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Earlier this year, I had the privilege of speaking at TEDx Lausanne. It was a wonderful experience. Two days ago, I had the privilege of attending TEDx Place des Nations in Geneva, Switzerland. It was held in the impressive Assembly Hall of the United Nations Palais des Nations.
Speaking at at TEDx event is a thrill, but it is also very draining. It was nice, this time around, to be able to relax as a member of the audience and enjoy the talks. And what talks!
From making books accessible for the blind to fighting ebola; from education in Uganda to open source hardware; from rethinking our cities to tales of heroism in Chechnya, Afghanistan and other places afflicted with conflict, TEDx Place des Nations was inspiring.
Because I had arrived early, I had a great seat (third row centre with a desk) and was able to note down several observations for each speaker. It was interesting to review my notes and see the parallels between the different talks. Here are five observations.
Passion – Every speaker spoke passionately about his or her topic. Whether it was big data or women’s rights in Afghanistan, it was clear that the speakers believed deeply in what they were saying. In some cases, the passion was loud, in some cases it was quiet. In all cases, it was powerful. When you speak with passion, in whatever form, you have a greater chance of engaging with the audience.
Pauses – I was pleasantly surprised at how many speakers used the power of the pause to enhance their talks. Those pauses came at key moments in the talks and they allowed the audience to absorb and reflect on the words that had just been spoken.
Slides – Most of the speakers used slides to support their talks. A few of those slides were, in my opinion, cluttered with too much information. Fortunately, such slides were in the minority. Most slides had only a few key words or no words at all. There were great visuals. There were simple graphs and charts. There were some fascinating animations (e.g., tiny beams of light representing people moving about Geneva, based on data from their smart phones). When you keep your slides clean, they support your talk and don’t distract.
Humour – Most of the talks, even the most serious, contained elements of humour. For example, Vincent Cochetel, Director at the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, spoke movingly about his colleagues who were killed in the line of duty while working in conflict situations. He also spoke about his own harrowing experience of being held hostage for 317 days in Chechnya. At one point, he showed a picture of himself the day he was released. He had gone almost an entire year without shaving. He looked at the picture a moment and said, “That beard would be trendy today.” It gave the audience permission to laugh and helped ease the tension that had been built up. Humour can be a powerful tool. If you discover appropriate and genuine opportunities to use humour in a talk—as opposed to trying to force it—consider doing so.
Stories – Every speaker told at least one story. Some stories were long; some stories were short. Some stories were personal; some stories were about third parties. All stories added meaning and were memorable. The lesson? Tell stories.
All in all, an enjoyable, informative and inspiration event. And kudos to the organisers. Everything ran very smoothly.
Photo courtesy of TEDx Place des Nations / Flickr
“What about confusing clutter? Information overload? Doesn’t data have to be ‘boiled down’ and ‘simplified’? These common questions miss the point, for the quantity of detail is an issue completely separate from the difficulty of reading. Clutter and confusion are failures of design, not attributes of information.”
— Edward Tufte
Photo courtesy of Aaron Fulkerson / Flickr
“A talk is a voyage with purpose and it must be charted. The man who starts out going nowhere, generally gets there.”
— Dale Carnegie
I am sitting in the Geneva airport as I write this post. I am on my way to Barcelona for a great week of teaching and learning with my good friends and fellow public speakers, Conor Neill, Florian Mueck, Tobias Rodrigues and Tony Anagor.
Today, as always when I travel by plane, I arrived at the airport early. More than two hours before my departure, in fact. Now, the airport to Geneva is not that big and a flight from Switzerland to Spain is fairly routine. Furthermore, I only live 15 minutes by car—maximum—from the airport.
Two hours was way more time than I needed. In fact, as I write this post, I am sitting in a seat that looks very much like the ones in the photo. (But mine have armrests.) I am at the gate and waiting to board.
First of all, I travel frequently enough that I have conditioned myself to like airports. I mean, I have to spend time there, so trying to enjoy the experience (as much as possible) is preferable to the alternative. It’s like Mondays. Whenever anyone tells me with a sigh, on a Monday morning, that they hate Mondays, I remind them that Mondays constitute 1/7 (more than 14%) of our lives and that hating 14% of your life as a matter of routine is not a good idea.
But there is a more fundamental reason why I arrive early at the airport: I want to make sure that I get where I am supposed to go, especially when people are counting on me. Arriving early means that I can handle long lines at the baggage drop-off; I will not worry if people in front of me at security keep setting off the machine with coins and belts and whatnot; I can walk at a leisurely pace to the gate and not have to dash through terminals like I was in a parkour competition. (Perhaps I am being old-fashioned, I but consider it common courtesy not to be sweaty and out of breath when I sit beside someone on a plane.) In short, I have time to deal with situations that arise and I am not stressed.
And if, as is usually the case, I arrive with plenty of time to spare, I can find several ways to keep myself occupied: I can chat with my wife if we are traveling together; I can have a beer or coffee or something to eat; I can browse the book stores; I can read any number of things that I have loaded on my Kobo eReader; I can write a blog post (like this one); I can check my email; I can work on ideas for future speeches or presentations. In short, I can find something productive to keep me busy.
I follow the same approach when it comes to speaking. Ideally, I will visit the venue prior to the day of my speech or presentation to check things out. But even on the day, I will arrive 60 to 90 minutes before the event starts. Why? Because I want to make sure that everything is perfect.
What can you do when you arrive early? Plenty! For example:
- Meet the organisers and any last-minute changes to the schedule
- Meet the technician(s)
- Connect your laptop to the beamer and make sure the presentation is running properly
- Do a sound check
- Prepare the speaking area (lectern, walking space, flipcharts, handouts, etc.)
- Where necessary, arrange the seating the way you would like it
- Adjust the lights and curtains
- Adjust the temperature
- Locate the rest rooms
- Have drinking water available
- Review the notes of your speech or presentation
- Get a feel for the room
The last thing you want to be doing is scrambling to fix some problem with people settled in their seats and only minutes remaining before you are supposed to be on stage.
And when all of the above has been done and you still have time remaining, why not say hello to the first people who arrive? After all, they are there to see you and will almost certainly be happy to chat. Doing so helps you build rapport with some members of the audience even before you take the stage. And that is a good thing.
So the next time you have a speech or presentation, take my approach to airplane travel and arrive early. You’ll be glad that you did. Bon voyage!