Vicki James, PMP, CBAP, PMI-PBA, CSM

formerly of Professional Project Services, LCC

Tag Archives: National Congress

Reflections from the 2011 PMI North American National Congress (Part 3-Observations in presenting)

This is the final of a three part series following my time at the 2011 PMI North American Congress.  This part is dedicated to my experience as a first time conference presenter, both in presenting and observation of others.

Vicki's presentation room in Dallas

I love public speaking.  I’m not sure why, but it’s true.  It’s not something that I enjoyed in school.  Getting up and talking about something that I minimally searched was a fear instilling activity.  However, somewhere in my professional life I discovered that I was good at presenting things that I knew well.  I have a strong voice, sense of humor, and ease in talking about things that I understand.  I had done public speaking a handful number of times, but the idea of speaking to an international audience was huge to me.   On October 24, 2011 I presented Effective Project Sponsorship: A Collaborative Journey at the PMI North American Global Congress in Dallas, Texas.

I decided that while I knew my subject well, I needed homework on presenting.  I started reading Confessions of a Public Speaker by Scott Berkun a few weeks prior to the congress.  This turned out to be the perfect study aid.  Scott has a great writing style and sensibility that speaks well to me.  The only drawback was it motivated me into wanting to speak more. Well, not so much a drawback.

I owe you some helpful ideas that I got from Scott.

  1. People are there to hear you, learn from you, and they want you to succeed,
  2. A bullet list of high level talking points on a 1 ½ inch sticky  that fits in your palm will get you through your main points,
  3. Get the audience grouped together if there are more seats that participants,
  4. Practice, practice, practice,
  5. Get to the room early to get comfortable and if you can at all, attend a session prior to yours to get a good feel for the room and the audience,
  6. Burn off excess energy on presentation day to help relieve the jitters, and
  7. If a presenter tells you that they do not get nervous, they are full of crap. It is natural to be nervous.

My breakout session was at the end of day two.  This afforded me to opportunity to observe speakers as I prepared for my own event.  The first speaker I saw at the congress was Rick Morris.  Rick is a fabulous speaker.  He has a great command of voice, a sense of humor, and speaks candidly.  It was a large audience.  While technically he was simply presenting, he had the audience engaged. It felt like a conversation with a trusted friend.  I left that presentation knowing my number one goal was going to be to engage the audience when it came to my turn.  I set a goal then to think at the end of each slide, “how did I engage the audience?”

The next presentation was the late in the afternoon on day 1 of the congress.  What I remember most about that presentation was the sense of sleepiness.  It had been a long day already and listening to a speaker who was not engaging proved to be very difficult.  I then had the panicked thought, “oh my, this is the time slot that I have tomorrow.  Everyone will have the afternoon sleepies!” Again, I realized that I was really going to have to engage the audience to, literally, not bore them to sleep.

One session I went too had a team of speakers.  The material was spot on and PowerPoint well laid out.  Technically, I could not put a finger on any one thing “wrong”.  However, they did not engage the audience.  The subjects and information may have been the best ever, but they were losing me.

Bill Fournet was another engaging speaker.  He had a huge room full; in fact I almost got turned away even though I had pre-registered for this session.  The title of his presentation was effective “Herding Cats”, and he started the session with a video of cowboys herding cats.  While these were great bait, it would not have been enough to sustain an hour fifteen-minute presentation.  The presentation itself was also engaging.

Okay, so I have used the word (or some variation of) “engage” 8 times now in less than 700 words.  That warrants a slight explanation of what I mean.  I would define this as something that connects the speaker to the audience in a way to triggers true listening and learning.  One of the best ways to engage an audience is to ask questions and make them respond.  However, this is not always possible in rooms full of 300 plus people.  In the cases of Rick and Bill, what made their presentations engaging was how I could relate what they said to my own experience, how they made me understand the material they were providing and see what value it would bring to my own life and work experiences.  Maybe they provided a scenario that I could relate too, or described something that I found new, exciting, and potentially beneficial to how I see my work.  In short, they did or said something that made the words they said relevant to the work I do which provided a connection.

