We just completed the 13th Annual Evans Data Developer Relations Conference which was held in Palo Alto California on March 27 and 28 (the Boot Camp took place on Sunday March 26th). As I was watching some of the presenters and their presentations, I was thinking back to the early presentation training I received from Jerry Weissman. I love sitting in on other speaker presentations. I know there is always something new I can learn about speaking in front of an audience including tips, techniques, slides and demos. While we were doing our conference retrospective meeting back in the office, I was thinking about what more I can do to help Developer Relations professionals and decided to pull together some of what I learned from Jerry and other presenters over my many years of presentations, panel discussions, webinars, product launches, and meetups.
Beyond the title of this article, here are see some of my thoughts about what I’ve learned by giving presentations, what I’ve seen in watching other presenters, and the days I spent, years ago, with Jerry Weissman. The only other piece of advice I have is to practice and present as often as you can – if you want to add presenting to your skills inventory.
Power Presentations, Ltd.: Corporate Presentation Training – Jerry Weissman
About Jerry: “Jerry Weissman is the world’s number one corporate presentations coach. His private client list reads like a who’s who of the world’s best companies, including the top brass at Yahoo!, Intel, Intuit, Cisco Systems, Microsoft, Dolby Labs and many others.” Read more about Jerry and his company – https://www.powerltd.com/aboutus/
You should definitely Buy and Read his book: Presenting to Win: The Art of Telling Your Story, Updated and Expanded Edition
Jerry’s top words of wisdom about your presentation: “The key building block for Audience Advocacy is WIIFY — What’s In It For You. The WIIFY is the audience benefit. In any presentation, before you make any statement about yourself or your company, or the products and services you offer, ask yourself, What’s the WIIFY? What benefit does this offer my listener?”
Presenting to a Live Audience or Meeting
Here are the three aspects for giving a great presentation that includes slides/visuals. Doing live demonstrations or products and technologies adds several additional levels of training, setup, practice and especially how to handle “exception” cases when the demos don’t go very well.
- Eye Contact – keep your eyes on the audience, not on the floor, sky, etc. Look around the audience – front, left, right, middle, back. Move about the stage or front of the room – but don’t make quick moves like some comedians do, and don’t pace. Pretend that you are speaking one on one – in those conversations you usually look in the other person’s eyes when you are speaking with them. Do the same with your audience.
- Reach Out – engage the audience with your hands, person. This advice comes from the days of the Knights with the handshake. A Knight meeting another Knight, would reach out their hand to show that they didn’t have a weapon. Reaching out to the audience will bring them in, show that you are open to them. If you feel comfortable, you can even go out in to the audience or move about the room. One time I started my talk while sitting in the audience with attendees and then moved around before I got to the front of the room. A couple other bits of advice for reaching out to the audience:
- Avoid using a podium. While you need something to put your computer on – use a table, or stand for the computer. Speakers hide behind the podium, use it as a crutch, grab on to it. This means that you are putting barriers between you and your audience.
- Use a remote control to advance your slides. This way you are separated from the computer and engaged more with the audience. Even better would be to have someone advance your slides – this way you don’t have anything in your hands that you might fiddle with. If you don’t have someone to advance your slides you can always combine moving to get some water and hit the spacebar on your computer and then move away.
- Avoid putting your hands in your pockets – this could alarm the audience that you are going for a weapon, or keep you from reaching out. If you feel compelled to fidget with your hands – do it behind your back for a moment.
- Animate – be animated but not crazy. It’s okay to nod your head, move your hands/arms around – not waving wildly – shake your head and shoulders. Don’t stand stiff even if you are petrified during a talk. Moving about will help you relax and also support having eye contact with a larger audience/room and also is part of your reaching out to the audience.
2) Avoid the Um(s), Ah(s), And(s), So(s), You Know(s), Stutter Starts/Restarts, etc.
- Presenters sometimes feel that they always need to be talking doing a presentation. We feel compelled to be speaking, outputting audio even when moving between thoughts, bullet points, etc. Unconsciously many of us will use the Um(s), Ah(s) and such – often without realizing it. A better approach is to pause and rest your voice for a moment – this also lets the audience take a rest (they need it too). The only real way to fix this (if you have a bad case of them) is to record yourself giving a presentation for about 10-15 minutes at least. Play it back and watch and listen to yourself to count how many times you hear yourself with the Um(s) and Aw(s). As someone who edits presentations and webinars to create replays, I can tell you that I will usually remove 3-5 minutes of them in a 30 minute presentation. I still have this problem, using during Q&A time.
- Let the audience read a quote – and you read along with them quietly at a “normal” reading pace. Instead of reading a quote that is already on your slide and the screens. The audience will be reading the quote while you are reciting it anyway. Let them. After you and they have read the quote, then you can talk about why you put the quote on the screen. IF your slide has a video with audio – you usually wouldn’t talk over the audio – why talk while everyone is reading?
