January 31, 2006
I hold speakers to relatively high standards. They get paid to present to large groups because they're ostensibly good communicators. And I cannot believe the beginner mistakes some of the speakers are making here at VSLive.
Based on my experiences over the last two days, here are a few sure-fire ways not to give a presentation:
- Begin by establishing how impressive you are. Make sure we know all about your accomplishments and any books you've written. Be sure to plug your company and/or website. After all, this presentation is about you.
- Present a detailed presentation agenda. Before you can get to any content at all, you must dutifully itemize the table of contents! You know how people love reading the table of contents. It builds suspense. It's exciting. It keeps the audience on the edges of their seats, wondering "when will I actually see any content in this presentation"?
- Every slide should be absolutely jam-packed with information. Use as many bullet points and words on your slides as possible. Feel free to slap a few helpful URLs in there, too. If you can't fit it all on one slide, try a smaller font.
- Explain everything with bullet points. Don't show the audience. Tell them. Avoid pictures or, even worse, actual demonstrations. Feel free to use several slides to properly explain things.
- Read every word on your slides. Audiences can't read. It's your responsibility to do all the reading for them. But don't waste their time with a bunch of elaboration. Be succinct. Say exactly what is on each slide, then move on to the next slide.
- If you make a mistake or something goes wrong, take a few minutes to fix it. The audience can wait. While you're fixing things up, try that NASCAR joke again. It's hilarious.
- Use the highest possible desktop resolution. Show off your laptop's new widescreen LCD. Besides, limited resolutions and large fonts are childish and unprofessional.
- Summarize everything at the end. Audiences are notoriously forgetful. Spend the last few minutes patiently recapping everything they just saw.
- If you run out of time at the end of your session, keep going. The audience paid good money to see your presentation, so make sure they see it all. Your time is important.
- Don't take any questions. The content and quality of your presentation speaks for itself.
This stuff would be funny if it wasn't happening every single day. Death by PowerPoint, indeed.
Posted by Jeff Atwood
Acronyms, buzzwords and elaborate use of langauge impresses people
That's a whole seperate post. The acronymization of our industry is completely out of control.
Somethings up with the PNG slide image... its
just a big blur with Firefox 1.5
Intentional, because it's a "copyrighted" slide from one of my.. er.. favorite presenters!
If you must do such a thing, just a quick outline at the beginning and a quick reminder at the end should really be sufficient.
Personally, I don't think a 1:30 presentation needs an agenda, a TOC, or a summary at the end. Why not use that time for something actually useful, like actual content, or a QA period?
haha, seems like you are having fun? :)
11. Dont look at the audiens when you speak.
12. Remember to bring vodka so you dont get thirsty, but make it look like water.
13. Dont look at your slides, but instead read from your manuscript and remember you dont have to look up when speaking.
14. If people start to fall a sleep or walk out you know you are on the right track.
15. Everybody in the audiense are stupid and will never learn what you say, so just get over it.
*ugh* All those points bring back some bitter memories of time wasted.
One that summarised something that sticks in my craw (especially as an ex tech-support peon who often had to explain technical things to non-technical people):
16: Acronyms, buzzwords and elaborate use of langauge impresses people. Its important that people realise your obvious greatness, so use as many acronyms, buzzwords and suchlike as you can.
17: Be sure to speak in a careful monotone. Think of it as the vocal equivalent of the 'poker face'; give nothing away.
You could probably do with a link to "Stop your presentation before it Kills again!"
I hate it when people just read off the slides. Your presentation should include explainations of each bullet point, but not read off the bullet points themselves.
Moving through the bulletpoints wtih some graphical cue to let them know the title to the current explaination is a good idea to keep people focused.
Interesting bit of serendipity - this morning I got to witness a VERY well done presentation. The speaker kept the stupid jokes to a minimum. The power point slides were an explanatory aide, not to be read from, but to used to illustrate points in the talk. The handouts were not simply a collection of the powerpoint slides.
A demonstration of a web site was given (using a local set of static pages that look EXACTLY like the real deal) and the presenter was able to show us exactly how to use it in minimum time.
The presentation? The usual beginning of the year talk from our 401K provider (Fidelity, if you care). I can't say as I've often seen a presentation so well put together and delivered.
