(by Neal Ford, Matthew McCullough, Nate Schutta)
Preparing a great presentation is lost if you present it to the “wrong” audience. Seek data on your attendees; their occupations, relative ages, comfort level with the material, and general background. Tune your material to match as many of the attending demographics as possible.
Our current digital age has shifted the focus of marketing presentations from printed flyers and bulletin boards to Twitter, Facebook, blog posts, and e-mails. Presenters should aggressively utilize free and low-cost avenues to advertise their talk in an effort to increase attendance, ticket sales, or just general awareness, all of which can manifest as greater credibility for the presenter.
A command performance presents unique challenges and added stress. Unless the topic is near and dear to your heart, you may have to manufacture motivation and interest.
You should be clear with yourself and to your audience as to why you’re giving this talk. It is a critical foundation for the vector you are using to address this talk’s topic. Clarifying your motivation does not rule out giving a talk for money, as advertising, to educate, or just to inspire.
Most presenters are required to submit a talk title, abstract, topic outline, and perhaps even samples of past work in video or PDF form. The most common ways to get into a conference—paying attention to the details and presenting a polished proposal—increase your odds your talk will be accepted.
An abstract attorney is someone who takes the description of the presentation from the formal conference brochure way too seriously. They’ll often comment (negatively) on any and all deviations from the abstract either during the talk (in the form of an often condescending question) or afterward on session evaluations or on social media.
Presentations are a form of storytelling; don’t ignore a few thousand years of oratory history. A Narrative Arc is a common trope; organizing your presentation in a similar way leverages your audience’s lifetime of story listening experience.
Don’t rush to use a presentation tool when building a presentation. The four stages of creating a presentation are ideation, capture, organize, and design.
The act of constructing the presentation differs from presenting the presentation. The presentation will change (sometimes drastically) under the pressure of presenting it.
Presentation materials don’t need to be created in the same order as they are found in the presentation. Craft the material in the order that fits; no one will know you did things out of sequence.
Your audience can only absorb a certain amount of material in a short time. If you limit your presentation to three main talking points, it allows you to cover them thoroughly without overwhelming your audience.
Building a presentation for one (and only one) length is a missed opportunity. Crafting short-, medium-, and full-length versions of your talk provides additional opportunities for delivery and simplifies adapting to shorter windows if the promised time slot is cut short.
Instead of doing an hour-long presentation, do three semirelated 20-minute talks. This allows great flexibility for time, content, and narrative flow.
Use a common, repeating visual element to tie together the disparate parts of your presentation.
Research suggests that the average adult attention span is about 20 minutes. Plan something that breaks the concentration coma: humor, a story, something titillating, audience participation, and so on roughly every 10 to 20 minutes. Reengage your audience or lose them to their smartphones.
An alienating artifact is something that disenfranchises an audience member or audience members from the topic at hand. This can take the form of an image, a quote, or offensive language.
Just like the vegetable, a celery talk is one that expends more effort chewing (processing) on the part of the audience member than they get back in calories or value and new materials learned.
Leet Grammars refers to correctly using appropriate slang, jargon, and other “insider” colloquialisms in your presentation to bond with your audience.
Lightning Talk is a timed presentation, usually five minutes long and optionally constrained by aspecific number of slides. In many formats, the slides advance automatically.
Takahashi is a stylized talk format originated by Masoyoshi Takahashi (and popularized in the West by Laurence Lessig) that uses one or two words per slide but transitions through them very quickly.
Use a huge sectioned canvas with your presentation laid out linearly, zooming in on the constituent sections as you proceed through your presentation.
Ideas don’t have a predetermined word count and accordingly you shouldn’t artificially pad content to make it appear to fill a slide. No law says that every thought worth having will fit on a single slide, so stop trying.
The coda is the concluding piece of a slide deck. It provides a partitioned place to put topic-relevant material that isn’t delivered in the spoken portion of the presentation.
Outlines should never have a single point at an indent level; don’t create bullet points that have only one sub-bullet. Bullets in presentations mimic outlines and it “looks” grammatically incorrect to have orphan bullets.
Your first draft of a presentation won’t be your best, nor should it be your last. Find a well-informed colleague who knows the topic and have them critique your first draft.
Like foreshadowing in literature, this pattern adds elements early in a talk to seed an idea that will be resolved (hopefully with more resonance) later.
