I’ve had a number of DJs in recent years ask me for advice about presenting a seminar. I consider this a compliment as most requests are preceded by “I like how you give seminars, can you give me some advice…” so it’s ego-gratifying for sure. And as someone who sits in his share of seminars at DJ conventions I have a vested interest in seeing the overall quality of our presentations improve.
So here are the pointers I can offer. First and foremost, I’m going to assume that you’ll be using some kind of visual aid (PowerPoint or Keynote) to organize and then present your material. If you’re on the fence about it, get off the fence. Use one. It’ll keep you organized and the visuals will make for a more engaging experience for your listener. And for those of you who think, “oh I’m just better when I wing it,” I respectfully say, “No. You’re not.”
So step one: build your presentation in PowerPoint (or Keynote). You have an idea for your seminar — you probably have a title too. So go ahead, start a PowerPoint presentation and make a title page. Now make a few slides. Make the top of each slide the headline of a point you want to make then add any notes under the slide (not on the slide itself – I’ll tell you why in a minute). When you’re done with this, count your slides. If you’re like me you probably have 5-10 slides. That’s a good start but far from enough to fill a one hour talk. But that’s ok. Now it’s time to build. Start brainstorming what else you can discuss under this topic. Do some research. Find out what others say or recommend. Even begin to rehearse the few points you are already have. All of these things will lead to the evolution of your talk. Every time you think of a new idea make another slide (and make more notes). Don’t even worry about the order yet. Just use this as a catch-all to collect your thoughts.
Once you get to about 30 slides you probably have about an hours worth of material. Obviously this is a generality. Some slides I’ll keep up for 10 minutes while I pontificate about a subject. Some are punch lines to a joke that’ll be up for 30 seconds. But overall, I’ve found that 1 to 2 minutes per slide is a decent average.
So now start putting your ideas into a good order. This should be easy for a DJ because it’s very similar to programming. When you program a set what do you do? You probably look for a great song to kick it off that’ll engage everyone and get people to the floor. Then you need some powerful songs that hopefully mix well with the first one and keep people out there. Then you want to end your set on a high note. Use the same logic when shuffling your slides.
Start with engagement. I did a seminar years ago about finding DJs. I came up with a clever way to start it. I played some game show music and I said “we’re going to start with a game called ‘Know Your DJ Recruits.’” I asked 3 questions about what makes a good DJ recruit and I asked the crowd to shout out their answers. After the seminar Bryan Dodge pulled me aside (if you don’t know Mr. Dodge he is a professional public speaker so his advice to me on the subject was highly valued) and he told me that was a great start to the seminar. He said “you really hooked everyone in from the very beginning with those questions.” Since then, every seminar I put together I try to use some kind of engagement early on. Most attendees file into a room and expect seminars to be one-way forms of communication. They are going to listen and maybe take notes while you speak. But if you can throw them off right away by breaking their expectations, there’s a much better chance you’ll have their attention throughout.
Scrap the “About Me” slide. Using this same logic, take your slide that you were going to open with, you know the one that says “About Me” and lists all your experiences and why you’re an expert on the subject you’re about the present, and delete it. If you feel the need to open with your CV, have the person introducing you do it. But here’s a better idea: Instead of telling everyone why you are an expert, why not just prove it to them with your material?
A picture is worth a thousand words. The reason I suggested you make your slides with just a title on a page and all your ideas in the notes section (which doesn’t appear on the slide to the viewer) is this: text in a PowerPoint is boring. Really boring. Your listener doesn’t want to read. They want to listen. So now that you’ve got these mostly blank slides it’s time to fill them up. What are you going to put on them? Well, you’ve already got the title or bullet point for each one. Ask yourself, is there an image I can use that will relate to what I am going to talk about? For example, I told a story once in a seminar about my dad teaching me to ride a bike when I was a kid. I don’t have a picture of that but I looked on Google Images (which should be your best friend when creating a seminar) and found a nice, hallmark-card-worthy picture of a dad teaching his son to ride a bike. I not only used that but I also took the opportunity to make a joke. Referencing the picture I said, “that’s not my dad and me by the way. They didn’t have color photography back then.”
Speaking of humor – use it. If it’s funny. There’s nothing better to win a crowd over than making them laugh. But don’t use it if it’s not funny. There’s nothing worse than when a joke doesn’t go over. If you’re unsure if you are funny or not, odds are you’re probably not.
Speaking of telling stories – use them too. As long as A) they relate to the subject matter and B) you’re a good storyteller. If you’re unsure if you are a good storyteller or not, odds are you’re probably not.
Back to pictures – so my advice is whenever and wherever you can substitute text with a picture, do it. And when you can’t, keep the text as minimal as possible. Make believe you have a 200 word limit for the entire presentation. In fact, don’t make believe. Impose that restriction on your PowerPoint or Keynote.
Know your content. What a generic thing to say isn’t it? Know your content? Like what speaker wouldn’t know his or her content. Well, I’ll pause now and let you think back to the last time you sat in a seminar with a speaker who didn’t know his content that well. Someone who had to keep looking at his notes (or even reading directly from them) or advancing his slides so he’d know what his next topic was. My guess is you didn’t have to think that far back did you? So how do you “know your content?” These are the standards I set for myself:
Wean yourself off of your notes. As I practice my seminar I want to be able to look at each slide and know the points I’m going to make without peeking at my notes. So going back to the example, when I saw the picture of the kid on the bike with his dad, I knew the story that went along with it. I didn’t memorize it (because then you can get stuck on a word and be finished) but I was comfortable enough to tell the story quickly and coherently and finish with the moral of the story which tied it back to training my DJs (the important step). I gave that seminar four times. I guarantee I told that story slightly differently each time (ie not word for word) but each time I got my point across (I hope)
Know the next slide. When I am ready to present my seminar, I mean really ready – like I know it like the back of my hand ready, I can go through my PowerPoint and predict what the next slide is going to be. There’s comfort in that. When I glance back at the screen it’s rarely because I’ve lost my place (although I’ll admit it does happen) but it’s more often just to confirm I’m on the right slide and that the projector hasn’t shut down.
