My housemate Jackie writes the blog Agent Plus Environment about her life as a Cognitive Science student. She and I attended the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women In Computing this October, and she recently posted some presentation tips based on her impressions at the conference. Full details can be found on her entry, but the highlights are:
- Never, ever read sentences directly off the slides.
- Talk slower than you thinkyou should.
- Make clean slides.
- Don’t have paragraphs on your slides, period.
- Proof-read your slides.
- Don’t put huge chunks of Java pseudocode in your slides.
- Insist on a mobile microphone and/or a laser pointer.
I agree with all her points, especially about the microphone. A few presenters I saw simply refused to use the microphone because they said they “didn’t like it.” We didn’t like it either, because we couldn’t hear them talk!
I have just one more point to add: at the beginning of your presentation, just take a minute to give an overview of your presentation. There are so many benefits to doing this. For one, your audience has an easier time following the presentation. For another, it decreases the fatigue associated with spending an hour or more focusing on watching one person talk, because it breaks the talk up into chunks that are easier to pay attention to. It’s easier to follow the rhythm of the presentation if you know the speaker is on point 3 of 5.
In his book Confessions of a Public Speaker, Scott Berkun puts particular emphasis on including an overview in the first 60 seconds of the talk. He advises,
Start with a beat. Think of your opening minute as a movie preview: fill it with drama, excitement, and highlights for why people should keep listening.
It’s a great book, and I enjoyed reading it. I highly recommend it for anyone who does any public speaking work, including professors. [Full disclosure: Berkun sent me a free copy of his book.]
I’d like to add that at a conference with multiple presentations occurring simultaneously in different rooms, having an overview of your presentation will let people know if they’ve come to the wrong place for the talk they want to hear, a mistake I made more than once at the conference. Not only were the room layouts confusing, but a talk entitled “Cloud Computing” might talk about any of a range of subjects, not all of which I am interested in. Almost all the speakers I watched at Grace Hopper included such an outline, which allowed me to make a quick dash out of the room when I showed up for the wrong talk. On the one hand, it’s better not to make that mistake, but for those that do, give your audience a heads up about what you’re going to talk about!