"Last week I got inspired by a keynote presenter at a conference. Not about the topic, sadly, but to write on how to present. The logic of her presentation was sound, with good ideas, but she completely lost the audience.
She opened with a set of slides with 10 bullet points each, some with further detail. Like an evil robot from the movie 9, she started to drain the life energy from the audience. The room became very hot. With my last few mana points I tried to escape. Damn, I was blocked on both sides by people turning into zombies. I faced a tough decision: be rude and try get out by interrupting a row of attendees, or be polite and stay there to slowly die. Or at least, check out what’s new on Twitter. Others had similar ideas, and Angry birds seemed to be the preferred antidote for people around me. When this happens during a normal talk it is sad and bad. When it is an opening keynote of a conference, it should be a criminal offence punishable by law.
Good presentations inspire and energise, not hibernate the audience. Who cares about the plebs, you might think, because if people aren’t paying attention that is their loss. When you decide to invest one hour of your life in speaking at a conference, with a few more hours to travel and prepare, you probably want to get a message across. The less people pay attention, the lower your return on investment.
Presenting doesn’t come naturally to software people, and I made lots of mistakes early on and learned from them. Here are five basic things to watch out for if you’re planning to present.
A word or two is due about context before I start. People present for lots of different reasons and at many different occasions. There are no best practices for presenting, similar to the way that there are no best practices for software in general. My keynote at StarEast this year, for example, was rated very highly by the audience. I asked Naomi Karten, famous author of Presentation Skills for Technical Professionals, for feedback on improving after the talk, and she said “It is amazing how someone can do everything wrong but still make a great presentation.” Use the ideas below as an inspiration, not as a prescription. I mostly speak at conferences in front of mid-size groups (100-400), mostly from the IT industry, often geeks. In different contexts, different rules might be applicable.
Watch the wordcount
60 minutes is shorter than you think
Keeping people awake is the presenter’s job
Slides are for the audience, not for the presenter
Preaching puts people off
So in short, here are five things to consider if you want to avoid the classic traps:
- Keep the font big and make slides illustrate your key points
- Keep the slide deck short
- Don’t let the audience fall asleep – move around, tell jokes, think of other ways to engage the audience but facilitate it
- Don’t read the slides, use them just as a quick schedule reminder if you have to
- Tell stories, consider context, don’t preach
This will get you over the first few initial hurdles in being a good presenter. "
Since one day I might be the guy out in front...