A Bullet-Riddled Corpse is a presentation where every slide is a long series of dull bullet points. Typically, these slides will then be read to the audience insinuating they can’t read.
Ancient Greek plays often featured a chorus, a group of players who stood aside from the action, making occasional comments and interludes during the play. Adding a Greek Chorus means you seed the audience with some partisans to interject comments, enthusiasm, or to help defend your case if you are outnumbered.
Don’t use tiny fonts in a desire to cram more information on a slide. Slide size is completely arbitrary and has no relationship to the proper size of the content. If you ever think (or worse, say) “You probably can’t read this in the back,” you’ve failed your audience. Slides with unreadable fonts often result from “helpful” software that modifies font size as you add more content. You don’t get bonus points for using fewer slides.
A Fontaholic is someone who believes using a cacophony of fonts will “jazz up” a presentation. Disharmonic fonts are jarring. They make presentations gruesome and more difficult to read.
Floodmarks are marketing and branding headers, footers, and watermarks that invade the content area of the slide. Your audience won’t forget who you work for or the name of the conference during the course of your talk. Egregious instances of this antipattern lead to several other antipatterns by occupying valuable real estate.
A Photomaniac picks up random pieces of clipart, stock photography, and other tchotchkes, littering them about a presentation, filling any and all empty spaces.
A composite animation is when more than one simple animation provided by the presentation tool is applied to an object for a more impressive and educationally helpful combinatory effect.
Creating a presentation “on the fly” using the interest of the crowd to guide the presentation. Typically, this approach begins with a set of related slides (often structured as a Talklet series) that can be alternatively arranged. This technique works well if you have more content than the time slot allows or the talk naturally breaks along several subtopic lines.
A picture is worth a thousand words, but does that translate into an effective presentation? Carefully selected images can stand in place of wordy slides. With this approach, the presenter becomes a greater focus of attention, supplying the full verbal channel and allowing the well-chosen images to amplify the spoken words.
Don’t settle for the defaults or stock templates from any tool. If you do use a stock template, at least customize it so that it’s as unique as a signature.
From time to time, you may be called upon to deliver someone else’s presentation. You are speaking about something that you’re not sincere about, that doesn’t quite fit you, and that smells funny the entire time you’re delivering it. While it can be done in a pinch, the results are rarely awe-inspiring.
A Slideument is a presentation that is trying to be both a presentation aide and an attractive printed version of the presentation. An entire chapter is devoted to dealing with the issues raised by this commonly required antipattern.
Infodeck is an emerging form of presentation intended to be consumed in solitude rather than to be presented to an audience. It is an instance of the Slideuments antipattern that actually works for its intended purpose.
Reveal content bit by bit, only showing the full connection between all the ideas as the conclusion of segments or modules.
The slide shows out-of-date content by graying it out as the presenter progresses through the slide. This prevents the audience from reading ahead and results in a more printable artifact.
A technique that allows you to place a core idea on the center of the slide and then add supporting elements underneath as the main idea migrates to the top of the slide. The Slideuments pattern allows you to use fewer slides yet separate important points.
This pattern uses invisible elements that don’t appear on printed versions of the slides but are revealed throughout your talk. This preserves a sense of surprise when you are forced to provide handouts (Slideuments?) in advance of your talk.
An organizational device within a presentation that reveals the structure of the talk, either temporally, by subject matter, or by some other contextually meaningful manner.
Create an agenda trail throughout your presentation to provide context on progress. In addition to providing context, this gives the audience a familiar element to ground them.
Use distinct slides throughout the presentation to supply agenda context. Often visually distinct from the standard slides, they provide a sense of progress as well. Bookend slides indicate the end of one section and the start of a new one.
When you have stale content, one way to subtly transition away from it uses an almost-imperceptible fade transition for either the slide or elements on the slide. It should happen so gradually that the audience doesn’t even realize it’s happening. Add both slide and element transitions to soften the transition between slides.
Presentations should be made up of logical parts in the form of a Triad or Narrative Arc shape. Sometimes, these sections necessitate a color change, thematic shift, or outline introduction to clearly signal the beginning or ending of an act. This pattern is an implementation of the Context Keeper pattern and is similar to Bookends but is used during the course of the presentation to wrap sections, as opposed to wrapping the entire presentation.
