Tuesday, March 11, 2008

How to give a presentation to people who can read

I've had to give many presentations. I have yet to give one at a major development conference, but I've had to give them as part of my job, as part of school, as part of a sales pitch to venture capitalists, and as briefings to the military. I've probably done dozens of presentations in my day. I've probably had to sit through hundreds of them. Here is my take on how to present.

I can read, thank you

No really, I can read. I don't need you to read me your powerpoint slides. Doing that is a waste of your time, which during the course of a presentation that I may have paid to see, is really my time. Don't waste my time. Your powerpoint slides should enhance your presentation and should help highlight the key points that you are talking about right now. They should not be your whole presentation. In fact, you should be able to give your presentation without any slides at all. Ideally, you shouldn't need anything except an audience, although with most development presentations you need a computer to do some sort of example or demo. Still, you should be able to do at least something substantive without any bells and whistles.

There are no stupid questions. Except for the ones that are stupid

People ask questions. It happens. No one knows everything (except me between the ages of 13 and 19, but now that I'm older there are once again things that I don't know). Therefore, while you are presenting, people will ask you questions. Sometimes they will be relevant, sometimes they won't be. Here's the truth: questions waste your time. No really, they do. There's nothing wrong with questions, but every time you have to stop to answer one, your momentum slows a little and you run out of time a little. You must learn to handle questions so that they can get an answer and you can move on. If a question can be answered in less than one paragraph, just answer it. If you're about to answer the question in the next few slides, tell them that the answer is coming up. If you can't do either of those things, either hold the question until the end or ask them to talk about it after the presentation. I'm sure that your question is very important to you, but if it isn't something that can be answered quickly or on a future slide, the rest of the audience probably doesn't care. When in doubt, ask the audience if they care before you answer that question. Even if it's from me.

Can you repeat the question (hint: you can)

This one is simple: if someone asks a question and you have a microphone and they don't, repeat their question in the microphone so that we can all hear it. If you don't have a microphone, speak loudly.


I don't remember your demo

JP posted about presentations the other day on his blog so here's my take on doing a demonstration on the fly, particularly where you write code: I don't remember what you did. I will probably forget it within about five minutes of the end of your presentation. That's not a problem because you will publish your code somewhere where I can download it along with your slides, right? Wrong. That's a huge problem. The reason is that just because I can see your finished source code doesn't mean that I can see HOW and WHY you wrote that source code. Please, please, PLEASE either record your coding session or post versions of your code as your demo evolves or something. Even putting a few comments in your code would be helpful. You don't have to do this during the demo even, but please give me SOMETHING to work with for your presentation materials. Ideally, you'd be able to provide some sort of video of your presentation but this isn't always possible, so do the best that you can.


It works on my box. . .

Famous last words. So you have your presentation and demo and sample code and everything all working. Then you show up to give your presentation. You get there ten minutes early. Then, the unthinkable happens: You can't get your laptop to work with the projector. Or your laptop crashes. Or you can't connect to your subversion server at your office. Whatever. Don't waste my time with this crap. I'm there to see you, not your props. If your microphone doesn't work, speak loudly. If your laptop doesn't work, runs out of batteries, or won't connect to the projector, then either borrow someone else's (I'll always loan out mine if I'm there) or find a substitute like a whiteboard or a big piece of paper or whatever. If you don't typically have such things, bring them with you. I'd rather you ducttape a 12-foot piece of paper to the ceiling and write on that than waste half your presentation getting your laptop to work.

If you follow some of this simple advice, you will find that your presentations will be much better for everyone. Your ratings will improve. People will find you more attractive. And most importantly, I won't go up to you and talk shit after your presentation.

1 comment:

pop said...

I don't even need an audience for my presentations. A wall with pictures usually suffices; and a mirror... that's a bonus.