How to Deliver a Killer Technical Presentation

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

Call to Action
Call to Action

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 and generate your own custom shortlinks.  Make the links catchy.  For example, in my performance tuning presentations, I point to  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?

Payback time!

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:

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.

Youre So Vain, You Probably Think This Shirt Is About You
You’re So Vain, You Probably Think This Shirt Is About You

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
  • Laptops
  • 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.

Save one of your presentation slides as an image, and then resize it to 150 pixels across.  This is actual size for your attendees sitting in the back row of a big room.  Your slides need to be perfectly legible at this size.  If you don’t get the point of the slide at this size, it’s time to edit.

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

Say Hello to My Little Friend
Say Hello to My Little Friend

Before I start writing a presentation, I watch a TED talk one of the Steve Jobs keynotes on YouTube.

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.  You’ve got great information that I’d love to learn, but I’m tired of sitting through your boring, word-filled decks.  Help a brotha out.

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60 Comments. Leave new

  • Check out the series of videos that Greg Low did on his blog about presenting. Should be in your collection:

  • I’m right there with ya on the “The Slides Are Your Enemy” bit. I always strive for a “Three bullet points per slide” but I don’t always make it.

  • I have turned to Presentation Zen for a lot of inspiration and guidance for designing presentations. There are two books that should be on your bookshelf: Presentation Zen and slide:ology.

    No one is expecting a Steve Jobs keynote when you take the stage, but as you mentioned nearly everyone in that room is suffering from NADD and that asking them to digest the dissertation that is your slide deck is a recipe for failure. The trouble that I have seen time after time is unless you are giving a keynote, conferences expect your presentation deck to be the handout. They also expect you to conform to their template which can be limiting depending on how much creative effort you wish to put into your presentation. Properly design, your presentation deck would be nearly useless as a handout. Your handout almost needs to be completed before you design your presentation. And both should be available online after the presentation is given.

    • Rob – I polished up your HTML comments there to fix the links. I agree about the books, but I’d disagree about “No one is expecting a Steve Jobs keynote when you take the stage.” With the increasingly online delivery of folks like Steve Jobs and the TED talks, more and more people are expecting a higher level of polish. I used to be mesmerized by really in-depth technical presentations and I’d forgive really boring deliveries, but now I’m less tolerant of it. There’s just too many good presenters and presentations out there, and I’ve found myself walking out of more and more presentations over time. If you’re putting me to sleep, I’m going to go find somebody who won’t.

      • You’re correct, Steve Jobs OCD approach to keynotes should be your target. You should know your material inside and out so that your presentation is a storyboard and not a crutch filled with “bullet point hell”. But as the presenter it is best to find out what your design freedoms are with regards to any conference templates. Once you know your limits then you know how best to use the stock photos or creative commons images that you are planning to use in your presentation design. (No one uses clip art anymore these days, right?)

      • Brent, I completely agree. I’ve attended a ton of community presentations over the past couple of years. The majority have appeared to have been thrown together in a couple of hours and have no continous thought pattern throughout the presentation. When confronted, most presenters say “It’s just a code camp presentation, what did you expect?” Well, I expect that people take pride in who they are and the work that they do. I expect that someone who is going to get in front of 30-100 people wants to be thought of as a professional that cares about the image they are portraying. I appreciate the quality of a presentation possibly more than the content of a presentation.

  • Good stuff. I’ll add that in with Scott Hanselman’s for my talk next month

  • Frigging EXCELLENT post. A couple of points though. First, most of us have already built out all our slides for Connections & PASS. I turned in my Connections slides two weeks ago, for crying out loud. WHERE WERE YOU?


    I’m not sure I agree with your demo bit. I try hard to spend most of my time flashing stuff on the screen. Usually, you’re presenting to fellow geeks. More code time & less slide time (even if the slides are good) is, I think a better balance.

    All of this is really good advice. Some of it is common sense and some of it is presentation skills 101, but there’s quite a bit here that’s unique and fantastic, especially when combined with the other must-have basic info. Well done.

    Oh, and I like the idea of getting yourself ready for the presentation. To get psyched up, I like to shadow box a bit. I wish there was a heavy bag in the speaker room at conferences. It’d be easier to get wound up & ready to present that way.

