Fresh from my experience at South Florida Code Camp and based entirely on the evaluations I got, we present "Tips for Better Presentations"
1. Pick up the pace. You only have an hour
The overwhelming criticism aimed at me was to pick up the pace. Which was an eye-opener as I purposefully kept things slow to avoid what I thought was a common complaint at code camps: he went too fast. In retrospect, I think I underestimated the technical prowess of the crowd. Too fast is probably better than too slow but ideally, you want to move things along without losing the audience. Plus one of the presentations was a shortened version of the two-hour talk I did a week earlier and it was obvious I didn’t take the new format into consideration. Point taken. And to answer the comment pleading with organizers to give me a Red Bull before the next presentation: I’ll stock up on Earl Grey tea but that’s as caffeinated as I get.
2. Book a warm-up act
Preferably someone like Sarah Silverman but Veronica Belmont has some good geek cred, too. Barring either of those, there’s always the Mad Mexican.
3. Speak up
This one surprised me too because I made a conscious effort to be louder as it’s always been a failing of mine during presentations, dating as far back as the Slop Tart commercial I did for my elementary school Christmas pageant. Still need some work in this regard apparently.
4. Strobe lights
It’s not a presentation unless it comes with a seizure warning.
5. Answer questions when you can but move things along
Mark Miller did a good job of this in his Science of UI presentation. Give a few seconds for questions at appropriate intervals. But more importantly, recognize when to offline conversations if they break up the talk.
6. Learn the Macarena
You’ll be glad you did. My laptop crashed twice during the day. And now I’m kicking myself for not having any material to fill that awkward silence while it booted up.
7. Don’t lie in the abstract
For example, if your presentation is called "Introduction to TDD, Mocking, and Dependency Injection", don’t open with "I’m not sure we’ll have time for mocking and dependency injection." You *will* be called out on it. Yes, you may have had grandiose plans when you submitted the abstract but come code camp, you’d better be ready to talk on what you said you would.
8. Give yourself a soundtrack
Anyone can tell you to write your tests first. But it won’t truly sink in unless you do it to the strains of Neil Diamond singing "Good times NEVER seemed so good". And seriously, the combination of Dean Martin and MVC will have you beating the ladies off with a stick. But be very cautious. It takes a seasoned practitioner to use some songs effectively.
9. Be entertaining but be natural
Jeff Atwood’s already covered this but it’s always relevant. I’m still kinda working on this one. I don’t script a lot of jokes into my presentation because I usually can’t pull them off and instead, I rely on off-the-cuff remarks that are generally very dry, and very Canadian. The danger is that some people can’t tell if you’re kidding or boring. Or if you just don’t get your own jokes. Plus there’s the risk that you actually *are* boring. In which case, you may want to consider substituting your soundtrack with a laugh track.
10. When in doubt: tearaway pants
This was my advice to Justice Gray before his DevTeach talk. Luckily, he already had a pair so there was no out-of-pocket cost for him. The tip works best when combined with tips 4 and 6.
I’ve focused on the negative comments here because they’re generally the ones that give you ideas on how to improve. Overall though, my results were positive enough to be encouraging but not so positive that I’ll do things the same way next time. Thanks to all who responded.
Kyle the Ameliorated