My Lightning Talk Class Experience

Recently I took a great GDI class for giving lightning talks. There were 4 classes, that met once a week, and we had to prepare 3 different kinds of talks. A talk about yourself, a talk that is of interest to us and is informative, and a tech talk. Each talk varied from 3 to 7 minutes long.

We also had to speak briefly on the first day, and give a brief impromptu talk in one of the classes. The impromptu talk was as nerve wracking as the other talks, mainly because I have a fear of having nothing to say, and being anxiety stricken while standing in front of a group.

During each persons talk, the other students would write something positive, and something to work on, on a sticky note. We would then get all our sticky notes, and read them for feedback. I had comments like, too many ums, need to project more, need to be more present. These were helpful, not too critical, and gave me tips on what to work on. Comments about saying um too much was common for most of us. I didn’t even hear myself saying ‘um’, but knew that I had from the comments.

What I expected.

To spend a couple of hours preparing my talk each week. Wrong! It took many hours to create each talk, redo the talk many times to make it listenable, prepare slides to go along with it, and practice it over and over again.

What I learned. There is a lot more to preparing and giving a talk than I expected. It’s kink of like writing that paper in high school that you think will be easy. First you have to come up with a topic and construct your talk with some flow while keeping the talk on point and keeping people interested.

There are different kinds of talks:

One that entertains the listener, one that educates, one that is funny, one that makes a stand, one that tries to influence the listener, among others.

Be prepared for the unexpected.

  • No internet, computer or projector problems. Always have a backup of your presentation online and on a thumb drive. This way you can use someone else’s computer if necessary.
  • Time limitations, you may have to cut your talk short, so be prepared to be flexible.
  • Distractions. This can be room noise, people talking, random thoughts that come to mind, etc.
  • Nerves. Practicing at home is very different than giving a talk. I had many thoughts rushing into my head as I spoke, things like: what are people thinking, do they think I don’t know what I’m talking about, etc. Dealing with these thoughts is probably normal, but I had to try and focus on connecting with the audience more, instead of obsessing or listening to that inner voice too much.

Another thing that I learned after giving my first talk:

Don’t try to do too much or include too much in your talk. I had prepared a talk about playing drums on a gig, and did a little demo of that. This complicated my talk since I had to keep track of the slides and my demo part, and the missteps going back and forth between the two.

Practicing my talk a lot helped, since knowing my talk better helped me when things didn’t go as planned. For example, while giving one talk, I started thinking about an alternative section that I had pulled out of my talk. So I had to focus and not try to over analyze it, and wonder if it was noticeable to listeners.

The teachers were excellent, and encouraging throughout the class. They always stressed to practice, practice, practice. That’s the one takeaway that is very important. Know your talk like the back of your hand.

Thanks to GDI for this great class. It really helps us introverts to get out from the back of the room and learn to be more comfortable in front of the room.

What next?

I’d like to learn more about talk preparation. What is a good process for creating a talk? Do I start by writing it out, or start with an outline? I think I spent a lot of time changing my talk as I listened to it, which is normal, but I’d like to learn about how other speakers create and build their talks.

After taking this class, I have some good tools to use for any future talks that I may give.


by Norm Euker