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

Hal Pomeranz hal at deer-run.com
Tue Feb 13 08:50:16 PST 2007

De-cloaking for a moment to chime in on this thread.  Forgive
me if some of what I'm stating below was covered in the presentation.

> 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.

I would even take this a step farther.  The best speakers have a 
presentation style that is uniquely theirs.  This is part of what makes
them interesting to listen to.

That being said, one of the best ways to improve your own public
speaking ability is to observe other people giving presentations and
note what's good/bad about the speaker, talk content, presentation
materials, etc.  In this respect, it's useful to be conscious of the
"classic rules" for presentations so that you can rate how well the
speaker tends to follow the rules.  And, yes, it's perfectly possible
to follow the rules and be lousy or break all the rules and be great,
but what you want is quantitative data to compare against your subjective 
opinion of how "good" the presentation and the speaker were.

One public speaking class I took actually gave students a checklist
for evaluating other speakers as part of the training materials.  This
exercise massively improved my own public speaking ability by making
me hyper-conscious about the good/bad aspects of other speakers'
presentations.  Unfortunately I'm not allowed to distribute this
proprietary instrument freely, but you could easily make your own by
simply putting a 1-5 or 1-10 scale against each of the "classic rules".  

By the way, in case it wasn't obvious: NEVER share your ratings with
the person you're observing, ESPECIALLY if they're a friend of yours.
Hurt feelings are the only possible outcome.  Remember that these are
your subjective judgements, and the presenter will typically have
very different opinions about their performance.

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

Yes, although slide projectors and classic transparencies (viewgraphs)
were in heavy use.  

There's also been some fairly recent research slamming Powerpoint for
it's lack of information density, "domineering" approach to
presenter-listener dynamics, etc.  Those studies struck me as being
conducted by somebody with an axe to grind, but they were interesting
reading nevertheless (no pointer available, sorry-- perhaps Google can

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

I'm not sure this is true (I'm not sure that it isn't-- I'd have to
go back and review the relevant research).  The sample sizes were
pretty large as I remember.

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

This is true.  The classic studies were all pretty much focused on
SELLING in one form or another.  And the classic response to your
criticism is that even if you're giving a purely informational
presentation (like a Perl tutorial) you're still "selling" yourself
and your ideas to the audience.

Whatever.  It's fairly obvious that "our crowd" reacts badly to the
canonical "babies and puppy dogs" sales techniques.  But (you'll
excuse the expression) don't throw the baby out with the bath water--
there still is an awful lot of good presentation advice in the classic

> 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.

Well I agree with you anyway.  

One of the best ways to differentiate yourself from other tech
workers, particularly in IT, is to be able to communicate effectively.
This means not only in formal presentations, but also in meetings,
informal hallway discussions, and writing (including email).

Hal Pomeranz, Founder/CEO      Deer Run Associates      hal at deer-run.com
    Network Connectivity and Security, Systems Management, Training

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