It’s presentation season – time when we start crafting our slide decks for the PASS Summit, the SSWUG Virtual Conference, SQLBits, SQL Connections, the QuestConnect Virtual Conference, you name it. Today, I’m passing along my presentation tips, and starting at the end….
How to End a Presentation
Marketing gurus say that in order for audiences to really respond to your message, you have to finish up with a call to action: a specific thing you want your audience to go do. At the end of a successful presentation, your attendees will want to act on your words, but they’ll need your words, your sample scripts, and your recommended reading links in order to do it.
Don’t make the audience scribble down a dozen long links and bullet points. The people at the back of the room will strain to see the screen, and even if they care enough to write ‘em all down, they’ll probably get a lot of it wrong.
Make it easy for your audience by putting everything they need in one place.
Bring People to Your Web Site
Build a single web page on your site with:
- Your slides
- Your recommended reading links
- Your scripts in a downloadable format
- Your related blog posts on the topic
Yes, include the slides. Some people like to print out a copy of the slides later as a reminder. Some people might be so inspired by your talk that they’d like to repeat the same talk to their own user group.
Scared of them stealing your work? Don’t be – they’re probably still going to use your resources page because you did such a great job of compiling a ton of useful links in one place. This in turn brings more people to your site, and when those new visitors come to your site, they’ll know the presentation was yours.
To build a short URL, WordPress bloggers can use the GoCodes plugin, which gives you your very own URL shortening tool. After installing it, click Tools, GoCodes, and you can build your own short links. If you don’t use WordPress, sign up for an account at Bit.ly and generate your own custom shortlinks. Make the links catchy. For example, in my performance tuning presentations, I point to http://www.BrentOzar.com/go/faster. It’s easy for me and the audience to remember, and it makes people chuckle.
Update The Page Over Time
After the presentation, you’ll get emails from people saying, “That presentation was great! Here’s another link you should tell people about.” You can add that link to your resources page, and immediately everybody else who goes to your resources page will find out about that link too.
Sadly, some of your sample scripts will be wrong. Your audience will helpfully point out those errors and give you an updated version with your goofups fixed. Sometimes they’ll even expand on your scripts and give you improved versions with more features. Update your page whenever this happens, and share the new code goodness with the rest of your audience.
Use Your Blog as Resource Material
In the list of recommended reading materials, include your own blog posts. Going forward, as you write more related material, don’t forget to revisit your resources pages and add your new blog posts too. These resources pages can even serve as inspiration when you’re starved for blog ideas. Go to your resources pages, look at things you’d like to add to your presentation, and blog about them. Your blog entries can serve as presentation fodder, and vice versa.
Whenever you write a piece of content – a blog entry, a whitepaper for a vendor, or even an email to your coworkers – think about other ways you could use that same content.
When I get a question from a reader or a coworker, I often think right away, “This is a great question, and I bet lots of other people out there have this same exact question. I’m going to write my response in a way that I can copy/paste the whole thing straight into my blog, or into a SQLServerPedia wiki article.” When I start writing something that way right from the beginning, it makes the copy/paste much easier. I don’t have to go back and clean up my language or reword it to exclude a company or product name – I just write it for the public from the start.
I don’t usually pre-think presentations in this manner, because presentations require a lot of design work. Presentations take crafting in order to build a story. However, when I’m building a presentation, I’ll search my own blog for material because I’ve already done a lot of the hard work.
My Blogging Guidelines Work for Presentations, Too
Remember when I told you to use images in your posts, and how you should make sure they’re licensed with Creative Commons, and how you should link back to the source?
As you’re compiling presentation material, you’ve already accumulated screenshots and funny photos, and you’ve linked back to the source so you can get higher-resolution copies. You can use that same material again in your presentation in order to tell your story.
And remember when I told you to start scheduling posts in advance, and if you had enough of them built up you could start bundling them into a multi-part series on the same topic? A multi-part blog series is an excellent foundation for a presentation. For example, I put a lot of work into this 3-part blog series:
- Virtualization Part 1: Why Your Sysadmins Want to Virtualize Your Servers
- Virtualization Part 2: Why You Should Virtualize SQL Server
- Virtualization Part 3: Why You Shouldn’t Virtualize SQL Server
Months later, when I was looking for presentation topics, I realized I could break those up into slides, talk through ‘em, and presto, lots of material. The bulk of the hard work – tying the material together into a logical order and telling a story – had already been set up for me.
But Everybody Already Read My Blog!
I hate to break this to you, but they didn’t.
And even the ones who did have already forgotten about it.
Heck, I’ve started to write blog posts about a topic, hit up my favorite search engine to clarify something, and then found a blog post I’d already written months/years ago on the exact same topic. I know I write a lot, but that’s still awkward.
Just because you covered something once in a blog post somewhere doesn’t mean you can’t repeat it in a presentation. Like the Barenaked Ladies said, it’s all been done. Bring the same material, but bring what you’ve learned since, and spice it up in a fun way.