Speaking of Rehearsal – every once in a while when you rehearse, start at the middle and just do the second half. It’s human nature that we always know the first half of something better than the second. So to make sure you don’t start lagging towards the end (when, let’s face it you have to be at your best because that’s really when you can lose a crowd), every once in a while just start at the half way point of your presentation and rehearse to the end.
Speaking of Rehearsal Part Two – rehearse out loud. Rehearsing in your head is great but saying the words out loud is important too. I’m lucky because I can use my running time to rehearse. And I say my seminar out loud (the neighbors think I’m crazy). I often joke that my dog Shea (my running partner) knows my presentation better than I do because in the run-up (pun intended) to presenting a seminar the poor guy has to hear it every morning.
Speaking of Rehearsal Part Three - You can print out your PowerPoint or Keynote presentation to practice when you can’t be at a computer. I was rehearsing for a seminar a few years ago and had a vacation planned to Jamaica. So I printed out the presentation and stuck it in a binder. Every morning I went through the presentation once while lying on a beach chair over-looking the Caribbean Sea. I even came up with a few more ideas to add so I just jotted notes on the pages and then after the vacation I added a few more slides.
Speaking of Rehearsal Part Four - I’m all about knowing your content and your presentation like the back of your hand. But there is a point of over-saturation and I try to stay clear of that. Rehearsing too much will simply ratchet up your nerves because you are subliminally telling yourself that this seminar is SO IMPORTANT I HAVE TO BE PERFECT. Don’t do that to yourself. It’s good to be good and it’s great to be great but no one is expecting a Tony Robbins meets Mark Ferrell type presentation (unless of course you are Tony Robbins or Mark Ferrell). By the way, I heard this particular piece of advice from comedian and life coach Kyle Cease a number of years ago and it is probably the single biggest thing that has helped me be a better presenter. I was starting to get a little too nervous when I was doing seminars and when I heard him say this it was like he was speaking directly to me. I don’t even look at my PowerPoint now within 24 hours of my talk. I know it and any last minute brushing up is only going to make me more nervous. Just relax and give your talk (assuming you’ve down everything else to prepare).
Scrap the “definition” slide. If you have a slide in your presentation that has a single word on it, and then you define that word, put it in the same place as your “About Me” slide. That’s a trite, overused and boring technique. If any of your listeners need to know the definition of a word they can Google it on their smart phones or tablets which they’re probably using right now to look at Facebook or Twitter because you’re showing them the definition of the word “performer.”
Sprinkle in some video or even audio. It’s not easy to speak for an hour straight. Especially if you are going to follow my advice and not use notes or peek back at the video screen to get your bearings straight. One way to make this easier is to put a few videos in your presentation. Just like story-telling these videos need to be good and pertinent. Assuming they are, drop a few in. It’ll give you a chance to take a sip of water (without pulling a Mark Rubio) and peek at your notes. I recently did a seminar that had 2 videos in it. One about a third of the way in. The other about two-thirds of the way. So in my mind this was a three act play. Once I got to the first video I was able to take a quick break and look over my notes. Same thing with the second video and then it was on to the big finish. You can do the same thing by dropping a song in too but that won’t hold the attention of the crowd as long.
Think about pre-seminar music. It blows my mind when I walk into a seminar that a DJ is presenting and I’m a few minutes early and there’s dead air. It’s so easy to stick a 20 minute mix into your PowerPoint just in case the AV company at the convention hasn’t thought of that. We’re DJs people. How could you not think of music?
Have an intro song. Same rules apply here. How can you have someone introduce you and then you just walk out. Why not give yourself the same advantage that all of your brides and grooms have (namely a cool, upbeat song to walk out to)?
No Q&A. I have a question…see this one time I had this one client who looked at my services and really wanted to book me but see what had had happened was they told me they were going to book and so I held the date and keep in mind I’m the most expensive guy in my market so then they said they were mailing the deposit so I continued to hold the date and then…” Sorry you can’t hear the rest of the question because everyone but the person asking the question is filing out of the room. I already wrote an article about this once so I won’t be redundant. Suffice to say, please, don’t do it.
End strong. This is my main reason for no Q&A. It will probably bring your seminar to a boring end. But even if the question asked is a good one and you make a great point, you are leaving too much to chance. As you shuffle those PowerPoint slides and reorder your talk, remember it’s like programming. You wouldn’t end your events with a lame song would you? Well don’t end your seminar that way either. Take one of your best points, your most inspiring thoughts or your most powerful statements and end with that. Then have a kick ass song start playing and soak in your standing ovation.
Presenting a seminar to your peers can be a very rewarding experience. I remember vividly, many years ago, giving my first seminar at a convention that DJ Times held in San Francisco. I flew out there by myself and other than Brian O’Connor from DJ Times I didn’t know anyone at the convention. On day one I sat there watching other seminars and getting ready to speak. Then I gave my seminar and I was inundated with requests for my time. One guy even boldly said to me, I want to buy you dinner and get to know you more. That was an awesome moment and it validated that I had something of value to share. And you might too. But having good quality content is only part of the battle. Knowing how to present it, putting together a seminar that is interesting and has good flow, and then delivering it in a polished way that shows you are an expert is just as important. I hope this advice has been helpful and I look forward to hearing you speak at an upcoming DJ convention.