Presentation Tips from Tech-Ed 2007

At this year's Tech-Ed I've had opportunity to sit in on a number of sessions as well as reflecting on the eval comments from mine. I've been making notes on things that work well and things that don't. I've been jotting notes on my smart phone but just so I don't forget these I thought I would share these with the world.

Get the Title & Abstract right

I have to apologize to everyone who found my title and abstract confusing. I was out of touch in Dublin when my title had to be submitted and there was no opportunity to change it after the submission in early March. This led to numerous "Not what I expected" comments on the evals. From an attendee perspective I sympathize. You have limited time and many sessions you could attend. You rely on the title and abstract to make a choice. You get ticked off if the session turns out to be something different. I get it.

Map The Session In the First 5 Minutes

I think it helps a great deal to describe the value proposition of the session at the very begining. Tell people why this session is a good investment of the next hour. Describe what they will learn and how it will help them. Give them an opportunity to change their mind if they feel that the material is something they already know or don't care about and would like to leave.

Progress Logically

Your session unfolds like a story. It has to be told in a logical progression. Avoid forward references like "Don't worry about this here I have a slide on this later" as much as possible. Like every good story it must hold interest so tell it from the listeners point of view. If you have created a really cool solution to somebody's problem, tell them about the problem, remind them of the pain they feel and then show your solution and invite them to consider if it makes sense for them. Make sure to revisit your roadmap throughout the presentation and return to it at the end to remind them of your value proposition as they prepare to leave. In a few short moments they will be asking themselves if your presentation added any value to their lives as they give you an eval score.

To Demo or not to Demo

Many people feel compelled to show a demo. They feel that to be a really great and cool presenter they must type code in front of a crowd. If they are really awesome they would even type the code in notepad and use command line tools to compile it. I spent way to much time watching people type, and then try to fix their missing parenthesis or forgotten semi-colon in front of the crowd.

Yes - I even fell into this trap this year and typed a whole TDD demo in front of the crowd. Afterward I was thinking about the value of this. Most demo's would be just as effective if you opened a file that the code was already complete in and then just walked through it in the debugger?

We believe you can type. We know you can do it. Focus on where the value is.

I watched one presenter spend 15 minutes coding a really stupid demo only to run out of time so he had to skip the much better, more important demo that was coming later.

Code in PowerPoint

In many of the session rooms the screens were quite small when seen from the middle to the back of the room. This left many people unable to see the code or at least anything on the bottom half of the screen. If you have 2 or 3 really great lines of code, why not put them on a slide, make the font large and explain why they are great without feeling compelled to show them in VS.

If you do have to use VS be sure to use a non-serif font like Lucida Console at a decent size 16, 18 or even 20 pt.

Demo Point

If your demo is long and complex it is likely that the crowd will get lost in the details of what you are doing. Your demo tells a story, setup the story, build the drama and then demo the soution in a few simple steps. By few, I mean 5-7 steps. Anything more is too complex.

And be sure to have a backup plan for when your beta crashes, your network isn't working or the database is corrupt. Just a few slides with screenshots can typically accomplish the same thing.

Be sure to prepare scripts that can reset your demo to a known starting point as well just in case you open it to find that things are not as they should be.

Practice, Practice, Practice

Sure you are awesome in front of a crowd, but don't take it for granted. Everyone needs to practice their presentations and demos. Don't neglect this.

Summing it Up

These are lessons we all should think more about - myself in particular. Let's just say that this year wasn't my best Tech-Ed scores at the US Tech-Ed. I've got several more Tech-Ed's to go and I think I can do better. Hopefully I'll see you at one of them.

Comments (1)

  1. RhysC says:

    Nice thoughts Ron, handy for any one doing a tech presentation… even for little user groups on the other side of the globe. 🙂

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