How do you make technical presentations without confusing people and putting them to sleep?
How do you present technical information in a way that wins people’s attention, respect, and cooperation?
How do you stand out as someone worth listening to?
Here are 10 tips for making more effective technical presentations:
- Know your audience.Who are they? What do they already know about your topic? How much do they understand about your field and the background of what you’ll be addressing? Will they understand the jargon, terms, and acronyms you typically use? What are their main concerns, problems, issues? How will they be affected by what you’re presenting?
- Start with the end in mind. Know what you want to accomplish, why you’re giving a presentation in the first place. Ask yourself what you want the audience to do as a result of attending your technical presentation.
- Present one—and only one—main idea. Your idea may be, probably will be, a complex one with several points. But it should address only a single idea. You may, for example, present an update on your technical project (that’s your one idea) that develops three main points (the progress you’ve made so far, the main problems you’re currently facing, and the next steps you’ll be pursuing).
- Clarify. Explain the terms and acronyms you use. Unless you know that everyone in your audience understands exactly what you’re talking about, explain it as simply as possible.
- Keep PowerPoint in its place. Your PowerPoint slides are visual aids. They are not your presentation. Do not stand off to the side of the room in darkness and act as if you’re simply the soundtrack to your slides. You are the main event. You are the presentation.
- Use PowerPoint well. Most technical presentations rely on PowerPoint. And they suck big time. They’re crowded with too much information, and they’re confusing. They don’t have to be. Check out Bruce Gabrielle’s Speaking PowerPoint: The New Language of Business for ideas that will change how you use PowerPoint.
- Repeat. Audiences have limited attention spans, and they hear only about one third of what you say. So repeat your main points. If you have something important to say, say it at least twice during your presentation. Better yet, say it a third time.
- Use analogies. Explain technical concepts that are unfamiliar to your audience by likening them to something that they do understand. An analogy draws similarities between two different objects; it does not assert an exact identity. What is the concept or process you’re presenting like?
- Invite questions. Q&A is the most beneficial part of any technical presentation. Do not avoid it, out of fear that you may be asked a question you can’t answer.
- Practice. Never get up in front of an audience without 1) knowing what you’re going to say, and 2) having said it aloud in practice at least once. Talk your presentation through with and without notes. If you can’t remember how one point leads to the next, your audience will never understand or remember.
I find that technical experts, with a little guidance, are quite capable of giving very effective presentations. If they are not doing so, it isn’t because they’re inherently incapable. It’s because they haven’t learned how. They’ve never had the right training, and they’re imitating the technical presenters they’ve seen throughout their career.
Technical presentations don’t have to be a boring waste of time. On the contrary, they can — and frequently do — contribute to an organization’s success.