Tuesday, August 3, 2010

3 Things To Help That Presentation Go Better

I recently gave two presentations at Codestock. One on Kanban that I’ve given a number of times and is well rehearsed, and another on IronRuby that I’d never presented before. I had given a similar talk, but a good bit of this one was new. Since I hadn’t practiced the IronRuby talk too many times, it didn’t go as well as I’d had hoped.

There’s the first sign I was going to have trouble, I hoped it would go well. The Kanban talk I knew would go well, not so much with the IronRuby talk. I had some time issues in preparing, had a number of other events I was was participating in, but none of that mattered to those people in the room with me in Knoxville while I did an under prepared presentation.

Here are three things you can do to save yourself the same fate I had in Knoxville.

1. Un-busy those slides!

Yeah, drop the bullet points, the animations, the cool stuff that PowerPoint or Keynote will let you do and just keep it simple. I mean, who’s telling this story? You or some software program that just needs you there to hit the “Next” button?

I was recently at a national/international level conference and a fairly well known speaker was giving a talk, but this person’s slides had all kinds of images and animations and bullet points. They had crammed so much info on each slide that a number of their headings were lost in the curtaining surrounding the screen. As an audience member I had a poor user experience, and I can’t recall the topic of the talk because I was so distracted by the horror that was on display in their slide deck.

Simplify. One image per slide is a technique I use often. Use that image to support what you’re talking about rather than BE what you’re talking about. Keep the animations low, one or two per slide is plenty. You don’t want to distract your audience, you want them listening to you.

The last point on un-busying your slides, I’m sure a few of you are thinking, “But when I upload my slide deck, nobody will know what the main points of the talk were.” That’s fine, put the supporting points to the slide in the speaker notes, then a downloader will have a good idea what you were talking about…in the presentation they should have attended. (Because you were that awesome!)

2. Practice, practice, practice!!

Give your presentation to the wall of your office a few times. Set up a few of your kid’s (or your own) stuffed animals and regale them with the wonders of TSQL. Give it to some colleagues in an informal lunch and learn. But, practice it a number of times. You want to be comfortable with the flow of the presentation and the points you want to make on each slide.

You can add speaker notes to help you through, and jog your brain on some points you’d like to make, but you want to practice enough that you’re comfortable to give a good talk without those notes. Because…

Let’s say – hypothetically – you own a MacBook Pro and an iPhone and you’re going to use the wonders of the Apple Corporation to help you give a presentation. You’re going to use the phone as your presentation remote and it’ll show you those bullet point, memory joggers mentioned above. And because it’s all Apple, all the time…IT’LL JUST WORK! But – again, hypothetically – something is wrong with the wireless network and for some reason the phone doesn’t want to connect to an ad hoc network on your laptop. What then? What of those memory joggers? The notes? Well, you will have practiced enough that this will barely even slow you down.

3. Practice those code samples

Yes, more practice. But with good reason.

Live coding can make or break you…it usually breaks me. I’ve bored enough people to tears with my live coding, that I rarely do it. I have some colleagues that are awesome at live coding demos. Somehow they’ve mastered the art of saying one thing and typing another. I don’t have that gift…just like I don’t have the gift of being able to hit a fastball, the gift 4.3 speed, or the gift a 103 MPH slap shot. But, I digress.

Practice those coding samples. I mean, as developers were in this to code anyway, just do the same code over and over so you can give the presentation without a hitch. I read a great line the other day, and though it applied to development in general, it definitely fits here: Novices will practice until they get it right, experts will practice until they never get it wrong. When it comes time to do a code sample in front of 40 developers, you’re going to want to be an expert.

That’s all there is to it

So, in review…

  1. Keep it simple
  2. Practice the presentation
  3. Practice the code samples
  4. And, um, have fun!

Yes, it’s a bit of work to put on a presentation. But when it comes time to deliver that presentation, the people watching you are giving up part of their day to spend with you. Respect those people and that hour of time of theirs that they’re giving to you.

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