→ Giving a presentation → → →

I've been to quite a few conferences in not so distant past, and every time I am surprised (or maybe I should get used to it) that there are speakers who fail to give their talk in interesting and professional way that would be also very beneficial for all listeners. Giving a talk is exhausting, but listening to a few of them in one day, may be too. Let's start by saying that even if you have something really interesting to say, you may fail in may ways, and I'll try to point out only a few of them.

Your slides are essential part of your presentation, something that people see (and what we see substitutes majority of what we perceive), and the only thing that physically remains after your talk is over. Needless to say they have to be good. Make sure you use font that is big enough. How big is going to be the room where you're presenting? How big is going to be the screen? How far will people in last row, who might be as interested as those in front row in what you're saying, will sit from your text or diagrams? (I've noticed the font size problem mostly with diagrams to be fair, but sadly this concerns vast proportion of them). How good is the room lighting going to be, and is everyone going to have eagle's eyes? This relates also to contrast - no black on dark blue or stuff like that.

Please, do not use Comic Sans. Humour is good on every presentation, but be serious about the font. It's really hard to treat slides written in Comic Sans seriously. There was a great flow diagram around, starting with question "Should you use Comic Sans?". It led to decision point titled "Will your document be viewed by the public?". From there two arrows, representing all possible responses, "Yes" and "No", led to ultimate answer: "Don't use Comic Sans". This is still true.

It's not only about fonts and sizes. Slides that look like plain Word documents are boring, and will only make your listeners more sleepy than they are at the moment. And there are plenty of reasons to be sleepy during a conference. Make your slides beautiful - if you have a designer in you company ask him for a few words of advice. You'll look professional, well prepared, and you'll keep your listeners interested.

I really shouldn't write, or rather, I shouldn't - have to - write about this one, but I will. Please do turn off your mobile phone. You're not going to take a call anyway, right? If you're forgetting to turn it back on, create a reminder that you'll run into straight after presentation. You don't want to lose your flow by having to interrupt in order to cut off the call. And you don't want to explain that to your audience, and honestly, they don't want to hear that either. Another reason to do that is purely technical, you might be getting audible feedback from microphone, each time your mobile is looking for signal, and that can be very annoying when heard on all speakers in the room. Take it for granted from somebody who experienced it.

Be up to date. Present fresh stuff. It seems it might be even more directed to big names - people who are followed by many. If you have a talk, and say exactly what you said one year ago, there is a high chance that people heard it in one place or another, maybe those things became a part of domain knowledge since then. Of course, people want to see presenter/authority live, but when they hear nothing new, the get disappointed.

Speaking of disappointing your listeners, there is no better way than funding them a vendor talk when they don't expect it. Turning high expectations on apparently interesting topic into an hour of wasted time hurts. If you're about to do presentation like that, warn those who have better ways to spend their time beforehand. You'll have smaller, but happier audience and nobody will be talking about how frustrating your talk was afterwards.

There's also another thing to consider: how much you're going to show. You might have one or many years worth of material, but only about an hour of time to show everything. You'll have to make a decision, whether you prefer to run quickly through lots of things, giving an overview of your work, or maybe concentrate on just one or a few most interesting ones and talk about them in detail. Think what will be more useful for your listeners, what would they prefer to hear. By concentrating on details your public will learn fewer things better, but maybe these thing apply only to few listeners. If you want to cover really broad range of subjects, leave lots of references to where details can be found - otherwise people will be left with overview only and a big homework. Note, also that not everyone has plenty of time to do research after your presentation.

Last, and above all, be prepared. Not only for a happy scenario, there are couple things that could go wrong, make sure they don't, or have an alternate solution for problems. Prepare, practice and rehearse. Good luck.

Created on 02 January 2010