Presentation tips

Today I was a guest on NCompass Live, for Michael Sauers’ Tech Talk on Presentations. Jezmynne Dene, David Lee King, and I  talked about what we think people should know about giving good presentations.

You can listen to it at the NCompass site, which I recommend so you can hear Jezmynne and David as well, but I said, in short:

  1. Get your audience’s attention. You’ll be fighting them for attention — they have smart phones, laptops, are in their office streaming you, are talking to the person next to them… grab them. Somehow. Use humor, your appearance, a great slide, a good quote… whatever works for you. But grab ’em.
  2. Tell a story. Create a narrative line, whether it’s a numbered list, a classically structured essay with an opening, body of argument, and closing, a dramatic structure a la Shakespeare with 5 acts… something that we can culturally recognize and follow along with. We know the beats of classic structures, and if you use one, people will follow you.
  3. Focus. Don’t try to tell everything you know at once. Tell the good bits, the highlights, the parts that are engaging, and trust that your audience will strive to learn more later if you entice them with the best of what you know.
  4. Never read your slides. Seriously. Just stop. If you read the slides out loud, the audience will have read them first, because they can read faster than you talk, and now they’re bored and waiting for the next thing. If you can’t stop reading what’s on your slides, then  use slides with no words. Or no slides.
  5. End well. You want your audience to remember something, and they remember the last bit best. I’ve heard that this is why drug commercials put the side effects in the middle and lots of “we’re awesome” stuff at the end. Help the audience remember that you’re awesome and taught them good things by ending well.

And, for the curious, I was working from this:


  1. My constant struggle: designing slides suited for an in-person presentation that also make sense when standing on their own on SlideShare (or similar asynchronous distribution). Advice from the outer world?


  2. I saw this today:

    It’s a great example of a slide deck designed for remote use, but one that I could see being useful and engaging f2f, too — lots of words, but in short bursts that could be highlighters/pointers for a more fleshed out talk.

    And this (one of Slideshare’s decks of the day) is clearly designed for in-class isntruction, so I could see it being used with a lecture, while still offering something up to the remote viewer.

    Otherwise… in my current Very Visual approach, I’m challenged by it. It’s why I post long speaker’s notes with my slides, because the slides are sort of pointless without the notes, you know?

    Anyone else want to tackle this?


  3. @Marliese – I would suggest adapting your message to the medium. After all, slides which are intended to work well both with and without a presenter are probably not serving either audience well.
    I would recommend a visual approach (such as minimalist slides) when dealing with an audience face-to-face, and a blog post or video for communicating the same information to an online audience.
    I think putting copies of your presentations on SlideShare is mostly for the later benefit of people who attended your session (as an aide-memoire or refresher) rather than for an audience who did not experience you presenting your slides to begin with.


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