Ten tips for good presentations

Peter at the ictkm-sharefair in Rome

Throughout my professional life, I spend many hours either giving or attending presentations. We all do.
If we could translate these hours into a dollar value we would be amazed how little of this good money is spent productively. I am amazed how few people understand, or even think of, some basic rules of giving a good presentation.

While I am not a professional in giving presentations, allow me to share 10 key tips I have picked up over the past years.

1. Focus on the message, not on the tool.
Too often we spend much more time on tweaking Powerpoint slides, than on the contents, the core messages we want to bring.

A Powerpoint presentation is just a tool, not the goal of your presentation. Think of other tools.

In a recent presentation about information management, I used a disassembled Rubik's cube as the key tool to illustrate how different pieces of information fitted into one website. I let the audience play with the pieces, as if they were working with "units of information".

2. Think of the your audience first.
Who are the people you are presenting to? What do they know, and more importantly, what don't they know? You present something because you know something they don't. You probably work with the subject of your presentation day in and day out. They don't.

So start with the basic question: if I were them, what would I know and what would I not know? If I were them, what would I want to get out of this presentation?

3. What is your key message?
Think of one key message you want your audience to take home with them. Of all the things you are saying, what is the key thing you want them to remember? Focus your presentation around that key message.

Often I use a key phrase, a slogan, and repeat it throughout the presentation. Often I use a metaphor as the key phrase.

4. Slides are for your audience, not for you
Way too many presenters confuse their notes with their slides. Use slides only as a guide in your presentation, as a way to ensure your audience continues to see the structure in your presentation. Or use your slides as illustrations.

Don't cramp your slides with text. Only put key phrases on them (and make sure they can read it). Or only a picture.

One of my friends, a professional trainer on this subject, once said: "There should be as many words on a slide, as you would print on a Tshirt".

After all, your audience should listen to you, not read slides. Otherwise you could just as well have emailed them a report, rather than giving a presentation.

Oh, and when you put text on slides, please spell check them!

5. Entertain
A good presenter, is an entertainer. Move your public. Make them laugh, think, react.

The most important parts of your presentation are the first and last 60 seconds. Think long and hard how you will start "your show". In the first few seconds, your audience will decide to pay attention to you or not. After all, everyone in the audience gathered physically in one room, but their thoughts are not there yet. Get their attention.

I typically start with a joke, a short story. Or I surprise them. I take off my shoes, saying "I can not think with my shoes on".
One recent presentation, I started with saying "Hi. I have only one thing to tell you. One word." and I showed a slide with only one word on it: "WTF".
I asked who knew what "WTF" meant. Only one person knew. "What The F..k !". It shocked them. I grabbed their attention.

6. Interact

Gosh, how boring monologues are. Don't only talk to your audience, but interact with them. Ask questions. Stir them up. Make a joke, or make them think. Let them interact with each other without loosing control over the flow of thoughts or the timing of your presentation.

When presenting, I move around amongst my public. I use my arms and legs to illustrate my points. I make noises.

Once, in 1996, I made a presentation about a new email system we developed. I stood by a slide, illustrating the architecture of the system, and made a funny "Psssht" and "Bam" noise to illustrate each time mail moved between servers, and arrived at destination. Up to today, people remember that presentation. And remember also how the Email system worked.

7. So much to say, so little time...

A good presentation runs like a good movie. Anyone in the audience looking at his/her watch, is a sign of trouble, one person you lost. If you can do it in half an hour, good. One hour, including Q&A is fine. Anything longer... mmm...

People get annoyed when you run over your time slot. They have other things to do, might have other meetings and will be thinking only of one thing: "Gosh, when is this dude ever going to stop". They are no longer listening to you. Waste of time.

8. Update your presentation
All too often, when presenting for big audiences, people ask a copy of my text or slides well in advance. It often surprises them when I answer that I typically make my presentation the night before the event, and fine-tune it, up to the last minute before "I walk on stage".

Why? I try to put elements in my presentation which link to recent events, to what other speakers said, to anything that just happened. It helps engaging my audience.

9. Test your presentation tools
How many times does it not happen that the first 15 minutes of a presentation are spent fiddling with overhead projectors, screen resolutions, or peeping microphones? What impression does that give to your audience? Not one of professionalism!

Set up all equipment and test it out on forehand. Make sure the lightning is tuned, so all can see your slides, and all can see and hear you.

10. And the winner is...
When you give a good presentation, people will want to interact with you afterwards. These are the people you convinced, or at least "moved" for your cause. This is the fruit of your presentation. Don't throw it away.

Close off, conclude your presentation so those not interested in further discussions can leave, but still giving the space to keep those interested with you. Book your meeting room for a bit longer than the time allocated for your presentation, so you have the physical space to talk to them.
If you can't, then tell them how to contact you.

If you want to see a collection of mostly great presentations, check the TED talks.

Picture courtesy Silvia Renn via the CGIAR ICTKM blog.
As you can see, I use my arms a lot ;-)


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