Effective Presenting

I've given a number of presentations to a variety of audiences. Over time I've developed a mental list of things to look for in providing an effective presentation.

Ear lobes and eye balls.
Where do you want the audience's attention? If you are giving a presentation, you want the audience to be focusing on you and the words you are saying. Complicated slides with lots of text and images will distract your audience from what you are saying and give them an excuse to tune out. Make sure the content on the slide is an augmentation of your spoken content, not a replacement for it.

PowerPoint is a horrible format for a white paper.
If your goal is to deliver documentation, deliver a document. Slides are for presentations, not documentation. There is nothing worse than sitting in a presentation where the presenter does nothing more than read their slides to you.

Expect to be interrupted.
If your audience is paying attention, they should have questions. Be prepared to stop at any moment and discuss either a detail of what you said or a detail on your slide. This is a good argument for limiting content, both spoken and on the slide, as it limits interruptions and side conversations. If you haven't been stopped, no one is listening.

Build in transitions.
For group presentations, build in a transition to cue the next speaker. Jumping directly to the first content slide of a follow-up speaker gives the audience time to digest the slide and make assumptions without the guidance of the speaker. This can lead to an ambush, or lack of attention.

Be concise.
You are brilliant. You've done an incredible amount of research on your topic and you want to show your audience how brilliant you are. Your audience, on the other hand, is probably bored and pressed for time. Assume your audience is a bunch of six year old kids hopped up on mountain dew and pixie sticks. Get your message across directly and immediately. Follow-up with reinforcement.

Be consistent.
Use a consistent layout. Turn on snap to grid and rulers. Be sure that common content elements appear in the same position throughout. Do not make your audience go hunting around the slide. Get familiar with the slide master.

Know your message.
Related to being concise, know the message you are trying to deliver. Everything you say or show should be geared towards reinforcing that message. If you can't relate the slide or discussion to your message, remove it.

Time the material.
Practice the presentation to get a feel for timing. Are you way over your time limit? Way under? Leave 10-20% of your available time for discussion.

One idea per slide.
Just because you can fit a lot of things on one slide doesn't mean you should. Focus on just one concept per slide. Loading a slide up with multiple concepts will only lead to confusion.

All those slides you took out to be concise: put them in a different slide deck. Any additional material that someone might ask you for, such as data to backup your findings, keep in that second slide deck. Call it your Fully Updated (F.U.) slide deck. This way, if you suffer the misfortune of someone in the audience questioning your research, you've got it covered with a big F.U.

Wake 'em up
Let's face it, you and everyone in that room would rather be somewhere else. The longer the presentation the higher likelihood that your audience will lose interest. Throw something in there to wake them up. It can be anything, speaker transitions, physical samples, audience participation, home video of you bungee jumping, whatever. Find a way to break the monotony.

Warning signs that things are going very, very wrong
  • No interruptions
  • Waiting on audience to finish reading / digesting your slide
  • Your spoken content doesn't track with your slides
  • Lack of eye contact
Warning signs that things are going very, very well
  • Lots of interruptions / questions
  • Audience discussion
  • Eye contact

Related Materials
Here are links to great materials on effective presenting.
Don't Make Me Think - Geared towards web usability, but applicable to presentations as well
TED Talks - Watch a few of these videos online. These are some of the world's greatest presenters exhibiting their craft.


Jade Mason