So, Jeff, don't give up hope. There are people in the world who know how to use PowerPoint properly.
it's interesting that your numbers 2 and 10 could be read as arguing against the very commonly accepted guidelines of :
"tell them what you're going to tell them, then tell them, then tell them what you told them."
if you just look at it on it's face, it may sound like a lot of repetition, but i've found that the principal actually works very well in academic talks.
some of your critique may be fine and well for a non-academic talk, but for research issues which needs more structure than entertainment value, the idea of laying out a (brief) roadmap before a talk, and then recapping the "takehome points" can be the critical difference between giving a talk that can be absorbed and leaving someone with an un digestible collection of random facts.
oops, i see listless beat me to my main points (plus i mentioned points 2+10 when i meant points 2+8).
Somethings up with the PNG slide image... its just a big blur with Firefox 1.5
In defense of points 2 and 8, many presenters, and especially those not naturally possessed of an excess of natural public speaking talent, are often taught the "3 T's" of presenting:
Tell 'em what you're going to tell 'em.
Tell 'em what you told 'em.
The idea is that repetition helps pound things into peoples' heads, which is basically true; it takes 7 or so spoken repetitions of something before the average adult learner can be said to have actually /learned/ what you're saying.
However, all that having been said, I don't know that I'm necessarily a believer in this approach, common though it may be. Also, there's no excuse to go laboriously over an excessively lengthy TOC and/or summary. If you must do such a thing, just a quick outline at the beginning and a quick reminder at the end should really be sufficient.
So are you watching the presenters closely to see if they surreptitiously start up a Camtasia or Flash movie when they give a demo?
Sometimes I wish more presenters would do that. I know what the compiler looks like, I'm familiar with compiler errors. I don't need to see any during a presentation.
I have to agree with listless and mouser on points 2 and 8. I too was taught the 3 T's, and have found it to work very well. Of course you shouldn't exhaust the audience with an actual TOC - just clarify the subject of your presentation. As for the "closing arguments", it should be no more than a few key things to remember about the subject (which you have already gone over in detail).
Come on! Tell us what you really think! ;-)
just clarify the subject of your presentation
If the audience doesn't know the subject of your presentation after sitting through the entire thing, isn't it fair to say that your presentation is an utter and complete failure?
I'm not against a summary slide at the end to tie things up, but keep it brief, and move IMMEDIATELY to the QA. In fact, I'd say just display the summary slide, DON'T READ ANY OF IT, and start the QA session right there.
Presentations are about content, content, content. If your content is fun, and clear, believe me, you don't need it bookended with tedious TOC and summary slides.
has the eeiry ring of every MS presentation I've ever been to... Say, you been seeing any MS presentations lately?
I think you and I are sharing brainwaves. I keep thinking about something and then you post about it - which means we're thinking about it at around the same time!
Anyway - annoyed at horrible presentations, some of them my own, I started reading this book:
Presenting to Win: The Art of Telling your Story
In a nutshell, you better have a story and everything in your presentation should be a part of it. The book covers pretty much all the comments here plus a lot more. I love the "so what" test:
Go through your presentation with a friend. On every slide, and every bullet point, have them say "So What?" It's makes you think of the audience and what each point is really about and WHO it is for. If you don't have a damned good answer to "so what" then throw it the hell out.
Obviously you have one school of thought that others share, but not all. Being trained by the military on training and briefings, it really is (as mentioned above):
Tell 'em what you're going to tell 'em.
Tell 'em what you told 'em.
Many of your points are spot on though. The biggie that I do not know how to respond to or have anaswer to is telling people who you are and what your background is. This establishes your credentials to be speaking on your topic. Is that wrong? I do not think so. Only once have I gotten a conference evaluation back saying that I "smacked of self-importance".
The question I have for you is have you been up there doing the speaking? If not, walk a mile in their shoes and step up to the plate!
Presenting to Win: The Art of Telling your Story
I have this book. I have yet to fully read it, but it comes highly recommended from a bunch of folks.
Being trained by the military on training and briefings
Not to be snarky, but should we be taking lessons on how to present from the *military*?
The biggie that I do not know how to respond to or have anaswer to is telling people who you are and what your background is
The quality of the content should speak for itself. If the content is good, those are all the credentials you need. Consider blogs. Do we background check the authors? Nope.
