How I Prepare For Presentations

Monday, November 22, 2010

I often get asked for advice on presenting, so I wanted to share how I prepare for presentations. This method continues to evolve with each presentation I give.

Presentation Tools
I use Keynote, Apple's answer to PowerPoint, for my presentations. This product is so much easier to use than PowerPoint, and is especially helpful for video clips - I can just drop them in and play them easily when I get to that slide.

As far as design goes, my slides are very simple, because it's easier on the eyes: white background, black text, photo and my logo in the bottom right corner of each slide. The purpose of my slides is to illustrate a point, not to be full of notes for people to copy down. People will take notes on what sticks out to them, so I don't want to clutter up the slides with information overload. Doing so only causes people to focus on note-taking rather than listening and really hearing the information. I don't provide an outline of my presentations on worksheets for the same reason.

Content Creation
Once I have a topic, I use the sticky note feature in Keynote to make notes of the different points I want to make. Each point gets a different sticky note on a blank slide. Once I have all the points I want to make, I can drag and drop the slides in order of flow. The sticky notes don't show up when the slideshow is projected, so I can keep the notes and slides all in one place and in context.

With this loose outline, I'll then find a photo to illustrate each point. Sometimes I'll add a caption below it for the people who appreciate text in addition to visuals. I use the photo as a memory prompt for what I am speaking on at that point.

I have an encyclopedic memory, which I attribute to studying music growing up. Quick memorization of what's on a page and being able to reproduce and improvise on it later is a critical skill for musicians. Having this skillset means I am able to retain a lot of information and quickly recall it when presenting.

I used to script my presentations because that's how everyone said it had to be done. Those were some of the worst talks I've ever given. When I stopped doing that and started doing it this way, my presentations flowed much better because it allowed me to use my strengths (memory recall) and react better to the audience rather than trying to hit every word in my notes.

Engaging the Audience
As a speaker, I ask the event organizer for a list of attendees ahead of time and I look up every single website and blog of every single attendee. This is a trick I learned from Rebecca Grinnals and it has proven invaluable. Going into a presentation, I am familiar with the work of every single person in the room and how they portray themselves online.

I also try to use photos and screenshot examples from people in the room because it helps them connect with the presentation on a more personal level. When using examples, I try to focus on the positive and best practices. If I do talk about things to avoid, I'll never use an example from someone in attendance. If you cast someone in a negative light, human nature is to go into defense mode and instead of listening, everyone sits in fear of whether or not they'll be called out next. While I think constructive criticism is useful and in short supply, I'll only give it in larger presentations when it is specifically solicited or cleared with the person ahead of time.

Presenting Details
On the tech side, every presentation is exported to Powerpoint through Keynote and both types of presentations are saved on two different flash drives in addition to being on my MacBook. This way, if something should happen to my laptop, I can access my presentations in either PC or Apple friendly format without any trouble. I also always bring a small pouch that holds a power cord, two remotes, as well as both a DVI and a VGA adapter so that my laptop works with whatever the venue's setup is.

Other Notes
I never send the presentations ahead of time to the event organizer and I don't sign over copyright. Mark Kingsdorf has a saying, "You don't get what you deserve, you get what you negotiate." If the speaking agreement includes relinquishing copyright (and most do), that's something I negotiate before signing.

What are some of the things you do to prepare for a presentation?

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