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Lessons in Presentation Skills from… WordPress?!

PressPublish

“When I think of you going to ‘BlogFest 2015’ in Portland, I picture you surrounded by a bunch of other introverted, slightly awkward folks, all sitting in a room… maybe even complaining how you were missing this weekend’s Emerald City ComiCon!”

This email from one friend is exactly the reaction I dreaded when I confessed to people I’d be spending my Saturday at a conference on blogging. Apparently our next door neighbor was really hoping that I had made a career transition to urban forestry and had to ask my wife three times whether I had travelled to Portland for a conference on “logging.”

I’ve written before about searching for my presentation soul mate at conferences and how I’ve had my heart broken. Needless to say, I had pretty tempered expectations for WordPress’s Press Publish conference.

The day I spent among several hundred other bloggers exceeded expectations. Here’s what I liked:

1. The featured speakers all showed up prepared and each spun an engaging, unique story.

2. Each featured speaker was limited to about 20 minutes of content, so there was structure in place to keep someone from rambling too long about any one thing.

3. Each featured speaker was followed by someone at WordPress, describing features of WordPress (or perhaps some general blogging tips) related to the featured speaker’s presentation.

4. The content was great and I could apply it immediately, while sitting right there in the session. For example, look at this: I learned how to change the color of the font in my posts!

As someone who is constantly looking to understand what helps distinguish between good speakers and speakers who are so-so, I asked around in order to find the meeting organizer, I wanted the recipe for her “secret sauce” underlying the quality of speakers at this small event. I was told to speak with Andrea Middleton.

When I asked her for her secrets, she didn’t hesitate. She immediately rattled off a five-step process she felt led to the high quality of presentation delivery for her featured speakers:

1) WordPress reached out directly to potential speakers with a cold email. (There was not a request for presenters.)

2) Meeting organizers interviewed every potential speaker via video conference to gauge their speaking ability. (This is a step that meeting organizers across the country would be wise to emulate. You can only tell so much about a person’s ability to speak in an engaging manner through a written application to present.)

3) Session outlines were due a month in advance. (This prevented anyone from putting off their presentation until the last minute.)

4) Follow-up video conference sessions were arranged to discuss suggested edits to the session outline. Some speakers were even asked to practice 5-10 minutes of their presentation via video conference in order to receive feedback.

5) Slides were due two weeks in advance of the conference. (This prevented anyone from slapping together a slide deck on the airplane, en route to the conference.)

Oh, for good measure, Andrea also asked each speaker to deliver the best presentation of their lives.

Beyond all the good blogging tips and ideas and secrets I am excited to put to use over the next few weeks, my biggest take-away was that the single most important factor separating poor and ho-hum presentations from amazing presentations is the level of preparation beforehand.

For both the blogging community as well as anyone interested in effective, engaging presentations, I hope WordPress expands their Press Publish conference idea (which right now is just in the pilot stage).

There was nothing introverted or slightly awkward about these presenters.

 

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