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Open Thread: Your best tip on doing presentations

As I mentioned yesterday, I'll be leading a discussion on Tinderbox and "the trusted system" tomorrow. Probably running a few Keynote slides, but mostly just casually chatting with a small group of enthusiastic Tinderbox fans.

I'm not a seasoned public speaker by anyone's estimation, so I've made my share of rookie mistakes in the past (hint: avoid doing a rambling, overlong talk without slides at ETech; people get confused, hungry, and eventually want to defenestrate you).

So, as I prep myself for tomorrow, I turn to you guys:

What's your best presentation tip? What's the "never break it" rule for PowerPoint/Keynote decks? What's your favorite site, article, or link on great presentations? How do I get that Lessig-, Jobs-, or Veen-like fu that makes audiences so giddy? (Self-links are okay within reason here)

I'll be over here imagining people in their underwear, but I'd love to hear your best advice on this stuff.

Update 2005-11-19 21:37:26

I've posted the slides from my talk today along with links to some of the posts and cool applications I mentioned.

Summary: went well! Very enthusiastic group -- great questions and conversations. And no one threw rotten vegetables. Elin liked it, and that's good enough for me. :-)

TOPICS: Off Topic, Tips
wrex's picture

"Presentation" does not mean "Documentation". An...

  1. "Presentation" does not mean "Documentation".

An extremely common fault when creating a presentation is to try and capture every possible detail that anyone might concievably want to know about your topic. This is why people end up with 100 page monstrosities that they proceed to hurriedly read to their audience.

A book or any other form of documentation must stand by itself. The writer does not need to be present at every reading.

Without a presenter, howeever, a presentation simply isn't a presentation.

It fascinates me when people ask me to send them my "presentation" in advance. What they are really asking, of course, is whether it is worth their time to sit through the "presentation" (a.k.a "the reading). I never send them the actual presentation I plan to use. Instead I send them an outline of the topics I plan to discuss along with any "leave-behind" material I may have prepared.

My actual presentation material usually comprises a set of images, charts/graphs, and fairly cryptic bullet points that are nearly incomprehensible to anyone who hasn't presented the material before.

Note that it takes a LOT more preparation, review, and design skill to make a standalone video presentation for the web or whatever than it does to make a simple slideset for a presentation. It's usually pretty obvious if your audience has disengaged and you need to make some presentation adjustments with a slideset, but you just can't do that with a canned video. That is why preparation and review (audience tests) are so important with canned videos.

  1. Different audiences need different presentations.

Sounds obvious, but I can't tell you how many times I've seen sales and marketing people try to use the same material to present to:

- Potential investors in their company

  • Prospects that might want to buy their product

  • Customers that are trying to learn more about their product

  • Resellers and partners that sell or support their product

  • Attendees at a tradeshow seminar highlighting their product

My background is mostly in the technical side of sales (yeah, yeah, oxymoron jokes go here). One thing that helps me, even when I'm asked to give "the standard pitch" is to ask whoever set up the meeting to complete the following sentence:

Ideally, after attending this presentation the audience will ________

Like a GTD "next action" (had to get a tie-in somewhere) the blank part should be as concrete and specific an action as possible -- it's not always "buy our product".

  1. "Red Stripe" and "Green Stripe" your slides

The previous two tips are quite general and border on philosophy. Here's one that is quite specific:

After you've prepared your slides (powerpoint, keynote, or even better crayon on construction paper) go through and identify the slides that you absolutely MUST get through even if your available presenting window gets reduced down to 5 minutes. Take a red crayon and make a small tic-mark in a corner of the slide, someplace fairly innocuous (I use a little red-filled rectangle in keynote and powerpoint).

Then go through and decide which additional slides you want to include if your given just a little more time, say a 15 minute presentation. Mark these with a green tic in the same location.

Now you can handle sudden changes in the amount of available time with aplomb. At any point you can know with confidence that you can finish the presentation within 5 minutes simply by skipping the slides without a red tic mark. You can do this in the heat of the moment without having to think at all.

  1. The pros shoot pool pretty damn well with any old cue stick

Don't think that a good presentation depends on fancy tools like laptops and projectors. The occasions where even pros need animation or sound effects are exceedingly rare (and virtually all amateur animation effects are evil incarnate).

Some of the best presentations I've ever witnessed were given on whiteboards and cocktail napkins. Seriously.

A successful presentation hinges primarily on credibility. If you're confident and comfortable with your material, then giving a presentation in front of a whiteboard really isn't that much harder than with prepared slides, but it can add a surprising number of credibility points with a technical audience.




An Oblique Strategy:
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