Do you have something to share with your fellow Solid Edge users? Everybody knows something worth sharing, the hard part is convincing you to get up in front of a room full of other users and talking about what you know. To me, this is what user groups are all about, and Solid Edge University is just a big Solid Edge user group meeting. If you want to try your hand at presenting, sign up and see what happens! We all might have a lot to learn from you. Go to the Siemens site and sign up.
I’m not a motivational speaker or an expert at public speaking, but I’ve presented at dozens (maybe hundreds) of local Solid Works user group meetings, and maybe 15 times at the SolidWorks World conferences (8 years with multiple presentations some years). Some sessions would get a couple hundred attendees.
What I really want to write about tonight is public speaking, and mainly to give you some encouragement if you think it might be a stretch for you to get up and talk in front of a group of people. Public speaking is really about about one thing. Confidence.
The first thing is a topic. You have to pick something that you know well. It has to be a topic where you have a lot of confidence in your knowledge. If you are confident in your knowledge, you won’t have any problem getting up and talking about it. It might seem obvious, but when I presented at CAD conferences, I would talk about my experiences, or parts I had worked with, or a process I developed over time. Talking about your own personal experience with the software is important because that’s something you know intimately. You don’t have to write a speech and memorize it, you just talk from the heart, and it flows. So pick a topic that you know a lot about, and talk about your experience with it. Even if you wind up talking about learning something new, speaking from your personal experience will make it believable, personal, and interesting.
The second thing is organizing your thoughts. Everybody makes fun of PowerPoint, but PowerPoint and the whole “outlining” concept can really help you organize your thoughts. A trick you might try is to write down everything you can think of concerning your topic, and then organize those things into a list from the most general to the most specific, and then regroup so that details are underneath the general idea. You might have to fill in some gaps, but this is a method I use to make sure I cover important points, and also to make sure I don’t confuse high-level concepts with microscopic details.
Next I research, and create a specific example. Make sure you know your example inside and out, and use it to explore the points in the outline you created. You can also use a series of smaller examples, but a single example can help pull together thoughts that don’t seem to have much to do with one another. Better yet, try to teach yourself something new. Dig into the topic, and find a couple of areas where you can do some research, or ask someone else for a few ideas.
Next, practice talking to yourself or the dog or the mirror or your computer monitor, and write down what you want to say. Your presentation will come out more natural if you write down what you say rather than saying just what you write down. Use the notes area of the PowerPoint slide. There are tons of places to go to learn how to make good PowerPoint presentations, so I won’t repeat that here. But I make sure that have a couple minutes of talking materials for each PowerPoint slide. And of course, don’t just read the slide. Also, don’t forget that you are showing CAD software. Showing Solid Edge will be more important than showing PowerPoint. Jump back and forth if you need to.
At a recent CAD demo I attended, the presenter was obviously skilled, and even comfortable in front of crowds, and intelligent, and all that. But he forgot that he wasn’t demoing PowerPoint. He went on for 15 minutes without even showing the CAD software. This is a big no-no. In fact, if you could only use one software, I would leave the PowerPoint at home and just show the Solid Edge. There is a story you have to tell, and you can tell it with CAD as well as with anything else. PowerPoint is for a couple of things: organizing concise info visually, and giving some visual examples. If you are giving a presentation on Solid Edge, Solid Edge should make up at least half of the presentation. Showing examples takes some time, so it will also decrease the amount of material you have to prepare and cover.
The last step in preparation is to try to anticipate questions you might get. My approach is to practice answers to some obvious questions, but also make sure you have a response to some potentially contradictory points of view as well. They could be something as simple as “see me after class, and we can discuss that”, or something to that effect. If your topic is controversial, prepare more of this kind of question.
Finally, when the time comes, and everything is in place, just enjoy it. You know you are prepared, you are confident, and you are organized. If you open the session with a joke, and you see people laugh, that might relax you a little. Seeing that the audience is on your side can be important to your state of mind. Jokes can backfire on you, though. You don’t have to be Larry the Cable Guy doing stand up, but a little humor makes you look and feel more relaxed. You’ve got to be engaging, so look directly at people in the audience. Ask for people to raise their hands in a way that shows you expect an answer. Ask people to shout out answers or questions. The more you get them to participate, the better they’ll enjoy your presentation. I tend to get the audience input early in the presentation, that way they pay attention for the rest of the show.
So, do you think you’re ready? Go sign up to give a presentation, because I want to learn your special tricks!