Getting better at public speaking

I’m currently working to improve my public speaking, and I recently gave a talk on Digital Justice at Product Management Festival in Zurich. Afterwards, I asked a few people for some honest feedback, and jotted down how I felt I’d done. So this post is really a mini-retrospective with me reflecting on what went well and what I could do better next time.

I thought you might find it of passing interest also. With any luck, I’ll present better next time.

Very large screen + very small Jock

Very large screen + very small Jock

Digital Justice was me sharing a few things I’d learned from my time as interim head of product for the Ministry of Justice Digital team. I felt I’d missed a few points I really wanted to make, suffered a bit from technical gremlins on the day, so overall I gave my presentation a B- (must try harder).

I’m planning to write up the story I wanted to tell in a forthcoming post or two. This post is more about what went well, what didn’t go so well, and what I’m going to do better next time.

The slide deck and the video, which I was unable to show at the time, are below.

So what worked well? #

  • Confidence on stage
  • Clear enunciation, good voice dynamics (especially with an audience for whom English was mostly not their first language)
  • Thought-provoking and relevant content for the audience
  • Striking and tweet-friendly slides, pics looked really good on the big screen
  • Slides told a story
  • Gentle chuckles at slow-burn visual gags
  • Kept to time
  • Wasn’t thrown by video not playing
  • Managed to avoid turning around to stare at the MASSIVE CINEMA SCREEN

… and what didn’t? #

  • Embedded video didn’t play, no sound – could have been anything in between PowerPoint on my laptop and the sound booth
  • I felt rushed, even if I was actually on time
  • I missed a few opportunities to tie back what I was saying to earlier points
  • I was never near my laptop to see the speaker notes, so missed some points I meant to draw out
  • Could have given more examples of what I actually did, e.g. how I interviewed product managers to make good hires
  • Could have briefly recapped each numbered point before moving to the next one
  • As a different approach to the talk, I could have taken a deeper dive into one or two of the five points, perhaps to illustrate the Discovery > Alpha > Beta > Live flow by following a service through the four stages and giving more examples of what we did
  • I can put more breathing space into the slide design – I don’t need to use all the real estate, especially on such a big screen

Undecided #

  • Don’t know how easy it was for people to see the website links and twitter handle at the bottom of the slides
  • Should the footer links be on every slide or not? Would they detract from the pretty full-screen pictures?
  • In a big venue, you pretty much can’t see me from the back – perhaps stick a quick photo in at the beginning? Or not… (so vain)
  • I was worried I’d inadvertently claimed credit for my team’s work, but that wasn’t reflected in the feedback, so maybe that’s just in my head

What will I do differently next time? #

  • There’s still room for improvement on the slide design:
    • keep taking stuff out of the slide design, add more breathing space
    • can get away with smaller font sizes on the big screen
  • I could tell the story more fluidly:
    • either tell an anecdote with a single slide as a prompt
    • or make sure a sequence of slides is more like a storyboard, rather than different, unrelated ideas
  • But would need to make fewer points:
    • with 20 minutes I can’t go into great depth when the story is context + 5 main points & subpoints
  • Don’t bother writing speaker notes, I’m never going to see them
  • To include or not include videos? I may have been unlucky this time, but I’m yet to get a completely glitch-free run on both video and audio

Jock at PMF15 - Digital Justice 4


Read more from Jock

The Practitioner's Guide to Product Management by Jock Busuttil

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– pb (Amazon)

“I wish this book was published when I started out in product management”
– KejiA (Amazon)

One thought on “Getting better at public speaking

  1. When I used video in the past I’ve always made sure to have the video file on my computer.

    For those looking to improve their public speaking skills join Toastmasters

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