Everybody can give a good presentation, if she is willing to invest enough time. Here are tips for giving technical presentations.

This means it’s about cold, hard facts. Most of these talks are bad and boooring. A good presentation is hard work, no trick.

1. Buy a book about rhetoric

It is not enough to read one article to give an interesting presentation. Who wants to be a good speaker has to look into speaking.

You could start with the classical The Quick and Easy Way to Effective Speaking.

2. Content is king

You need content. If you don’t have anything to say, keep quiet. Many presentations are quite unsubstantial and need a flashy presenter. This doesn’t apply to us.

The content must be tailored to the audience. What knowledge can you take for granted? Underestimate the knowledge, but never underestimate the intelligence of your audience!

Fill your presentation! Every minute they listen to you, should be worth it. Every sentence must be important.

You often hear the first n seconds are important. They are not. Nobody will leave the room after 60 seconds, but often i know after 60 seconds, whether the speaker intends to fill or use his time.

3. Slow and clear

We’re talking technical presentations. Not wedding oration, not sales pitch, not advertisement, not political speech. This means to omit the filling stuff and go right to the core. This should be also true for the other occasions, but it’s essential here.

Don’t say the same three times in a row with different phrasing. It is better

to speak


and clearly

one sentence

after another.

Don’t read your content. Not from paper, not from beamer, not from screen. You have practiced enough to know your text by heart, haven’t you?

4. A good presentation has a climax

A good presentation has one -exactly one- climax. Try to summarize your content into one sentence!

Now minimize that sentence! It should have no comma and no “and”. Imagine your audience would memorize only one sentence from your talk - what would that be? You can say this. “If you keep just one thing in mind from my talk, keep this: A good presentation is hard work, no trick.“

A good presentation has one -exactly one- climax. Don’t fear repetitions in this case. A good presentation has one -exactly one- climax.

The climax determines the rest of the content. Thus if you have your climax, you have a criteria, where you could shorten your talk.

5. Humor is permitted

Yes, you can joke. A funny picture to lead to another topic is permitted, as long as it isn’t too much and on topic.

Don’t laugh yourself! A speaker better has a wry sense of humor.

6. Slide design

You can find good tips at Presentation Zen. A nice rule of thumb is 6×6, though i favor 1×6.

Especially with a technical topic one is ensnared to use bullet points. It doesn’t help. It doesn’t stick. As the speaker, you will read the list point by point, with some intermediary “and” and “uh”, and bore the audience. Do it like Steve, not like Bill!

Animations? Cease and desist!

7. Darned technology

Video projectors and laptops sometimes don’t get along with each other. Computers break. Shit happens.

Show up early and test the real equipment! Don’t trust this test and always carry an USB stick and your slides in pdf form with you.

Live demos are risky because of this. Sometimes it is worth this risk, sometimes it is not.

If it breaks, it’s your fault. Maybe it isn’t, but from the audiences point of view, it’s only you on stage. That directly leads to the next point:

8. Don’t apologize

Who is on stage doesn’t apologize. At least don’t say more than a quick “sorry”.

It doesn’t matter who or what is at fault. It is the responsibility of the speaker to cope with it. It only hurts your presentation in the end.

If you are quick-witted, you may joke about yourself, but return to the agenda as soon as possible!

9. Practice, practice, practice

You can’t practice enough.

The only exception is that you sound like you have practiced more than enough.

If you haven’t practiced enough, you can’t watch your audience. You can read people, whether they have understood, what you just said, or whether you should repeat that. Eye contact happens automatically. Even the “uh” will disappear.

A good presentation is
hard work, no trick.

I also wrote about different presentation styles and tips for graphically-challenged people.

© 2007-09-12