Backtracking is the intentional repetition of material for the purpose of reestablishing context. This helps the audience regain their conceptual footing as the narrative moves forward.
Prior to the start time of your talk, displaying the topic and presenter on screen can be informative and clarifying. If the information cannot comfortably fit on one slide, a series of slides can be recorded as a video and then embedded into the actual presentation and set to loop. When the presenter is ready to give the talk, he or she clicks the remote to advance past the animation to the first content slide.
As pioneered by the movie Star Wars (with the later addition to the title Episode IV: A New Hope) in 1977, credits can be calmly and progressively shown in a seemingly infinite bottom-to-top slide. This gives each name, company, or URL equal but limited screen time without seeming hurried.
Live Demo is running the product live in front of the audience. Thought of as a way to gain credibility and actively promote the product, this approach carries the significant risk of a failing demo. The return on investment is rarely worth the risk.
This antipattern uses a live demonstration as a time filler when the presenter is short on expositional content.
Rather than giving a live demonstration, record the interaction with the tool and play it back as part of the presentation. This approach reduces stress, prevents errors, and allows you to use the heads-up display to see slide metadata. You can also make additional points while the demonstration is playing.
Use highlighting (either intrinsic in the tool or a third-party add-on like OmniDazzle) to draw attention to something on the slide such as a picture or screenshot of another tool or application. Traveling Highlights implies that you use transitions to highlight different parts of the slide as you walk through the details.
Code is difficult to display inside a presentation. Simply pasting monochrome text onto a slide is not only ugly, but it often doesn’t fit on one screen. Crawling code is a means of showing just a portion of the code at a time while offering context of the other previous and upcoming lines. The out-of-attention lines are shaded to focus attention on the lines being discussed.
Emergence suggests that the big thing you’re ultimately going to show (tool, giant diagram, source code, etc.) isn’t a static display. Use motion, transitions, highlights, and other presentation effects to gradually reveal pieces or details.
This term refers to a recorded version of your entire presentation provided electronically. More effective and interactive than the standard “saving your presentation as a PDF.”
Murphy’s Law applies to presentations; nothing trumps being prepared. Plan for as many eventualities of as possible, be it a hardware failure, a room change, or an unruly crowd. It may seem prosaic, but consider a checklist: supported projector resolutions, techniques to manage the audience, display dongles, presenter remotes, notes on your topic, a bottle of water, and other needed items reduce the risk of common mistakes that less prepared presenters might make.
Having team members or friends in the audience not only provides a visual focal point of some likely-to-be-smiling faces but also can act as assistants in times of need. They can also be seeded with useful questions and they can clap and nod at appropriate times; the audience symbiotically follows suit and has a more positive impression of the talk and you as the presenter. Friendly faces reduce stress and put you more at ease.
Even the friendliest of audiences benefits from some warm-up. Simple greetings, handshakes, and sincere questions, prior to the start of your presentation, break the ice and prime your audience to be more receptive to your message.
As a presenter, you should demonstrate to the audience that there is a difference between the speaker and audience members; the speaker is bringing new knowledge and discoveries and the audience is there to absorb, question, and clarify these new points.
Dealing with a last-minute reduction in presentation time is unfortunately one of the skills frequent presenters have to hone. Coping well with the situation leaves the audience none the wiser. Managing this situation poorly leaves you rushing, cutting important material, and delivering a less meaningful presentation.
Hiccup Words are involuntary exclamations (“Ummm,” “Ahhh,” etc.) that distract and detract from the presentation. Dead air isn’t a cardinal sin, and it’s unlikely anyone in your audience will break into a presentation just because you paused.
If you think a topic is rudimentary, expect it is for your audience as well. Accelerate if you think the audience is already familiar with the topic. Don’t treat your topic as if it was the most interesting thing in the world—it’s not. Assume you’re speaking to a group of smart people who are terribly bored of hearing about your topic; ad-lib and go off the prepared path at will.
This antipattern are talks with pointless or weak content dressed up with special effects. Contrary to the wishful practitioner’s hopes and dreams, audience members will see through the decorative facade to the fundamental lack of useful material or insight.
Presenters are inclined to use arcane jargon irrespective of the skill level of their audience. Follow that inclination and use three-letter acronyms and technospeak at liberty. Feel confident your audience understands those phrases even if they are giving you puzzled looks.
