Presentation Tips

Posted by barb on Nov 28, 2005 in Random Thoughts, Thesis/Grad Life |

From the many talks and presentations I’ve attended in the past several years, I have a few tips for presenters. These range from the appearance of the slides to the content and structure of the talk itself.

  • Slide contents:
    • Don’t put up a slide with loads of graphics – parse them out on different slides, or pop them up one at a time as you talk about them.
    • Don’t put things on a slide that you don’t want to talk about – make it look like you put this talk together for this audience, and not that you’re just recycling something for a longer time slot.
  • Slide layout/appearance:
    • Use a solid color as a background for all writing; a patterned background or a picture will have light and dark spots that make any font color hard to read.
    • Do not use red font on a dark blue background and don’t use yellow font on a white background. In fact, only use yellow if you’re using a black or dark blue background.
    • If in doubt, use black and white – this will make a better impression than a bad color combination.
  • Talk contents/structure:
    • The best talks tell a story. They start with a little bit of background on the topic, then show the current results, and finally put them in the context of the background research. Most audiences don’t need all of the gory details of your research; only very specialized audiences need that. Give a good overview, and that will leave time for the context and summary.
    • Plan for your time slot – if you talk faster than the speed of light, no information is conveyed. Less is more, and a good story will stick with your audience better than a rapid-fire collection of disconnected bullet points.
    • Leave enough time for your summary. Don’t just put up a summary page during the question period. This leaves your audience with the choice of reading your summary points or listening to the questions.
  • General comments:
    • Use the laser pointer judiciously, and don’t look away while pointing at something, because you’re more likely than not to dance the pointer around randomly.
    • Speak up and speak clearly.
    • Don’t mumble the end of your sentences – the audience doesn’t know what you’re thinking, and we need to hear every word. If you aren’t sure of something, don’t say it.
    • If you have a microphone, don’t be afraid of it! And make sure you put it on your “screen side”. That is, if you’re constantly turning to point things out on a screen, make sure the microphone is on that side, otherwise your voice will fade in and out as you point out important things on your slides.
    • Don’t sound bored with your own topic. If you aren’t at least a little bit excited about it, the audience won’t be, either.
    • Walking around the audience is just weird – it’s a clever way of keeping the audience’s eyes off of you, but is really uncomfortable for the audience.
    • Dress like you care just a little bit about what you’re doing; for heaven’s sake, wear pants that cover your crack (no kidding).

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2 Comments

amk
Nov 28, 2005 at 8:56 pm

From my list:

  • If you’re the fidgety type, clear your pockets of change, keys, and other noisy things. I have seen speakers jingle their change through their talk.
  • During the Q&A, always restate the audience member’s question before you answer it.

I disagree with your laser pointer advice, because then you end up talking to the projection screen, and that’s very bad if you’re not miked. I would point, waggle the pointer around, and then turn it off and return to the mike.
One Perl conference talk, Conference Presentation Judo, has some entertaining advice on technical tutorials. It gave me the useful concept of the Guy in the Second Row. (Warning: the linked-to presentation includes one gross image.)


 
Barb
Nov 28, 2005 at 9:05 pm

With the laser pointer comment, I didn’t mean for the speaker to talk to the screen. At the last conference I attended, there were two main laser pointer problems.
First, there were the people who left the pointer on and looked away from the screen. This usually caused the pointer to go zooming across the room as the speaker turned. In the best case, the pointer just settled on another part of the slide, but in either case, the pointer was definately not where the speaker intended it to be.
The second, and more prevalent, problem, was the overuse of the pointer. Some speakers feel like they have to have the pointer constantly pointed to their current slide. Often this meant that they squiggled the pointer over a bit of text they were reading. This is very annoying, and completely unnecessary.
The best thing to do with the pointer is to turn it on for short bursts to highlight things on a plot or figure (thus the judicious use advice). It’s generally unnecessary to point out text, especially if your slides aren’t overly busy.


 

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