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?

The First Law of Demos

It’s the last full week before the Xojo Developer Conference in Austin.  I’ve gone through my presentation on Reporting Tools in Xojo at least once already.  I have the Keynote presentation done (added a few things), have the sample projects done and ready to upload to the website.  You’d think I’d be done, right?  Wrong!

The First Law of Demo’s says that unless you’ve done the demo multiple times on the hardware you’ll actually use it’s as if you’ve never done it in the first place.  I should know, I’ve been standing in front of a group of people to do a demo only to have the first element fail and then flounder away for the next twenty minutes with plenty of, “well, if this worked I’d be able to show you this feature.”

I have learned from my mistakes, the hard way.  Several times.  Here are Bob’s rules of effective demo’s.

Rule #1:  Disconnect from your normal network/regular computer

There are things floating around on your drive that you tend to use all the time.  So when you take your development project off your home network, or move to a separate machine, you’ll quickly find the things that you forgot include in your demo packages.

In my case, I discovered that a Xojo project had references to graphic files that weren’t included in the folder I moved to the presentation machine.  The graphics weren’t necessary and it was easy to fix but how embarrassing to be in front of your peers to have a simple error like that occur.  It shows a lack of preparation.

Rule #2:  Run all of your Demo’s in the latest version of the software

This sounds silly, I know, but I found that one of the reporting tools I’m talking about in my session doesn’t work with Xojo 2015 R1 and R2.  For whatever reason I was using 2014 when I first created the project and didn’t run into the problem until I started working with it on the laptop which had the latest version of Xojo.

Another reporting tool I’m talking about in my session had to have a number of libraries installed to work properly.  And then it needed a newer version of its plugin.  These issues were not very hard to fix when I have reliable internet access and access to all my files, but once you’re away from home that’s not always the case.  Again, if this happens in a presentation it looks like you have not prepared.

Rule #3:  Practice saying your presentation out loud  

Speaking your presentation is important in a number of ways.  First, it will show you where you have not prepared enough.  If you find yourself um’ing and ah’ing in a particular session that’s an area to do again (and again).  Since you can think faster than you’re speaking you’ll often find yourself saying “I need to mention this.”  Having this happen during your actual presentation is a bad time.  Practicing beforehand will show you these problems.  Practice multiple times to catch even more of them.

I’m a good writer (I’m sure that’s open for debate) and I have my ‘inner voice’ that talks to me when I’m reading something.  That’s not good enough when practicing for a presentation because your inner voice lacks depth.  It lacks the pauses and breaths that you need when speaking.  Practice your presentation as if there are people in the room.  Pause for effect.  Pause for eye contact.  And in technical presentations pause for people to wrap their head around the idea.  Silence is good in a technical presentation and that pause is never as long as you think it is.

A lot of people have a fear of public speaking.  I can’t say was overly enthused about the subject a few years ago either.  I decided to tackle that fear and enrolled in a local chapter of Toastmasters (TM).  At this point I have achieved the Competent Communicator award and feel more comfortable speaking in a crowd.  Frankly, after two years of TM it’s hard not to evaluate all speakers and count their use of um’s and ah’s.  Toastmasters is a safe and friendly environment to learn how to speak in public.

Rule #4:  Practice, Practice, Practice

This seems intuitive but I’ve seen it happen to myself and others way too often.  The more you can practice your presentation, out loud, the better off you’ll be.  I can’t remember which Toastmaster’s speech I was giving but I didn’t have the same preparation as I normally did and it showed.  My use of fillers words was awful, I fidgeted a lot more, and I was uncomfortable with the topic, and I had to use my notes more often than I wanted.  I did okay but it was not my best speech.

Steve Jobs was known for his awesome keynote speeches where he introduced new, sometimes buggy, products to the world.  He practiced, on stage, with the actual product hundreds of times until everything seemed magical and when something didn’t go as planned he could make joke of it and move on (and use the backup device).  That last bit is very hard, but if you’ve practiced your presentation to the point where you’re dreaming of it you should do okay if things go awry.

Rule #5:  Relax

I can’t say I’ve ever been to a technical presentation where the audience was hostile to the speaker.  We usually have a choice on what sessions to attend and we are there to learn something new and hopefully be entertained.  The audience is pulling for you!  When you make a mistake during your presentation know that we’ve been there and had the same thing happen to us.

Toastmasters has another fine tradition of telling a joke to start off their meetings.  It makes everyone relax a bit and if the joke, even an awful joke, can get a chuckle or two it’s a great way to start a presentation.  If you can do a joke somehow related to the topic you’re even better!  One word of caution on jokes, though, unless you’ve practiced the heck out of telling this joke don’t bother!  The timing of joke is everything and unless you’re are comfortable with it don’t screw it up (unless you’re comfortable enough to botch the joke and recover from it and make everyone laugh anyway).

So that’s it.  I have a lot of work to do before the conference next week.  I have to practice some more and when I get tired of talking about it I’ll do it again once or twice.

Hope to see you at the conference.  Please stop me and introduce yourself.  I really enjoy meeting my fellow Xojo developers.

Prepping for Real World

Real World is less than a week away!  Real World presentation on Intermediate Database Programming:  Done.  Real World presentation on Reporting Tools: Done.  Training Day morning session on Database programming in Real Studio:  Done.  Training Day afternoon session on Polishing your Real Studio applications:  Done.  Dry runs on all presentations with staff:  Done.

Usually this is the time that I start getting really, really nervous.  I start having dreams about flubbing sessions and stammering during every talk.  Instead, I had those dreams two weeks ago just before we did our first runs through the presentations.

I must admit that public speaking is not my idea of fun.  I get up in front of a crowd and it feels like my brain is mush and my mouth is full of cotton.  When I was editing all of my Real Studio training videos I discovered that  I used a lot of filler words (um, ah, so, you know, etc).  So I decided to do something about it.

Early in 2012 I started attending Toastmasters.  If you are not familiar with Toastmasters it’s an international organization whose sole purpose is help make its members become better speakers.  The big goals in Toastmasters are the speeches.  You start with an ice breaker speech and I’ve found it to be the hardest speech.   I’ve been fairly aggressive in my speeches as I’ve done 5 in the past year and been Toastmaster twice (which in our club is a lot like giving a speech).

We meet twice a month and in each meeting there are number of roles that are divvied up among attendees.  There’s a timer, someone to give a word of the day, a joke master, speech evaluators, table topics master, and vote counter (we vote who does the best speech, evaluation, and table topics).  Perhaps one of the best (worst?) roles you get assigned at meetings is the role of Grammarian – the person who counts everyone’s filler words.

Once you get that role in a meeting you can’t help but notice the use of filler words – whenever ANYONE speaks.  Literally I mean everyone.  At times it’s annoying to be so cognizant of their use.  Then you start catching yourself using them.  Made me mad for a while.  Eventually you start using a pause instead of a filler word.  I’ve only been a member for a little over a year but I’ve seen it happen with newbies to the group several times.  I think the goal is to strive to get better each time you speak.

So I’m not nervous about the speaking in public any more.  Okay, I’m not AS nervous.  🙂

Really, about the only things left to do for Real World is put the final changes to our two new products we’ll announce and the major product upgrade for the conference.  And then practice, practice, practice doing demo’s and writing up final notes.

If you are attending Real World you might want to think about attending our Training Day.  It should be a great way to start off an interesting week.  More information at http://www.bkeeney.com/real-studio-training-2013/

If you are attending Real World please make sure you stop me and introduce yourself.  I enjoy hearing from people who have been reading this blog.

See you in Orlando!