Archives For Technical Presentations

How often do these little indignities repeat in your professional life?

  • You give a presentation about something important, but everyone ignores it.
  • You are asked to propose a solution, but shy away from doing it because you lack the skills or confidence.
  • You get overlooked by everybody — including your boss — because other people sound like they know more than you do.
  • You get passed over for a promotion, because people don’t understand what you’re talking about.
  • You watch a colleague get credit for an idea you proposed earlier but with less poise.

You may have great ideas. You may know more than other people. You may be an expert in your field.

But what good is your experience and knowledge if you can’t communicate it? If you can’t make people pay attention? If you can’t make them value what you’re talking about and want to do something with it?

Knowledge isn’t power.

Putting knowledge to use is power.

And communicating knowledge — in writing and in speaking — in a way that lets people understand and act on it is one of the most valued skills in business today.

Simplify Technical Presentations“Our lives are frittered away by detail. Simplify. Simplify.” -Henry David Thoreau

Thoreau’s quotation applies equally well to most technical presentations.  They waste an audience’s attention—they fritter it away—by delving into too much detail. And simplifying them almost always improves them.

Because you are the expert in the topic you’re addressing, you probably know way too much information to present in the time you have available.

Knowing so much is a good thing. It gives you confidence as a presenter. And it makes you credible to the audience.

Trying to present everything you know is a bad thing. Doing so confuses, bores, and turns off your audience.

How do you know which details to present and which to eliminate?

After identifying and validating all the details that are relevant to your topic, follow these…

Three Steps to Simplifying the Amount of Detail in a Technical Presentation

Step 1: Categorize

Sort the information you’ve assembled, placing similar items into a particular category. The kinds of categories will vary depending on the topic, your audience, and your objective.

If I were an expert in wine (I’m not) and I were speaking about wine to a group of enthusiasts, I might group wines by type: red, white, blush, sparkling, and fortified. Or I might categorize them by price: cheap, moderate, expensive. I could sort them by country or region.

If I were making a proposal about adopting a new software system for my company, I might group my information into 1) the problems with the current system, 2) what has already been done to remedy those problems, 3) users’ complaints, 4) alternative systems, 5) their pluses and minuses, 6) transition risks, 7) implementation schedule, and 8) total cost of ownership.

Step 2: Prioritize

Rank the categories you’ve created in terms of importance.

All of the categories might be important, mind you. But given the audience’s needs and the time available, it’s your job as the expert to determine which are the most important.

Step 3: Eliminate entire categories

Begin by cutting the big stuff. Prune off whole limbs before snipping away at the leaves.

I recommend focusing on three to five categories.

So to the wine enthusiasts, I might speak about moderately priced red wines. Given more time, I might speak about cheap, moderately priced, or expensive red wines. Or I might speak about expensive red and white wines.

To the company seeking a new software system, I might speak about 1) the problems with the current system (including users’ complaints), 2) alternative systems, and 3) their pluses and minuses (including risks, implementation schedules, and total cost of ownership).

Don’t fritter away your time or the audience’s attention by presenting too much detail. Simplify. Simplify.

Don't Give Dumb PresentationsI work with smart people. With people who run businesses or lead universities. With engineers and with senior researchers who have doctorates in subjects I’ve never heard of. With authors and small business owners.

And I frequently (several times a month) observe other smart people giving presentations.

And I’ve come to the conclusion that smart people give dumb presentations…frequently.

I define a dumb presentation as one that is disjointed and confusing. It lacks a central theme. It leaves people wondering, “What was that about?” or “What am I supposed to do now?”

A dumb presentation is a wasted opportunity both for the audience and for the speaker.

Why do otherwise smart people give dumb presentations?

Continue Reading…

Trey Parker and Matt Stone, creators of South Park, offer advice about storytelling that can help anyone creating a PowerPoint presentation.

Many Most PowerPoint presentations are ineffective, confusing, and/or boring because they lack cohesiveness and flow.

You know how it goes.

Presenters show a slide and discusses it. (You hope they don’t simply read it to you.) When they finish with that slide they say, “next slide.” Then they discuss it and say — you guessed it — “next slide.”

Entire presentations can be are a series of disconnected information and ideas: “There’s this and this and this and this and this…”

The unanswered question is: How does all of this hold together? How does one idea lead to another? Is there a logical connection?

The most important words in PowerPoint presentations aren’t on the slides: they’re between the slides.

The segues — the transition sentences — from one slide to another are what turn a series of disconnected information and ideas into an insight audiences can understand and use.

That’s where Parker and Stone come in.

In a lecture at NYU they describe how they create stories for South Park. On a large whiteboard they outline a series of “beats.” (A beat is the smallest unit of a story, a piece in which something happens.)

If the beats are linked by the words “and then,” Parker and Stone insist “You’ve got something pretty boring.”

