Notes on Presenting


May 6, 2015 by Kenneth Fisher

As you may know I’m preparing to write my first presentation. I have a great abstract and an outline of the presentation itself. Next step is creating the Powerpoint slides. Then practicing the presentation itself. So while going to my latest SQL Saturday I decided to take the opportunity to take some notes on the presentations I was seeing. Not on the information itself (although I did that too) but on how they were given. What I particularly liked and what I thought I would like to emulate. I also saw a few things I wanted to avoid.

Some of this also comes from previous conversations/reading about presentation best practices. And in the interest of completeness I’ve also gone through a few of Grant Fritchey’s (b/t) Speaker of the Month series for an additional point of view.

  • Having a summary and or course objectives at the beginning is a good way to start the presentation but make sure you follow it.
  • Follow up with a review at the end. If you don’t have time it can always be cut.
  • Use Zoomit, large font, something. Demos aren’t nearly as much fun if I can’t read what you have typed from the middle of a small room.
    • Using both appeared to work the best. Large fonts let me follow along generally, Zoomit for emphasis or for GUI stuff that doesn’t have the larger font.
  • Having a video of a demo play in the background while you talk is pretty cool. Maybe not the whole time (although I’ve seen that done too) but for a short period of time it can be a great emphasis to what you are talking about.
  • Demos (even if you are going to type them in) should be smooth. Problems happen but minimize them.
    • I’m not going to go so far as don’t ever type. Sometimes the typing is part of the demo itself (intellisense), however don’t type if you don’t have to.
    • Some demo’s don’t have a lot of typing in them (GUIs) but if so they should well practiced so you can run them smoothly.
  • If you have a demo that runs a long time have something else to do while you wait.
  • I’m going to go against popular practice here and say I like slides with more information on them. Don’t read the slides. But next week when I’m looking at the slides I want them to mean something.
  • That doesn’t mean the slides should be busy. Simple is better.
  • BIG font for main points, small fonts for stuff for everyone to read later.
  • If you can make them laugh while giving information it’s a plus.
    • Don’t go overboard though. If all they are doing is laughing they probably aren’t learning anything.
  • No question or comment is bad but learn how to deflect questions/comments that run long/don’t pertain to your presentation.
  • Use a mike or speak up. People came to the session to hear you speak. It would be a shame if they couldn’t.
  • Repeat questions. It can be hard for everyone in the room to hear. Remember you have the mike.
  • When answering questions “I don’t know” is ok. But “Great question. I don’t know the answer to that right now but I’ll figure it out and blog/post about it later” is better.
  • If you have a small group that just means you can be more interactive.
  • Presentation remotes/laser pointers are nice, they let you walk around while giving your presentation.
  • If you can arrange to have someone who knows the subject really well show up in your session it can be fun. It’s also nice if someone asks a question that stumps you. They may be able to answer the question for you.
  • Be Excited! It’s fun to watch someone be excited about a subject.
  • Prizes are popular even if it’s just candy.

I’d love to hear your opinions on this list. If you are a presenter I’d like to hear what you feel works and what doesn’t. And presenter or not what would you like to see in a presenter?

9 thoughts on “Notes on Presenting

  1. ScaryDBA says:

    There are clearly a million choices in how you do the presentation and they can all work depending on the presenter and the topic. The one thing that really separates good from great presentations though is the passion of the presenter. Passionless presentations from people, no matter how knowledgeable, stink.

    • I’ve noticed that. One of the best presentations I’ve been to was also a subject I had very little interest in (it was the last session of Summit and I was to tired to move). It was Thomas LaRock and he was EXCITED. He was moving around, obviously interested in his subject and having a good time. And that got me excited and interested too.

  2. As an MCT for the last 15 years, I highly recommend everything in this post. One of my pet peeves is small font sizes during a demo. If I can’t see what you are explaining then the session is pretty much worthless. Would you create a PowerPoint slide with an 8 point font?

    Some other tips.
    1. Follow the three T’s – Tell them what you’re teaching, Teach them, Tell them what you taught.
    2. Be a duck – Always look calm, even if under the surface you’re kicking like crazy to stay afloat.
    3. If you don’t know, say you don’t know and don’t make something up.
    4. Don’t “lecture” for more than 10 minutes. Break it up with a demo or something interactive. After about 10 minutes, people get bored and then… squirrel.
    5. No dead silence. Even if something breaks during a demo, don’t stop talking otherwise…squirrel.
    6. Don’t read from the slides. They are there only to inform and to keep pace. They are there for your knowledge not your reading skills.
    7. And my final tip is the same as Grant’s – bring the passion.

    • Love it! Thanks! I would like your opinion on one thing. One of my points is about “simple” slides. Honestly I don’t like them. If the slide only has 2-3 lines of text with no context it’s useless to me later. I’d rather have those same 2-3 lines with a paragraph after each (in a small font) that isn’t really for use during the presentation but makes the slides more useful as a reference later. What do you think?

      • Absolutely, agree. Especially, if you are going to provide the slides for others after the presentation. That would make them more useful. Which brings up another concept. Make bullet points on a slide meaningful and useful. Exactly for those people who use the slides for future reference.

  3. Adding a comment that one of my co-workers emailed me.

    Hi Kenneth,

    Great post – summarizing all preparation efforts for the presentation – thanks!

    Just a few notes from my experience and observation (not sure if that will be helpful or not 🙂 ) –

    1. It’s good to know your audience to have an idea how deep you need to go into details; for this purpose a lot of presenters use conversation starters such as “how many people have experience with this or that” or “how many people heard/used some feature” – that will work well for smaller groups (below 30-50);

    2. Sometimes one person will ask too many deep questions on a subject while other 20 people are not very much into these particular details – those “deep dives” may take up to 20-30 minutes of presenter’s time, distract the group and delay the presentation. So, for these cases good to say something like – “if you do not mind, we will follow up on this subject later, once we finished with ..(something)..” and follow up with that person or 2-3 individuals, well, unless everybody is interested to hear that right now! 🙂 So, basically it is one of the tricks of “stick to the agenda”;

    3. As you said, stick to the schedule! 🙂

  4. Lee Everest says:

    I could have used these tips when I did some presenting, back in the day…

    Great info, Kenneth.

  5. […] Notes on Presenting – A list of notes on what I like to see when watching a presentation collected from my own experiences and from Grant Fritchey’s (b/t) Speaker of the Month series. […]

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