Presenting to Humans

 speaking presentations public workplace social-skills

Distilling your thoughts on a project into a presentation is difficult, but it’s even more difficult to talk about it. I’ve been sitting on a number of thoughts from my first internship and I wanted to compile them somewhere for the betterment of myself (and maybe even others).

Creating the Presentation

Design

A presentation is rarely the most interesting event an employee or student could attend. If those attending are not interested in the topic already, you need to find common ground with them somewhere. As unfortunate as it is, not everyone is going to be interested in the minute details of your topic.

Generally, you should look to make a presentation with a bit of style and flare to it. Typical presentation software will offer a number of colorful themes, fun animations and many tools for adding pleasing graphics to it. Even a little bit of effort in making it look visually pleasing can have great effects on your audience’s perception. Don’t go overboard though.

Composition

The content of your presentation is integral to it’s effectiveness - which is a metric you must understand before making it.

When I made my final internship presentation, I messed up big time – I thought I needed to compile my entire internship; everything I learned, thought, my mistakes and what I did into one quick slideshow.

I didn’t think about who was listening, I assumed they would understand a lot more about what I did. I used complex acronyms, referenced technologies outside of their field, and failed to explain numerous pre-requisite details (not that I should have).


When your presentation’s details go over your audience’s head they get confused; talking about complex things people don’t understand when you assume they do does not impress them - it makes them feel stupid.

“People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
    – Maya Angelou

Know your audience, and know how your presentation will make them feel.

What, Not How or Why!

A presentation is not intended to be a blueprint to re-do what you did. While describing specifics is allowed, you should describe what you did, not how you did it. Metrics are a good example of the ‘what’ you are looking for.


As an software developer, I enjoy talking about the minute details of my projects and problems – but it’s simply not what the presentation is for. If your audience is truly interested in those details, they can always ask questions (but remember to not get too detailed with your answers either).

Points & Details, Not Paragraphs!

It is important to understand that your presentation media is not a word-for-word description of what you should say. Presentations are a dynamic flowing commentary where the words you speak are chosen just moments before you say them. Your presentation should contain the central points (and some details) about what you will say.

Saying the Words

Presentations are a lot more than just slides in a powerpoint file – after all, the content is just talking points. If we were simply reciting words to our audience, we could have just sent them in an email. Presentations bring something else to the table - you.

Keeping Calm

It is incredibly common for presenters to get nervous during their presentation. With dozens of eyes looking at you, it’s easy to get anxious, no matter how confident you are going into it.

When this happens, it helps to know how to minimize the effects of stage fright and how to take steps to calm down.

Body Language

While the presentation is generally the primary visual your audience will be looking at, you’re there too! Presenting in an organized, friendly and optimistic manner will help keep your audience interested.

Movement distracts the audience from your presentation. In your slides it can help break up content or help maintain interest, but movement of your body is almost always a negative take-away.

Perhaps it need not be mentioned, but smile! Use an upbeat, dynamic voice. Stay in-line with your character, but do your best to display an infectious smile.

Generally, you want your stance to be inviting but relaxed.

Word Choice

Choosing the right word is very important as it can directly impact the audience’s mood and perception.


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