My Post About (Preparing) Presentations
Giving a talk or presentation or leading a training session at a conference(or ‘camp’ or user group) is a great way to expand your knowledge and get your name out there. Little happens in this world without networking, and I’m lucky enough to have a background watching world-class performers, with my own natural proclivity to stand up and be noticed.
Sitting in a talk where you won’t be able to take anything home to use in your day-to-day life, or having it fail in other ways that make you feel your attendance wasn’t a good use of your time is a major bummer. I decided I had a topic or two I could research further and share my familiarity with after only a few years in the business, and I knew it could be a fun experience. I then did what folks commonly do: I made some slides, took brief notes to describe why I put the things on the slides, and hoped they were the right length and in a logical order.
That didn’t go horribly, but I was annoyed with how I didn’t feel the time I was allotted matched the amount of content I had prepared. You don’t want too little, and you can’t go over - Tom Limoncelli taught me that, after Q&A, you want to end 4 minutes early so the people who came to your talk are the first to hit the refreshments and snacks counters.
Supposedly Malcolm Gladwell memorizes the entirety of his scripted, slide-free talks that he gives as a source of income and for organizations like TED. I was impressed to hear this, but do not presume to be at that level now. I saw the slideshare ‘Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs' and came up with my current workflow, which is the following:
- Write the script
To not stress too much about the first draft, I consider it a long blog post, which I’m used to producing rapidly. (To spoil the points out of that ‘Presentation Secrets’ reference above, they break it down that you should spend 1/3rd of the time, which for a 1.5 hr preso may be around 40 hours, writing the script. Then 1/3rd on slides, then 1/3rd on rehearsals. Pretty imposing, and you’re not even in front of an audience yet!)
- Load it into a teleprompter app
This is a newer trick, because I need to be ready to rehearse and refine the script separate from Keynote’s crappy notes/outline support. It also tells me immediately if I have enough content to fill the time slot, since there’s a ‘time remaining’ estimate for the current speed. New Yorkers might be known to… talk faster than some, so setting a lower speed also helps me slow down.
- Make the slides
Three guiding principals here: 1. Everything is in service of your script. Fancy transitions and animations will only screw with you(don’t get me started about Prezi) - I go so far as to separate out the appearance of bullets by duplicating the slide and removing the subsequent bullets until that later stage 2. Full-frame pictures reinforce the movie-theater affect and give peoples brains a refuge. Where it doesn’t violate the first principle of being in service to the script, put breaks or transition wording in the script where your slides are elaborating a particular point - which will change running time, of course 3. Too much text (more than ~15 words) and you’ll lose the audiences attention while they read the slides. You want the audiences attention on you, you’re the Virgil taking them through Dante’s Inferno - or hopefully more like the fictional guru Erik Reid of The Phoenix Project guiding folks to enlightenment.
It may go without saying, but my favorite comparison is combing your hair in the dark - you know you’re doing something, but without rehearsal you actually have no idea what is going on.
There will be revamping and editing and revising the entire process every time you go through it. You learn more every time, most recently I found I should have added more slides for a talk where the audience already knew(or assumed they knew) the lions share of the content, it would have added to the entertainment value. On the positive side, I also found leaving out a section of the script kept a little of the magic in inventory, so if folks approached me about the topic later I’d have a polished card left to play.