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My Presentation Process

I used to speak more often to groups. Its quite enjoyable for me and I hardly ever say “no” to invitations. Here is my process to prepare and give a presentation. It’s the same process I suggest to people just getting started.

Step 0: Define the Parameters
This is usually given to you. Who is the audience? How many people? How long to speak? Are there other speakers? Will there be a Q&A? Where is it? When is it? Someone else should give you this information.

Step 1: Decide the Topic
This is harder than you think. It has to be something compelling to the intended audience. Sometimes I am given the topic and other times I am given some leeway. Come up with a few options if you can. Ultimately, you don’t really know what you are going to say at this stage, but you have to narrow it down somehow. This should take less than 30 minutes, even if you agonize over it. Narrow it down quickly.

Step 2: PowerPoint Theme
I never use the same template twice. I don’t use the corporate theme, nor do I use the standard themes. I spend about an hour looking through themes. Now, you might be thinking, “An hour‽ WTF‽” Well, I’m not just thinking about the theme. I am starting to think about the topic. Im letting the topic percolate on the back burner of my brain. It’s good to force yourself to think tangentially from the specific problem. Come at it sideways.

Step 3: Pick a font
I seriously spend way too much time on fonts. Sometimes 1-3 hours screwing around on dafonts or Google fonts. I’m a total font dork. I generally don’t use the same font twice. The last presentation I gave, I liked a font so much, I purchased it for $15. It’s called Coffee and Tea. Great fonts make me happy and make the presentation come alive.

Step 4: Make a bunch of slides with no more than 3 words each
This is raw creativity in action. Note: Go for a general rule: 1 slide per minute of speaking time. 30 mins = 30 slides.  It is crucial that the slides do NOT have alot of words on them. You are trying to create an outline. The slides are blank except for a couple of words. This first draft should take an hour or so. Its a mental throwing up of ideas. Don’t hold back. You are listing everything you COULD talk about. NO holds barred.

Step 5: Add some pictures
The idea is to look at an individual slide and think, “What is one single picture that could illustrate this idea?” I go to Google images and use the search tools to change the size to Large.

The reason to use large is because the image should fill the page 100%. In other words, there is ZERO whitespace around the images. Smart readers will realize that this completely negates the PowerPoint theme. This is correct except for the title screen and thank you screen. Don’t over think it.

The other reason for large images is that it will not look pixelated when shown on a big screen or projector. So at this point you have a few pictures that perfectly illustrate a few ideas.

Step 6: Pick a conceptual theme for your images.
Look at some of your pictures. One of them is even more perfect than the others. It fits perfectly. Look at that picture and think what theme it might represent. One presentation I gave had all pictures of babies and children. Another one had all animated gifs. Another was 80’s television shows. One was all pets and animals.

Note: You are not just giving a presentation. You are creating an experience. A theme, a consistent font, a through-line concept, all help to make your presentation memorable and enjoyable.

Replace the other images by searching for more specific versions of your images. Google Images is a terrific resource for images. You really can find anything.

Proof: I randomly thought of something silly. A Corgi on a Boat.  Here is the first result:

Boom. God bless Google Images.

Step 7: Put in all the images and start to rearrange
The main work here is to find images for every slide. This is the lionshare of the time spent on the presentation. As you find images, go through the presentation from the beginning and think about the stories you might tell or things you might say for each slide. You will realize that some slides are lame and others belong in a different order.

Every time you put in an image, go through the presentation from the beginning. It’s practicing. This step should last hours and typically stretch over several days. It may sound tedious, but this is how you get comfortable with the content. If you want to present well, you should go over the content repeatedly. The process of the images makes it a little fun and quick.

Step 8: Transitions and other Polish
At this point you should have the slides in order with images on each slide. The words should be on top of the images. Use shadows, glows or little boxes around the words to make sure its readable. Put the words on the top vs. the bottom if you can. Make the font big enough to read from the back of the room. Don’t use the default instant slide transition. Also, don’t use Fade. Use one of the more interesting ones. “Push” is a good one to start with. Play with them and pick something interesting to you. They make the experience more enjoyable and make your presentation seem more professional.

Note: What NOT to do
Never ever ever put lots of words on your slides. No one wants to read your slides. If you have leave-behinds they can have whatever text you want. If you want to put in notes in the note section of the slide, go for it. But do not, please do not, make your audience read your notes while you read them out loud. It’s terrible and boring.

Step 9: Presentation day checklist

  • Show up early (at least 30 min)
  • Bring your own laptop, power plug, and dongles (HDMI is typical)
  • Bring a thumb drive
  • Don’t assume WiFi
  • Dress nice-ish (Shower, brush teeth)
  • Go to the bathroom and make sure you arent hungry
  • Test your equipment as early as possible
  • Have a remote slide thinger. Very helpful.
  • Don’t show your slides to anyone in advance

Step 10: Present
Speak loudly and clearly. Smile. Be yourself. Don’t think, just do. Pauses are good. Drink water. Don’t think about how its going. Just speak about the slides. You know what you want to say. You can take questions during the presentation if you are comfortable.

At the end, pause for a second and say, “Thank you very much”. This tells the audience to clap. Smile.

Step 11: Afterwards
Ask for feedback. Connect with people via LinkedIn. Meet people for lunch.

Presenting is pretty stressful for many people. The truth is that presenting is part of your career growth trajectory. It’s easier to climb the ladder if you can present. I believe that if you prepare the right way, people will respond well to you. I tried to make the list easy to follow, but make no mistake, it is time consuming.

If you need help with your slides, let me know. Good Luck.

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One Comment

  1. For business, I’ve mostly removed PowerPoint from any presentations that I make. I want the people I’m talking to be paying attention to me and what is being said. I don’t want any distractions. Of course, the challenge is that I have to be interesting and organized. That being said, if I need something visual for technical reasons, I would use a powerpoint, but I try to keep it really simple. I don’t give them notes on a powerpoint either (if I want them to take notes, I’ll hand them out to them in advance). Slides may be a graph that is too difficult to explain with words, or just large images to create a certain atmosphere, but in general they are just to reinforce what I’m saying (if I use them at all).

    And as you said, practicing the presentation over and over and over again is definitely the most important part. Not to memorize what you are going to say, but to be so familiar with the content that it just flows naturally.

    (I used to do a lot more public speaking that I do now, I kind of miss it)

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