Preparations for presentations

This was posted as a blog entry. I have replicated most of it here so that it is easily discoverable and so that I can improve it over time.

The following suggestions for giving presentations are fairly general and common, but perhaps they can be of use in case you are already here.

  1. If you're nervous, just say so. It helps you relax.
  2. If you think you'll be nervous, memorize the first minute or so. It gives your system time to relax. (I owe this tip to my friend Marc Doussard.)
  3. "Never" look at the projection screen. If you need to see the presentation, look at the computer. You don't want to turn your back on people. Doing so is subconsciously interpreted as rude and, more importantly, it muffles your voice.
  4. Move around. Movement stimulates people's brain and keeps their attention. Staying at the podium doesn't work. But be warned that it makes you feel more vulnerable at first. This may not apply in all situations. It certainly is necessary when teaching, but some presentation contexts are not conducive to moving around.
  5. People love stories. They are not appropriate for every topic, but they personalize you and build a stronger bond between you and the participants.

If you are giving a long talk, it is important to break the time up with activities. The teaching technique world says that people don't focus well after ten minutes or so, so if you break your talk up into little pieces and then do an interactive activity, you win. So you want to get people doing something. Plus people learn more when they think than when they listen. One of the standard techniques is Think-pair-share. What I typically do when I ask a question is ask it and then say "talk to your neighbor for a couple of minutes and come up with an answer". We then discuss it as a group. After that break from just listening, people are a bit refreshed and more people are willing to talk and try to answer your question (in part because they have built some confidence in their answer through talking with their neighbor). When discussing answers, be sure to recognize any good ideas your didn't think of or that are not your focus. There are almost always one or two.

Here's a link to a risk communication video by Bonner that actually has some cynically decent tips for presenting.