During my time at school and university, I’ve given and watched a fair few presentations. While I don’t profess to be a great presenter 1, I can proudly say that my presentation skills have improved — particularly my slide making skills — to the point of semi-decency.
This post will discuss delivering a decent presentation in two parts: (1) Preparation and (2) Delivery.
Amat victoria curam (victory loves preparation)
Understand the Purpose
Why are you preparing this presentation? What are you trying to achieve? What is your message?
Your presentation should be built with the purpose clearly in mind. Once you’ve understood the ‘why’, the ‘what’ and the ‘how’ should follow easily — kind of like a knob of butter on a warm, Teflon-coated slide (for those who like silly similes). Of course, this may involve some research, study, analysis, whatever, but now you’re guided by a rationale.
Make Awesome Slides!
Put some thought into the design of your slides. As with any quality work, craft it with attention to detail and nurture it. Make sure you pay attention to spelling and grammar. And get it proofread — preferably by someone else — if you want to avoid instances like this.
But for a good design, you need to have good content. So get good content! That means doing some solid research (that’s a post for another time).
Content precedes design. Design in the absence of content is not design, it’s decoration.
These resources have helped me immensely with the visual design:
- You Suck at Powerpoint
- 10 Tips for Designing Presentations That Don’t Suck: Pt.1 (and Pt.2)
- Note & Point - Great place for inspiration (and learning too!)
Tools to Make Awesome Slides
Advanced Tools and Methods
In the past, I’ve used these tools to create slides:
- Adobe Illustrator (paid; free trial available) - here’s one of my past presentations
- LaTeX Beamer) (free) - here’s one of my past presentations and the source
These ‘advanced’ methods mentioned here are non-trivial to set up and use. They require some prior training to use effectively, so if you’re not already familiar with either of these, then it might be worthwhile considering some friendlier alternatives (given below). However, these two provide some powerful and attractive features to make your slides something special.
Less Technical, Friendlier Options
Here are some friendly tools that you might be already be familiar with:
Whatever tool you choose, pick one that’s comfortable to use and understand well then take your time to construct each slide2.
Avoid Causing Death by PowerPoint
Don McMillan gives an hilarious and insightful presentation about Death by PowerPoint in PowerPoint:
- Design each slide with a purpose (avoid decoration and low-quality prebuilt templates)
- Use visuals (e.g. high-quality photos, comic strips, mascots etc.)
- Don’t pack too much into each slide — if you have lots to say, then spread information across multiple slides as necessary or simply just say it
- Rehearse, then rehearse some more (try to record yourself or practice with a test audience)
There’s so much to consider with delivery. Many aspects can be touched upon: body language, the art of rhetoric and speaking, audience interaction and so on. Most of what you’re after can be found via Google or books.
So, in this section, I’ll provide some general advice and resources that may help you with your goals.
Rather Very Useful Resources
No One Really Cares
Okay, this may not be entirely accurate. But in school and university, more often than not, you’re delivering to a largely uninterested and unwilling audience. It’ll either be a waste of your fellow classmates’ time or it’ll be entertaining. So think of this way:
- either you do really well and get rewarded accordingly (with popularity, grades, what have you) or
- you do average — which most presentations fall into — and descend into the realm of forgettability (which also isn’t really so bad in the larger scheme of things, maybe except for your ego).
Learn to Speak Properly
Learn Basic Psychology and the Art of Persuasion
Keep learning and reading. Some useful and informative resources to get you started: