Updated Jan 23, 2016
I have collected these tips from attending numerous events and conferences, for example:
SIME in Stockholm
LeWeb in Paris
Rework the World in Tällberg
Tällberg Forum in Sigtuna
TEDGlobal in Edinburgh
Biohacker Summit in Helsinki
Digital Health Days in Stockholm
The first two had a conventional setup with a moderator who introduced the speakers, and then let the speakers talk for 20-40 minutes, most of them using Powerpoint to illustrate their talks. I found that the majority of the speakers had interesting things to communicate, but the way they performed their presentation effectively eliminated most of the value for me in the audience.
SIME used a different method, relying on a moderator that held discussions with 1-4 invited speakers on stage. I find this approach much better, as it tends to focus on the issues and not on the speakers and the history of their companies etc. But it, of course, puts a lot of responsibility on the moderator who must be able to distill the value out of each speaker, but Ola Ahlvarson did a great job of this at SIME. The only thing I missed was visuals; the speakers should display the websites etc. as they are discussed. Using a combination of voice, pictures, video and text is always preferrable.
Since so many conferences suffer from these problems I felt that I must share my thoughts on how to hone your presentation skills. Comments are welcome; please help me add to this list!
The importance of presentation skills
It is very sad that so many influential, bright minded presenters with a deep expertise in their fields lose their audiences due to their poor presentation skills. It is also about respect for the audience. People pay a lot of money and travel from far away to attend conferences, so their time should not be wasted. Both the organizers and the presenters need to do everything they can to add value to the audience, so here are some useful tips.
.Advice for speakers
- Think carefully before the event: what does this audience want to hear? Hint: they are not interested in hearing how great you or your company are, they want to learn new things that can make THEM more successful.
- Find a story about people (yourself and others) that illustrates your message and tell it with passion.
Storytelling always beats lectures!
- Start by urging the audience not to take notes, say that you will post your presentation summary online immediately afterwards. Your presentation summary should not be all your slides. Instead, put together three (maximum 3!) slides that explain your key messages with pictures and very short texts.
- Keep an eye contact with the audience, and move around the stage, don’t hold on to the speaker stand! Use a remote clicker to control your presentation. Remember that 70% of your communication is in your body language!
- Engage the audience during your talk, at least every 10 minutes. For example by letting them vote on a question with their hands or green/red cards or mentometers.
- Speak slowly to enable the audience to take in what you are saying and increase their understanding, it also gives you more respect. Never try to cram a 30-minute speech into a 20-minute time slot, that is a big no-no!
- Be visual, use pictures and videos that illustrate your points. Read my lips: less text, more visuals! You can do great presentations without any visuals, but then you have to me a master storyteller.
- Design the slides so that they are easy to see from the back of the room. This means very big text sizes and images that fill the whole screen. The classic mistake is to sit in front of your computer screen and to design the slides for that short distance, so step back 2-3 meters and see if you still can see everything. Also, avoid using borders, they are just wasted space. There are never any borders at the cinema.
- Make your slides in the 16:9 format. The old standard 4:3 is outdated, look at your TV at home!
- Use a dark background on your slides, as it is easier to read for the audience and much better for the video cameras. (Yes, black text on white is considered easier to read, but that applies to large amounts of texts and we are not using that here, are we?) Also, a large projection of a white slide next to yourself in a dimly lit room will make you look darker and remove the focus from you.
- Avoid monotony by using variation and surprises in your slide styles during your presentation.
- Engage the audience! Ask questions and have them put their hands up, in order to raise the energy level in the room.
- Focus on 1, 2 or maybe 3 things that you want to talk about, never more than 3 things. Explain the problem you are working with and then tell the story and visualise the solution.
- Construct your presentation based on the classic drama: Start with a Set-up, then Present the problem(s), then proceed to the Confrontation and finally the Resolution. This has worked for all of us humans for thousands of years!
- Hire a speaker coach that helps you improve your body language and voice.
- Use a spell checker on all your slides. Takes only a minute, saves your face.
- If you present in another language than your native, consult a language tutor to improve your pronunciation as much as possible. Getting your message out is about being understood and respected.
- Test your presentation on other people beforehand and videotape yourself. Listen to their feedback and watch yourself: would you understand and appreciate your presentation?
- If you have a Q&A session after your talk, announce that it will be short, 2-3 minutes and that you will show a wrap-up or case story illustrating your message after the Q&A session. That way you avoid draining the enthusiasm of the audience by long-winded Q&A sessions and you keep the audience in the room.
- End by showing a slide with a key question or action point aimed at the audience, to encourage discussions afterwards. Also show you contact details and the link to your presentation summary on your blog, or on an internet service like Slideshare.
- Don’t talk for more than 10 minutes before you somehow engage the audience.
- Don’t read word by word from your script. You will sound like a robot and miss the all-important eye contact with the audience. Use stiff cue cards with key words and starter sentences instead.
- Don’t speak with a too low or monotonous voice. If people can’t hear you well at the back of the room, or if you don’t have any energy in you voice, you will lose the attention of the audience in a minute. Hire a voice coach!
- Don’t talk too fast and try to cram a 45-minute presentation into a 30-minute time slot by speaking at machine gun pace. You might just as well stay at home.
- Don’t use any acronyms without spelling them out and explaining what they mean.
- Don’t read from text bullets in your slides. If you have to use text bullets, keep them very short and very few per slide, then first let the audience read it and then expand on the subject using your own words.
- Don’t use complete sentences in your slides. Your voice shall tell the story, and the slides shall only support it.
- Don’t start talking immediately on top of your slides. Let the audience interpret the slide for a while, then add your insights.
- Don’t use hard-to-read fonts or garish backgrounds that obscures the text.
- Don’t use cute or unusual photos that are not illustrating exactly what you are talking about. It distracts the audience; nobody will hear what you are saying.
- Don’t use effects, such as texts that fly into the slide or ANY other disturbing transitions. You’re not running an amusement park; the interesting stuff should be in your content.
- Don’t waste you audience’s time by presenting the history and organization of your organisation. Unless it is essential to understand your presentation, which is very, very seldom.
- Don’t use a corporate slide template that displays the logo on each and every slide. Such templates should be banned everywhere, and they add no value for the audience. Remember, the audience is not there to learn about your company. The only place you can put your company logo is at the end, together with your name and contact details.
- Don’t mention tips verbally like “be sure to check out the website www.fancynewstuff.com, it has great features” without displaying a slide with both a picture of the web site and the URL in big letters + a note stating that the URL will be in your posted presentation. All essential facts mentioned need also to be visual.
- Don’t hide behind the computer or speaker stand. Make sure the audience see you and maintain eye contact with them.
- Don’t end by simply summarizing what you have talked about. Instead, show your passion for your message and that you want the audience to succeed as a result of the message of your talk.