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Tips for a Successful Technical Presentation

Tips for a Successful Technical Presentation

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Make Sure the Audience Can Read What You Are Presenting

  • Set Notepad.exe, Visual Studio, code in PowerPoint, the Console window, and anything else you type text into to use Lucida Console 14.  Wanna show off prettified XML in the browser?  Set the Text Size in Internet Explorer to Largest.
  • Resist the urge to keep typing in PowerPoint.  Less is more.  The more you type, the smaller the font gets.
  • Try to resist the urge to load PowerPoint at all.  Demos speak much louder than marketing slides.
  • Some windows won't let you set the size, like the Solution Explorer pane in Visual Studio .NET.  Use a screen magnifier for these items.  A screen magnifier comes with Windows in the Accessibilty tools.

Don't Make the Audience Read What You Are Presenting

  • If you are in front of a group talking, they are there to listen to you because of your expertise on a subject.  Don't make them read paragraphs in PowerPoint.
  • Show a picture that illustrates a concept rather than writing the concept in a sentence. 

Don't Read to the Audience

  • Your audience is very smart, they know how to read.  Don't try to do this for them.
  • You should be prepared enough to talk to a presentation slide without reading from it. 
  • Practice your speech.  The more comfortable you are with your own presentation, the less you will be tempted to read from it.
  • You are going to be MUCH more effective quoting statistics from memory rather than relying on a slide to do it for you.

Make Them Laugh, And Say Something Meaningful

  • Technical presentations are boring and dry by default, you are there partially to entertain.  Inject some personality into the talk.
  • Be careful telling jokes.  Humor can kill a presentation.  Self-depracating humor can be funny, but don't make yourself look stupid. 
  • Don't pander, but don't offend.  Avoid any jokes involving a priest, a nun, or a rabbi.  Just make fun of Canadians instead.
  • Never make fun of the thing you are talking about.  You can point out flaws, but point out what has gotten better. 
  • Look for areas to abstract and contract.  Look for ways to derive your own gems like "No application is an island", "there is only 1 application", or 4 tenets of SOA.
  • Be careful using others' gems, like "No application is an island", "there is only 1 application", or 4 tenets of SOA.  Give credit when you quote, and don't be a parrot.
  • If it breaks, don't be silent.  Tell them why it broke, make it part of the presentation.  Don't freeze, you automatically lose credibility.  This is a great time for self-depracating humor.

Be Punctual

  • If you are rushing to the demo, you are going to rush the beginning of the demo.  Be on-time to start.
  • End on-time.  Better, end early if you expect 1:1 time.

Make Every Second Count

  • Don't start sentences with "So".  It is annoying.
  • Don't say "um".  It adds no value to the point you are trying to make.  Practice your speech.
  • The first 60 seconds are critical.  Don't just introduce yourself and read the agenda to them.  Ask them a selfish question, breaking their concentration and giving them a reason to listen.
    • "Developers, are you tired of deployment problems?"
    • "Does your pager go off at 3am due to yet another web site down?" 
    • "Tired of debugging the kernel?"
  • Open programs that you will need to run, such as Visual Studio, and have them minimized. 
  • Open the solution you are going to demo beforehand to avoid wasting precious presentation time.  Open the web page and get the first JIT compile out of the way.
  • Pack every second of the presentation with something useful.  Prepare 10-15 slides at the end of your deck, just in case you end earlier than you desired.

Avoid the Unexpected

  • Close Instant Messenger.  You never know what your fraternity buddy might say in an IM.
  • Close Outlook.  They can see the popup windows, too, and read your email. 
  • Turn off sound if you aren't using it.
  • Turn off the radio.  "Unable to connect to wireless network" popups are embarrasingly distracting.
  • Run Windows Update before the demo, and make sure the demo works correctly afterwards, especially on XP SP2 (the little shield at the bottom showing your computer at risk looks REALLY funny when you are talking about security).
  • Practice what you would do if it doesn't work.  You get there and there is no AV... what do you do?  Your application crashes... do you call it a day and leave?

Follow Up

  • If you are going to take something offline and follow up on items, open Notepad or OneNote on the screen and type in your follow up.  Note the contact info for who asked the question.
  • Put the follow-up in your blog so that everyone in the audience has a chance to see it afterwards.

Resources on Successful Presentations

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