Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The Art of Presenting Publicly

Recently I was asked by Eric Brandenburg for tips/advice on giving a public presentation for the first time. Eric's initiation will be by fire at Oracle OpenWorld this year :)

There are many books written on how to do presentations, prepare slides, etc.
I haven't read any of them and have learn't by getting out there and giving sessions.
I give public presentations all over the world. The feedback I receive always varies from extremely positive to negative. I really enjoy giving presentations and try to have as much fun as possible. I have had my share of disasters, but rarely let them get me down.

So based on my experience I offer the following tips for 1st timers:
  • Know your content - Try and make the main emphasis of your talk something you have a lot of experience with. The more you know the less scary things like the Q&A will be. Don't be afraid to say you don't know the answer to a question.

  • Not too many bullets and words - Limiting the number of bullets and text on your slides makes it easier for participants to concentrate on what your saying rather than trying to speed read a slide full of text. Better to talk about the finer points than have very wordy slides - Think about using pictures and screen shots. Also remember that people at the back of the room may not be able to read the text very clearly.

  • Don't read your slides verbatim - The bullet points should only summarize what you want to talk about. The more you can expand on the bullets the better appreciation the participants will have for the information you're trying to convey.

  • Review your slides - Make sure you know what you want to talk about on each slide (I use the notes section extensively). If possible have someone else proof your slides

  • Be prepared - Practice your slides and ensure the timing is correct. Once you are happy with the content, flow, and timing do a dry run in front of colleagues

  • Be nervous - Everyone gets nervous before public presentations to varying degrees. The trick is to not get too anxious before hand and try to relax as much as possible once you start. For me doing sessions in foreign countries with translators and multiple slide decks gets the butterflies going until I start.

  • Look around the room - Once you get started, try and look up at the audience regularly and focus on different areas of the room. For example, having friends and colleagues in the front row can be a distraction so look at other people in the room.

  • Be active but not too active - If you stand completely still and don't so much as move your arms then it is difficult for people to maintain focus on you. By the same token, moving around excessively and in an exaggerated fashion can be distracting. Wearing clothes that are too tight or too loose can also inhibit your movements.

  • Know you will make mistakes - We all say something wrong (or say it the wrong way), have demos fail, forget to say something pertinent, etc. When this does happen try not to get too flustered or loose your way. I love giving demos (not necessarily advisable for the 1st timer - maybe use screen shots and viewlets) but they are fraught with danger. When it doesn't go as planned I've learnt to just move on and not spend copious amounts of time trying to correct the issue at the expense of finishing the session.

  • Do your best - At the end of each session there are invariably things that you wish you had said or done differently - you can't generally use a 'Do-over'. So whatever hurdles get thrown at you just try and do your best to overcome them and keep moving. As long as you walk off the stage with the knowledge you did your best then hold your head high.

At the end of the day you should be congratulated for putting yourself out there and trying to impart your knowledge - ENJOY :)

Welcome feedback from others on tips for public presentations.


Frits Hoogland said...

You have forgotten what I think is key to learn it: do it!

I have, just like you, learnt it just by doing it, and probably just like you, extensively watched other people doing it, and deciding what you like and dislike about the presentation, and try to remember that when presenting yourself.

Blind Bob Breacon said...

One more - Know the difference between "then" and "than" so that pedantic readers like me don't get hung up on the second bullet point :)

David Peake said...

Blind Bob - I sincerely apologies for my grammatical transgression - This is another good reason to keep the bullets short.


Scott said...

I'll add this: Be Prepared for Technical Issues!

Demos will fail; network connections will not work; projectors will not sync. I've seen it all, and will likely see it all again (and again, and again...)

If you have a demo, be sure to at least also have a screencam or a backup system in the case of a failure. Not a bad idea to copy slides to a USB drive too, so that if your PC won't play nice, you can use someone else's and at least have the slides.

When (not if) this does happen, just remain calm. Don't point it out anymore than you have to. We're all in the business, and we've all had it happen, so we'll be patient as you collect your thoughts on how to re-group and continue with the presentation.

- Scott -

sve said...

There is another one which I like very much. The 6 x 7 rule:
- No more than 6 lines per slide
- No more than 7 words per line