Hiding behind something doesn’t engender trust with your audience. You speak to a group of people; making a more personal connection with them adds nuance and extra meaning to your presentation. Avoid podiums; walk around and engage with your audience. Stationary presenters often give very static presentations.
An audience of any substantial size will have individuals that aim to gain recognition through attacks on the presenter’s premise, approach, or discoveries. Coping with them requires preparation, a cool head, and decisive action. Dealing decisively with hecklers keeps the presentation on track and protects the congenial members of the audience.
Never talk about the talk itself. The audience isn’t interested in mechanics; they came to hear about the interesting topic that you are uniquely equipped to expound upon. This would be akin to a theatrical (not a director’s cut) release of Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope spending time discussing how George Lucas used a certain kind of lens, the temperature of lighting on the set, and the brand of makeup on the actors.
The backchannel encompasses all the ways people can chat about your presentation while it’s occurring, either via text messages during a business meeting or tweeting during an event.
Laser pointers are generally a crutch for identifying content elements on a slide that could otherwise be emphasized by Traveling Highlights or as an attempt to explain a slide that “you probably can’t read in the back.”
Never pose a question to the audience in the form of “Who here is not familiar with X?” People dislike admitting ignorance, especially in a circle of their peers. And turning it to a positive question isn’t much better.
This antipattern delivers a presentation to both a live and a remote audience via some desktop sharing or video streaming tool. It reduces the value and richness of the presentation by trying to serve two audiences, each with disparate and competing format and delivery requirements.
The only true preparation for unusual occurrences is practice. This pattern defines the types and number of practice sessions you need.
Presenters should be attuned to the condition and situation of their audience. Adapt the talk to fit the mood and needs of the audience.
Talking too fast and not leaving enough time for the audience to fully understand the deeper implications of the talk is a common antipattern many many presenters exhibit. While difficult, breathing room is the purposeful insertion of quiet to allow important concepts time to settle and germinate. While dead air might be a cardinal sin in radio, moments of pause allow your audience to integrate your message.
Presenter creature comforts, while possibly perceived as odd or eccentric, can put the speaker at ease, enhancing the delivery. Such comforts include the removal of shoes, certain placement of the laptop, comfortable clothes, a favorite beverage, or stepping away from the lectern to mingle among the audience.
The audience wants to be led but not by the nose. Take on the role of guide and, via the presentation, provide your audience with new skills, ideas, and techniques as if you were their private tutor in your field.
TV weathermen use green screens and monitors to see and gesture toward map details. Never turn your back on the audience. If you need to point to something on the screen, do it like a weatherman: Stand off to the side so that you can see both the screen and the audience as you gesture.
Purposely placing an obvious question for your audience to ask somewhere in the presentation as a way to break the ice for question-and-answer sessions.
Use props like chairs, paper airplanes, candy (typically thrown at/to audience members), and other devices to add flair to your presentation and encourage interaction, especially with preternaturally shy groups.
Entertaining the audience is an important device to capture the attention but should not be used to excess. Like any seasoning, a little bit goes a long way; don’t confuse your message with your method.
Arriving on time for your talk seems too simple to even mention. However, chaos is conspiring to prevent you from doing just that. If the venue isn’t amenable to corporate camping, locate a nearby coffee shop or other work-conducive location. You can arrive at this staging area with ample time to spare but still have the opportunity to use your cushion productively should mayhem take a holiday. It also avoids aimlessly wandering the venue hallways.
When used minimally in the hands of a thoughtful presenter, a laser pointer can be a useful on-demand teaching tool.
When an attendee asks a question, always repeat the question before answering. Restating the question assures you’ve heard the query and gives you time to formulate a response.
Several conferences, in order to simplify the voting process and increase participation, put red, yellow, and green cards near the entrance to the room. Upon exit, attendees drop a card into the voting bucket indicating their opinion of the talk. The scores can be tallied immediately.
Computers make it possible to create visually flawless imagery and text. However, in sci-fi movies, even apparently digital communication has jitter, breakups, blockiness, and noise. The imperfection is a cue that the communications are happening over a long distance. “Analog noise” can be an endearing quality that makes the situation more believable for the audience. Such noise can be intentionally introduced via handwritten fonts, film grain, uneven lines, monochrome colors, and “amateur” photograph errors. Adding some noise to your slides adds visual interest and garners greater attention.
Last modified 30 December 2022