Article: Giving great presentations »
FERDY CHRISTANT - JUN 11, 2007 (05:47:47 PM)
Throughout my 7 years in the IT industry, I had my fair share of presentations. Presentations from vendors, CIOs, coworkers, and I have given some myself.
I do not consider myself to be a natural public speaker, in fact I am most definitely quite the opposite. Still, having seen and analyzed presentations of others, and trying out some things in my own presentations, I have developed a feeling of what works and what doesn't.
The quality of the average presentation is in a poor state I can tell you. It is quite easy to stand out from the crowd by using your own common sense. That's exactly what this article is about. Hands-on, simple tips on how to improve your presentation.
Know the goal
Giving a presentation is usually not about simply broadcasting information: you're bringing a message across. In the business world, the message almost always has to do with money, time and quality. Keep that in mind when you're designing overly complex sheets. In the end, you always have to bring down the topic to real-world terms that everybody can relate to. Be as specific as you can be, use lots of examples. The presentation is for the audience, not for you.
Know your audience
When possible, know as much about your audience as possible. Know their names, it looks professional when you address them by their name. Know what they do, and what their interest in the topic is. Think of it as a game of chess, where you strategically move your message to your audience. Explain terms that the audience is not familiar with. It may be your job to architect a software factory, but it is not the job of the attendees. Picture yourself in their position and start from there.
Know the location
It is practical to know what your presentation location looks like. How big is it, how big is the screen and how far will people be away from it? Will there be a microphone, sound, laptop, paper handouts, etc? Make sure that everything works before the presentation.
YOU ARE THE PRESENTATION
My most important tip. You are the presentation, the Powerpoint file is not. Your sheets do not tell the story, you do. The sheets support your story. I think everybody can relate to the typical presentation, where the presenter reads out long lists of bullets. Hard to pay attention to right? Are you also reading ahead the bullets before the presenter has even started on it? My strategy is to tell a story, to bring a message, and to let the sheets support that story, as visual as possible.
Know your subject
Some people create a presentation in Powerpoint, and then learn it by heart. I don't. Once I have created the slides, I do not look at them until I give the presentation. It is because I know the subject with or without slides. I believe in the subject, and can talk freely about it in an improvised manner. Let's say you love cars. I'm sure you would not have trouble talking about it for hours. The topic of your presentation should be no different. You know it, so with some basic guiding slides you should be able to talk about it without a sentence-by-sentence note book.
Less is more
Do not cram loads of text on a sheet. Nobody can read it, and if they can, they will read ahead of you. Use appropriate white space, and mix simple text statements with images that relate to the story. Diagrams and visualizations are meant to simplify information, not make it more complex. A 5-layer, 30-block architecture diagram does not explain a thing. Use simple diagrams, and optionally make them increasingly complex. Keep your amount of slides low. Presentation gurus say 10 is the maximum, but I keep a treshold of about 20, of which many slides are very graphical.
Control your nerves
If somebody knows how to control my nerves before a presentation, please tell me. I was nervous at my first presentation at school, have been at every business presentation and always will be before every presentation. It's OK, I think almost everybody is nervous, even artists before they get on stage. Things that have been helpful to me are envisioning a successful presentation (instead of worrying about what can go wrong), a very extensive preparation (see other tips in this article) and keeping the amount of free time before the presentation to a minimum (so that you do not have time to worry). It's OK to be nervous before a presentation, but once you're on, you just have to be confident in your story. You'll be fine.
Most of the time, you have a fixed time slot for your presentation. Stick to it, the people attending your presentation have a life outside your presentation. You will annoy them by running late. If you find out half way that you are running out of time, let the audience know, skip irrelevant parts and address the key elements that are left in the presentation. If somebody delays your presentation by asking lenghty questions, address them politely. Offer a follow-up after the presentation and then continue.
Go easy on the eye candy
I do like to dress up my presentation nicely, but do not overdo it. I never use animations or sound, just consistent, stylish still images supported by key text phrases. Consistency in fonts, highlights, font size, style, positioning and layout are crucial. People with designer skills have the advantage here. If you do not have those skills, simply steal ideas from others. I use Google image search all the time. Powerpoint 2007's Smartart is also a treat to create stunning visualizations. Obviously, all of this should support your presentation's message.
Properly close the presentation
Put your contact info on the last sheet. Tell the audience how they can get a copy of the presentation. Allow some time for questioning.
Keep your audience interested
I never use an agenda sheet, nor do I use a slide counter. Instead I try give structure to the presentation by speech only. This provides a more fluent, natural story. It also allows you to surprise your audience, since they do not know what's coming. Great to uphoold the attention span.
Make local references
Show that you are interested by making local references. For example: "as John mentioned in the previous presentation, blah blah", or "I'm the guy standing between you and lunch, so blah blah". Do this naturally, never ever precook humour or references.