For my plan to ask myself “did I engage the audience?” for every slide, I needed to know that I asked an open ended question, described a scenario that most could relate too, or open myself up to my own mistakes and successes that would serve as a lessons learned in relation to their positions.

Session time was coming quick.  I am an introvert by nature, meaning that I need downtime to energize or decompress.  I decided I would skip attending the breakout prior to my own in order to take some downtime to energize and to make sure I would make it to the room early and begin those mental preparations.

I showed up to the room early, verified the PowerPoint was on target, got set up a with a lapel mic, brought my handouts, and stayed near the door so I could meet people as they came in.  My friend Chandra had traveled to Dallas with me to support my first national speaking even, as well as to catch up on PDUs, and she was ready with pictures, video, and everything else I needed (thank you Chandra!).  Eventually I relinquished my handouts to the PMI room volunteer and just chatted with those who had come in.  I had some strategies in mind that I used; some worked well, others not as much.

  • Ask the audience to move forward in the room to make it easier for Chandra to gather their cards.  Nobody moved.  Maybe because the room was small, they didn’t see the need to move.  In the end I positioned myself in the middle aisle near the front where I was closer to the audience and could interact freely and be closer to the group.
  • Encourage participation by taking business cards of those who contributed for a drawing for a book.  It proved impossible for Chandra get to those who spoke to get a card as the presentation as happening and a few did not have cards available.  In the end, everybody was encouraged to provide a card.  What I did like about this strategy was that I was able to follow up with participants and connect with many on LinkedIn.
  • “Have you read the Sponsor Body of Knowledge?” This was a hook I had planned and it worked well.  In a later conversation with Jeff Furman, who was in attendance, he indicated this was a shocking yet appropriate opening to the conversation ahead.
  • Lots and lots of questions.  I asked the audience to fill in the blanks in most cases.  Most of the concepts in my presentation are not new and original in and of themselves, but rather organized into this discussion of project sponsorship introduces new insights.  I had my predefined answers ready and did review them, but letting them think through the concept ensured they were thinking about the topic at hand and helped demonstrate that they knew the answers.  In most cases, they taught me concepts I had not yet thought of that will likely be included in future presentations.

I did have the advantage of a smaller audience that made these strategies relatively easy to implement.  I thought long about how I would alter the format for a 300 person room.  I would probably still ask the questions, but in some cases would give participants a few minutes to discuss the question at hand with their neighbors.  I look forward to future challenges in keeping audiences engaged to learn from each other as much as from me.

Interested in the presentation topic, Effective Project Sponsorship: A Collaborative Journey? More information is available at

Supporting documents from Dallas Presentation

Reflections from the 2011 PMI North American National Congress (Part 2-The Wonderful Things About Networking)

This is part two of three on reflections from the 2011 PMI North American National Congress held in Dallas, Texas, USA October 22 through October 25.  Part one provided information from workshops I attended.  Part three will focus on presenting, my observations as a participant and as a presenter.

There are a lot of resources out there that talk about networking.  Just today I saw a note in Twitter recommending 4 Networking Mistakes You Don’t Know You’re Making on  The purpose of this article is not to restate all the great advice available through the Internet, books, and people, but rather I want to focus on some surprise benefits that may result.

Asking for Advice: The REAL sincerest form of flattery

I was having lunch with a friend in the exhibition center when she spotted a speaker from a previous session that she admired and wanted to ask more questions of.  His topic, Agile, was something she had recently taken on in a new job.  She mentioned that she hoped to get a chance to talk to him at some point and I suggested that she go over now.  In a conference of 3,000 people, there is no guarantee that she would see him again and she should take the opportunity. She was reluctant to interrupt his lunch and conversation. I continued to encourage her to make the connection pointing out that it is flattering to be approached by someone who values your work and that he would likely appreciate the contact.  Still seeing her reluctance I suggested that she simply go to the table with business card in hand and say “I don’t want to interrupt your lunch, but I have some follow up questions from your presentation”.  Having a plan that she was comfortable with, she headed off toward his table.