- Stutter Starts/Restarts – here I am not talking about stuttering. I’m talking about the starting a thought, stopping, starting the thought again, stopping, changing your starting thought. My advice is to put a slide up or listen to a question being asked and think a bit before you start talking. Again, the audience is still probably taking in the Slide, the question, the image. It’s okay for a few seconds to make sure you have your thoughts together and then talk. This can also happen to some presenters when you are trying to think and speak at the same time. Practicing your presentation, reviewing your slides multiple times before a presentation will help you feel that you can talk without starting, stopping, restarting. Allowing yourself to think on your feet and then speak will also allow the audience to think.
3) Mr. Roy G. Biv – Creating your presentation
3a) Colors – know the color spectrum and what colors work well with others. Take a look at the following and be reminded of our dear old friend: Roy G. Biv. Who is Roy? No one but it serves to remind us of what colors to combine in your presentations. Of course there are variations of colors beyond the specific rainbow and spectrum – Red, Light Red, Pink, etc.
ROY G BIV + White, Shades of Grey and Black – the Chinese restaurant menu of choices.
Choose one from column A:
Choose one from column B:
- Green – works with just about everything
Choose one from column C:
Have you noticed how well Yellow on a Blue background looks good? Adding drop shadows can also increase the clarity. You can use White, Black and shades of Grey with your choices.
3b) Color challenged attendees – the challenges related to how the eye is constructed and works – think Rods and Cones. The fact that some humans have eye conditions that might steer you to avoid certain colors or color combinations because of color blindness and other color based sight impairments. There are different types or color categories for color blindness:
- Red Green color blindness – the most common type of color blindness – three conditions: Protanomaly (1 % of males) – Red, Orange and Yellow can appear greener. Protonopia (1 % of males) – red appears black. Shades of orange, yellow and green appear as yellow. Deuteranomaly (5 % of males) – yellow and green can appear redder, can be difficult to distinguish between violet and blue. Deuteranopia (1 % of males) – red looks brownish yellow, green looks beige.
- Blue Yellow color blindness – rarer than red green – two conditions: Tritanomaly (extremely rare) – Blue appears greener and it can be difficult to tell yellow and red from pink. Tritanopia (extremely rare) – blue appears greener, yellow appears violet or light grey
- Complete color blindness – most rare. Two forms: Cone Monochromacy – trouble distinguishing colors. Rod Monochromacy or achromatopsia – everything is black, white and grey.
3c) Resources for additional reading in this area
- NIH: Facts about Color Blindness – https://nei.nih.gov/health/color_blindness/facts_about
- Tests and glasses for color blindness – http://enchroma.com/technology/
Other Presenter and Presentation Aspects to Consider
There are many other aspects for building and giving a great presentation. This blog post could go on for ever. Of course, as a presenter, you should be yourself, smile, exude enthusiasm, be confident, consider making startling statements, and more. For your slide show here are a few bits of advice that I review from time to time.
- Guy Kawasaki’s 10/20/30 rule of PowerPoint – 10 slides, 20 minutes, 30 point font [David I – or larger depending on the size of the room and screen]. https://guykawasaki.com/the_102030_rule/
- Presentation Zen web site by Garr Reynolds – http://www.presentationzen.com/ and http://www.garrreynolds.com/preso-tips/design/
- The 5/5/5 rule – no more than five words of text per line, five lines of text per slide, five text heavy slides in a row. http://www.gcflearnfree.org/powerpoint-tips/simple-rules-for-better-powerpoint-presentations/1/
- Use images (sometimes) rather than just words. Take a look at Dick Hardt’s Identity 2.0 OSCON 2005 presentation replay where he uses Lawrence Lessig‘s Lessig presentation style.
- David I (and others?) – the 4 by 4 by 4 maximum rule – four bullet points max, 4 words per bullet point, 4 maximum sub-bullet points (if you really have to have sub-bullet points – better would be to have no sub-bullet points on a 3 or 4 bullet point slide). To keep the slide text short from top to bottom – have the sub-bullet points appear and disappear as you move from bullet point to bullet point.
- Room temperature – depending on the room size, you may have to deal with cold or hot rooms. What should you do? Remember first that the audience will also feel the same effects of the room temperature and humidity. If you have control over the environment, have the hotel, convention center or team set the room temperature as if it has bodies in it. If you can’t control the environmental aspects – then you (and your audience) can follow the same advice we give each other about wearing layers that you can take off and put on throughout the presentation.
- Sound System, Speakers noise, buzzing, hum – get to the room early (if you can) and check out the audio system (do a sound check) if there is one. If there is a nasty background noise in the audio system – have the AV team fix the problem before you start. No one likes to hear buzzing, static or hum while you are presenting. It is a major distraction. If your presentation has audio in it – make sure you have the right connectors and sound levels. Alert the A/V team as far in advance that you have special requirements for your computer, audio, power, device, etc. setup. Again, get into your room early to make sure you have all that you need. Don’t assume connectors or adapters. If you are going to be presenting a lot, bring what you need.
