Being a Better Presenter

image I've talked previously on great presentations and presenters. For some of us, we live in two worlds. One is the eat-sleep-breath code world, and the other is the present-to-the-masses one. I think I'm a better developer than I am a presenter but I try to come up with good presentations, be flexible and friendly with my style, and above all provide value for your hard earned time you're sitting watching/listening to me. On that front here's some tips for those that are looking to advance their presentation skills.

  • I feel that the majority of speakers make the common first mistake of hitting the lights and sinking everyone into a semi-coma like state.  Whenever possible I suggest presenting with the lights on and tweaking slide-decks to accommodate.
  • Slide Decks are the #1 flaw I see in almost all presentations and I've personally tried to not use them.  People do not, can not and will not remember pages and pages of cde splattered into a presentation, 2 or 3 key words with a slick visual to invoke a reaction will almost always work better (the possible exception being web based / virtual presentations. When I do have to resort to them, I apply a 7-7-7 rule. 7 slides, 7 points, 7 words in each point. This gets the point across and let's me tell the story I want to tell without repeating what's on screen.
  • More confidence and attention to the presenter is always a huge plus.  The presenter should be the first point of attention, the slide deck is just a support blanket when you really need to resort to it. I was told once that a "good presentation" should be almost useless to someone (without the presenter).  You almost always see people looking for the "slide deck for such and such" which always amuses me when I think of the previous statement.  Again the exception being web/virtual presentations.
  • Better story telling.  People will always respond to a good story, any time it's possible to tell a couple of 5 minute stories that are funny or interesting and in some way tie into what your talking about, I'd say go for it.  In my mind good story telling goes hand in hand with a good presenter.
  • I point almost everyone I know whom is serious about presenting, and getting better at presenting to:  - awesome resource for tips/tricks. (other obvious favorites - Seth Godin, Guy Kawasaki).
  • Know your audience going in when possible - but be ready to change gears if you see eyes glazing over.  I've been mid-presentation on the finer points of some tool when I know I've lost the audience so a shift is needed.
  • Practice, Practice and more Practice - No surprise here.
  • Learn from others. Often I'm attending user group meetings or conferences simply for learning and picking up presentation tips from people. Seeing how others present topics and discuss ideas helps me be a better presenter. You might want to check out Al Gores traveling presentation (An Inconvenient Truth) - not so much for the environmental education, but it's possibly one of the most compelling presentations in history. It's out on DVD.

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