    This post could be construed as a service to the community. Again, well done.

  • Thanks for the presentation tips. I’m going to be giving my very first presentation for the Space Coast .NET User Group in October. The topic is going to be on HMI (human machine interface}. My intention is to provide information that is both interesting and valuable. Every bit of advice helps.

  • Forgot to ask why you are not leveraging Slideshare for your presentations?

    • I used to, but the viewing experience is horrendous. I kept getting bad feedback from people who said they’d rather watch them with video at SQLServerPedia because we do the “talking head” versions. I stopped putting time into the SlideShare versions and started recording webcasts instead.

  • It helps if I correctly link the article 11 Top tips for a successful technical presentation

  • Watch out for the music. I got dinged by an attendee at TechEd this year for playing some music he didn’t like (I’m assuming it was a he–I actually have no clue). He apparently wanted to check his e-mail and said that my music choice gave him a headache. He was kind enough to write all of this, in great detail, in the comments to explain why he gave me a 3 out of 5. He went on to say that my presentation was spot-on. Which is annoying, because I think the ratings should be all about the presentation, NOT what happens the 20 minutes prior. But such is life, and that low score cost me a spot in the top 10 for the show. Of course had I not played the music and gotten myself suitably fired up, who knows if I would have done as good a job in the presentation… Difficult question, but I’m not sure whether I’ll ever play music again in the future.

    • HAHAHA, checking his email – wow, that’s epic.

    • That’s very unfortunate to hear – no more music? I was kind of surprised – out of the hundreds of evals (or thousands) that I imagine you’ve likely received, does one “3 out of 5” really matter in the grand scheme? I don’t know your scores but I’d imagine you mostly get 5s anyway (like Paul and Kimberly despite their huge 3pt font slides 😉 ). In ten years of doing presentations and classes, I’ve had my share of silly evals too (with dings about my tendency to play jazz – “I don’t like jazz!”) but I’ll be damned if I’m going to sit in a quiet room for 30 minutes prior lol.

      I saw something from Bill Hicks, the famous comedian, last week in an article on his advice to other comedians that said, “Only do what you think is funny, never just what you think they will like, even though it’s not that funny to you.” It applies here – just maybe substitute “good” for “funny”. The bottom line, for me, is that I can’t be myself if I am overly concerned with pleasing everyone in the room. I just give the best presentation that I can and do the things that I like and that I think make for a great presentation. If it upsets or irks a very small percentage of the folks, I’m not unhappy with that because I don’t think anyone can be liked by all. Obviously if it upset people for the wrong reasons (“Speaker was not prepared”) then that’s a different kettle of worms.

      • Playing music before a presentation is kind of a religious debate – I know many people who always do and always will, and plenty of people (including us) who never will. I personally don’t like it when people do it, so I don’t do it myself. In today’s constantly-connected enviroment, people aren’t sitting twiddling their thumbs at conferences either before sessions start – I’d find music distracting from checking email etc. But that’s just me 🙂 I’d rather not upset *anyone* in a presentation – you’ll never be dinged for *not* playing music, so why do something that’s almost guaranteed to annoy at least one person in the audience? My 2c.

        • I love it – it’s still the “Be yourself” idea. You don’t like it [music] and you think not having it makes for a better presentation so it’s totally you.

        • Somewhere in the blogosphere, I read that instead of taking time at the end of your presentation for any “Thank you’s” or other acknowledgments to put them in a repeating slide show leading up to the start of your presentation. That way as people stroll into your session they can see this ahead of time and it doesn’t clutter or detract from your actual presentation. It might also be a good place to put information about where to find the presentation materials after the conference as well.

      • The sole bad review I had from TechEd this year essentially said “Stop making jokes, they’re not funny” (among a couple other negative comments). Strange, cause 3/4 of the room was laughing when I made wry comments.

        I’m not going to stop trying to add a bit of fun to my sessions, there’s no way I could do an hour of completely dry technical facts. I’d be asleep, nevermind the audience.