I watched from afar suspecting that she would end up sitting down and talking to him. She did a wide circle around the table, gathering her courage, finally approaching him with card in hand, and finally, as predicted, she sits down.  I went about my business at this point knowing she was in good hands and we would catch up later.

Their conversation continued by email after the conference. He has offered to help her get training and certification in Scrum with assistance from his own network, since training dollars are not available where she works.  I believe a long term professional relationship is formed.

Pleasant Surprises: Stumbling Across Valuable Resources

I made it a point to personally introduce myself to every person that I am connected with through LinkedIn or Twitter, as well as presenters I enjoyed and learned from. I had two main motivators for this. One was to be able to mutually put names to faces and strengthen the connection, and also to show my appreciation and respect for their work.

In one such case I stayed back after a presentation in order spend a few moments with a LinkedIn connection, Samad Aidane.  Although Samad is located within 60 miles of me and we had corresponded on a number of occasions, I had not met him in person until the presentation.

Samad introduced me to another of his connections, Todd Williams. As it turns out, Todd is another relatively local area consultant, principal of eCameron, Inc., specializing in project audit and recovery services. Having just taken over managing a project in trouble, I was very interested in his expertise.  He discussed his strategy of auditing a project to uncover the organizational root causes.  Our conversation resulted in a new book for me to read and an offer for an initial consultation with my company. Todd and I have a tentative appointment for coffee next time he is in the area.  I look forward to the opportunity to gain additional insights on organizational changes that will improve project success in the future.

The Stuff Friendships Are Made Of

This last story actually started a year earlier.  I stayed at an offsite hotel for the 2010 Congress in Washington, DC.  There was a shuttle between the hotel and the conference center.  This is where I met Jeff Furman. We chatted in the van about my aspirations for speaking and his role in training on presentation skills.  In the van he made the assessment that I have what it takes to be a trainer, instructor, and presenter.  This being that I have a strong voice, confidence, and am articulate.  I appreciated this insight and we connected on LinkedIn following the conference.  A few months later I received an email from Jeff with a referral for someone who was looking for a virtual instructor for an upcoming program.  While this opportunity did not pan out, I truly appreciated the thought and referral.

I contacted Jeff prior to the trip to Dallas and we agreed to meet up to catch up. We did this, talking about his book, The Project Management Answer Book, and my upcoming presentation.  Jeff said he planned on attending the presentation. I was glad to hear this as I knew his insight would be extremely valuable.  The presentation went well and Jeff’s contributions as an audience member were great.

Even better are the things that have happened since.  First, Jeff was interviewed by Elizabeth Harrin for her video diary where he talks about my presentation; first commenting on the subject, sponsorship, and then publically admires my style in engaging the audience.  (Note to self, get copy of video for testimonial). The second thing that has happened is that Jeff and I have teamed to help build traffic to our respective blogs reflecting on the Congress through links and Tweets. (Jeff Furman’s Blog: Highlights of the PMI North American Congress 2011).

I know I have an ally in Jeff and can say he has one in me as well.  As I begin to focus on building the next steps of my career through writing and presenting, I know I have a mentor and supporter. I just hope I can return as much in the friendship.  It amazes me what conversation and exchange of business cards on a shuttle can do.


You don’t have to be actively seeking a job or clients to get significant value from networking. You never know where the benefits will present themselves.  Don’t be shy in establishing connections. Your interest in the person should be a welcomed gift.  If it isn’t, it will be their loss.

Finally, I want to thank those that took the time to show an interest in me. My sincerest thanks to Jeff Furman,  Samad Aidane, Todd Williams, Peter Taylor, Rick Morris, Bill Fournet, Alfonso Bucero, and Ricardo Vargas.   I look forward to seeing you at future events. Please let me know if there is anything I can ever do for you.

Chandra, thanks for having my back, I will always have yours.

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