Public speaking (in & out of China)

Speaking in front of people can be a daunting task. You can be very confident, knowledgeable and a great speaker in general but if you have a less than ideal audience, your speech can still fail. Having just completed my first speaking engagement in China, I feel that I did very well overall, but there are definitely things I would do differently if I am invited to speak in China again.

What follows are tips specific to the Chinese market that I encourage speakers to try, some general tips for public speaking as well as a debrief of my speaking experience at ad:tech Beijing.

Public speaking tips for a Chinese audience

The conference experience in China was much different than what I’m used to in the western world. For example, the audience doesn’t necessarily look at the speaker when he or she is talking. In the sessions I went to, people were texting, browsing the Internet and even talking on their mobiles during presentations. In a few of the less exciting sessions, people were sleeping in obvious view of the speaker. I’m told that these behaviors are quite common in China.

Based on these and other cultural differences between China and Australia or the US, here are some things that I will do differently the next time I speak in China.

  • Have a handout. In the western world, you wouldn’t give a handout before the speech because then people will focus on it, and not on you. In China, since people look down anyway, I think a handout would be quite helpful. It would give the audience another means to follow your presentation and if language is a barrier, it would let them understand what you’re saying better. It would also be very helpful to the translator working with you.
  • Be very animated so people don’t fall asleep. This is true for any presentation, but since I actually saw people fall asleep at adtech (the speakers weren’t even boring!), I think being a bit more animated and entertaining is especially important here.
  • Try to engage the audience. Chinese are shy around strangers by nature (or so I was told by locals). In all sessions, including mine, it was quite hard to get people to ask questions. Most times it was the expats that asked the first (if not the most) question. If you have some sort of an icebreaker, or activity to loosen them up, you might get a better response from the audience, thus making your presentation a better experience for everyone.
  • Have backup slides. If none of the above motivate the audience to ask more questions, you might as well have some back up slides ready to fill the time you set aside for Q&A.
  • Avoid the graveyard shift. Sometimes you can’t control that, but if you’re given the choice, ask to speak early in the day. I guess not speaking last is a preferable regardless of country, but given the cultural differences I described above, it’s especially daunting to go last in China. Many people left early and the people who stay have a much shorter attention span than during morning sessions.

Advice on public speaking in general, regardless of country and language

There are basic tips that I think are useful, regardless of what country you’re speaking in or what language you’re using.

  • Speak slowly. This is essential no matter what language you’re speaking. It means the audience can follow you more easily, the translator has an easier time working with you and it gives you a chance to really emphasize the important points. I struggle with this the most because I naturally speak very fast.
  • Speak up, especially if you’re not comfortable with microphones. Often the speaker doesn’t realize how he sounds to the audience. Do a mike check if you have the opportunity. If not, err on the side of speaking too loud. At least that way people won’t miss what you’re saying.
  • Engage the audience. Ask them questions, do a straw poll, get them on their feet. Do something to wake them up, loosen them up a little, make them laugh.
  • Don’t do a sales pitch. I really hate it when a speaker finds a way to do a shameless plug for their product, even if doesn’t relate to the topic. What’s even worse is if they try to be self-deprecating about it. No it’s not funny. It’s actually embarrassing. If you were asked to speak about what your company does, boast all you want. Otherwise, stick to the topic.
  • Don’t speak to other panelists while on stage. If you’re part of a panel, don’t speak to other panelists, even if there’s a moment of silence because the next panelist is pulling up his presentation. All that does is it encourages the audience to start talking too. It’s disrespectful.
  • Prepare. Even if you didn’t get paid to speak, your audience likely did pay money, or at least sacrificed their time, to see you. Prepare as much as you can to give them a good experience. If you don’t think it’s worthwhile to prepare, then you should think twice about accepting the speaking engagement.
  • Be careful when you use jargon. Use your judgment as to what the audience knows and what items you may have to clarify. If you’re not sure, explain the jargon as you use it.
  • Use real examples, not just theoretical ones. People like to hear what happens in practice, not just in theory. It illustrates that what you’re talking about really can be done and empowers them to take action.
  • Be respectful and a good participant when you’re in the audience yourself. If you’re at a conference with multiple speakers, treat the other speakers like you would like to be treated. If no one is asking questions, ask the first one and help them get the discussion going.
  • Check the background you’ll be standing/sitting against. This may sound silly but I blended in with the background at my presentation. What’s even worse is that I knew what background I’ll be standing against and I still wore the same colour – I just didn’t think about it until I was on stage and realized I blend in. Be smarter than I was. If the background is orange, wear a color that stands out against it.

How I performed in China

Overall, I think I did pretty well, but I have a lot of room for improvement. I spoke clearly, I was organized and I used real examples that are relevant to the audience. I didn’t show any nerves that I had. The audience feedback rated me “excellent” in general, with a few “good”. The comments said I was animated and enjoyable to watch.

If I were to give myself a grade, I’d give me a B. First of all, I cut my speech in half. That is, I spent only half the time I meant to on each slide. I did this on purpose because I was the last speaker of the day and the audience didn’t look too happy even before I got on stage, so I decided to get my point across in less time. In retrospect, I would have preferred if people who were tired or bored walked out and I did the full speech. Second of all, I didn’t engage the audience. I should have done something to get them on their feet, or found a way to make my presentation interactive. Third, I should have practiced more. I spent too much time feeling anxious before the event (first time in China!), rather than practicing my speech over and over.

