Presentation Tips

Giving a presentation for a room full of people can be a nerve-racking experience.  I remember the first time I gave one at the Xojo Developer Conference and I honestly can’t recall how I did.  They let me speak again so I must not have been too bad.

Years later I started doing Xojo training videos and had to edit myself speaking.  It was an awful experience to listen to myself fumble through words, use necessary filler words, and clean it all up.  It was after a couple of months of doing this that I decided to get some professional training.

After some training and many more presentations and videos I feel I’m much better (but still not perfect).  Here are some simple rules for making your presentation experience better.

Practice your presentation.  This seems like such a simple thing but I’ve seen way too many presentations where the presenter get up in front of the room and you can seem them searching for words to fill the time.  Most people, when they’re winging it, use their predominate filler words.

This should rarely happen and the easiest way to avoid this is to practice, out loud, your presentation.  Even better, practice it in front of someone else or record yourself.  Then get your listeners feedback or listen to it yourself and find out where you sounded awkward or stumbled.  Those are areas to go through again so they’re smooth by the time you do it live.

Don’t Read Your Slides.  Not only is reading your slides annoying to the audience but also makes it appears like you’ve not practiced.  Whatever you’ve written on the slide should be summarized verbally.  This way the user sees a slight variation from what you said and has to think about it a bit more.  And perhaps more importantly, they’re not annoyed that you’re reading to them.

Another way to do this is use short bullet-point text and what you say is the expanded version.  The bullet-point text on the screen is the summary and what you say is the expanded version.  Either way don’t read it!

Use the Equipment Before the Presentation.  Most computers and projectors work smoothly these days but it doesn’t hurt to connect up beforehand and go through some slides just to make sure it works properly.  This way your presentation starts properly and you don’t have to apologize and take time out to fix things.

As a software developer talking to other developers it’s common for me to give a demo that’s not in Keynote or PowerPoint so I’m switching from the presentation mode to the computer view.  When doing this make sure you have someone in the back of the room give you feedback on sizing of text and pictures..

I can’t emphasize this last point enough.  With todays high resolution monitors what looks huge on our big, Retina display may look tiny on the projector you’re using and impossible to read in the back of the room.  You might have to adjust the resolution on your computer to make it larger.  Make sure any application you’re using at this lower resolution works properly too and settings adjusted beforehand.

Another good habit to get into is look at the colors your using.  On your monitor they might look really nice but on a projector in a well lit room they may look washed out and impossible to read.  Using a dark purple on a black screen might be a bad choice as well as using green on a white background.

Any text you have on your slides should be as large as possible.  Despite looking awful on your monitor the people in the back of the room will appreciate being able to read it.

Never Go Off Script.  If you’ve practiced your presentation you should have it down pat.  Do not decide during the presentation to add additional information or demo something you didn’t practice.  From my own experience this where things go off the rails.  In the heat of the moment words can fail, filler words come out, and it’s an overall awkward moment in an otherwise good presentation.  On the flip side, if you can think of additional material add at the last moment you probably didn’t practice enough.

If you have a Q & A section of your presentation you can bring it up then or wait for someone to ask about it.  This is meant to be an unscripted portion of your presentation so people will give you some slack.

Breathe.  This seems simple, but I’ve seen a lot of speakers get up and be in such a rush to get their presentation underway that they forget to breathe.  Proper breathing technique means giving the audience a chance to process your information before going on to the next topic.  Wait a second or two before advancing your slide.

What seems like an eternity of empty space for you is good for the audience.  Silence does not have to be filled by you.  Respect your audience and give them time.  Respect yourself too because that pause to breathe is also time for your brain to start formulating your next thought.

My own personal issue with this is in the Q & A session.  Because it’s off script and somewhat random it’s easy to rush into it.  Try to take a deep breath before starting the answer and take another one after you’ve finished.  Again, this is as much for the audience as it is for you!

Get Training.  All of these tips are incredibly hard unless you practice.  You can learn them on your own and I’ve met some very talented natural speakers that can do this.  Most people aren’t naturally talented enough and have to work at it.  I highly recommend joining an organization, like Toastmasters, that can help train you on public speaking.  They are an international organization and there are chapters everywhere.  Their entire purpose is to help you succeed with public speaking.

Giving a presentation doesn’t have to be a stressful experience for you or your audience.  Use these techniques to polish and put a shine on your presentations.

What presentation tips do you have that I missed?