There are some people who were born to present. Some people that come to mind are don box from the Indigo team and mike fitzmaurice from the SharePoint team. In fact, awhile ago, I remember don had posted a blog entry on presentation tips to a developer audience.
I, on the other hand, wasn’t born to present. I’ve had to work at it and learned from various experiences which has made me a much better presenter. Here are some tips in order of importance for stage presentations:
1. Know your stuff. You should only present material you are super familiar with. You should be an expert on the topic. You should speak about your topic and use the PPT slides as a guide. The people are there to listen to an expert… not someone reading the slides. You should also have strong anecdotes and real world examples peppered through out your presentation.
2. You have to be excited and demonstrate excitement about your topic. There’s a simple rule – your audience will be <= how excited you are about your content… if you’re not super excited, it will show… and no matter how well you know your content, your presentation won’t go very well. You’ll get great scores for presenter knowledge… but your overall presentation scores won’t be high.
3. Demo, demo, demo! You don’t want the audience to experience “death by PowerPoint”. You want to show them your technology. Having a good solid demo will increase your score.
4. Have a great deck. Keep it simple. Don’t cram a lot of content. I still struggle with this… it’s better to convey a few things very well… and demo it than to try and cram a ton of stuff. General rule of thumb is 1 PPT slide for every 2 minutes of presentation. 1 hour presentation – you shouldn’t have more than 30 slides. Also, the slides should be simple (not super wordy) – you don’t want the audience distracted by your slides… they should be listening to you. Make sure you have an agenda in the beginning and make sure you have a resources slide with pointers to the resources you mention in your talk… needless to say, make sure the attendees can get access to your deck. Many times, the attendees have to write a trip report/convey the highlevel points to their colleagues.
5. Practice, practice, practice. This is common sense… but you also want to practice your session/do a dry-run at the actual venue if you can… that way you can make sure your sound works, laptop projects, et cetera. It’s also always good to present your content in front of your colleagues/people you feel comfortable with so they can critique you.
6. Don’t fight those jitters – they will pass. It’s super natural to be nervous at the beginning of a presentation… even if you know your stuff. Even the best presenters are a little nervous. If you know your stuff and are excited about your content, within the first few minutes, you’ll forget about being nervous and find your groove! Smile, project your voice and in a matter of a couple minutes, you’ll feel just fine.
7. Pace yourself. Don’t talk too fast. I struggle with this as well… when I get passionate, I tend to speed up. You have to control your pace… and a good way to do that is to take a look at the time (make sure you can take a look at a clock) and, if you can, have a colleague in the audience who can signal you to slow down if necessary… or speed up if necessary. Pace is even more important w/ international audiences whose first language may not be english. Also, leave some time for Q&A.
8. Make sure your session abstract is super clear. This sounds obvious but it’s not always done… you want to make sure you target the right people, clearly state assumptions and prerequisites and the technical level. Make sure your session description is clear… not vague. I generally say “This session assumes you have familiarity with SharePoint Products and Technologies…” if I’m doing a futures session for example.
9. Logistics – know where you have to be so you’re on time. Make sure you have water with you. Make sure you go to the restroom. Make sure your equipment is ready. Make sure you have your laptop powercord. Make sure you have a copy of your presentation on a usb key. This is the easiest one to nail… but if you mess up even one of these, it could be a disaster. I always shoot to be at a presentation at least 15 minutes before start time.
10. Sleep well and eat well. I also like to have something to eat just before the presentation…. I also have coffee just before I get on.
You’ll notice that I don’t have humor listed in my top 10. Humor can work in your favor… it depends on what comes natural to you and depends on the audience. Too much humor can also be bad. My suggestion is to let it come naturally… don’t “plant” jokes. The only humor that can be planned is a possible real world example.
These are tips for stage presentations… presentations to smaller groups are different… In that case, for example a customer/partner presentation, you really have to spend time understanding your audience – something I don’t have listed here. For a stage presentation, the session abstract, if written well and correctly, will attract the right people. Also, with a smaller group, it’s important to keep it interactive.