Saturday, March 14, 2009

How to Give a Great Presentation 2009

This is the companion piece to Handy Hints for a National Meeting. If you are a presenter you may find this overview helpful. Feel free to add your own in the comments section.

Despite the frequent use of PowerPoint few people have ever been trained on how to use it effectively as part of a toolkit for presenting information. It is a tool to convey your message, much like a white board, a laser pointer, a flip chart, your verbal tone, your appearance, a video, the orientation of the audience to the speaker, etc.

Aspire to never give a “PowerPoint.” You should be giving a presentation.

PowerPoint can become a crutch which drags your presentation down instead of augmenting your speech. Getting caught up in all the ‘neat’ things PowerPoint can do does not always help in getting the message to your intended audience.

Many people put too much information on their slide. The only time to fill up a slide with scores of words is to demonstrate there is too much out there. If you put your whole talk on the slide, your audience will read it quicker then you can say it, and become bored quickly. Your slides should never be able to stand alone without you presenting. Otherwise, why are you even there? So to make sure you make the points and not your slides, use the 5-5-5 rule:

• No more than 5 words in your title for each slide
• No more than 5 bullet points on each slide
• No more than 5 words per line

With this rule you get a clean efficient look to your slides, enough reminders for the areas you want to talk about, and you become the focus of your presentation. There are times when you need to break it but in general it will lessen your dependence on the slides. If you NEED all those words on the PowerPoint slide and can’t slim it down, consider more practice giving talks WITHOUT the addition of PowerPoint.

Spellcheck is our friend, but please hand check the spelling after your computer does it for you. Eye now these form personnel experience.

No fancy fonts please, stick to the basics. There is no general consensus on which one is best, but make sure the fonts are legible from far away. Size of the font is important for your audience with poor eyesight.

Be consistent with your color scheme, and choose from a limited palette. Avoid red and green in the same slide for those members of your audience that are color blind.

Fancy backgrounds may seem creative but do not let them distract from your talk. Other common distractions are animated text (NO!), sound effects (double NO!). Include your logo on the first and last slide; a logo on every slide feels like an advertisement.

When giving your talk, try working with a remote control to advance the slides. If you give many presentations this should already be in your possession as it allows you the freedom to move away from your computer and engage your audience. You may consider pressing “B” during your presentation to turn the screen black to get more involved with your audience or to place the focus back on you.

Consider consolidating all of the information from your talk into a Word document instead of just sending the PowerPoint slides to be your handout. It may save several trees if we all did this.

Other quick tips on presenting:
* Start on time. Respect the people who got there to hear you speak.
* End on time. Respect the people who are still there at the end of your talk.
* Don’t cram a lot of data on one slide. The audience can’t read it. Consider making your own graph to highlight the important part as opposed to the journal provided version.
* MWSnap is great freeware to help you take screengrabs at high resolution.
* Repeat every question you are asked, because the whole audience likely missed some/all of it.
* Thank people who asked the question, even if it was a dumb/condescending/off-topic question. Your audience will admire your graciousness and know the questioner is an imbecile without you implying so.
* Don't take too long to answer the question. If you are covering it later, say so. If the answer will take a lot of time, give a short answer and ask those who are interested in the long answer to meet after the talk.
* If you are done presenting and you encounter the ‘know-it-all’ who wants all of your time, make sure to set limits, and let others ask you questions.
* Bring your power cord for your computer.
* Email your talk. Have it on a jump drive. And on your hard drive. And on the internet somewhere. Never be too cautious.
* Don't change your slides from the handout whenever possible.
* If the slides presented are different from the slides in the handout, mark the title of the slide with an asterisk to remind you to inform your audience.
* Turn off all unneeded programs on your laptop. IM, website alerts, weather alerts, CITRIX prompts, etc.
* Give credit to others who helped prepare your talk, especially if they are there.
* Put your contact information on the last slide if you would like people to contact you about your topic.
* If you are a presenter at this meeting or anywhere, take note of how other presenters are effective or ineffective. Think of how you may incorporate/avoid their style in any of your future talks.
* If you are doing a poster, keep it clean and simple -- put your take home message at the top, use large enough font, break things up with graphics.
* Have copies of the poster and/or related/expanded material available in handouts.
* If you have a poster session, unless it's an absurdly interminable length of time, stay with your poster. There are people who want to talk to you about your study, and if you did your poster right, it's only going to give highlights. You're there to give the details and answer questions.

Following all of this does not guarantee a great talk,
but it gets you most of the way there!

If you have any other tips, please email me at ctsinclair @t gmail d0t c0m
How to Give a Great Presentation is archived online at
Requests for use/modification should be directed to ctsinclair@t gmail d0t c0m
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