Stop annoying your audience

Sooner or later in any career, perhaps especially in IT, you’re going to have to stand up in front of an audience and give a presentation. It might be to management, to clients or even, if you’ve been struck by the next killer idea… to venture capitalists.

While the giving of presentations is hardly what one would consider a technical skill, it is never-the-less guaranteed to do far more to advance, or halt, your career, than all your hard earned in-depth knowledge of the flavour of the month operating system or programming language.

Teaching how to give a great presentation is beyond the scope of the space available, so I’ll take the cheap and easy road and merely point out what not to do, in order to give a good one.

It’s a foregone conclusion that if you’re in IT and giving a presentation, then you’ll choose to use something like Microsoft’s PowerPoint. With that assumption in place, here’s a half dozen JRTAs (Just remember this advice.).

1. “I know you can’t read this but!”

Sit through any ten presentations and I’ll lay even money that nine of those presenters will put up a slide so incredibly complex, detailed and convoluted, it is impossible to read, never mind decipher. As they place this marvelous creation in front of you, they’ll say “I know you can’t read this, but…”

Question to the expert? If you know we can’t read it… why are you showing it to us? Putting aside all pretense of being politically correct, this is the number one stupid, idiotic, bizarre (I mentioned stupid, right?) mistake made by technical speakers.

Suggestion? Don’t put up slides you know people can’t read.

2. You’re the presenter, not PowerPoint.

Do not place all the content of your presentation on the slides, leave most of it for yourself to present. Use the slides merely as reminders of what you have to communicate. Slides are useful and effective when used to present graphical information, but useless when used to convey passion and enthusiasm for your subject.

Suggestion? To find out if your slides contain too much of your presentation, practice your presentation without using the slides.

3. The audience isn’t illiterate.

Ahem, here’s a hint. The audience can read your slide, faster than you can voice the words. By the time you read the first sentence, they’ve read the entire slide and are bored to tears waiting for you to catch up.

Suggestion? Don’t deliberately bore your audience, they don’t appreciate it.

4. Can they read it at the back?

Fact: Nobody can read 12pt font from the back of the room… If the audience cannot read your slides, then you’re not communicating, you’re annoying them again. This would not be necessary to point out, except that most presentations are not legible from the back of the room.

Suggestion? Use nothing less than 24pt on your slides, 30pt is even better.

5. Can they read it anywhere?

There is a very good reason why ink is black, and paper is white… the high contrast between the two colours makes it easy to read the printed word. This isn’t news. Someone by the name of Gutenberg knew this a long time ago, but somehow far too many presenters have forgotten this bit of wisdom.

Suggestion? Don’t use yellow text on a white background, or black text on a dark blue background.

6. You have a finite amount of time, use it wisely.

Let’s all admit it from the start. We’re all geniuses, with egos large enough to shame the Sun, and more to say than will fit into the time allotted.

Tough. You’re allotted 45 minutes. Choose the most important things out of everything you know and tailor the presentation to flow smoothly for those 45 minutes. Yes. Yes. I know, you have so much to say yada, yada, yada… but, you only have 45 minutes so adjust accordingly.

Example? In this column I have only about 700 words to play with, out of a long list of possible JRTAs I selected the most important six. Presentations are nothing but articles penned by breath.

Suggestion? Don’t speak past your time…I’m up next!

de Jager is, you guessed it, a speaker. Reach him at [email protected]

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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