Besides, delivering a presentation is completely different than writing blog posts. Good presentations don’t consist of words on the screen – in fact, that’s probably the best way to categorize a bad presentation.
The Slides Are Your Enemy
Your audience can only pay attention to one thing at a time, and some of your attendees can’t even focus at all. Sometimes I wish I could lace the water bottles with Ritalin.
The next time you’re attending a presentation, look around the room. Check out all the things that are distracting your attendees:
- Blackberries and iPhones
- The view outside
- Other attendees talking
- People getting up and going to the bathroom
If you’re going to hold the attention of your attendees, you have to view everything in the room as your competitor – and that includes your own slide deck. Told another way – do you want the audience to remember you, or remember your deck?
Save the Sentences For Your Blog
When people have the choice between listening to you or reading, they’ll take reading every time. Need proof? Watch what happens when you change slides. Every pair of eyeballs in the room goes straight to your slide deck. Attendees stop processing information coming out of your mouth until they’re done reading the deck.
Beginning presenters are victims too – the words on the slide capture their attention, and they end up standing with their backs to the group, reading words off a slide deck. Ripping as many words as possible off the slide cures that problem right away.
If you absolutely have to put a sentence on a slide, it should be the only thing on the slide, period.
That slide image above with Grumpy is 150 pixels square. This is actual size for your attendees sitting in the back row. Your slides need to be perfectly legible at this size. If you’re not sure, take a screen shot, resize it to 150 pixels wide, and ask yourself if you get the point of the slide. If not, it’s time to cut things down. I’ve got 17 words on that slide, and it’s too much.
PowerPoint doesn’t make this easy – they use absurdly small font sizes as defaults. Go into your PowerPoint templates and set the minimum font size to 36. And yes, that includes code snippets – if your code is more than twenty words, do a demo.
Plan to Fail: Build Demo Slides
People say they want demos, but what they really mean is that they don’t want any more of your gawdawful slides.
If you insist on doing a demo, try it first with coworkers. If they don’t yell “Wow, that’s cool!,” then your demo is not gonna wow attendees either. Hone down your demo to be as short as possible and only show the highlights. Think of your demos as the highlight reel, not the 9-inning baseball game. Your demos need to be as finely honed as your slides.
You’re not going to practice your demos enough, and they’re going to fail. Even the best presenters have demo problems. Plan for it by adding several pages in your slide deck showing screenshots of your demo one step at a time. That way, when all hell breaks loose, you can switch back over to the deck and say, “Well, that went over like a lead balloon. Let me show you how it should have looked.”
When You Bomb, Ask Questions
I tell my audiences to interrupt me whenever they’ve got questions. When things are going great and I’ve got a really interactive audience, 15-20 minutes per hour will be used up with Q&A. When the audience doesn’t interrupt, I gotta find out why.
Is the audience awake? Start a dialog. When you finish a slide, turn to a member of the audience, make eye contact, and ask them a question about the slide. Pick a different audience member every time. Don’t ask whether they understand what you’re saying, because people will usually smile and nod even if they’re clueless. Good prompting questions include:
- “You were nodding – have you used this before? What’d you think of it?”
- “You were shaking your head – have you tried this and had problems?” (Don’t be afraid of audience members who disagree – it just gives you more chances to start dialogs with more audience members.)
- “How many of you have tried something like this?”
- “What’s the biggest thing stopping you from doing this?”
Is my presentation relevant to them? During a cloud computing presentation in Germany, the attendees just weren’t biting. I knew it wasn’t because the audience was quiet – I’d seen them partying the night before. About halfway in, I started asking if attendees could see themselves using cloud-based computing, and if not, why not? Turned out there were strict laws in Germany about putting any customer data onto the internet, even on private servers. That was a crummy fact to find out halfway through a cloud computing deck, but at least I knew what was going on, and I could adapt my presentation from that point on.
Do I need to work on my presentation skills? Maybe the audience is awake and your material is relevant, but you’re, uh, a little too calm. Asking the above sets of questions will help make you a better presenter by livening things up, as will clearing off your slides with less text and more pictures, but sometimes the problem is your delivery.
Fire Yourself Up with Inspiration
Before I start writing a presentation, I watch a TED talk one of the Steve Jobs keynotes on YouTube. I also surf through my list of presentation bookmarks in Delicious. I’ve got articles about how to present like Al Gore, how to present like a rock star, and so on.
Before the presentation, I play my favorite upbeat music. I’ve got an iTunes playlist called “Firing Up” that I use to put myself in the right frame of mind to go out there, kick ass and win people over. If I’m doing a webcast from home, I’m the only one hearing it, but when I’m doing in-person events I play the music over the meeting room loudspeakers. After all, the audience needs to get fired up too!
All this sounds like a lot of work – and it is – but the results pay off. I won Best in Show (and runner-up too!) at the last SSWUG Virtual Conference, and I consistently get very high survey ratings. I want your presentations to be that good too, because you’ve got great information that I’d love to learn.
I’m just tired of sitting through your boring, word-filled decks. Help a brotha out.