- Video Connectors – depending on your computer, notebook, and device – bring connectors, adapters and cables to connect to the projector or large monitor. My MacBook Pro has HDMI output. This is the norm today for most “modern” projectors and monitors. But, just in case, I also bring adapters for VGA and DVI just in case.
- Internet Connection – Most places have Internet access. But sometimes the quality of the Internet signal or speed is less than what you need. Sometimes you will need some ports opened that are blocked in the location you are presenting. I have a second mobile phone that I can set up as a Hot Spot to give me a better quality and open ports. For example, I use Airplay to display the screen of my iPhone on my Mac connected to a projector/monitor. Airplay requires some ports that are often blocked. The only ways around this are to ask that an Airplay set of ports be opened (good luck) or to use an alternate Internet connection – hot spot to the rescue. The second benefit of using a phone as a Hot Spot is to avoid being caught up in bad internet speed in a hotel or convention center, or too many other devices connected to the same Wi-Fi or wired network.
- Your Cell Phone – set it to “Do Not Disturb” or completely off. Put it away from the sound system to avoid interference, buzzing and other distractions. Do not have it in your pocket or attached to your belt. Unless it is part of your demo, tell anyone who might message or call that you are giving a presentation during a specific date/time and won’t be monitoring your phone.
- Fluids – If you are going to keep hydrated, drink still water that is room temperature. No Ice Water – constricts the vocal cords? Avoid too much coffee, never drink alcohol before, during or after a presentation (unless it is in the evening after all of your sessions are completed), Red Bull, 5-Hour Energy, chocolate/sugar, etc. Be naturally amped up for your audience. Get a good night’s sleep the night before and hydrate, hydrate, hydrate (ok, watch your total fluid intake so that you won’t need to take an unplanned break in the middle of your presentation).
- Floor monitors for video and audio – For a larger room/convention center – have a floor monitor (or 2 or 3 if it is a large stage and large audience) between you, stage and the audience. If there isn’t room or separate monitor available, it’s okay to turn look at a slide and refer to it. It’s also good to have audio monitor speakers between you and the audience (if possible) – then you won’t have to ask the audience if they can hear you. You can hear what the audience is hearing.
- Audio Feedback and Projector Blindness – avoid getting near the PA system speakers. The audience doesn’t want to hear a 60’s Jimi Hendrix guitar/amp feedback. If the projector is not behind the screen or raised above your head, now where the beam is and avoid standing between the projector and the screen. Don’t go near the light “Carol Anne” – you’ll have spots in your eyes for a while.
- Lighting – Don’t have bright lights shine on the screen that your presentation is being projected on. The lights will wash out your slides. While you don’t want to have complete dark in the room, you can usually play with the room pre-sets to get lights off the screen. If you can’t control the lights yourself, you can ask the hotel or convention center to set up a preset for your room. One other option would be to move your screen and projector to another part of the room where the ceiling lights won’t affect the quality of your slides.
Practice, Practice, Practice
- Practice in the mirror and on camera. I know that it is hard to watch yourself on video, but it is important to take an honest look at yourself. Count the number of um(s), ah(s), bobbles, times not looking into the camera, etc. Think about what you see in regards to what you have read above and also what you are trying to accomplish in your presentation. How does it look and sound to you?
- If you’re the kind of person that can’t practice to a camera, to an empty room or in front of a mirror, practice in front of your family, office mates, or a picture of a group of people.
- Rinse and Repeat – make any changes/adjustments. Record yourself again. Do you see improvements? Do you have less um(s), ah(s), not look at and reaching out to the camera and animating? Repeat as often as necessary.
Give lots of Presentations of Different Types/Kinds
Variety is the Spice of Life! Once you are ready, give lots of presentations or all types, topics and lengths. Solicit and read (if there are speaker evaluation forms) all of comments after your presentations. Take all of the comments and suggestions to heart. Remember also, that there might always be one or a few outlier evaluators in your audience that don’t like you, don’t like your presentation, and don’t like anything. It is okay to try and learn a nugget from these attendees, but don’t let that color all of the other feedback.
Good Luck (So Long) and Thanks for All the Fish!
I wish you all good luck in all of your future presentations. I hope that all of your presentations will be warmly received. While you might have a less than stellar presentation from time to time, you can always learn from missteps and get more comfortable and professional as a presenter every time you get in front of an audience.
Do You have your own Presentation Tips and Experiences?
Send me an email if you have your own presentation best practices or links to your favorite presenter advice articles.
David Intersimone “David I”
Vice President of Developer Communities
Evans Data Corporation