I’m very happy that I got the opportunity to speak at ad:tech China. I learned some interesting things (watch out for a few blogs later this week) and met some nice people. I also got to see Beijing, buy lots of things I don’t need at the fabulous markets, and eat more Peking duck then I care to admit. Next time I’m invited to speak in China, I’ll be even better.

Btw, here’s an article written up on my speech. I used Google Translate to get it in English (you have to have it enabled in Google Toolbar to use it). Not sure if it’s Google Translate or the original author, but there seem to be a couple mistakes in it. For example, I’m not the CEO of Real (watch out Roger!) :).

You totally CAN Twitter in China! Google, not so much.

I was having a mild case of separation anxiety on my flight over from Sydney to Hong Kong because I knew that Twitter was not allowed in China. My short stopover in Hong Kong on my way to Beijing was to be the last time I got to tweet for a week. *gasp*

Then when I did check Twitter in Hong Kong, a good Samaritan came to the rescue. @RichardMabey recommended I try CoTweet, which is essentially the same thing as Tweetfunnel (I feel a comparative blog coming on!). Duh!  Both must be set up before you leave for China, both post to Twitter and both can be used in China. Awesome! (Apologies if one of the 100,000 Chinese government web monitor people pick up this blog and start blocking CoTweet and Tweetfunnel. That would suck.)

Here’s the low-down on using Twitter in China:

Using a proxy – Tried that, didn’t work well. It was fine for about 5 minutes and then totally messed up my browser. Not sure if it’s just the one I tried (hot spot shield) but I didn’t like it.

Express VPN – @mmmichaelfox is also currently in China and told me about Express VPN. It’s $12.95 per month to use, but at least he’s happy with it (unlike me with my failed proxy attempt…). There’s a 30-day money back guarantee, so I guess you can’t go wrong!

Tweet Deck – Kinda works, but very slowly. It takes a good 5 minutes to post a tweet. Oh, and it just died as I’m typing this so I guess it’s not reliable. I hope it comes back to life because that how I’ve been reading tweets until now…

Tweetfunnel – Great to post to Twitter especially since it auto-shortens URLs, which is helpful because you can’t get to without a proxy. The downside is that I seem to only be able to view the last 30 tweets from others.

Set up before you go – Whether you use Tweetfunnel or Cotweet or some other similar tool, set up before you go. All those tools redirect you to Twitter to authenticate so you won’t be able to do that in China.

Now Google is a whole different story. You can view all Google services if you’re on a proxy, but if a proxy’s not an option for you, you’ll be as confused with Google sites as I am right now. Here’s the Google story in China:

Gmail – Seems to be working just fine, all the time. No complaints here. Chat works well too.

Analytics/AdWords/Webmaster Tools – Also work, but slower than I’m used to.

Reader – Totally random! I can’t figure it out. A couple times I’ve logged on and Reader refreshed. Other times, I get an error inside Reader. Other times still I get a “connection lost” error. There seems to be no rhyme or reason to it. Either way, I’m probably 800 blog posts behind in reading.

News – Now this is funny! Google News technically isn’t blocked because I was able to view it, search it and refresh it a few times. Then yesterday the headline story was on Obama’s visit to China. The page loaded and just as it finished, I got a “connection reset” error in my browser. This happened until another story replaced the Obama visit one. Coincidence? I think not!

All it all, it’s not as bad as I thought. I can still do 90% of the things I would normally do online. 🙂

My week in review or “fun facts for the curious mind”

During my past week of not blogging (sorry to those who actually care) I’ve experimented with over a dozen WordPress theme until I finally settled on the one you see. It’s still a work in progress so try to ignore the messed up images on the homepage…

In this week of not blogging I’ve come across quite a few interesting facts (many courtesy of @WiredResearch on Twitter) which I thought I’d share with you. Consider this a warm up blog before I jump back in.

Did you know that…

Chinese auto production exceeded the US’ in 2008; this year China is expected to make more cars than Japan. Which begs the obvious statement – if you want to get rich, invent something Chinese people want and buy!

The most viewed video on YouTube is not “Evolution of Dance.” It is “Girlfriend” by Avril Lavigne. Which brings us to my next tip for getting rich – invent something that Tweens want and want to buy.

There are more bicycles sold in Australia than cars. Last year it was about 1.2 million bicycles to about 1 million cars. That’s just one reason why my company just launched bicycle insurance :).

By the end of 2008, cell phone subscriptions outnumbered landlines by a factor of three. Over 60% of the globe now owns a mobile.

In the semifinal of this year’s American Idol fans cast 88 million votes, or two-thirds of the 2008 US presidential election (131 million). The finals were apparently rigged so I won’t quote that number… Anyways, how sad?

Car and truck air conditioning accounts for roughly 5 percent of all vehicle gasoline usage – that’s 7 billion gallons per year.

More than 10 million cosmetic procedures were performed in the US in ’08 – 92% of those were women and 355,671 were breast augmentations. The most popular men’s procedure? Botox. But they get chest implants too!

500 million Twinkies are sold every year. And after the nuclear holocaust a la Terminator, they will still be around because they’re not actually made of food (that last sentence isn’t all that factual….).

That’s all folks! I’ll be back in full form with an original blog tomorrow.