Presentation tips

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

This entry was posted in Presenting. Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.
  • כסף

    learn the Macarena…lol
    Once my laptop shut down and the entire croud was moved to the Caffe, where we had a wonderful presentation:)

  • Brian Di Croce

    Hey Kyle,

    Thanks for the bullets. In one user group, the speaker once started with a funny video clip to set the mood of the audience. Very simple and very effective.

    If it can improve someone else’s presentation skills, there’s also another blog entry on the same subject: Eight Simple Steps To Improve Your Presentation Skills (for developers)

    Greetings from Canada!

  • Jeff Tucker

    Here’s one more tip (and I’m not implying that you do this since I’ve never seen one of your presentations). DON’T JUST READ DIRECTLY FROM THE POWERPOINT SLIDES!!! I can read. If I want to be read to, I can get an audio book. So can everyone else. Powerpoint slides exist so that you can highlight your main points and should enhance and reinforce what you’re saying somehow. I think David Laribee really has this figured out, although I wish he’d release some sort of cliff notes to accompany his slide shows so that I have something to reference later. Either way, he has some of the nicest presentations that I’ve ever seen.

  • Steevn R

    I can give you some lessons on how to speed up presentations 😉

    I would like to point out that people who leave negative feedback often don’t provide enough information to make the presenter suck less the next time they present. If you feel inclined to leave a negative comment about the presentation don’t just say “you suck Kyle” say “you suck because you went to slow”. Always let the presenter know what you would do better so that they can do it better themselves the next time.

  • Kyle Baley

    Yeah, my own MVC presentation is where I got caught up in questions as well. Oh well, nice to see people interested in it.

  • David Hayden

    Good post, Kyle.

    I could have definitely done better on #5 in my presentation. The MVC Framework is so new that I was pelted with questions and ran out of time such that I couldn’t cover extensibility – my favorite part :)

    Lesson learned. Without making mistakes and learning from them how could we ever get better :)

    Now if I could just remember where I put those tearaway pants…