Give a Better Presentation!

Want to give a better presentation? I give a lot of them. Here are my best tips. See below for a printable one-page checklist that will put everything you need to get ready for a talk from your drycleaning to your Powerpoint on a single sheet of paper.

Lisa’s Presentation Tips

How many slides should I have?

I generally plan one slide for every three minutes I am expected to be speaking. Exception: if I’m showing visual images or screenshots, I may choose to do these much more quickly, passing them by the audience rapidly to give the sense of “there are a lot of these things.”

Do not trust the local technology.

Do not assume that the Internet will work. Take screenshots or screen video of the sites you want to demonstrate. Less stable but quicker, load them as tabs in a tabbed browser and flip through the tabs as you talk (but if you accidentally click a link, you may not be able to reload if the internet connection is not good). Do not assume that you will be able to demo audio from your computer unless you specifically ask.

Do not trust your own technology.

Your computer may fail or may not cooperate with the projector. Burn your presentation onto a CD, put it onto a USB drive, and make one version of your presentation in PDF (because that will work even if the laptop you borrow doesn’t have Keynote or Powerpoint.

Your slides are not speakers’ notes.

I believe I do more effective presentations when the things I would use as bullet points are not seen by the audience but instead are spoken by me. I generally show a visual image, or a slide with a single phrase, and I talk through my “points.” It’s boring for an audience to see points on the screen and hear you repeat them; they can read much faster than you can talk, so there’s no surprise.

Public Speaking Freaks Me Out!

I believe that fear of public speaking is a totally normal default setting for human beings. In prehistory, if that many pair of eyes were looking at you, it meant that you were dinner.

The only effective cure for public speaking phobia is desensitizing yourself by doing it a lot. If you haven’t done it a lot and you are nervous, or very nervous, make that the first thing you say to the audience (“I’m not used to/have never done any public speaking and I’m very nervous. I hope you will be patient with me.) Then the audience is on your side. Everybody loves an underdog.

Sweat a lot? Wear a dark colored jacket, and reduce the amount of your shirt the audience can see. This may make you hotter, but the audience will not see your shirt getting wet. Buy a real handkerchief and use it; if you do, say, “These lights are hot.” A lot of times they are, and would be even if you were not nervous.

Protect your voice.

You should have both a glass or bottle of water AND cough drops. I prefer a bottle with a cap or squeeze top (yes I have knocked over the glass during the presentation). Best solution: bring your own. Unwrap two lozenges and put them on the podium. (Karma points: bring extras for other speakers and hand them out before the session starts).

Don't suck: Rehearse your presentation WITH A TIMER.

Get a regular old cheap kitchen timer. Set it for the amount of time you’ll be talking. Now, give your talk. I do this alone in a room at my house or a hotel room. Is my talk too short? Too long? When I do this out loud I ALWAYS discover that my talk flows better if I change the order of some slides. I find that once I do it once I can’t really stop myself from doing a few more partial or full runthroughs, because I want it to be good and I generally talk about stuff I really do love and enjoy thinking about. This shows in the final presentation, and is probably the major element behind my best talks, along with moving away from using slides as speaker notes.

Try not to move the microphone after you’ve started speaking.

It amplifies sounds like setting the base down, or the creaking of the holder, or the movement of the mike against fabric, if it's a clip-on. Adjust it when you start and leave it there unless it’s really not working. (This doesn't apply to handheld mikes, of course.)

The microphone must be in front of your mouth.

If you’re looking to the side at your slides and your mouth is not pointing towards the mike, you will have big differences in audibility. A clip-on mike should be over your sternum; if you don't have a tie or buttoned shirt, put it on a lapel about five inches below your collarbone. If you're wearing a t-shirt, don't clip it to your collar; it's too close and your chin gets in the way. In that case, improvise and hold it like a really tiny handheld mike.

Don’t get too close to the microphone.

It should be close, but you don’t need to be right on top of it.

Take lots of business cards.

You will need them after your talk.

Write a note to the organizer.

Organizing conferences is a major bitch. I once threatened to quit a job that had me trying to beg speakers onto panels, because it was really a huge organizational challenge. Few people thank them. Go ahead, copy their boss, repost it on your blog, copy the other panelists on this mail (not least because this might prompt them to chime in with their own praise). Usually all these people hear is complaints about unavoidable technical or logistical issues.

Below you will find a link to a downloadable PDF. My Event Prep worksheet is useful to people who are traveling to conferences as a speaker or panelist or are giving a talk locally. It puts everything you need to know and do to handle the logistics of your talk on one page, including:

Conference details
-- organizer's name, phone, email; conference facility name, address, phone
Presentation details
-- how many minutes? Are slides expected? Is there Internet access in the room?
-- did you send your bio? Have you put your presentation on a USB drive or CD, just in case? Do you have enough business cards?
Travel and packing -- Their travel agent or DIY? Flight details. Do you need a suit? If so, does it need to be drycleaned? Did you remember to pack the appropriate shoes (I have many shoes bought at the last minute in faraway cities so that I didn't have to wear my ratty sneakers with my suit). Need a haircut?

Lisa's GTD Event Prep Sheet


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