Sunday, July 20, 2008

Best Practices for Creating Presentations

In my experience sitting through presentations, the ones which have me bored in no time at all are the ones where the slide comes up, I read it, and then have to sit and wait for the presenter to read the slide out loud, without adding anything of value.

The opposite end of the spectrum is presenters who have complex slides densely filled with good information, and who talk knowledgeably about their subject while barely touching on the slide content. In other words, they overload their audience with information... if you read the slides, you miss the speaking; if you pay attention to the speaking, you miss the slides. Having a printout of the slides doesn't really help either, because who has time to go over all the reams of paper we acquire each school year? Printouts just get thrown in a pile of papers for "future reference".

So, in terms of best practices in developing a presentation, slides should be simple, and the presenter must know their material well enough to talk extemporaneously on the topic. This way, the slides essentially serve as a table of contents for the points the speaker will be touching on, and the focus will be on the speaker (I suppose speaking style is another topic entirely... but since teachers practice public speaking every day, we tend to be pretty good at it. Anyone with serious stage fright should consider joining Toastmasters).

Depending on the purpose and audience of the presentation, making the presentation rely on the speaker for the bulk of the information is also a good practice shouldst one hope to build a reputation as a speaker and earn part of one's living (or simply build one's professional reputation) by public speaking. Presentation printouts should not include detailed information, but rather contact information so that the presenter's expertise can be further tapped (another presentation, consulting work, and so on).

In terms of the technical aspects of the presentation, I personally would tend to stay away from too much multimedia. A presentation should be pretty, but in a dignified way. Instead, the presenter needs to develop a presenting style which is engaging and keeps the audience enthralled. Anecdotes relating to the subject are always more engrossing and memorable than facts and figures. If you can deliver a real-life example of how or why something works, it will always resonate with an audience more than a dry recounting of the theory behind something.

Remember, when a workshop/lecture/speech is over, the audience never remembers the slide show. They walk away with an impression of the speaker.

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