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Presentation tips from three guys who should know! (MS techincal guys), become your company's AMBassaDoR!

Apr 18

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Saturday, April 18, 2009 1:16 PM  RssIcon

Last week I was invited to presentation on how to give a good technical presentation.  Read on for some cool'n'useful tidbits!

Last week I was lucky enough to be invited to presentation given by three local Microsoft technical evangelists on how to give technical presentation.  This was part of the EnergizeIT campaign.  Thank you CW for nominating me, I learned a few cool new tricks

As developers, we HATE it when we even get a whiff of a sales pitch coming on!  We just want the code or to see something work (or not work and then show us how you fix it, then let us take it apart to make it better).

Long story short, here's a few things I learned last week, I hope this can help you with your next presentation.  I'll see after this Wednesday if it's going to help me!  LOL

  • Meat is king, pure and simple!
  • Know your audience.  One trick Rick mentioned was to talk to people as they walk in and get settled.  This does a few things.  Two VERY IMPORTANT things right off the bat are, it helps you to calm down and to connect with your audience.  This gives you a bit of insight into a few people's "pain points" so you can hopefully address them (if they're appropriate).  It helps build your credibility and trust with the people you talk to.  It also primes your vocal chords and brain for the key first few slides!  It also helps those few choice people connect with you, so when you start talking, they have a personal investment in what you have to say, can you say captive audience?  I've tried this trick before and it DOES WORK!!!!!!!!  Once I was so nervous before a presentation I just started talking and before I knew it, I was already started into the presentation and had the audience on the edge of their seats for the whole thing!  I was proud of that one. LOL
  • Figure out what's THE (or at max three), most important messages you want people to come away with.  If they remembered NOTHING but three things you talked about for the last four hours (hey, it happens HAHA) what do you want people talking/blogging about afterwards?  At the risk of adding slides to your slide deck, these three points could make up your intro and conclusions slide.  Help to spoon feed this information to the audience cause at the end of a long presentation, we all know our brains are a bit fried, so just spoon feed it to them, don't make them figure it out, cause they won't.
  • Tell a story, but make sure it's your own, true, and applicable!  People love to hear true stories, as long as they aren't as long as the MS vs SUN court case!  Stories help people connect to you by making them realized you are solving the same problems they are.  It's easy for you to recall your own life's stories.  Most developers aren't natural actors, but ask one to tell you how they debugged that three page t-sql, or how they squashed that view state bug and they'll REALLY get into it.  So a developer CAN tell an engaging story, we just have to learn how to keep it short. haha  (yes CW I'm reading/refining this blog post HAHA)
  • As you're starting out prepping your presentation, create a high level outline, start at the 10,000 foot view, then start to go down step-wise.  Only go down to the next level when you're satisfied you're done at the current level.  In other words, don't start on the bullet points of your demo before you've figured out the over all message!
  • Use your slide deck to reinforce your message, not to be the message.  If people could read your slides to get the same message, just email it to them and save everyone the effort to travelling, coffee and socializing and being away from Visual Studio!  People come to hear your stories, things they CANNOT get from email/slide deck/blogs/etc.  That's what you have to give'em!
  • KISS = Keep It Simple and Stupid.  'nough said.
  • Build in contingencies.  There's NO excuse for not being able to do your demo if or when (and yes, WHEN is going to happen) you lose network connectivity, or if your laptop power adapter dies on you.  Both of which have happened to me in the past!  IF you know your presentation well enough, AND you've anticipated these things, you'll be prepared and continue moving forward.  How?  Hey, that's up to you and how you build your contingencies, I can't do all your thinking for you?! haha  In my first case, I had screen shots set aside for if my internet connection died, and in the second case, I had one of my student's be my guinea pig and did all the demos from his computer while I spoke.  If you're dynamic and know your stuff well enough, people will completely understand the situation and be ok with your contingency plans and be VERY happy to continue on and progress with your presentation.
  • ZoomIt, use it!  BUT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  Not before you've played with it AND you memorize the keystrokes and when to use them!  Nothing worse than making your audience throw up cause they're trying to follow your cursor around!  If you're looking at buying/using a laser pointer, BAD IDEA!  Learn how to use ZoomIt.
  • On the tools front, learn how to use PowerPoint's Presenter View.  This is awesome!
  • Handling questions is tricky at the best of times.  If you want to be dynamic and handle ALL questions as they come in, people will start rolling their eyes at some questions and think "OH MAN, this guy's/gal's NEVER gonna finish all that material on the agenda slide!"  Once you get there, people start checking out mentally!  Not good.  One solution is to handle ONE question in a logical unit of slides, and be quick!  If it'll be too long, just say "That's a GREAT question, can we take that offline/handle that afterwards and I can talk to you about it in more depth?"  You come across as appearing flexible, easy going, dynamic but still respecting their time and their desire to get through all your material to the end!
  • While tackling questions, repeating the question is good for two reasons, first it buys you a bit of time to formulate the response.  Don't trivialize this!  This is very important.  It also helps give you (and the person asking) confirmation you are indeed answering the RIGHT question asked.  But don't let this get away from you, keep things under control.
  • Drop kick the classic "this is who I am" slide in favour of "hitting your audience hard with meat" right from the get-go!  People are there to see your ideas, they've already investigated who you are, they know your blogs, they know your books, they know your Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, they've already done their investigations.  And if they haven't, they will afterwards IF you give them reason to!  Give'em what they want and not some sales pitch about your certifications, your books, your blogs, websites, etc!  The classic example is EVERY PRESENTATION FROM TECHED FOR THE PAST twenty years!  Check out every year's slides, they all start with the same, title slide and "who I am" and some age......sssssnnnnnooooorrreeeee!  I appreciate the standardization for TechEd, but for YOUR presentation, break away from the mold and hit'em hard from the get go!

All this to come to one acronym I've come up with to help me (and hopefully you too) to help make your presentations better.  AMBassaDoR.

A = Audience, know'em

M = Message = meat, top 3 things

B = Build your presentation top-down

D = Deliver, watch how you handle question and keep moving forward

R = Refine, this is editing and practising and building contingencies where needed.

I hope the next time you give a technical presentation you'll take a few of these suggestions to heart.  Right now, it's time to grab a coffee and get coding! :>


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