Developing presenters with an open mic night

October 16, 2006

In August I ran a tag-team user-group meeting. The idea was that people within the group would get up and give a really short presentation about something which they thought was cool. I had a few people put their hands up, and I prompted a few more people as well. All in all, the meeting was really good. Numbers were down, but I think this comes down to people not really knowing what to expect (but let's face it, numbers are down when I'm listed as the speaker – I think it's the familiarity thing).

Since then, I've noticed some other groups doing similar things. And some of those people have asked me about the whys, and hows of it.

The Why is easy for me.

Firstly, it lets me know who in the audience is willing to present (and who has a knack for it). More than that though, it tells me who I could potentially help develop as a speaker.

Secondly, it gives me an idea about the things that people are interested in. The section of the evaluation form that says "What should we have presentations on in the future?" is almost always blank.

Thirdly, it saves me having to find a speaker that month. Actually, this is a really big thing. Getting speakers to come to Adelaide can be awkward – we're a bit isolated from the rest of the world.

The How is a bit more complicated. I have a list here, and these are in no particular order.

First, you need to give people a lot of warning. Tell them a good two or three months in advance, and also tell them that you'll be prompting people.

Second, you need to prompt people. You didn't get that from the first point? Hmm… You will get people who just volunteer, but you'll also find that a lot of people won't. So just ask them. Especially those people who you think would do a good job.

Third, It helps to have a prize for the best talk. If nothing else, you'll find that some people really like the prize and want to pursue it. Greed can help. 🙂

Fourth, give people ideas. I don't just list them, but I tell people I have some ideas, and then when I prompt people, if their excuse is that they can't think of anything to speak on, give them a couple of topics to choose from.

Fifth, warn people that you might not get through them – and have these people as the seasoned presenters who really don't need the practice. The newbies will go overtime, almost guaranteed.

Sixth, don't stop those people that go overtime. Be really encouraging to them. Actually, be really encouraging whatever happens.

Seventh, get people's notes in advance and prepare good questions. If someone's struggling, you can turn their talk around with a couple of well-placed questions. This can really help.

Eighth (wow, there's a few), have a bunch of tips yourself that you don't need slides for. You can give these tips while people swap machines – just a way of filling in time between presentations. Keeping it flowing will really help.

Ninth, offer to have an interview-style presentation if you know someone has something
good to say but will be nervous about presenting. For many people, the problem is just standing in front of other people. But if you get them to just have a conversation in front of everyone else, then that could be the break-through they need.

There are more, of course. But I can't think of them right now. I guess that's where 'comments' come in. 🙂 I'd like to hear feedback from anyone else who has run similar meetings, to hear how they went.


This Post Has One Comment

  1. Mitch Wheat

    Thanks, Rob. This is great advice. I particularly like tips 7, 8 and 9. Much appreciated.

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