7 Top Tips for a Successful Technical Presentaiton

Christopher Witt —  August 23, 2013

woman presentingMost TED Talks are technical presentations. They educate audiences — often in an entertaining way — about scientific or technological breakthroughs. (TED stands for technology, entertainment, design.)

But most technical presentations are not like TED Talks. How can they be?

In business people simply don’t have the time, expertise, coaching, or resources ($$$) that are required to create and rehearse a technical presentation that’s on par with the TED conference presentations.

So how can people in the trenches give a successful technical presentation?

Here are 7 Tips That Working Professionals Can Use to Create Successful Technical Presentations

1. Begin with a plan.
Treat your presentation like a project. Determine your goal, what you want the audience to do as a result of listening to you. Then create a strategy for accomplishing that goal. Know your audience. Figure out what they need to know and feel about your topic in order to do what you want them to do.

2. Create an outline.
Before opening PowerPoint, block out the main points of your talk on a single piece of paper. Start with an introduction, which will introduce your subject, why it’s important, and what you’ll be talking about. Set out three to five (preferably three) main points, which you’ll develop in some length. Make such each point flows logically into the next. You might, for example, a) define the problem, b) explain its causes, and c) propose a solution. Conclude by summarizing your main points, and issuing a call to action. Eliminate everything that doesn’t advance your goal. 

3. Use the fewest PowerPoint slides possible.
Use slides to illustrate your ideas, not to serve as your script.. Charts, graphs, pictures, illustrations and the like are all illustrations. Words (e.g. bullet point lists) are not illustrations. If your PowerPoint presentation will be used as a stand-alone document, consider creating two editions: one (the shorter one) that you use during your presentation; one (the longer, more detailed one) to distribute either beforehand or afterwards to those not in attendance.

4. Make Q&A essential.
For every five to seven minutes you speak, allow one to two minutes of Q&A. If people ask you a lot of questions, it’s a good thing. It doesn’t (necessarily) mean that you left something out or that you were clear. It means that people are engaged. Prepare for the questions you might be asked as thoroughly as you prepare the rest of your presentation.

5. Practice.
Never say in front of an audience what you haven’t previously said out loud to yourself. You can — and should — think your talk through silently, talking it through in your mind. But you have to say it out loud (preferably standing or walking), if you want to make sure it comes out right. Practice. Practice. Practice. I promise you, you’ll improve your presentation amazingly.

6. Be bigger and louder.
When you increase your volume, you add energy to your voice. And energy is the enemy of monotony. No one expects you to be a Shakespearian actor, but they would like you to show a little enthusiasm. Speaking louder will do that for you. Use the same kind of gestures you normally use, but make them bigger. Don’t rehearse them.

7. Breathe.
When you get nervous — everyone gets nervous — taking a breath or two will calm you down. No one’s going to notice that you’re breathing. Breathing will slow down your racing heart and head off that panic attack. It will also keep you from sounding like you’re going to pass out.

There are, of course, more advanced tips for creating and presenting a successful technical presentation. But these tips are do-able and relatively easy to implement.

What tips would you add?

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Christopher Witt

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Chris Witt was born in Los Angeles, California. He currently lives in San Diego. He works as a speech and presentations consultant, an executive speech coach, and an orals coach.

5 responses to 7 Top Tips for a Successful Technical Presentaiton

  1. Great list!
    I also find it useful, when I practice, to record a video using my iphone or ipad. I can check out my body language and it tells me how long my presentation is. It is so easy to think you have spoken for much less time than you actually have.
    Another tip is to make use of pauses in the right places, they make such a difference!

    • Allesandra,

      Thanks for the tip. Carrying around my iPhone to video my clients has made my life so much easier. And it’s much less stressful for my clients.

      Like you, I’m a fan of the well-place pause. I like using one before and after I state (in one sentence) my main point.

  2. Those are great tips, Chris. I especially like that #1 covers what you want the audience to do. (Most talks lack a call to action of course, so the audience often wonders what the whole point was!)

    For #3 (“use few slides”), I’d say it’s easier to manage changes if there’s only one version of the deck. So to make a handout, a good tip is to write content in the notes pane below each (sparse) slide, and then Save As to a PDF. (In the Save As dialog box, an Options button appears that lets you save your notes pages in the PDF, which include your slides too.)

    Also, for #5 (“practice”), you can improve even quicker by videoing your rehearsals, which you can do with just your cell phone. The thought of seeing yourself might make you groan, but surely it’s better to see and address some poor practices in private rather than continue to do them in plain sight of everyone else!

    Lastly, this video shows a great technique (backed by Harvard research) for reducing nerves, and I recommend it from personal experience:
    Boost testosterone – present better! (Regardless of your sex)

    As so many talks are technical, there’s a huge need for specific help with those. So thanks for sharing your tips!

    • Craig,

      Thanks for the tips. I’ll look up the video you recommend.

      I find that using video is a real help for most clients under certain circumstances, but there are times when I’ve found it counterproductive. It’s especially helpful if the person’s tic is something relatively easy to correct; when it’s a long-standing habit and I have a very short time to bring out a person’s best I try my best to increase their confidence and to teach them a new habit (without directly calling attention to the bad habit that I want them to get rid of).

      Sounds like you do a lot of work in this field. Do you?