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Public speaking – The neglected tool leading to neglected audiences in technology conferences at large.

I would like to share with you a critique of some of the public speaking at the recent mastering SAP conference in Sydney. But first off I would like to state this. Public speaking is hard, many dread it worse than they dread death, I’ve heard people say they would rather drink a cup of someone elses vomit than speak in public, and I would like to start by saying well done to those who did get up and speak. This is not intended as an attack against anyone but an honest critique from a toastmaster of minor experience. It is my opinion and other toastmaster opinions may differ. More so the purpose I would like to put forward here is to open the eyes of people in general as to what they can do to improve and how they can improve, and what separates the trained from the untrained. If you find something personally offensive I will happily remove it.

First things first, what is an umm count? – An umm count is the number of times someone says umm or err, ahh or another filler type word, these break a presentation, cause the professionalism of the delivery to drop significantly and can be very frustrating for audience members, (Especially trained speakers)

I’ll try not to cover the same things over and over again for each speaker so while some parts of the critique might be missing from someone’s it is more for the sake of brevity. – Sorry Oliver you’re first up so probably hardest hit.

Speaker evaluations (From some events I attended)

Opening Keynote Presentation – SAP Runs SAP – From In Memory to Mobile – Oliver Bussman – CIO and Exec VP SAP AG.

Umm count = 105 Umms

I enjoyed this presentation, Oliver clearly knows the SAP business well, and he had alot of information to cover in a short period of time. The speech was well practiced and there was little reliance on slides for verbose reading.

I felt that the hand movements and pacing on stage were repetitive, while it is important to not stand still like a statue, repeating hand movements all the time and pacing all the time leads to disengagement with the audience and leaving you little room for movements and gestures to convey meaning. I recommend that you add variation into your body language and gestures, hands don’t have to move all the time and can be relaxed at your side during periods they are not required.

I noticed that Oliver’s hands spent quite a bit of time in his pockets, and little eye contact was made with the audience – most eye contact was the back of the room. This conveys to the audience a disinterest in speaking to them, a cavalier approach that is disengaging.

I feel there is a need to engage with the audience more, injecting humour and rhetoric questions are good for this when used appropriately. This will also help with your vocal variety (variance of pitch, vocal impressions, emphasis etc) which will add interest to the audience.

I also recommend more pauses in your speaking, when you feel an umm coming on pause instead, this builds anticipation in your audience and gives them time to catch up on what you are saying.

Overall Oliver’s speech was well delivered, practiced and smooth. We all have things to work on and with a little professional training in public speaking this keynote presentation could become a highlight speech at conferences. Thank you for taking the time to present it to us.

Keynote Presentation – SAP’s Technology roadmap and strategy update – Sanjay J.Poonen – Pres and Corp Officer, Global Solutions – Go-to-market

Umm count = 79 Umms

I enjoyed this presentation, it was informative, delivered alot of content in a short time and communicated ideas well. There was some good engagement with the audience when the three on stage were delivering various stages of the speech.

I felt eye contact was definitely lacking with the audience as most eye contact was delivered to the back wall in the auditorium. In addition to this one of the 3 on stage who I only caught part of his name – Patel – was looking at the ceiling when addressing the audience. The lack of eye contact causes audience disengagement and reduces the effectiveness of your speech. Also you cannot get positive reinforcement from your audience if you do not have eye contact with them. Just focusing your gaze on someone for a few moments can cause that person to react in a way that signifies you have engagement – ie smiling, nodding etc. Plus if you catch them nodding off you know you’ve got some serious work to do.

I noticed that there was also a lot of hand clasping (Gripping hands in front of self) This causes a case of lock hands, where you appear defensive and insecure as well as preventing yourself from using appropriate hand gestures as once you lock them in, in front of you, unclasping them can become near impossible. My suggestion is that you just relax, let your arms down by your sides and enjoy yourself.

Overall a well delivered and well practiced presentation. With practice and training this will become a well enjoyed and well recieved / remembered keynote presentation. Thank you for taking the time to present it to us.

Presentation – What’s new in SAP Solution Manager 7.1 – John Krakowski Jr – Senior PM, Solution management for App Lifecycle mgmt.

Umm count = 26 Umms – Well done

John had good knowledge of the SAP Solution manager 7.1 and it showed throughout his presentation as there was little slide or note reading and questions were answered with little hesitation.

I felt John did a little too much hand clasping with the powerpoint slide remote, this causes lock hands and prevents effective use of body language.

It is my opinion that John’s presentations would benefit from the usage of a variety of props, ie 3M drawing board just to add to that extra bit of engagement with your audience.

John had good vocal variety in his presentation, it was a natural delivery, pauses were used to good effect and the emphasis and voice patterns engaged the audience.

Overall I thoroughly enjoyed this presentation and at a guess I would say John has had some form of formal training in public speaking, if not, he’s a natural and would in any case be a good candidate to observe for improving your public speaking. Thank you for taking the time to present it to us.

