Mimsy Were the Borogoves

Hacks: Articles about programming in Python, Perl, PHP, and whatever else I happen to feel like hacking at.

Speaking to geeks: making a tech presentation

Jerry Stratton, March 10, 2008

I spent last week at ETech, and it was very cool. But it could have been a lot cooler if people followed a few simple rules about making presentations useful. I’m not singling out ETech here, at least not by much. I see this crap way too often. The bottom line is, think about what you would want to see and hear if you were in the audience.

Scrap your intro

Skip it. Throw it out. Completely. You have a little over half an hour, at best, to tell us about the cool tech you’re doing. Yes, Wonder Woman is cool. But she doesn’t deserve ten minutes of your half an hour unless you’re the one who created her and she has something to do with the tech you’re showing us.

When you put filler up ahead of time, you’re going to get it wrong unless you heavily research it. You’re going to say that William Marston created Wonder Woman for Marvel Comics. And the time spent researching Wonder Woman to avoid gaffes like that would be better spent coming up with a way cool opener that shows what you are doing.

We aren’t here to hear about Wonder Woman. That’s what the Comic Arts Conference is for. Show us your cool shit, not someone else’s.

We read faster than you talk

Maybe you need to read the text on your slides when you’re presenting to managers, but we’ve already read it before you get done telling us you’re going to read it. If you need to say it, put something on the slide that enhances it. If you’re going to put it on the slide, don’t read it.

It goes without saying: don’t put the punch line to the joke you’re telling on the slide. Well, it should go without saying and yet you keep doing it.

Choose the right venue for the speaker

This one is for the organizers. When you have short talks and long talks, realize that some topics and some presenters just aren’t right for short talks. When you’re talking with this guy on the phone and he pauses for half a minute after every sentence, he isn’t the best choice for a ten minute presentation. It doesn’t matter how brilliant he is, you’re going to have to embarrassingly ask him to leave the stage well before he completes his talk. He looks like an idiot, you look like a jerk, and we don’t get to hear about the amazing new programming language he was showing off.

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