AWS New Voices – Lessons Learned


For the past few weeks, I’ve been participating in a weekly session to improve my public speaking skills, put on by the AWS Community Builders community. AWS New Voices is a live, virtual training for those less-experienced in giving technical talks at events and meetups, but would like to begin doing so. The training was 5 weeks, and met once per week for 90 minutes.

It was a great experience, getting tips and feedback on practice speaking engagements. We had full group sessions, and usually split into smaller breakout rooms to go through some exercises. It was incredibly positive and energizing. Special thanks to Mark Pergola from AWS for organizing and facilitating, and Meridith Grundei from Grundei Coaching for all of the lessons and amazing energy!

As part of the program, as we progressed from week to week, we used the tips to build a 5 minute presentation to fine tune and ultimately present to an audience at a public event.

I’ve been tuning my presentations using the tips from the training, and recently graduated from the program. I had done a larger presentation to a local group using the methods learned in the sessions:

I’ll be presenting my 5 minute presentation in May, and I’ll post it on the site, hopefully with a recording, for feedback.

In this article, I’d like to share some of the tips we learned throughout the sessions for others to use to improve their public speaking.

Week 1 – Speaker Confidence and Establishing Your Talk

First, we discussed starting by brainstorming for the presentation by identifying the following:

  1. Who is your audience? What do they know already? What don’t they know? What do they need to know?
  2. What is your end in mind? What outcome do you want? What do you want your audience to think, feel, or do after they’ve heard your message?
  3. What are the three “NEED TO KNOWS” that lead to your end in mind?

The presentation will be based on this information, and should be tailored for the audience. We took the first week to define this, to start planning our presentation.

Week 2 – Storytelling and Hooks

For the second week, we went over our work from the previous week in smaller breakout groups.

We also talked about ways to “hook” the audience during the introduction, to capture their attention and keep them engaged for the content you will be going over. This gives a good first impression at the start of your presentation, and you typically have only about 30 seconds to do it.

A good hook should be:

  • Brief – you only have about 30 seconds to capture the audiences’ attention
  • Catchy – you want to make sure it jumps out and the audience finds it interesting
  • Well-Rehearsed – First impressions count, and you only get one shot at this, so make sure to practice
  • Pertinent to your topic – The hook should lead into your presentation, otherwise you risk losing your audience
  • Avoid dry and conventional hooks – Again, you want to make sure to grab the audiences’ attention, so don’t start with something that will make them tune out

Some examples of ways to hook your audience are:

  • Storytelling – Beginning with a captivating story that relates to your topic
  • Startling Statistic – Sharing a surprising or thought-provoking statistic
  • Bold Statement or Question – Open with one of these to get the audience to think
  • Engaging Visual or Prop – Capture the audience’s attention by using a striking visual or prop
  • Quotation – Start with a compelling quote from a renounced figure or expert

As part of building our presentation, we also went over some other sections to think about for crafting our introduction:

  1. Your Hook (all mentioned above)
  2. Who you are for credibility? Why should the audience listen to you?
  3. What will your audience gain from your presentation?
  4. Why is your presentation important for your audience?

At the end of the presentation, you also want to have a Call To Action – one specific thing you want your audience to do after they walk away from your presentation. This could be going to a website, do some further research, take a certification program, or try a product or service.

This should be clear and simple. If you want them to scan a QR code, save a web link, or fill out a survey, give clear instruction on what you want the audience to do, and give them time to do it.

Week 3 – Adding Visuals

In the past, I was absolutely guilty of creating presentations with the above problem. I would load my slides with text, and read off of them. This is overwhelming to the audience, and makes it hard for them to follow along.

The audience should be focused on listening to what you have to say, not trying to process everything on the slides.

In Week 3, we talked about some ways to use visuals in the presentation effectively. A lot of this was how to choose visuals to support the message. We used the F.O.C.U.S. acronym:

F – Frame – Introduce the slide’s purpose and how it fits into your overall message

O – Orient – Guide the audience’s attention to the key elements of the slide.

C – Clarity – Each slide is clear and straightforward, with minimal text and clear visuals

U – Use Visuals – Employ charts, images, props, and diagrams instead of text

S – Simplify – Focus on the core message of each slide

Some ways to guide the audience’s attention on a slide is to animate the slide to reveal and introduce the information gradually, so you don’t overwhelm them, and allow them to process the visuals separately. You can also circle or highlight the part of a complex diagram to get their focus, and then discuss it. If you are trying to direct their attention to something that requires action, like scanning a QR code, let the audience know clearly, and pause and wait to give them time to do so.

Week 4 – Putting It Together

In Week 4, we put everything together and did a practice run of our presentation to a small breakout group. This was great, as we had time to get feedback from the group to improve our presentation, and also rehearse it with a time check to make sure we weren’t going over.

For some of the things to consider for the presentation:

  • Imagine your presentation as a gift to your audience.
  • What unique value or takeaway do you hope to give them?

Week 5 – Final Rehearsal

In Week 5, we did a final run of our 5 minute presentation both in breakout groups, and a few of us to the entire cohort. We really focused on ensuring the breakdown of the presentation was timed properly:

  • 0.5 Minutes – Introduction and Hook
  • 0.5 Minutes – Introduce Yourself, Credibility
  • 3 Minutes – Slides/Talk
  • 0.5 – Key Takeaways
  • 0.5 Minutes – Call To Action


I’m really happy I was able to take part in this program, and thankful that it was offered by the AWS Community Builders group. I really feel that the sessions have helped improve my presentations and confidence for public speaking, and I’ll be putting these tips to good use.

I’m also happy I was able to connect with so many passionate individuals and get to know them a bit better in the breakout sessions.

The positive energy, presentation feedback, encouragement, and insights were all invaluable. And of course, since we started and ended most sessions this, I’ll have to end with collective…

👋👋👋 JAZZ HANDS 👋👋👋



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