“It’s a lot more fun when you are up there!”

PM Commentary by Stacy Goff.
The title of this article comes from a comment by a young lady at the 2013 IPMA World Congress, held in Dubrovnik, Croatia. I spoke a number of times in the Congress in my role as IPMA Global VP of Marketing & Events. In most of those sessions, I co-hosted with Prof. Mladen Radujkovic, President of IPMA. Together, we make a very good presentation team. And, I agree with the young lady: It is a lot more fun for me too, when I am up there!

Four events in two months

This was a relatively slow year for my speaking activities—until July, when a series of invitations popped up. First was an opportunity to do a keynote presentation in Wuhan, China. Next, a long-planned presentation at the UTD PM Symposium, sponsored by University of Texas-Dallas, PMI®-Dallas, and PMWorld Journal. Then, webinar on Stakeholder Engagement for Project Management Institute’s IS Community of Practice. And of course, the IPMA World Congress.

The UTD PM Symposium continues as one of the best US regional PM events of the year. Last year I presented the IPMA Keynote; this year, we brought in Jesus Martinez Almeda (Spain). Jesus regaled the audience with his insights into global project management. My stream session covered Stakeholder Engagement, so I pointed out the differences between being engaged versus managed. I also regaled the audience with my racing days, showing how my team and sponsors are also stakeholders.

IPMA China Keynotes

Our keynote in China was for PMRC, IPMA-China. I performed the 2011 keynote for the PMRC Congress in Xi’an, China, and China is always a rewarding experience for a speaker. Because of the small pauses due to sequential translation, I could observe the roomful of participants, gauging the audience reaction. Of course, the choice of translator helps: PMRC Leader Xue Yan performed translation. She is a great friend and past IPMA Executive Board member; her translation was excellent. In Wuhan, my keynote followed Mladen’s keynote, and again we established a complementary sequence of similarities and contrasts.

PMI’s IS CoP webinar was a special challenge: Over three thousand hopeful participants signed up, with only a thousand seats available (first arrived, first served). And while I have spoken to well over a thousand people in one room, speaking online to that many people scattered all over the world is a bit different. How do you keep people engaged, excited, and benefiting from the session, rather than checking their email? I decided that the key is to establish key points in the session that involved participants in responding to questions.

The questions had a range of useful answers, and required considering, and then recording, ones’ reply. Imagine asking a question, then seeing a rush of over 500 responses in 20 seconds. That gives you a sense of the pace of the session. I’d select several unique responses, and acknowledge those responses, speaking the name of the participant. That approach made this event, as cited by many participants, “The most interactive webinar I have ever attended!” We also answered questions in-stream, rather than waiting until the end. This is all part of making learning fun.

Wasn’t always fun

Speaking was not always fun for me. In fact, the first time I presented to a larger group, I was scared to death. The session’s audience was a group of around 200 highway engineers from state and local government agencies in the Western US. My topic was our successful conversion of the Utah-New Mexico Earthworks System (UNMES) for the IBM 360 computer. The software was originally written for earlier, incompatible systems. Two of us, Lenny Martin and myself, worked in the Public Works department at Lane County, Oregon. We converted UNMES for the newest IBM System of 1968, and upgrading and testing dozens of FORTRAN programs.

Up to the time I took the podium, transparencies in hand, I was confident and excited. But when I looked out at the audience, and saw all 400 eyes on me, I went into classic novice speaker shock. Immediately, I could not breathe! I began shaking. There was no intonation or volume in my voice. I knew I did not want to just read my notes, but what other option was there? Terrified, I announced: “We are making our conversion of the UNMES system available to all government agencies… And now, here is my associate, Lenny, who will tell you all about it.” Lenny was supposed to do the second half of the presentation. He was surprised, as I escaped the podium, and left the room. I watched him finish my part of the presentation, then his, looking in from outside the room.

Making speaking fun

I worked very hard, for the next ten years, to get over that first public speaking experience. In that era, I was quiet and shy (some know that I still am, to some extent). By the early 1980s, when I began project consulting, I had spoken to groups of all sizes. And still today, after another 30 years of consulting and speaking, I get a few butterflies in my stomach before each presentation. That shows me I still remember that first speaking experience. But part of my secret is this: Make my sessions fun, relevant, and insightful for the audience—that makes it fun for me.

I have seen many effective speakers. We have many in IPMA; some in the US who immediately come to mind include Donna, Joel, Duncan, Tim, Alex, Bob and Tom. Those who have seen and heard them understand who they are—without giving their whole name. There also incredibly great speakers in IPMA–I have learned a lot by observing them. Of course, each speaker has a style; some are funny, some are quite serious; some are a firehose of information. Some are cynics; some appear to be very-well practiced; and some perform effortlessly.

If you want to make it a lot more fun when you are up there, prepare well, then deliver for your audience, not just for yourself. What are your speaking secrets?

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