      • Scott, you’re 100% correct. One rating of 3 out of 5 is indeed no big deal in the grand scheme of things. But to be that close to top 10 at a major conference, and then lose it because of something totally stupid like that, really leaves an impression…

  • Everything you say is very true – except, sometimes you can break the rules and it works. Both Kimberly and I both commit the two cardinal presentation sins: 1) we both have lots of words on our slides; 2) webothspeakveryquicklyunlesswe’reinEuropeorAsiawhenwe slow down a little bit, and yet we’re consistently top-rated at TechEds etc. Now, I’m not trying to brag, just saying that although there are lots of rules, don’t be afraid to experiment outside of them once you get more experienced. If you’re doing a very deep technical presentation, if all your slides only have 17 words on or less, how will the attendee be able to remember all the points you made when they read the slides a month later? This really only works if you just don’t look at the slides at all, so know your presentation flow off by heart. Ok – I’m rambling a bit but wanted to make the point that less-is-more sometimes isn’t the best way to go. No offense Brent 🙂

    • Paul – “if all your slides only have 17 words on or less, how will the attendee be able to remember all the points you made when they read the slides a month later?”

      The answer is that they shouldn’t be reviewing slides in order to remember what you said. This is where the very first thing I said, “Build a resource page on your site,” comes into play. Your audience should be reading written documents, not reading slide decks. PowerPoint is not an effective tool for sentence delivery. Instead, build a list of supporting blog posts that reinforce what you said during the presentation, and that’s a much more effective way for audiences to learn topics.

      I would also venture a guess that you’re top-rated because of the content, not the delivery. Nothing against your delivery, of course, but you guys could mumble through a blanket and still be top-rated because your content is so good. 😉

      • Yeah – we have those too, but I’ve found that people like to re-read slide decks and hand them around colleagues too – people use both mechanisms IMHO. A slide deck can act as a reference as well as a presentation, the trick is not making it too crowded and not making the sentences too long – many people nowadays don’t have time to read through long posts or whitepapers, so a series of bullet points summing up the salient points is very useful.

        I need to try the mumbling through a blanket thing 🙂

  • Agreed with Paul on the words, but the fact is that most people are inclined to put way, way, way too much on each slide. By telling them to put next to nothing on the slides hopefully they’ll slide down to about the 50% point and hit that balance. There really is nothing worse than seeing a slide with a full paragraph of text. It’s impossible to concentrate and usually the speaker ends up standing there just reading it off.

    • When I see slides full of text I just ignore the slide deck completely and concentrate on what’s been said. I can read the essay later. If the speaker’s just reading the presentation I will very often walk out. It means that I can get the full content from the slide deck later. If it’s a conference there’s always another session that’s worth attending.

    • Yeah – paragraphs are a total no-no. I always try to limit it to one line of test per bullet (but often fail miserably).

  • Brent, I’m asked for a copy of my deck every single time I present. Even when it’s just straight bullet points. People want to review decks later, for better or for worse (I agree with you, it’s for worse–even I can’t use my own decks for reference most of the time). Perhaps we need to make better use of PPT notes or something. People don’t want to visit a Web site. They want to take the deck and stick it on their desktop so they can look at it later at their leisure.

  • My rule-of-thumb now is 4 bullets per slide, one line of text each and 10-12 content slides for an hour presentation. I still need to go through my PASS decks and trim them down. Still too much there.

    Demos are my bane right now. I tend to stretch the ones early in the session out too long and have to rush the ones at the end. Neither’s good.

    The resource page is a great idea. Beats just giving out the blog’s main address and saying that the material is/will be available somewhere there.

    I had a series of demonstrations of poor presentations at my university’s postgrad seminar last week. I can’t blame the presenters, M.Sc and PhD students, I suspect many of them had never done any form of public speaking before, and it showed.

    There was the ‘read the presentation from the laptop screen’
    There was the ‘speak with back to the audience’
    There was the ‘paragraphs on slide’
    I was actually embarrassed to get mentions as one of the better speakers of the day. Unfair advantage.

    • Ah, great point. To give some idea, right now I shoot for 40-60 slides per hour. I usually get through about 40 slides, but I like having the extras in for padding just in case the audience isn’t responding, or if they’re already familiar with a topic. On some slides I ask for a show of hands to see who’s already used a particular tool or feature, and if everybody’s already seen it, I won’t cover it. Having the extra slides lets me keep them entertained for an hour without repeating stuff they already know.

