Tips and tricks learned by an awkward, self-doubting introvert.

Picking your topic

Don’t be hasty. This decision will influence how many people want to attend your session. Pick something too esoteric and you’ll lose out on attendees that are more junior in their field. Pick something too easy or vague, and people may question why they would attend when they could just figure out the basics using Google.

My advice for your topic — choose something that you personally experience 90% of the time in your industry and others can relate to. It can be a positive or a negative; in fact, a negative topic is usually more intriguing. If other people experience similar issues in their workplace and your workshop provides possible solutions, that will be a bigger draw.

For example, here are some negative experiences that can turn into great workshops:

  • Your company has made several lousy hiring decisions turns into: How to Hire the Right People
  • My clients are driving me insane and I want to jump out the window: How Clients and Agencies can Co-Exist Peacefully
  • No one values my opinion or team: Giving Exposure to Undervalued Teams
  • This software is awesome but my teammates are too stubborn to use it: Replacing [Old, terrible software] with [New Software]

Creating your Presentation

We are visual creatures. As much as I value watching Ted Talks, I find myself dozing off when there are no visual aids. At the very least, having something in the background is great especially if you are intimidated by presenting in front of a large group since not all eyeballs are on you.

The first step when creating your deck: Identify what people will get out of this workshop. Spell it out. For example…

By the end of this article, you will have:

  • Learned some valuable tips when forming your own workshop
  • Found ways to cope with anxiety if you aren’t used to presenting publicly
  • Hopefully been inspired to apply to be a speaker/lead your own workshop

Choosing Your Activity

The difference between a talk and a workshop is that a workshop should have at least one activity that involves your attendees. When deciding what your activity, you’ll want to consider the following:

  • What is the room layout of where you are presenting? I made the mistake of assuming that my attendees would be sitting at separate tables and it would be easy for them to form into small groups. In reality, they were sitting in compact rows which made it more challenging.
  • What time are you presenting? Early in the morning or right after lunch will mean your attendees may be a tad bit on the groggy side and not willing to move around or converse with others.
  • Highlight what you want your attendees to do. When explaining an activity, don’t list out all the steps in your presentation at once. If using PowerPoint or Keynote, stagger in the bullet points/steps so that the audience knows what they should be doing. Don’t rely on people following along with what you are saying — they will be trying to reference what’s on the screen. For example, f you are showing a diagram and you only want them to address part of that diagram for the first part of your exercise, try having an arrow point at your focus. That way if people forget what they are doing, they don’t have to guess!
  • Your activities will take longer than you planned. Things will go wrong. The audio system may not work. The Internet may be spotty and so your video may take longer to buffer. Whatever the case, be prepared to cut or modify your activities.

Organizing Your Materials

In a perfect world, everything will work beautifully. It’ll be a gorgeous day, you’ll arrive 45 minutes early, and your wifi will work.

In reality, it will probably be storming outside with multiple accidents, you’ll be 15 minutes late, and your laptop will decide to hate you.

Here are some tips that I learned:

  • Be prepared to arrive ONE HOUR before you expect to be there. I thought 30 minutes early would be plenty of time. The weather and traffic disagreed with that plan.
  • Have all your browser tabs open before you leave. Even though I had Internet woes, I was able to bipass that because all my tabs were already open and I also didn’t have to waste time clicking links in my presentation and waiting for the page to load.
  • Your attendees will ask if they have access to your presentation. Have a slide that is dedicated to explaning how they can access it later. For workshops, you generally don’t want to just make it public so it’s best to just get a list of emails from everyone that attended and send them a ZIP containing a PDF of your presentation along with any other material that you presented.
  • Make sure you leave some time (around 10 minutes) for Q&A at the end. If there aren’t enough questions, you could always fill out the remaining time with showing examples you didn’t think you had time to show, or having more anecdotes to share.

Talking to an Audience

If you’re nervous about speaking to a crowd — here are some things I did that can help:

  • Practice talking in front of inanimate objects. I actually line up plushies and practice speaking in front of them. Why? Because when you engage with people, you constantly look for validation. You’ll notice you end your sentences with “Right? You know? You follow me?” These phrases are bad habits formed from wanting instant validation when you’re speaking and don’t make you sound confident. When you speak to something that can’t respond back, you’ll notice you don’t need a nod or acknowledgement to keep going.
  • Stay hydrated. You will be talking. A lot. Be sure to hydrate yourself with plenty of water. If you’re presenting early in the morning, it may be tempting to drink an energy drink — but that can make you jittery so I would advise against that. I actually found that popping a cough drop on the car ride over was extremely helpful.
  • Exercise your vocal range. Monotone is monotonous. If you’re not used to speaking a lot, it’s easy to just mumble or speak timidly. Which is mostly fine for day-to-day interactions but this is different. People are paying to hear what you have to say. I found that, as silly as it sounds, singing before hand helps. By exercising your vocal chords, you are forced to project more to hit high notes. Have you noticed that people who have a natural melodic voice are more interesting to listen to? Plus, after embarrasing yourself a little and loosening up, talking in front of a bunch of people will be a piece of cake!
  • Have a conversation with just one person in the audience. When you’re an introvert like me, it’s easier to have one on one conversations with someone. You don’t have to spend as much energy, and the quality is usually better than being in a large crowd. When presenting in front of a large group, it can be intimidating. Instead, what I do is: pretend you’re speaking to just one person, but just shift your eyes/body around. In your mind, you’re just talking to one person — but your body language will make you appear like you’re addressing everyone! This will also help you face forwards, and not face your presentation.
  • Pretend this is a normal day for you. Convince yourself that this isn’t your first rodeo. Whatever you do, don’t tell your audience that this is your first time you’re presenting. Don’t apologize and tell them you’re nervous. Be the person you would want to see presenting in front of you. Faking confidence is the first step to being confident.
  • Not everyone will laugh at your jokes and that’s okay. When you’re preparing your presentation, you may be chuckling to yourself about some funny anecdotes and jokes. The day of your workshop, you get to the punch line and… crickets. That’s okay! Unless you’re giving a workshop over comedy in which case, that’s unfortunate.
  • Be humble and honest. I know one of my greatest fears about presenting was being confronted about being wrong about something. If you get nervous or become unsure about how to answer, answer them honestly with your own experience and be confident with your reasoning. And if all else fails, appreciate their question/feedback and have them discuss it with you after your workshop. Problem solved!

Ask for Constructive Feedback

After your session is over, it’s tempting to go back to your hiding hole of introversion and security. Try to hold out a little longer and engage with attendees as they are leaving, asking them what they thought.

Personally for me, I learned that I should have more research readily available to reference and that I needed to figure out my pacing better by cutting out a few slides. My immediate takeaways would be to reduce the number of activities and not require attendees to work in groups.

Don’t let your fear of failure prevent you from new opportunities.