my brain on paper so that you too, for the low low price of $0, can also think about presentations upside down.
My general threshold for being “comfortable” with giving a talk is about 10 or more people, where I’m kinda awful when it comes to groups greater than 1 person.
As for why that is, it’s easy to imagine in a group of a few people, you stand out a lot more if you aren’t say much (or are saying a lot!) with the best way to “hide” being to act normal.
Why wouldn’t the same apply for a group where you’re centre stage? It does I’m sure but it’s easy to imagine the group as a whole not paying attention to what you’re saying.
It’s a safe bet that it’s a reflection of my time in school, doing English class speeches where students, myself included, would zone out while someone had to give their presentation, even if it didn’t feel like it to the presenter.
Now, I should be overly clear here and say that this line of thought should not be taken seriously! It can be a useful tool but if you start to genuinely believe no one cares, that becomes dangerous the further you go.
The reality is that no one would turn up if they weren’t interested, or wanting to support your output and you shouldn’t doubt it.
In my mind, I put it in the same category as receiving complements where my initial reaction is to downplay them, partly out of embarrassment from receiving attention and partly because it doesn’t happen regularly meaning it’s not normalised for me. Feeling that way doesn’t make it any less accurate or make you any less deserving of it however!
Back to our fantasy worldview where we falsely believe no one is paying attention.
With this in mind, I always try to make sure the talk I’m giving is something I would find interesting myself. In this view of things, I’m the only one hearing myself talk which means I want to make sure I don’t get bored of what I have to say.
Put another way, I try to give a talk that my past self would enjoy.
Going a step further, you might even imagine that the talk itself is besides the point. It’s an artefact that you’ll be discarding, with the fun part being the research process. It’s like free motivation to look into something that you otherwise wouldn’t have found interesting.2
The main underlying idea is to expect nothing with any response being a positive.
If you get a positive response, then great!
If you get a neutral response, you didn’t lose (or gain) anything and likely learned a bunch on top of +5 Presentation EXP
Getting a negative response is unlikely given the vast majority of people don’t like confrontation. In the rare event it does happen, it sounds like you made something that compelled someone to have an opinion which is a strange win if you think about it.
This should all be taken with a large pinch of salt (and therapy?) but used in the right way, it can be a handy story to tell yourself.
Merely saying " Don’t worry about it" is easy but getting to a place where you can believe it, even for a short while is the hardest part of all.