      • Wow. Almost a slide per minute? I talk so much that I’ll take easily 4-5 minutes to cover what’s on one slide. Dunno if that means I should spread the slide material out or talk less.

        My pass presentations at the moment are 11 content slides for 1 hour 15 and 10 slides for the 1 hour session.

        • Yeah, I break out the slide material. Almost everything I used to have on individual bullet points now gets a slide of its own with an accompanying image. The visual people really seem to respond when you can show them something to back up what you’re talking about without diving off into a demo.

          If you have a topic header, then four bullet points each covering a part of the topic, then people read through the bullets and they know most of what you’re going to say before it comes out. They focus on a later bullet and ignore everything you say until you get to that point.

          • I gotta say it – there’s no way that (a) I could follow someone moving “almost a slide a minute”, and (b) I don’t see how you can hit that unless you absolutely ignore the idea that there is an audience. People need pauses, rhetorical or thinking questions, time to coalesce what’s on the slide vs. what you are saying (I “float” the slide – it’s often background material for me to refer to in my story/presentation) – 90 seconds per slide does not allow time for any of those in a meaningful/interesting presentation. I don’t see how there can be any meaningful audience participation/interaction/ingratiation if you have that many slides to cover in that short of a time frame. Even if, in a deck of 60 slides, you have 20 separators/outline slides that still would leave “40 slides per hour” – whoa! It would likely take me two hours to go through 40 slides and I’m PDQ with the slides!

            I’m with Gail on this one. I try for three bullets and three minutes per slide as my mark but, as so many have mentioned, I generally fail.

          • Scott – you’d be surprised at how easy it can be if you use the slides to introduce concepts or to tell a story. For example, in my SSWUG Virtual Conference presentation on the Top 10 Developer Mistakes That Won’t Scale, the opening goes something like this.

            Me: “Before we start, let’s agree on two definitions. We need to talk about…”
            Slide: shows two big words: “POSSIBLE” and “PROBABLE”
            Me: “Possible means it CAN be done, but Probable means it will probably happen. There are some people who can use just about any feature in SQL Server, and they can make it scale.”
            Slide: shows picture of Albert Einstein
            Me: “Triggers, UDFs, cursors, they can make magic happen when these guys are at the wheel. But for the rest of us, success is only possible, not probable. We might be able to make some of these scale, but the odds are against us, because the rest of us ride the bus to work.”
            Slide: shows the short bus
            Me: “The short bus.”

            Inside of sixty seconds, I’ve covered three slides, told a joke, and helped establish a point. That’s why I can rip through that number of slides in 60 minutes – sometimes the slides are punch lines. If you start using slides as secondary material instead of your primary material, you’ll be surprised how much faster they fly past. Watch one of the TED talks to see what I mean.

          • In my mind, that strategy works great for short non-demo presentations or for short bursts in a technical presentation but not for the entire thing – however that’s the “in theory” part of me talking; if you say it works for you then I believe it. I love that style when I’m watching a marketing presentation but when I’m wanting to learn about SQL replication, for example, I like what Jack said – “Don’t tell me how, show me how.” With 40-60 slides to cover in an hour, you don’t have time to do that sort of thing.

          • Scott – agreed, now do the math. I said I cover 40 slides in 1 hour. If I’m doing 3 slides per minute, I’ll exhaust those 40 slides in 13 minutes, leaving 47 minutes for demos and Q&A.

            I can’t emphasize this enough – I know you think this is impossible, but until you watch a Steve Jobs keynote or a TED talk, you’re not going to get it. Watch a full-blown Apple keynote with demos and you’ll see how it can work for you.

          • Okay – I’ll go check out one of those. I think that I agree with either Adam or Paul (can’t remember who said it) that a slide deck like that would not be interesting to me as an attendee. That’s not a criticism or even a suggestion that this is a bad thing; it’s just acknowledging that a slide deck of 60 one-sentence slides with markers saying “Demo now” is not engaging slide content without a presenter. To do that sort of presentation takes a “one in a million” presenter (congrats!) and, unless you physically can watch that person give the presentation, the slide deck isn’t too helpful after the event. Again – not a criticism; just finding myself agreeing with earlier comments that I didn’t “get” at the time, I think.

