[DF15] Some Random Thoughts on Presenting

When I took this job, one of the things I wasn't entirely sure about was how my skills would translate to being a proper public speaker. I was used to talking to groups, I was used to showing and discussing code with people, I was used to highlighting why an idea or project was interesting and relevant.

But that was usually in a conference room. And much of the time, the audience wasn't even in the same room. I rarely used PowerPoint.

Then the next thing I know, I'm doing three presentations at Dreamforce. Thankfully my leap into public speaking as been largely successful, but I have definitely picked up some tips. I thought I'd share.

  1. PowerPoint is not your presentation. Not if you really want to engage the audience. You are the presenter, your slides are merely the background information the audience is glancing at while listening to you talk. You are the speech, the slides are just the illustration or supporting information. Did you ever have a teacher at school who did nothing but read out the textbook? Don't be that kind of teacher.

  2. Internalize, do not memorize. I probably rehearse every presentation I do around three or four times on average. I don't use speaker notes and I don't read off of anything. People can tell the difference between someone reading to them and someone talking to them. What happens between take one and take four is that I pick apart the phrasing I used and remember what I like. Then when I'm on stage I know the rough outline of what I want to say to a crowd without having to try and remember specific words. It also helps you speak naturally, like you would to a friend.

  3. Remember you are on stage for a reason. You are speaking because someone wanted a group of people to hear what you had to say. Taking this stance helps you be a confident speaker, because you were already validated by being asked or accepted as a speaker. Again, treat the audience like one big friend who asked you a question and you decided to give them a thirty odd minute response with visual aids.

  4. Always consider what the audience is experiencing. At the end of every run of your content ask yourself how that would have gone if you were in your audience.

And some general thoughts on slidecraft itself:

  1. Dave Carroll told me on like day one that on average a slide is a couple of minutes. So if you have a thirty minute talk, you should have roughly fifteen slides. This is totally a rule of thumb, but a really good one. If your slides are approaching your total number of minutes, you need to check your pacing.

  2. Text in slides can be tricky. It is too easy to break down exhaustive key points to be sure you didn't miss anything. Problem is that overly wordy slides are just not memorable, so your audience will miss everything. Keep text simple and easy to remember.

  3. Same with code. Keep it down to the key points that people need to understand. This isn't a code review.

  4. And with both, be sure you are using a font and color that the back row will be able to see. Error on big and contrasting colors.

  5. Make images big, bold and relevant. Make charts as simple as possible.

That's enough for one blog post, I think. Expect a few more in the ramp up to Dreamforce. If you've got tips, feel free to share them in the boxes below.

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