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presenting for geeks

 
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I find it difficult to present when nobody in the room is making eye contact with you. In that it is hard to tell whether folks are paying attention and studiously taking notes or cmpletely immersed in coding something else. How do you deal with this?
 
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Jeanne,
I don't know what Dirk will say, but I've done presentations for small groups of eight to ten within my company, user groups with fifty plus attending, and a several Java One sessions, and I found something that helped me in all those situations.

Before the presentation, talk with some of the people in the audience. Ask them questions, and engage with them on a personal level - How's the conference so far? What do you think about Project X? Did you get caught in the storm this morning? That kind of thing.

I find that talking to the audience beforehand has another benefit, too. I feel more relaxed during the presentation - which makes it easier to focus on the audience and what they need, instead of worrying about what might go wrong during the presentation.

Burk
 
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Burk Hufnagel wrote:Before the presentation, talk with some of the people in the audience.


Burk, admit it, you already read the book ;-)

This is exactly what I'd recommend, for both of the reasons you mentioned. It helps you connect with (a part of) your audience and it helps you calm down and make the audience feel less of a "threat". It also helps to reassess their expectations, so that you get a better idea if you're going to give the right talk to this audience.

In general, I'd try to establish eye contact in any case. For a small group, try to establish eye contact with each person at least once over the course of the presentation. For large audiences, divide them into quadrants (from a certain distance, people can't tell any more whether you're looking at them or the person next to them) and make sure you cover each quadrant equally during the presentation.

There will always be a few people who spend all of their time hunched over their mobile phone or laptop. You can still try to draw them in by catching their eye when they take a rare glimpse at you, but in the end it's their own decision. Don't sweat over a few loners - keep contact with the rest of the audience.
 
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Dirk Haun wrote:Burk, admit it, you already read the book ;-)


Nope - not yet, but I'm certainly looking forward to it.

Jeanne,
One other thing concerning eye contact: ask them questions. Don't think that you can't ask questions, just because you're presenting information to a group. You absolutely can - though I'd stay away from anything that sounds like a teacher calling on a student who hasn't been paying attention. Instead, ask them if what you're talking about makes sense to them in their situation. Or if they can see how what you're talking about can be applied to what they currently do. that kind of thing. Not only will they look at you when answering, but you'll also have a better feel for how well you're talk is lined up with their interests and goals.

Burk
 
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Burk Hufnagel wrote:Don't think that you can't ask questions, just because you're presenting information to a group. You absolutely can - though I'd stay away from anything that sounds like a teacher calling on a student who hasn't been paying attention.


What Burk said - you can absolutely ask your audience questions. It's a great way to get them involved. Just don't ask those people who avoid eye contact directly, though. If they know the answer to one of your questions, they'll want to join in on their own eventually.
 
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