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Public speaking – a journey of continuous improvement.

8 June 2022

Business Analysis

Public speaking is not something everyone wants to do. In fact, for some, it invokes a sense of fear that is almost paralysing. So why do we do it? Why do I do it?

I thought conference speaking was only for experts. Those with years and years of experience, who were thought leaders in their field and had white papers and books to back up their credentials. So I was both inspired and enthused when I attended the IRM Business Analysis Conferencein 2009 and found practicing BAs sharing their experiences, practices, techniques and the stage with thought leaders who were paving the way in the Business Analysis profession. It was at this conference that I found my people. People who thought like me in terms of what a business analyst is and does and had a passion for driving the profession forward. It was here that I realised I had a lot to say and talk about in terms of Business Analysis and that my experiences and knowledge were also valuable to others. So, with some encouragement I decided to put forward a talk for the following year titled ‘Agile Requirements’.

I was so nervous about giving this talk. The conference was at a different venue than before so I was unsure of the room layout and unsure anyone would be interested in what I had to say. I didn’t need to worry. In fact my presentation was packed to the rafters with standing room only and what was supposed to be an audience of about 80 turned out to be well over 100. As I was introduced I felt my mouth go dry and my mind go blank. I had no idea what words would tumble out of my mouth. I took to the stage, said hello, pressed the button for my first slide and the days and hours of practice kicked in and off I went. After the talk I had so many questions, so many discussions on the topic that I realised that people were interested and that I had a valid and useful perspective to share. Twelve years later and I haven’t looked back.

Agile was, and still is, new to many. I still find this hard to believe but not everyone works in IT or in an industry or job that requires this knowledge. Over the years agile concepts, which were designed to improve the delivery of software development have been applied across whole organisations and service industries too. This has given me plenty to talk about and share over the years too as my own experiences have enabled me to apply agile to business analysis, business change and evolved into business agility.

So after 2 years of on-line conferences it is great to be back. Next week I will be speaking at a face to face conference at the IRM Business Change and Transformation conference in London. It will be so great to meet loads of enthusiastic individuals who what to share knowledge and have a passion for this subject.

So what have I learnt about presenting over the years?

Be authentic

When I think back to that first talk in 2010 and think about why that talk was successful I believe it comes down to authenticity. So I only talk about subjects I am familiar with and am passionate about. If I am enthused then hopefully I will impart some of that enthusiasm to my audience.

Ditch the notes

I’ve learnt to ditch the notes and speak from the heart. It’s part of being authentic and nobody minds if you slip up and forget your lines.

Practice makes perfect

No matter how well you know your subject you still need to practice your presentation. I still practice every talk I do even after 12 years of regular conference speaking.

Keep it simple

Over the years I have learnt that less is more. In my earlier presentations I think I tried to impart too much knowledge and sometimes lost the audience too. It is better to talk about one concept and go into depth on that than try and do a whirlwind stop across lots of concepts.

Use slides for interest

I try to keep the majority of my slides as pictures with a few headings that I can talk to. That way the audience have an additional sensory clue to help them understand the concept I am trying to get across. I also estimate one slide every 2-3 minutes so for a 30 min talk I will usually have between 10 – 15 slides.

Channel the nerves

I still get nervous before every presentation I do. My mouth still goes dry and I still wonder what my first words will be once I am introduced. I have learnt that my nerves mean I care and the day I don’t feel nervous will be the day I hang up my public speaking microphone.

Everyone has to start somewhere. Nobody enters into public speaking an expert. They all had to take those first steps, to wonder whether anyone would be interested in what they had to say and experience those nerves.

If I can do it, so can you.


By Lynda Girvan, Head of Business Analysis & Agility at CMC Partnership Consultancy Ltd

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