Presentation Tips

As we pass the midpoint of the semester, I wanted to provide a few pointers for your presentation, which you will all be doing by the end of the term.

Research Your Authors

The authors who we are reading have public personas and are active online. Follow them on Twitter. Read articles they’ve published on their blogs or other websites. Watch presentations or media interviews they may have given.

Aim for 20 Minutes

Your presentation should last 20 minutes. That might seem like a lot, but it’s really not. Practice ahead of time so that you can properly “scale” your presentation to this length.

Analyze, Don’t Summarize

There’s no need to summarize the chapter you’re presenting: we’ve all read it. Instead, prepare an analysis of the argument. You might consider isolating two or three main points that you want us to consider. Tell us about those three points at the beginning of the presentation.[1] For each abstract point, present an original concrete example. Consider asking us to analyze this example with you. It will for a more interactive session.

Don’t Read Your Slides

Slides are useful because they allow your audience to visualize what you’re discussing. For example, if you want to discuss the breakdown of New York City neighborhoods, it’s helpful for everyone to see a map. Similarly, if you want us to look at how advertisements follow you on the web, then show us a few webpages to illustrate that point. Charts and tables are really useful, too.

Avoid, as much as possible, having text on your slides. People will want to read the text and will stop paying attention to you. But if you’re going to use text, use only bullet points that build one-at-a-time, never complete sentences. Your slides should be presentation tools, not the presentations.

Whatever you do, don’t use your slides as notes.

Keep Us Engaged

Consider that we’re sitting in the audience waiting for your pearls of wisdom but our attention spans are small. A student in a previous semester had the class perform an exercise during the presentation by asking us to put a search term into Google and compare everyone’s results. We got to see one of her points in real-time. We all dug it.

Do something like that to break up your presentation. “Research” shows that hard as we try, we can only concentrate for ten minutes at a time. Change things up to reset our attention clocks.

Get More Pointers

Gabe Zicherman offers some suggestions on how to give a great keynote. He writes, “being a good speaker at conferences and events is not unlike being a great performer. You need to know your material, intuitively understand your audience, bring something new to the table, and keep yourself in great physical and mental shape to do your best.” One of the more compelling points I took from his article was to learn from standup comedians to keep your audience engaged and to appear excited about your material.

Zach Holman has an entire website on public speaking. Some of it is not relevant for our class, but some it is, such planning your talk and getting your slides together.

Richard Forno dispels the notion that Powerpoint is the point of your presentation. It’s not. He emphatically writes, “Technology – if used – should enhance the quality of a presentation, not become the sole reason for its existience.”

Prefer to listen to something? Respected Apple blogger John Gruber and productivity guru Merlin Mann have an extended conversation about several topics, but the most relevant for us is the discussion on Powerpoint and on public speaking.

  1. One the best presentations I’ve ever seen is the keynote presentation Steve Jobs gave at MacWorld 2007 to introduce the iPhone. He immediately tells everyone that he’s going to introduce three revolutionary products: a new touchscreen iPod, a phone, and an Internet communicator. The twist is that it was one device and then explains each part: the iPod part, the phone part, and the Internet communicator part.  ↩