They suggest eliminating every “and then” and replacing it with either “therefore” or “but.”

Not “this happened and then this happened,” but “this happened, therefore this happened” or “this happened, but then this happened.”

Try it the next time you prepare or practice a PowerPoint presentation. Every time you catch yourself saying “next slide,” substitute “therefore…” or “but…”

Figure out how the information or ideas on one slide lead into the information or ideas on the next. Do they build logically (“therefore…”)? Or do they logically raise an objection or another consideration (“but…”)?

As the expert you understand (I hope) how your material holds together. Don’t assume that your audience understands. Show them.

Check for comprehensinoCan you ever be sure people know what you’re talking about?

We often assume that people understand us – what we mean, what we intend, and what we want. But, sadly, it isn’t always the case.

People who are seemingly smart and good-willed all too frequently misinterpret what we say. And, to be honest, we aren’t always as clear as we think we are.

I learned this lesson from my parents. They were college professors. They were bright and articulate. They were married for 48 years, and even at the end they managed to misunderstand each other frequently.

So how can you know that you’ve got your point across and, furthermore, that people have understood you?

Continue Reading…

Don't tell jokes in a speech.The stupidest piece of advice ever given speakers is “Always begin a speech with a joke.”

Don’t do it!

Unless you’re a professional comedian and the audience is already warmed up and primed to laugh, do not — I repeat, do not — start your speech with a joke.

Ninety-nine percent of the time, you’ll bomb. The other 1% of the time you’ll get a polite, halfhearted response. And where do you go from there?

Humor in a speech, on the other hand, is almost always appreciated.

When you tell a joke, you’re trying to make people laugh. When you use humor, you’re wanting to amuse them. You’re happy if they smile or chuckle.

Humor makes people more likely to like you. It weakens their resistance. It’s like Mary Poppins’ spoonful of sugar: it helps the medicine go down.

To be humorous without trying too hard, follow these rules:

  1. Laugh at yourself, your foibles, your mistakes.
    Self-depreciating humor is the safest and surest way to win people’s hearts.
  2. Write it out.
    A sense of surprise, clever wordplay, exaggeration and embellishment, amusing anecdotes, and ironic twists get better with the kind of refinement and precision that comes from writing and rewriting.
  3. Rehearse.
    Paradoxically, it takes practice to use humor so well that it sounds spontaneous and unscripted.
  4. Keep it clean.
    Avoid embarrassing, insulting, or offending your audience. Don’t laugh at others or make them an object of ridicule.
  5. Don’t tell listeners what’s funny.
    Saying, “This is really funny” is a setup for failure. Simply tell your story or make your witty remark and allow the audience to respond. If they laugh, great. If they don’t, move on.
  6. Follow the AT&T rule.
    Is your humor Appropriate to the subject and the audience? Is it Tasteful? Is it Timely?

Even if your humor meets those criteria, remember: Less is more. So keep it short. Avoid long stories or complicated setups. And limit how often you use humor in a speech.

After all, as humorous as you may be, you still want to be taken seriously.

I distinguish, somewhat arbitrarily, between a presentation and a speech.

Presentations and speeches both serve a purpose, but a different purpose. They are different beasts, and they deserve to be handled differently.

Presentations Are Informative

In the business world most people make presentations.

A presentation communicates information so that people understand it and can do something with or about it.

A presentation’s goal is to educate or inform audiences to take action.

Check out The 25 Best Slideshare Presentations of 2013 and you’ll see what I’m talking about.

The top-rated presentation is titled Internet Trends. It is, according to the description, “filled with over 100 charts, stats and trends on digital, technology and economic issues that affect us all.”

An effective presentation is clear, accurate, and detailed. You want everyone in the audience to understand exactly what you mean.

A presentation is persuasive, if it is any good. You want people to do something — preferably what you want them to do — as a result of listening to you.

PowerPoint can be an effective presentation aid, because it allows you to display information…even “over 100 charts, stats and trends.”

Presentations tend to be matter-of-fact, prosaic, somewhat unimaginative almost by default. The title Internet Trends, for example, seems designed to elicit yawns.

Speeches are Influential and Inspirational

Few people these days give speeches.

Preachers, politicians, coaches at half-time, military leaders before a battle, and motivational speakers are the main practitioners of speeches today.

A speech shapes how people think and feel about an issue or topic, and changes their behavior as a result.

Churchill’s wartime speeches portrayed the war not as a doomed effort on the part of the British, but as a life-or-death contest between civilization (the British empire and way of life) and evil incarnate (Nazi Germany). His speeches steeled people’s resistance and gave them courage and hope to carry on.

An effective speech is evocative. It uses words and phrases to activate people’s imaginations, to call forth their memories, and to elicit the feelings associated with them.

Speakers don’t — or shouldn’t — project pictures for the audience to look at.

Speakers tell stories and create images that people picture in their minds.

