Reflections: Random thoughts on presentations

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Not in any order.

– Focus on what people want. Whether you’re selling an idea or

teaching first-year students the joys of programming, you have to
show your audience what they’ll get out of the talk. Restructure
your talk if you have to. What makes sense for you might not make
sense for them.

– Don’t read off your slides. This is a canonical rule, but I’m still

surprised at how many people break it. If you summarize your points
using incomplete sentences on your slides, you’ll find it easy to
follow this rule.

– Break long slides into more slides. Whitespace is your friend. Watch

your font size. If it goes below 20pt, chances are you’re trying to
cram too much data on one slide.

– Tables full of data are evil. If you find yourself with a table of

numbers, see if you can make a graph instead. Make sure you choose
the appropriate type of graph. Bar graphs and line graphs show
growth and relative levels, pie graphs show percentage.

– Make sure your text is readable. Light-on-light is unreadable even

with drop-shadow. Be careful about dark-on-dark, too. Projectors
don’t handle some colors well. If possible, test under the same
conditions as your actual presentation. Try to take color-blindness
into account, too.

– Use your background as free advertising. Add a logo related to your

talk or your company. I like putting Tux on my Linux-related talks
because Tux is cute and the logo reminds people they’re listening
to, well, a Linux talk. Think subliminal.

– Animation should feel natural and be almost unnoticeable. You want

animation that just makes sense. Never use random or gratuitious
animation. Make sure each animation has a purpose. If you use slide
transitions, pick one transition and stick with it. You do not want
your audience to be going “ooooh, what a cool animation” unless
you’re selling them presentation software.

– I find it helpful to provide an overview on almost every slide.

../presentations/2004113-taming-the-todo.pdf has an example.
Some people like seeing the bigger picture when they’re learning
something. The overview also makes it easier for people to estimate
how far they’ve gotten in your talk.

One thing I’d like to experiment with would be using blanks in my
slide text. (Remember those fill-in-the-blanks from school? Right.) I
wonder how that will affect audience concentration…

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