HOW Design Live: Advice from a Speaker

Although I didn’t stay for the entire HOW Design Live event, I followed the chatter on Twitter (by searching the #HOWLive hashtag). I loved “hearing” all the great comments about individual sessions; one that got positive buzz was Peleg Top’s The Creative Side of Growing a Design Business (you can find an MP3 of his session here). Peleg is a regular HOW magazine contributor and conference speaker, so I asked him how his 2011 experience compared to his past presentations …

You’ve presented at the HOW Design Conference and at Creative Freelancer Conference. How was your presentation in Chicago different from your previous sessions—either in content or in another way?

The folks at HOW would probably not like hearing this answer but this year’s presentations (all three of them: one talk, one workshop and one panel) were totally invented and created on the spot. I decided to let creativity take over. This is a CREATIVE conference, right?

In previous years speaking at CFC and HDC I would spend days on creating the outline, hours on designing slides and stress way too much about presenting a “perfect” talk. I’m done with that. No more planning. Let creativity rule! I’ve been speaking for over 15 years now so it was time for me to trust that I have plenty to say and would know what to say when I was in front of the crowd. I hoped that I could model to the audience what creating REALLY looks like on the spot. And that was a good strategy for me. I came alive and really played while delivering powerful content that people will remember most. I can safely say that this was the best presentation I’ve done to date and maybe even the best one at the conference! (yeah, I’m modest, I know …)

What kind of preparation do you typically do for your conference presentations?

HA! If you asked me this question three years ago my answer would be, “A lot!” I would spend days working on an outline, hours on creating slides that are beautifully designed and clear to understand, I would not stop thinking about it, I would read way too many blog posts, articles and books on the topic and pretty much stress myself out. Today, I approach my talks very differently. I do zero preparations. No slides, no handouts. I trust that I will know exactly what to say at the moment and treat the session as its own creative experience. I have a few ideas I jot down on an index card, a few stories I may tell and leave room for the muse to do her thing.

What reaction did you get from attendees at your session?

Cheers, applause, laughter, ENERGY, interaction, cries of joy, hugs, nonstop e-mails in my inbox since the conference and most of all GREAT LOVE!

How did you think your session went? Did you have fun? Were you nervous?

It was, by far, the best and most fun speaking experience I’ve ever done. I was a bit nervous before the talks but it was the kind of nervous you may feel before you’re about to go on a really big roller coaster. You’re a little scared but also too excited to not do it. That kind of nervousness reminds me that I’m alive!

What advice would you share with other design professionals who want to develop their public-speaking skills? How did you polish your own ability and confidence in speaking before a crowd?

First, get clear on your content. Know what you have to say. Master your content. Talk about it A LOT. Teach it. Then, take an acting class, or better yet, an improv class. This will teach you to connect with an audience, to increase your self confidence and to play and have fun. Join Toastmasters so you can practice speaking. The more you do it the better you will get.

The way I polished my own speaking abilities is by doing it as much as I can. Every opportunity I have to be in front of an audience I take it. The more I do it the easier and more fun it gets. That’s pretty much the secret. You want to speak more? Speak more.

Want to pitch an idea to HOW’s conference planning team for 2012 and beyond? This is the week to do it! The Call for Speakers deadline is August 1. Learn more about speaking at a HOW event and download the presentation proposal form.