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

PM Commentary by Stacy Goff, ProjectExperts CEO.
The title of this article comes from a comment by a young lady at the IPMA World Congress, held in Dubrovnik, Croatia, September 30-October 2. I had been “on stage” a number of times in the Congress in my role as IPMA VP of Marketing & Events. In most of those brief 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. An opportunity to do a keynote in Wuhan, China; a long-planned presentation at the UTD PM Symposium, sponsored by University of Texas-Dallas, PMI®-Dallas, and PMWorld Journal. A 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 Martines Almeda (Spain), who regaled the audience with his insights into global project management. I spoke in a stream session on Stakeholder Engagement, using familiar analogies of being engaged versus managed, and recalling my racing days in Managing the Esses.

Our keynote in China was for PMRC, IPMA-China. I had done a keynote for the PMRC Congress two years earlier in Xi’an, China, and China is always a rewarding experience for a speaker. Because of the small pauses due to sequential translation, you have the opportunity to observe the roomful of participants, gauging the audience reaction. Of course, the choice of translator helps: Translation was again excellently done by PMRC Leader Xue Yan, a great friend and previous IPMA Executive Board member. In Wuhan, my keynote followed Mladen’s keynote, and again we established a complementary sequence of similarities and contrasts.

The IS CoP webinar was a special challenge: Over three thousand hopeful participants were 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 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 was 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. If you can imagine asking a question, and then seeing a rush of over 500 responses in 20 seconds, that gives you a sense of the pace of the session. To select the unique responses, and acknowledge those responses using the name of the participant made this event, as cited by several participants, “The most interactive webinar I’ve 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, to a group of around 200 highway engineers from state and local government agencies in the Western US, was all about our successful conversion of the Utah-New Mexico Earthworks System (UNMES) for the IBM 360 computer. It had been written for earlier systems, and two of us, Lenny Martin and myself, had done a sizeable conversion and upgrades of dozens of FORTRAN programs so it could be used in the newest IBM Operating System of 1968.

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. 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 still get a few butterflies in my stomach before each presentation—remembering 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 here in IPMA-USA; some who immediately come to mind include Donna, Rose, Duncan, Tim, Alex, Ed, Russ, 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 cynical; some are very-well practiced; and some seem to 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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