Talk

4 Public Speaking Tips for Geospatial Professionals

Like many children I wanted to be a movie star. To that end, I studied at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art, whose alumni include Jeremy Irons, Donald Sutherland, and Malcolm McDowell.

I did not become an actor, but a GIS analyst. Nevertheless, I still enjoy community theatre and public speaking, which has helped me in my professional career.

While I happen to enjoy public speaking, according to a 2008 survey, an estimated 75 percent of people feel some anxiety when speaking in public.

Imagine you are a GIS developer or analyst and you are thrust into the spotlight. Usually unseen, you are now the focus of attention, which is understandably nerve-racking.

The Internet is full of tips on public speaking in general, but here are some specific things for geospatial professionals.

Jonah Adkins presenting at Esri UC 2014

Jonah Adkins presenting at Esri UC 2014

Know Your GIS Audience

Early in my GIS career I had the opportunity to brief a senior military officer on a geospatial solution. I mentioned to him that the solution was ‘intuitive’. He looked at me and said that voodoo magic was probably required to make it all work and that he did not really understand.

I learned a valuable lesson to know my audience.

Tailor the presentation to the group that you will be meeting with and understand that non-GIS people may approach the subject from an entirely different perspective.

The audience’s only frame of reference for the concept of spatial location may be Google Maps or Google Earth. Your fellow developers may be able grasp complex conceptual ideas, but policy makers may not follow you – or may only be interested in the larger picture. Tailor your message appropriately.

Get Technical – Or Not

The best presentations have an organic flow driven by the discussion and questions from the audience. And although this is true, it is vital to set the scope of the discussion to stay on topic and produce meaningful results.

Try to avoid getting technical where it is not appropriate. For example, do not agree to do the work on a specific technology platform before you know what platform is best.

It may also help to acknowledge the details of the project, but to avoid specifics if they are not appropriate. This may help speed up the presentation and allow you more time to think about a creative solution.

Embrace Static Mockups in Demonstrations

GIS solution demonstrations are very high-risk/high-reward.

A working live demonstration of your specific application can generate instant attention and engagement. However, demonstrations are fraught with problems like bad server connections, projection issues, or incomplete content. A bad demonstration is embarrassing and nothing loses engagement quicker.

Instead, consider using a dummy site or static design mock ups to generate that ‘wow factor’.

Indeed, I attended a presentation with static mockups that included imaginary customer data. This solution avoided the mire of a live demo and sticky privacy concerns, but brought a smile to the client’s face, because the ‘users’ were retired baseball players (the client was a baseball fan)!

Be a Geogeek

Perhaps the most important aspect that you can bring to a presentation is to remember that you are a passionate Geogeek.

You believe in spatial technology and the solution that you are presenting – so let that shine!

If you have a personal connection or anecdote to your project or the problem that would help build or enhance a customer relationship, share it!

Just like the actor, the spotlight and the stage are yours. Enjoy it!

Start the conversation