On presentation skills

Our lovely People Team (don’t call them HR) have recently started an internal learning curriculum where anyone in the office can offer to give a talk on any topic and anyone else can sign up to attend. There’s a wide range of learning on offer, from meditation and mindfulness to Excel training and intros to html and CSS. The topics are both broad and niche, if that’s technically possible. I offered to do one on presentation skills as it’s something I’m good at, I enjoy doing training and it’s something I know most people don’t like. So these are my top tips…

My top 5 presentation tips

1. Choose your words carefully

You set the tone of your talk through the words you use on your slides. Be as concise as possible and choose interesting words over dull ones. It may sound obvious, but also get someone else to proof read for spelling or grammatical errors. If you’re presenting to grammar or spelling pedants, you lose them as soon as they spot a typo.

2. Never reveal more than one line of text

A common mistake people make is to fill slides with text. This just means half your audience will read the slides and not listen to you. And you can compound this by reading each line out, which just makes a presentation feel like someone’s reading a blog post out loud. Which is dull. Try to focus on one point at a time and bring your audience with you. Use the *appear* animation in powerpoint to stack points and reveal them one at a time.

3. Remember the rule of three

For this I’ll just quote wikipedia (albeit a wikipedia entry that needs a citation):

The rule of Three is a writing principle that suggests that things that come in threes are inherently funnier, more satisfying, or more effective than other numbers of things

4. Interact with your audience

Make eye contact. Look around the room. Ask questions. Sitting for an hour listening to someone talk can be dull if you don’t feel like they’re engaging with you. The old “stand up if you have/do/think/believe something” trick is a good one to use. Getting people to stand up stimulates them, makes them active instead of passive and is a common way to engage with an audience.

5. Speak slower than normal

This is one I struggle with, and one I notice a lot of others do too. And it’s hard, as you’re usually nervous before giving a talk and the adrenaline kicks in. But when you speak quickly, it’s hard for people to catch up. Put slides in your deck to linger over and help you pause. Especially if it’s an important point. Take deep breaths as a way to slow down, and walk around if you can.

6. Check out my slides 😉

As I spent a long time coming up with some slides – I mean, they had to be good if I’m supposed to be the trainer! – I thought I may as well share them and see if anyone else has any good tips to add. Obviously the slides don’t mean as much without my commentary, but I’ve done a bit of editing to make it easier to follow on slideshare. And that’s another top tip – if you’re sharing slides online, do a version of the slides with more explanations so they make sense without a spoken commentary. It has lost all my fancy fonts though, so try to pretend that it looks a little bit prettier than arial… :/

I delivered the training as a two part course, where the second part was getting people to present on something they knew about to make them feel comfortable about presenting. And the selection of presentations delivered was awesome – from the story of the F1 season so far, a guide to winter cycling and how to survive a zombie apocalypse – and it was great to see the guys take my advice on board and be much more confident presenters. Training win!

The funny thing about putting this talk together was that I realised I often didn’t take my own advice and it made me work a bit harder on putting more structure to my talks and thinking more about the delivery. I even nabbed some slide templates from my presentation skills talk for an external talk, and you can see the before and after versions on my previous blog post.

My fave presentation tips from others

As for inspiration, my favourite blog post on giving presentations is probably on the Bolt Peter site – I’ve definitely taken a lot from it and I think it’s the single most useful thing anyone could read about presenting. I also found this TED talk on the structure of storytelling really compelling, but I’ve yet to manage to shoehorn in something as exciting as the iPhone launch into anything I’ve presented. Yet…



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