HIT Article

Basic Presenter Tips

Presenting at a conference or seminar, either one of our Hot Topics events or elsewhere, then you might find some of our simple presenter tips useful. We’ve broken them down into sections for slides, venue and presenting.

Slides

In all likelihood you’re going to use a presentation tool, you might be doing things differently and using a tool like Prezi or Haikudeck or just sticking with the usual Powerpoint, the same simple tips are the same for all platforms.

  • A Picture is worth 100 words. People are not coming to your presentation to read a book, don’t fill the screen with a sea of text when a simple photo image will say so much more, people are coming to see you speak not to watch you read. There are many good sites online for grabbing images.
  • Only have slides you’ll use We’ve all seen people skipping madly though slides they’re not using that day, don’t be that guy. If you think you won’t use a slide then don’t include it. It’s also worth making sure that each slide that you do use is one that you can talk about for either 30 seconds or 5 minutes, that way when you’re nearing the end of your talk you can lengthen or shorten it seamlessly depending on the remaining time you have.
  • Pick a transition/animation and stick to it. Powerpoint has lots of transition styles, you do NOT need to use them all. Unless the animation your using is there to explain a point (eg moving aspects of a venn diagram together) then keep it simple and subtle, personally I always just use ‘fade’ to bring items in or out.
  • Use naked data. If you’re representing data take a good look at the chart you’re using, is it just lifted from the research and dumped onto a presentation screen? Take a look at it using a projector and sitting 50 feet away, the chances are it becomes meaningless. In reality that complex chart is there for you to refer to a single point of data. There are many ways to represent data in a clear visual way, a first step is just removing parts of a chart that don’t matter (for a perfect example read this article by Dark Horse Analytics).
  • Learn to use presenter mode. If you’re a powerpoint user learn to use it’s presenter mode, this means while the audience sees your slides you get to see your slides, notes, next slide and a timer. Of course you also need to check that the venue will be set up to use this.
  • Practice, practice, practice. Get some friends to listen to you speak, it’ll give you some idea of your timings and where things need polishing. This is also a good time to check that the presentation works in the way it should.
  • Have multiple copies. If possible send a copy of your presentation to the venue ahead of time, but also have a copy with you on a flash drive (ok I’ll go further, I have copies saved in multiple versions for Powerpoint so if the venue has old tech I’m covered, I also save in multiple screen resolutions. I have 2 flash drives I keep with me AND I have copies saved to online services like Dropbox just in case everything else fails.)

Venue

  • Get there early. Get to the venue in plenty of time to have a look around, sit in some of the seats so you know how things will look for the audience, and of course check that there are no problems with the presentation (especially when using presentations that have the need for online connectivity).
  • Check who’s in charge. Is the session you’re speaking in ‘chaired’ if so meet the chair, talk about how you want to be introduced and check who will keep you to time.
  • Empty your pockets. Find somewhere to keep any bags you have, empty your pockets and make sure you haven’t had a clothing fail. Unless you’re using props of some kind the last thing you need is extra ‘stuff’ on the stage.

Presenting

  • Don’t just stand there. Unless you are told you have to stand still please don’t (if there is a microphone to use ask if they have a mobile one). Moving around makes you seem more like you’re engaging with an audience than ‘lecturing’. It also has the advantage of giving you extra time to think (walking from one side of a stage to the other without talking doesn’t seem strange, but standing at a lectern silently for the same amount of time sees eternal).
  • Speak to the audience. Pick a few friendly faces around the group you’re talking to and present to them, don’t talk to your screen.
  • You’re the expert. Although personally I hate the term ‘expert’, if you’ve been asked to speak at an event the audience will consider you one, they’ve come to see you speak because you know your topic, the presentation is just there as a tool to help you say what you’re saying. You are the presentation.
  • Calls to action. A good presentation not only give people information but encourages people to act on that information, be sure to tell people what they can do to continue the work, or at the very least help you continue it.
Of course these are not ‘rules’ but just a working guide. one of the best ways you can improve your presentation skills is to watch people who really are the ‘experts’, go and watch a selection of TED talks and see how others really engage the audience.

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