Taking a break while working on presentations

I’m taking a break from working on presentations. Not a long break – there’s still a lot of work that needs to be done – but I need to get myself back into the swing of preparing presentations after spending so many weeks doing development. This means stopping when I can tell my mind is resisting, figuring out why, and tweaking how I work until it works again.

Many people would rather watch presentations or flip through slides than read blog posts or books or search results. for presentations. I really should just become okay with slurping in tons of information, digesting it, and regurgitating a summary.

The core of the resistence: I’d much rather build cool websites than talk about trends. Development is clear. You know what you know. You know when you’re making progress. You know when you’re correct. At the end of the day, things are better.

Presentations are a whole lot fuzzier. There’s this entire Jacobian struggle with a topic, trying to get your arms around it, struggling to understand and be understandable. You’re never quite sure if people will actually change their lives (even a little bit?) after listening to you. I always try to influence people’s lives through presentations. Why spend time preparing or speaking for anything less? But then there’s more risk of rejection – or worse, apathy.

I try to use presentations to change my own life, too. At least I learn something, try something, do something. Besides, all the ideas become part of me, raw material for unexpected combinations in the alchemy of learning.

It’s a struggle to hold down the imposter syndrome that threatens to choke me. I remind myself that these rough presentations can be drafts for people to improve on, perhaps the spark that triggers something else. It’s okay.

Maybe I should stop accepting presentation invitations for now, and focus instead on creating new presentations as a way of deadline-less deliberate practice. I can commit to giving them in person only if I’ve created and revised them already. Maybe I should do what Jonathan Coulton does: set the challenge of making a Thing a week. He’s brilliant and he writes funny songs. Maybe I’ll have more fun making presentations when I get better at making presentations through practice.

Ways I can get better at making presentations:

  • Research: Find sources, collect statistics and quotes, read extensively, keep notes.
  • Organization: Experiment with structures, revise presentations, organize thoughts.
  • Design: Experiment with graphic design. Try text again. Play with images. Don’t get boxed in.
  • Delivery: Practise. Watch other people’s presentations for inspiration. Experiment. Find the fun in this again.
  • Sandra Neubauer

    Hi Sacha – I just decided to visit your blog for a little break from working on a presentation. Pretty cool to find you writing about exactly that! I love your presentations and slides (looked at some inside IBM and on slideshare for inspiration). I always found them to be easy to follow and with really clear messages. But it’s somehow comforting to hear that creating them is a struggle even for you. :-)

    I like your ideas about how to get better. I’ve been thinking about that, too, lately. A thing I wanted to try was to turn books into presentations as I read them for practice and I also thougth about starting a collection of image ideas for abstract concepts like teamwork, networking, mobility… — Sandra

    • http://sachachua.com Sacha Chua

      Sandra: I’ve flipped through a number of excellent visual book summaries on Slideshare. =) Definitely a great way to distill a book, practise presentation design, and reinforce your learning!