public speaking

My PowerPoint

Dave Shea, a god among men, recently posted some tips for public speaking at his site. As someone who’s done a decent amount of public speaking, I thought I’d add a few tips to his list. I also live with the King of Public Speaking, so I think it is somehow my duty.

  1. If your presentation is an hour or less in length, ditch the water bottles. I don’t care if you’re the guy from the the old Micro Machines commercials, you will NOT talk enough to dry yourself out. This directly contradicts Mr. Shea’s fourth item, but it’s the truth. Unless your venue lacks decent temperature control, there’s just no reason to take sips in the middle of a brief presentation. Hydrate beforehand.
  2. I’m not sure how to feel about the seventh item on his list, “Have a lot of slides.” I only put visual aides on my slides, or points that are ABSOLUTELY critical to the presentation, almost like title cards. On the rare occassion that a longer bit of text is on screen, it’s because I expect the audience to write it down (my presentations have always been in an educational setting). All that said, I still wind up with about one slide for every two to three minutes of talk time.
  3. Project your voice. Even if you have a microphone, projection will make a huge difference in the energy of your presentation. Pretend that there is no microphone, and the only people in the room have opted to sit in the back row. I can’t tell you how many presentations I’ve seen utterly murdered because the speaker sounded like he was addressing the front edge of the podium.
  4. Prepare for disaster (to be fair, this is in the comments of Mr. Shea’s post). Bring backups of your slides, take your notes with you. Laptops and microphones are reliable, but you never know when they’ll start screeching and emitting smoke. If Carole Montillet-Carles can ski with a broken face, you can present when your Dell Inspiron explodes.
  5. Know your material, and at the very least pretend that you are fascinated by it. Like they say, if you are interested, the audience will be interested.
  6. YOU are the center of attention. Your slides are there in service of YOU. I use them almost like those “compassionate conservative” marquees that you used to see behind Bush.
  7. The previous points all culminate in this: You are a performer, not a presenter. Put on a show. Be a magician and lead your audience right where you want them. Be a comedian and accept spontaneity and audience interaction (questions). Be a ringmaster. It’s your show. The best professors I ever had never used a PowerPoint slide. Then again, some of my very good professors used it in every lecture. It’s all about the presenter, not the technology.


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