            And I don’t mind saying it: I couldn’t do that style. It’s just too different from me 🙂 I’d like to think that nearly everyone who has responded in this thread is probably a “one in a million” presenter and we each have a unique style. Awesome!

            I hope this doesn’t come off sounding wrong – the web sometimes makes comments sound snarky when they are really said in earnest.

          • I’ve seen that kind of slide deck work very well, I watched Donald Farmer at TechEd Africa do something very similar. He can make it work, and he does it excellently. I seriously doubt I could do something similar though.

          • Okay – I just watched the first 7 minutes of the Steve Jobs keynote presentation at Mac World ’07. I made it through 7 minutes and, in the time spent on the deck, he was probably spending around 60 seconds a slide and probably covered 4-5 slides. However:

            1) That was not a technical presentation; it was a marketing presentation. I don’t know that this matters – I’m not suggesting that one technique used in one wouldn’t work just as well in the other.

            2) The slide deck was designed by a team of $100k graphic designers.

            3) There wasn’t a single bullet point anywhere – just graphics featuring products and him

            4) It would not have added any value to me as an audience member if I was given that slide deck as a takeaway

            So that wasn’t the one to watch, I think, to get what you’re suggesting for a technical presentation (or at least that wasn’t the section to watch). Do you have a link to a particular TED video or to a particular section? I don’t want to watch a 60-minute MacWorld speech TBH 🙂

          • Scott –

            1. That’s very true. I like to think of my presentations as marketing ideas: it’s my goal to get you to DO something at the end of my presentation. I have to convince you why my technique is worth implementing.

            2. Yep, and your slides are designed by a team of $100k SQL Server people – or at least, a team of one. By learning a little about graphics design, you can really take things a long way.

            3. Exactamundo.

            4. That’s the point. The slide deck isn’t for takeaway sentences. The slide deck drives people to your blog, where they get the actual content. That’s the first point I make in this blog entry – your blog is for complete sentences, and during presentations, the sentences should come out of your mouth, not on the slide deck. If you’re just going to put words on the wall, why would you even talk? Why not just put the words up there and you can advance slides until you get to the demos?

      • Holy cow. I’m running about 18-20 slides with the knowledge that I’ll have to skip past a couple at the end.

        Last year, during my virgin presentation at the PASS Summit, I ran out of material with about 10 minutes remaining. Talking about instantly breaking into a sweat. Now I always go in with more material than I need and just slow down or speed up on the last slides.

        • That’s a great point – rehearsing is so freakin’ important. I forget where I heard it, but there was a great quote: “If you don’t rehearse your presentation, you’re asking your audience to sit through your rehearsal.”

          • Well, then you need to rehearse speaking as fast as possible then. I rehearsed it four times and it was JUST on time each time. Ready to go, right? Wrong. It worked out. I just went into a QA & and ad hoc demo and actually got good reviews (except for one guy who pointed out that I ran out of material… hard to argue with him).

        • Finishing 10 minutes early is no big deal. Actually, I think most people wouldn’t really care. More than that might be an issue, though, and Q&A is definitely key. For example, the first time I ever gave a talk at a conference, the audience was just not at all interactive. I’d done the same talk at two user groups with friendly and alert audiences and finished in 80-90 minutes both times. At the conference, I ended in just under 40 minutes. Oops. Learned a LOT of lessons on that one. Sometimes you need to live through those experiences to figure out how to make them not happen…

      • Wow! Granted I’ve only put together 2 technical presentations but I’ve been ~15 slides for both and gone more than an hour. I could probably break them out a bit to 25 slides.

  • A few of the comments have a theme – avoiding criticism. The surefire way to avoid all criticism is to be an attendee rather than a presenter. As long as you do anything – ANYTHING – you’re going to have a critic.

    Personally, I gave up trying to please everybody a long time ago. I have fewer fans, but they’re rabid. I think of my “posse” as the loud & rowdy crowd, the people who are having the most fun. Yes, the sticks-in-the-mud that don’t even enjoy music will think I’m an obnoxious, outspoken wacko, and that’s totally okay with me. I subscribe to the Raving Fans theory of customer service.

