Why Speaker Training?
Web Directions is known for being committed to helping web professionals acquire and hone skills, ideas and attitudes that can help them in their working lives.
This is most obvious in the major events we organise: conferences and workshops in Australia that bring acknowledged experts from around the world here to share their knowledge, as well as provide a platform for locals to show their insights into their chosen fields.
Less well known are the smaller events that Web Directions organises such as “What Do You Know?”, an evening of short, sharp presentations that let speakers test out their ideas and topics on a willing and supportive audience.
Many WDYK speakers graduate to longer presentations they may give not just at Web Directions conferences but all sorts of public industry events.
What this whole process demands, though, is some level of adequacy in two areas that are not necessarily strengths of web professionals: writing and speaking. If you want to give a presentation at a conference – of any sort – you will almost certainly have to prepare a written submission that summarises what you want to talk about and why an audience would be interested.
Once your submission is accepted, you will then face the challenge of actually delivering the presentation, perhaps on the stage of a large auditorium, under lights, in front of several hundred colleagues and professional peers.
This kind of writing and speaking rarely comes naturally to anyone, let alone people who spend much of their working lives staring at a screen.
Code? Yes. Markup? Sure. Shoutouts via social media? No worries. Explain your idea to a room of 500 people?
Live? On stage?
Why a Workshop?
They are, however, skills that are actually valuable beyond the task of submitting and delivering conference presentations. You may need to prepare written reports for your team leaders and project managers. You may need to front up to team meetings and explain what went right or wrong on a given project. You may need to write formal letters of proposal to prospective clients. You may be asked by a client to speak to a board to convince them to invest in a project.
In the last couple of years, Web Directions has held group sessions meant for, and limited to, prospective WDYK speakers where they can focus on and practise their speaking skills. These sessions proved so popular and effective – feedback from participants and what they were eventually able to achieve with their presentations proved the truth of that – that it seemed a good idea to provide this kind of training to anyone in the industry who might be interested.
So it was that I turned up to Web Directions HQ just near Central Station in downtown Sydney at 10am on a late February Saturday morning for a Speaker Training Workshop. Along with me were 23 other people who also worked on the web in some way and wanted to test and improve their public speaking.
It was a very eclectic bunch, a pretty even male/female split, ages ranging from early 20s to mid-50s (OK, the latter was just me, but there were some people there in their early 40s, at least).
Public Speaking for Life
The workshop was run by a mob called Public Speaking For Life in the form of tag team trainers Sarah Ewen and Tarek Said. I say “tag team” because that’s how they ran the day, and a very effective method it was.
Sarah would talk to us about voice and how to use it, for example, then Tarek might talk to us about posture, then Sarah on breathing, then Tarek on what to do with your hands. All of that was interspersed by exercises for the participants.
The first involved Tarek suggesting a topic – web-related or otherwise – and asking for someone to talk to that topic for 90 seconds. If no-one volunteered, he would call on someone but, although there was sometimes a lengthy pause, everyone volunteered to talk on something.
After everyone had spoken – some with confidence, some less so – Sarah then gave us each notes on how we had done. This is a hallmark of their approach – give immediate feedback, make it personal and provide suggestions for improvement.
I won’t go into more detail about how Sarah and Tarek ran the rest of the day – they have their professional secrets, after all – but I can say that by the end of the day every single person was more self-aware, more confident, more informed and more positive about themselves as public speakers.
Personally, I enjoyed the day immensely. I spent a few years as an actor so probably had a bit of a head start on most of my fellow participants, but then my acting days were also 25 years ago and I really didn’t know how I’d go without having learned a script first.
All 24 of us gave a 2-minute presentation at the end of the day and I think every single one of us was as amazed at our own evident progress as that of our fellows. There is something about seeing someone who starts as a shy wallflower and ends up speaking boldly and passionately that is both empowering and reassuring.
I would heartily recommend this kind of training to anyone who wonders if they have what it takes to get up and address a group of people. If you have trainers of the quality of Sarah and Tarek, I reckon you’ll find that you do – you just need some guidance on what to do and how to handle the situation.
Keep your eyes open for more Web Directions Speaker Training Workshops. It won’t surprise you to know we also have plans to offer Writing Workshops in the future.
Originally published: http://www.webdirections.org/scrollmagazine/