If not, walk a mile in their shoes and step up to the plate!
Absolutely true ;) It's coming. I have done one formal presentation; you can view the slide deck here:
It's funny because it's true. At least I'm a lot more confident with my own presentation style now I've been to VSLive. At least I can say that I suck as bad as some famous name speakers.
Slightly off topic ... "Where Not To Give A Presentation"
During a recently holiday over in the US I was enjoying an evening meal with friends at a Cracker Barrel restaurant in Kissimmee, FL.
Unfortunately the atmosphere was disturbed by the arrival of a salesman and customer a few tables away. Once seated the salesman started going through his pitch with the sort of scripted, racing, loud delivery designed for a conference room. He even insisted on setting up his laptop and running through the product at the table in front of the customer. The product, by the way, was some sort of web application building framework. The general low level hum of the diners faded into the background as phrases containing "browser" and "properties" and "you can do this" and "right click on this" bounced off the walls.
Perhaps it is my English reserve, but I found this annoying, and it was probably that same reserve that stopped me from going over and slamming the laptop shut. Furthermore, had I been the customer I would have felt embarassed in this situation, but he seemed to be quite content to disrupt the meals of all the other paying customers.
Still, it could have been worse. They could have set up in the restrooms!
I've found your blog by searching for VSLive and I like the varying topics and agree with your criticisms towards certain speakers. Anyway, I'm searchnig for VSLive because I've never attended the conference before. The reason I'm interested in the conference is because PDC 07 has been canceled. Boooo!
That being said, I've attended Borland conferences in the past and they have been very informative. They've offered plenty of tracks, and more importantly, several classes that address varying skill levels.
The VSLive site isn't very informative but that seems to be true with most Microsoft information I'm finding. From your perspective, will it be worthwhile to attend a VSLive conference and what should I expect there?
The "3 T's" style is largely misused because those who use it don't think about why they're doing it when they're doing it.
There's basicly two very different uses.
There are occasions where the audience doesn't necessarily know very well what it is that they are about to hear, and so it's usually best to tell the general subject before starting, so the audience doesn't spend the first crucial minutes (which very often has the most important stuff which is referred to later in the presentation) trying to get what you're actually trying to talk about. In this case the context needs to be set up explicitly enough, so for example if the subject is, "Homosexuality in British Boarding Schools in the 19th century", it's best not to just call it "Queer Sex", even if that'd be shorter.
The other use is to pound the point in, but if that's the case, you should once again be explicit about what you want to pound in. So not "I used to be a mercenary and I'm going to talk about the effect of torture techniques", but "I'm going to talk about why torture mostly doesn't work, and I know this stuff because I did it professionally for different governments for around twenty years".
Huge difference in setting the tone and preparing the listeners, and if this imaginary mercenary dude is really trying to convince for example some politicians that torture generally just isn't worth it, but sets it up like in the first example, the first question after the presentation will propably be "so what techniques would you recommend?"
Unfortunately the guy giving the presentation can often only explain that "he's going to talk about x", and that's because he never really thought about what should be in it, because for him the presentation is "stuff I should tell / want to tell about X", and he propably just finished working on it in his hotel room that same day, if not 5 minutes before the presentation.
This is just a part of "everything is mostly done in a rush by people who don't understand, haven't really thought about it and don't even care".
"Tell 'em what you're going to tell 'em."
Knowing that it'll be repeated, most'll ignore this totally. If you're lucky, some might listen, but will immediately assume that this is the sum of the entire talk and switch off.
This is the point where someone might feasibly listen to you, as long as you're interesting. Unfortunately, as you're repeating yourself, you're no longer interested in what you're saying, and that'll rub off.
"Tell 'em what you told 'em."
By now everybody'll be wondering what's for lunch, and might as well go to the canteen and find out for all the good it'll do.
Possibly a better slogan would be:
I'm suprised you didn't mention David Patterson's classic "How to give a bad presentation". It pre-dates Powerpoint, but the principles are universal.
I love this article. I'm in college and I get so frustrated with the poor presentation skill of my fellow students. The biggest one? #5. It makes me wonder just what the presenter is trying to do. Do they think we made it this far into college but we can't read?