Presentation – Remaining Relevant in a Changing World – Graham Robinson – SAP Mentor

Umm count = 22 Umms – Well done

A humorous and interest piquing presentationabout how to stay relevent in SAP. A motivational type topic that Graham delivered with a conversational style delivery that was well recieved by the audience.

I noticed that Grahams hands spent a lot of time in his pockets. As I stated earlier this implies a disregard toward the audience and a cavalier approach to delivery that causes audience disengagement.

A number of times Graham mentioned he was under-prepared for the speech, this is a big no-no to tell your audience as it lowers their view of you, if you are under prepared, don’t tell the audience, fake it till you make it and they will be none the wiser.

In part of Graham’s speech he talked about getting rid of the life suckers in your life, including divorcing your spouse if they are a life sucker. While the delivery may have had a humorous edge I felt this was an inappropriate comment to make and extremely poor advice delivered to an audience where it may be received as good advice. Remember always your opinion delivered from the stage is accepted as expert opinion for the most part, making suggestions such as this can cause considerable harm to your audience and ultimately your reputation. My advice is avoid them like the plague.

Some minor hiccups aside this was a well delivered speech that included some interesting analogies with climbing and ascribing the grit and determination in climbing with the grit and determination required in day to day life. Thank you for taking the time to present it to us.

Keynote Presentation – Mobility that matters – Andre Guillemin – Independent Analyst and Mobility Consultant

Umm count = 149 Umms
Other filler words (Okay, Right, You know) = 117
Total Filler count = 266

Andre had a good presentation that was well received by the audience. He had good use of humour (Love the references to meat pies) and knew his topic well.

I felt that a good portion of the keynote presentation was a repeat of the previous standard presentation done earlier that day. Given a decent portion of the audience attended the original presentation there were a number who were put to sleep because of repeated content. My suggestion is that if you have to do 2 presentations (one presentation and one keynote) is that you do two completely different topics for each. This will prevent audience boredom.

My suggestion with regards to filler words is that I noticed that often an umm was preceded by a filler word such as “okay” so a sentence would go something like this: “We have this mobile device here, okay, umm, and it does xyz right, umm”. I feel that if you watch your filler words your umm count will significantly decrease because you have patterned yourself to that delivery.

Overall a very nice presentation that with some training could be delivered as a killer keynote presentation anywhere. Thank you for taking the time to present it to us.

Conclusion

Overall the total umm count for the conference presentations I attended was 1121, that is an average of 1 umm every minute of the conference or about 1 every 20-30 seconds if you include only presentation time.

I would like to re-iterate that these public speakers did exceptionally well to stand up in front of an audience and speak and I take my hat off to them. My end goal for technology conferences is that I would like to see speeches that get a standing ovation at the end. Speeches so well delivered they are remembered, talked about and reminisced for months if not years later. Speeches that have a lasting impact and engage the audience at a level we see so little of in conferences these days.

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4 Comments

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  1. Tom Van Doorslaer

    Hi Tyrone,

    You make uhmm, good points. I read the first paragraph and I thought: “Finally someone says it”. Frequently on these events, experts come to present something. While they are very knowledgeable about what they do, their message sometimes gets lost because of the way they bring it.

    On some events, they give speaker training beforehand and even organise group sessions to review each others presentations. The added value really shows and I make that statement every time I attend an event where the speaker training is obviously lacking.

    One remark though. I (personally) would’ve kept the blog impersonal and mailed (or messaged) the individual remarks separately.

    But maybe then the message would be less powerful?

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    1. Tyrone Mapp Post author

      Hi Tom

      Thanks for the feedback, yes I had contemplated anonymity but had the same query you had about impact, and highlighting also to the general lads and lasses who get up to speak that it’s not just them that needs work 🙂 so I kept it just to keynotes and well known SAP mentors as hopefully these guys can take one on the chin for the rest of us 🙂 . I also figured if I said keynote speech 1 did xyz people would figure out who it was anyway so best to be open.

      Cheers

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  2. Graham Robinson

    Hi Tyrone,

    thanks for your blog and participation in the Mastering SAP Technologies event. It is always great to hear feedback from the audience and I hope there will be many more blogs from other attendees in the coming days.

    I must admit that I am very conscious of my umm count as it is the thing I notice the most when I look back at video of my presentations. So when I read the first couple of paragraphs of your blog I then immediately jumped forward to see what my umm count was – and I was pleasantly surprised at the result. Whew! 😀

    That it one of the many things you learn from public speaking. You find out that you are overly self-conscious about things the audience hardly notices, and conversely you discover things you could do better that would never have occurred to you before.

    So come on everyone, start thinking about your presentation for the next Inside Track, TechEd or Mastering SAP event. Sure it can be scary to present – but it is also incredibly rewarding in many ways.

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    1. Tyrone Mapp Post author

      Hi Graham,

      Thanks for the reply, it’s good to get feedback from those I mentioned 😀 . I think the biggest thing that can be the hardest to remember is that everyone in the audience wants to see the person speaking succeed, everyone is right behind the speaker and wants them to deliver their best!

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