[SASAG] Thoughts on last night's "presentations" meeting

Tim Maher tim at consultix-inc.com
Fri Feb 9 14:12:16 PST 2007


I enjoyed Leeland's presentation last night, and having a chance to
add some comments of my own on the subject of "how to give good
presentations".

Leeland listed a great many things that a presenter should do, or
avoid doing, which will help novices get going in the right direction.
But 90 minutes worth of details might have given the impression that
there's a fairly exact science to giving presentations, and a strict
set of rules that must be followed to do it right.

This feeling was evidenced by questions of the form

* "Okay, so we're supposed to walk through the projector beam--but how
  many times?"

and

* "Where should I stand when presenting to Chinese people--who read
  from top to bottom--on the /top side/ of the screen?

(Okay, I confess; I made that last one up!)

Speaking from my (multiple decades of) experience, I'd like to offer a
contrary view. Specifically, apart from a few obvious points that
nobody would dispute (be prepared, speak clearly, engage the audience,
make your slides readable, etc.), it's my opinion that, as we're fond
of saying in the Perl World: "There's More Than One Way to Do It!"

Giving presentations is a form of /performance art/. Just as Robin
Williams, Steven Wright, and Carlos Mencia deliver their performances
very differently, while pleasing their audiences equally, professional
speakers tend to develop rather different styles of delivery too. You're
free to do what you want, and experiment, and see what works for you.

Getting back to the "classic rules of presentations", another
important point is that, last time I checked (can you comment, Leeland?)

* most of the research on how to give presentations was done /way/
  before computers became presentation instruments,

* most of that research was never confirmed through "replications" of
  the experiments (meaning you can't necessarily believe the results),

* and most of that research was based on presentations designed to
  convince you to /buy a product/ or /change your mind/ on some issue.

As you can imagine, the psychological processes underlying purchasing
decisions and those involved in, e.g.--learning a computer language--
are very different, and likely to benefit from different presentation
techniques. That's why I don't show photos of cute puppies and smiling
babies in my training classes. But if I were trying to sell you Life 
Insurance, I'd be foolish not to!

Finally, as I'm sure Leeland will agree, I'd like to say that giving
presentations can be fun and rewarding, and a valuable skill to have.
Don't worry too much about following "the rules", just dive in and
try your hand at it and find out if it's something that you'd like to do.

-Tim
P.S. I nearly flunked out of high school because I was too shy to
     give required speeches in "Speech" class. Now it's hard to shut
     me up! 8-[
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