A few days at the Microsoft Evangelism Academy

I had the privilege of being invited to attend the inaugural Microsoft Evangelism Academy last week in Melbourne, run by the DPE team at Microsoft.

The people in attendance were (aside from myself)

The event was organised by Andrew Coates and Sarah Vaughan from Microsoft and run by Steve and Melony from NRG Solutions.  Steve and Melony have in the past have been involved with speaker training for the TechEd Australia events.

The idea of this Academy is to, in Microsoft’s words, take technical “gurus” and turn them into “super gurus”.   It was an intensive three day course, focused on helping us become great speakers with lots of exercises and activities to firmly put us outside our comfort zones. The program does not just end there either, it continues until August next year during which we have :

  • Monthly conference calls
  • Monthly 1 on 1 catchup over the phone with a mentor
  • 1 day of group training in Melbourne every 3 months
  • Talk at UserGroups, Conferences and whatever we can!

Microsoft also provided what I think is one of the greatest tools available today to a public speaker, a small MinoHD video camera. This enabled us to get our own instant feedback on what we like or dislike about our own speaking styles.  This kind of feedback is gold to a speaker, I was able to instantly identify several things I disliked about my speaking style as well as pick up on a few things I did not even realise I was doing, such as gesturing with my thumbs and swaying slightly. 

So what did I come away with? After 3 days I had a card with a list of tips that I found helpful, which are outlined below :

  • Don’t be afraid to be Different!
  • Don’t spend too much time on “About Me” as it can detract credibility. If you are on stage you already have credibility
  • Have a good start and a good finish. The first 100 words will be more powerful than the next 1000.
  • Don’t be afraid to change the environment. Own the space!
  • If you are presenting on multiple topics or points, move to a specific space for each point and return to it if you return to the topic. (Spacial Anchoring)
  • When preparing aim to present for exactly the time you are presenting for, or 10% less.
  • Don’t be afraid to link to other presenters to establish rapport with your audience.
  • Showing is better than telling.
  • Build up a library of stories that can be told on any relevant situation.
  • Make eye contact with as many people in the room as possible.
  • It can be very powerful to hold eye contact for an entire point or paragraph with one individual, but do not make them feel “stared at”
  • Do not tinker with your tech before your presentation, welcome your audience, get out from behind the podium!
  • Stand still or Move with purpose.
  • Don’t forget to Pause – A good pause is far more effective than words.
  • Less is More!
  • Recovery is more important than delivery, and you get to practise it a lot more!
  • Build up a presentation kit and checklist to make sure you are prepared every time
  • Walk for 7-10 minutes before you present, to build up energy
  • Use gestures deliberately, not accidentally
  • Stand with feet at shoulder width
  • Point your feet at whatever has your attention. If you have attention on your audience, they will pay attention to you. If you have your attention on your slide, they will pay attention to your slide
  • Let your visuals augment You, not the other way around
  • The room is yours, feel free to change it how you see fit, even if that means restricting access to the back seats, or even turning the room around
  • If you are talking on a negative point, do not make eye contact with the audience, talk to the floor. And do this in a sacrificial space, that you will not return to
  • Don’t be afraid to be theatrical, everything looks way less dramatic from the audience
  • Gesture BIG!  It will appear smaller from the audience.
  • Stand with your hands clasped in front of you, or by your sides

This is only a tiny fraction of what I learned in the 3 days and I can tell you that I will never again look at a presenter the same way, nor will I ever present again in the same ways I have in the past. I am already looking at some of my prior presentations wondering how I can make my presentations really stand out.

This training really put me outside of my comfort zone, which immediately forced me to learn and while I did find it difficult I really enjoyed the whole thing. The final activity was a huge example of this as we had to pick a random topic and speak for 3 minutes on it, to members of the general public, at South Bank in Melbourne.  This also had the side benefit of removing any possibility of me ever being embarrassed or nervous prior to speaking to an audience again.

This was captured on video and I have uploaded it to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SqcZGHDRedM

I picked the topic of “Three things about me, and try to pick which one of them is false”. While I think I spoke reasonably well within the constraints of the stress this activity generated, upon reviewing it I can see a half-dozen things I wish I had done better and hopefully with practice will improve on.

I am really looking forward to working on my presenting over the next year and it will be interesting to see where it takes me! 

Also lastly, A massive thanks to everyone involved! this is probably the most exciting thing I’ve seen from Microsoft in the community space in a long time, and I am really proud to be part of it.


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