What I Learned from my First Tech Presentation

On Sept. 16, 2017 I gave my first tech presentation(Mob Programming) at Atlanta Code Camp. I admit I had a bit of an advantage over most people speaking for the first time at a tech conference: I was an elementary school teacher. I quickly realized giving a lecture to adults was a lot like teaching third graders. Here is what I learned from preparing for and presenting my lecture:

Slides

Photo of dog: adding a photo helps a slide pop

I remembered how my students loved my colorful slides with pictures and concise bullet points. Guess what? Adults love it as well. People do not like reading long blocks of text. Even if the presenter is reading off the slide, it is still distracting. Melinda Seckington has a great blog series — The Art of Slide Design.

If you have to include slides for sponsors, it helps if you show your title slide first and then again after the sponsors. This way when people enter the room, they know that they’re in the right place.

Time yourself

Photo of Hourglass

I can’t stress this enough. Time your presentation! You do not want to end 20 minutes early or go over. While practicing your presentation, keep track of the time. Also, practice a few times without stopping the clock. Pretend that you’re actually presenting. This gives you an accurate view on how much time it takes you to talk about certain parts of your presentation.

You want to be respectful of the audience’s time. Have your ‘conclusion time’ memorized. This is the point where you stop the presentation and move onto the conclusion (going over resources/Q&A). Even if you have a ton of slides left, you still need to end your presentation on time. Do not be one of those presenters who goes over.

Questions

Photo of Question Mark

Decide whether or not you’re going to accept questions during the presentation, after the presentation, or both. If it is your first time speaking, then I would suggest telling the audience that you’ll answer questions at the end of the presentation. This way you don’t have to worry about losing your train of thought during the lecture.

When a person asks a questions, I noticed that it helped when I repeated the question. That way others can hear and it gives you time to digest the question. If you have no idea how to answer, do not make up an answer. Depending on the question, you can say “I have never been in that situation…” or even “I don’t know, but maybe somebody else here could answer that?”.

Humor

Photo of a shocked potato witnessing the massacre of french fries

You do not have to be a comedian to be funny. I find that adding humor helps keep audience members engaged. This can be as simple as adding a Dilbert comic or a funny photo. Don’t expect guffaws. You’ll most likely get smiles and chuckles here and there. What matters is that it’ll give them a momentary break, which helps keep them engaged.

Active Participation

Photo of a person raising her hand

It’s good to build in some kind of participation to change the flow. For instance, I asked audience members to raise their hand for certain questions (have an answer prepared for most people raising their hand or almost nobody raising their hand). I also had people read quotes silently themselves. This gives you a nice pause to take a breath and drink water. One of the most active forms of participation is asking individuals to come up and write code. The presenter tells the individual exactly what to type. When the audience sees one of their own presenting, they feel that they’re more a part of the process.

Conclusion

At the end of your presentation, say “This is the end of my presentation…Thank you”. By explicitly saying that you’re done, people will usually clap. Otherwise, you might get an awkward pause.

I also like to show my contact info and let people know that I’m a resource for questions. On that note, please feel free to ask me questions here or dm/tweet @nscarlyon. I’m also happy to hear any advice on giving presentations.

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Natasha Carlyon

Natasha Carlyon is a software Apprentice at Greater Sum, which builds custom software for clients.