    • I have to disagree with you a bit here – it depends on the circumstances of the presentation. If you’re presenting at a major conference and what you’re doing gets dinged every time (music, jokes, whatever) that says you need to evaluate and change what you’re doing (maybe not cut it out, especially wth jokes – watch a video of the presentation and see if you’re doing too many or they’re border-line), or you won’t be invited back, no matter how many rabid fans you have. Conferences, especially TechEd, pay major attention to audience comments and the scores – it’s all about the audience being as happy as possible with the sessions they’ve seen. That may mean you can’t be exactly yourself if you can’t play music, but you do the job you’re there to do (and being paid to do). Now, of course, paid-session conferences are just one of the venues to present at – things like SQLSaturdays and user groups are a lot more laid back and less stressful.

      I think people need to take where they are into account – sometimes you need to be more serious, sometimes you can be more yourself. It’s kind of like the ‘know your audience’ rule.

      • Yeah, I think you and I are gonna have to agree to disagree on these. 🙂 For example, I used all of these techniques at the last SSWUG Virtual Conference and got best-in-show (plus runnerup), and that’s a paid conference.

      • Suppose it depends how prevalent the ‘don’t do X’ comments are. If it’s just one person in a sea of otherwise good comments and high ratings it’s probably safe to ignore. If a third of the comments are complaining and the ratings are low, that’s a whole different story.

    • Righto, BrentO. It’s just a different style – for the same reason that you can’t please everyone, you can’t just have one style of speaker. Paul’s great for his reasons, you’re great for your own reasons, etc. Having a style in the first place is one of the things that sets someone apart from the herd and, as you point out, putting yourself out there is a guarantee that you will have critics. As the great composer Sibelius once said, “Pay no attention to what the critics say; there has never been set up a statue in honor of a critic.”

      • I agree with Scott. You’ve got to present in a way that matches your personality. I like to laugh and enjoy myself so I tell some jokes. I also like to interact so I ask questions and like the audience to ask questions as well.

        Sure if you have a bunch of negative comments about the way you present you need to make some changes, but one or two, just keep on going.

  • Great post and a lot of good comments from some top technical presenters. I work hard to keep slides to about 3 – 4 bullet points and only have paragraphs for a quote. I don’t do images usually and actually don’t like them unless they are truly relevant to the presentation.

    Demos are a must for most technical presentation. Don’t tell me how, show me how.

    Best idea is ending with a link to a resource page on your web site. I don’t do that and should start. My issue is I’m on blogger and I can’t attach files, or don’t know how to anyway.

  • To me the point comes down to your purpose. Are you teaching a class or doing a presentation?

    Recently I watched Brian Knight give a presentation at our local SSUG on SQL Server Analysis Services and it was clearly a presentation. You were not expected to be able to create Data Warehouses at the end of an hour.

    His style was more in tune with Brent, had many slides including some just for humor, and it was interesting to watch. Consequently it motivated me (even more than I was before seeing it) to learn SSAS.

    If you are teaching a class (several hours to several days), then perhaps slides and note taking are appropriate. If you are giving a presentation, you are motivating people to do something, such as purchasing SSAS classes from Mr. Knight.

    As usual, great article Brent.

  • Lots of discussion is going on here.

    I just wanted to add my bit that I enjoyed whole article as well comments here as well.

    Overall great stuff.


  • I read this article several times while preparing for my presentation at Southern New England SQL Server Users Group (on Oct 14th). I performed with greater confidence & the presentation was very well received by the audience. I wanted to thank you for that. Excellent to-do and to-avoid guides that I will refer to before preparing for any presentation. Great job Brent!

  • I have never given a presentation and I will be given a 15 minute one next week. I know how to dress professionally and I have a small written detailed but to the point written handout and gifts for all and even prizes if they answer questions during my Power point. The power point is very graphic made to get there attention about avoidable service calls and all one liners. The problem is I am not that good with PowerPoint but have some sound effects. I see a comment suggesting 1 minute per slide, would that be correct and if I have thirty should I spilt them on the pages? Also this is a 2 hour meeting and I will be the first speaker and want them to remember me. Can anyone suggest any great ice breakers if I notice anyone not paying attention? This meeting is in front of over one hundred employees including the president of my company that has never heard me speak and a group of employees that I have never met.


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