Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Getting Used to Presenting

In a little more than an hour I'll step before a packed conference room, with the video conferencing camera and screens running, and make a training presentation. At least, I hope the conference room will be packed. The topic of my presentation is: "Dealing with Regulated Floodplains: Part 1 - Floodplain Basics".

Floodplains have been a huge part of my civil engineering work in the last three years. Part of that has been detailed engineering analysis of floodplains. Another big part of it has been coaching our project managers through the process of developing in a floodplain. Another part has been working with a local city as their floodplain engineer, helping them comply with Federal regulations. It's worked, since they won an award in 2010 for their floodplain management activities.

I do these presentations as "brown bags"; that is, it is intended to be a lunch time presentation. However, since we have offices in three time zones, any of which may want to conference in to any given presentation, we do them at 1 PM Central Time. Almost no one eats their lunch at ours, maybe not at any of them. I usually eat my lunch after, since it's kind of hard to eat and present at the same time.

I've been making presentations like this in the company since 2001. At first they were for our small but growing department. Then we opened some of them up to other departments. When I moved to the training position in 2006, they went "global". For a while we did it at two different times. Now, with a down-sized company, one time is sufficient. So I've ben on-camera with these for five years.

The camera doesn't bother me. I barely know it's there. The audience doesn't bother me much. But the whole idea of presenting in general is not my favorite thing. I wouldn't mind getting up and reading something. But preparing a document to be read, which can fill a one hour training class, if a time consuming activity. It would take me two weeks to do it for a one hour class. So I present sort of extemporaneously, from notes and knowledge of the subject. I prepare mostly by knowing the subject, more than practicing what I'm going to say.

I've never been totally comfortable doing this. Nervousness? Not really, just always concerned that what comes out during the class will be truly beneficial to those who attend. A lot of the things I talk about are dry topics that don't lend themselves easily to lively discussions: construction specifications; floodplains; erosion control; construction management; drainage. I try to find ways to make them lively. Part of this is animation of the voice. Part of it is showing myself to be excited about the topic. None of it is easy. I have to make myself do this the way I do. It seems to work. People seldom fall asleep. And after one particularly animated class a few years ago, the CEO said to me, "I think you've found your calling."

Part of what I do during these classes is treat them as "media practice" for when I'll someday be on camera or microphone for promoting my author activities. If I can do it for engineering, why not for poetry? Or fiction? Or non-fiction historical/political books? Or Christian non-fiction? The topic may change, but the need to show poise and to not say anything stupid are the same. Today I get some more practice at that.

And, I have at least four (and maybe as many as nine) visitors coming from local governments to hear this. Let's hope that poise shows through.

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