Words — the right words — without pictures or external visual stimuli force the mind to supply its own images. On their own, words trigger the imagination, which in turn calls forth a flood of memories and emotions.

PowerPoint is not the friend of a speech. It keeps people in their heads, in their rational, conscious minds, divorced from their imaginations, emotions, and memories.

That’s why I titled my book Real Leaders Don’t Do PowerPoint. What I really meant to say is that real leaders don’t make presentations (which use and should use PowerPoint); they give speeches.

Speakers play with words, the way a poet or playwright does. They’re not interested in pinning a concept down to a single meaning that is the same for each person in the audience. They know — and they are pleased by the fact — that each individual hears a different message (shaped by his or her experience, wisdom, and needs), draws his or her own conclusions, and resolves to take his or her own action as a result.

Presentations and speeches both serve a purpose, but a different purpose. They are different beasts, and they need to be handled differently.

What do you think? Do you agree or disagree?

People who aren’t even in sales — project managers, engineers, analysts, programmers, construction workers, designers, architects — make sales presentations all the time.

They may not be the lead presenter. They’re often part of a presentation team.

And the presentation may not be called a sales presentation. It may be called an interview, or an oral proposal, or a pitch.

To prepare yourself or your team for a successful sales presentation (whatever it’s called), begin by answering three sets of questions:

  1. What does the customer/client want?
    Why do they want it?
    How acutely do they want it?
    How will you help them achieve or obtain what they want?
  2. What does the customer/client NOT want?
    Why do they not want it?
    How badly do they not want it?
    How will you help them avoid or minimize what they don’t want?
  3. How is your solution (your product or service) different from / better than the competition?
    What is the difference?
    How does the difference benefit the customer/client?
    What evidence proves both the difference and the benefit?

There are, of course, other questions to ask (and answer) when preparing for a sales presentation. (See How to Plan an Oral Proposal.)

But these three questions get at the heart of any successful sales pitch: knowing what prospects want and don’t want, how you will help them, and why you’re better than the alternatives.

How to plan a technical presentationWhen you prepare a technical presentation, there’s one question — the most important question — you need to address.

The single most important question for a technical presentation is: What will the audience do with the information or idea you’re presenting?

Answering that question will require you, of course, to understand your audience. What are their roles and responsibilities? What do the already know about your subject? What do they need to know? How are they are affected by it?

Answering that question will determine everything you say and show during your presentation.

Answering that question will determine the level of detail you present. Do you give a high-level overview (an executive summary), or a comprehensive and detailed analysis, or something in-between?

What will the audience do with the information or idea you’re presenting?

  • Will they give or withhold permission for you to proceed with a project?
  • Will they decide whether to purchase your product or retain your services?
  • Will they make a report about it to their superiors or to a regulatory agency?
  • Will they implement a new process or carry out a new procedure?

Technical presenters often want to explain what they know in great detail and at great length. That’s what makes so many technical presentations confusing and boring to most audiences.

Most technical presentations — especially those in the business world — are not about educating audiences in-depth. They are about giving people in the organization the information and insight they need to get their jobs done.

The executives of a healthcare organization, for example, don’t want the IT director to educate them about the intricacies of the latest software update. They want to know just enough to be reassured that operations won’t be negatively affected, and to be able to reassure regulators that people’s medical records will remain confidential. The analysts in the IT department, on the other hand, may need detailed instructions about working with the update.

Knowing how the audience will use the information or idea you’re presenting will keep you on target. It’ll help you prepare your presentation. And it will help you determine whether you’ve been successful.

The success of a technical presentation can be determined relatively easily. Are people able to do what they need and want to do as a result of listening to you?

Check out How to Plan a Persuasive Technical Presentation.

Speech coaches and trainers often perpetuate myths and misconceptions about presentations and public speaking.

I begin with the assumption that giving a speech is both an art and a skill.

Public speaking an art in that it requires a certain amount of creativity.

You have to come up with (i.e. create) a good idea to begin with. You have to put it together in a logical and persuasive structure. You have to use words and phrases and, sometimes, stories in a clear and evocative manner. And you have to deliver your speech with at least a modicum of drama.

Public speaking, like any art, is also a skill.

It has its own somewhat complex, somewhat variable set of requirements, rules, guidelines, and principles to learn, practice, and master. To give a speech — a good one, at least — you have to be able to plan and create one, explain your idea clearly in a limited amount of time, connect with an audience, begin and end a speech, overcome fear and project confidence in front of an audience, answer questions, and think on your feet.

Public speaking isn’t as complex or demanding a skill as, say, performing brain surgery or rocket science. But then again it’s not as simple or easy as riding a bike.

Beginning with that assumption — public speaking is both an art and a skill — I’ve developed my list of…

5 Things Speech Coaches and Trainers Won’t Tell You about Public Speaking

Continue Reading…

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...