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How to conquer Ignite Karaoke

May 5, 2010

The first Ignite Birmingham went brilliantly, with a terrific lineup of speakers and topics. I loved having the chance to be a part of it, even if I didn’t do a formal presentation.

Instead, I volunteered for Ignite Karaoke, which challenges the speaker to talk for 5 minutes about one topic. I had to use 20 slides, advancing one by one every 15 seconds, that I hadn’t seen before.

Needless to say, I was sweating a bit.

But I had fun with it, and I think the audience did, too.

We’re very excited about holding another Ignite, probably in August. Several people have already stepped forward to speak at the next event, and a few were leaning toward Karaoke. Yay!

Allow me to share my tips on how to conquer Ignite Karaoke, because, believe me, anyone can do it.

1. Give talks, lectures and presentations. A lot. If you want to become a better public speaker, you actually have to do it often. Some folks are afraid of speaking before a group of people, but you can get better with each outing.

Speaking in front of an audience frequently teaches you how to make eye contact, how to pace yourself, how to pause, how to move away from the podium, how to improvise (especially when things go wrong). You learn to be the center of attention without wilting or falling apart.

2. Do not panic. Do not even show panic. The first slide in my deck, which sets the topic, was labeled “sociosemantics.” It took me a moment just to find it on the slide (it was superimposed over a busy background photo). “Oh sweet heavens,” I thought, “What is sociosemantics??”

I laughed. There, I just gave you my tell. And then I began weaving together a talk on what I know: the meaning of language and how it impacts society.

Take a deep breath and plunge ahead.

3. Do not read the slides aloud. This is a grand temptation for any impromptu speaker. You see words on a slide you’ve never seen before, and you want to read it aloud to get it fixed in your mind. Don’t. Your audience can read it just fine.

Instead, focus on what the slide means in your overall presentation. Transition as naturally as you can from your previous talking point. Sometimes, you’ll end up making a point for every slide. That’s OK.

4. Speak with confidence. A voice of authority goes a long way in winning over your audience. It says, “I know where I’m going; feel free to come along with me.” In my 5 minutes, I didn’t have a moment where I didn’t speak clearly, loudly and authoritatively about the meaning of language. I made eye contact, I planted my feet, I used my hands to emphasize points.

That confidence comes from years of practice, including 25 years of impromptu speaking.

A couple of speakers ahead of me were concerned they would somehow end up with the impromptu deck, that they would be forced at gunpoint to talk off the cuff. I found that odd. Impromptu is how you speak most of the time. It’s prepared talks that usually make you sound forced and unnatural.

5. When you do prepared talks, use notes instead of a script. The key to sounding prepared but not over-rehearsed? Use as few notes as possible. Use a broad outline, or a few talking points, but do not have a word-for-word script to read aloud.

This doesn’t mean skipping rehearsal. You can tell immediately who has practiced, and who’s winging it. You owe it to your audience to work out most of the kinks ahead of time. This includes pacing yourself, allowing enough time for questions, avoiding rushing or skipping over important points. Author Tim Ferriss breaks it down into segments for preparation and rehearsal.

You, too, can conquer Ignite Karaoke. Sometimes, it comes down to the slides. You get a great deck, and your talk will flow effortlessly. You get a lousy shuffle, and it will seem like the longest 5 minutes of your life.

But if you’re having fun, your audience will, too. Go for it!

Photo by Henry McBride

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. Scott Wehrenberg permalink
    May 5, 2010 9:23 pm

    Wade, you did a phenomenal job with the karaoke round. One other thing I noted from your topic, was even though you were given random slides to talk about, you wove them into a theme that you can speak on very well – public speaking. Picking a framework to talk about irrespective of the slides helped the talk flow much more smoothly.

    • May 6, 2010 5:11 am

      Thanks, Scott! I hope I didn’t ignore the slides completely. 🙂


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