Presenting for the first time

Pradnya Nikam
Dec 11, 2019 · 4 min read

So I recently presented at a meetup and got really great feedback.

This post is a way to pass on my learnings to help others who want to do the same. Some people asked me after the presentation how I knew exactly what to say. (it was very rewarding!). This is when I realised that I should write a blogpost about this.

The thing is, I hate unprepared public speaking. So when I decided to present, I knew that I had to be prepared in the best way possible. When you are presenting, your intention should be making best use of audience’s time. It should be enjoyable (subtle jokes are key!) and should pique their interest in the subject.

Presenter Notes

If you are going to take away one tip from this post, this is it!

Presenter notes are everything. As you prepare the presentation, write down what you’d like to say to the audience when presenting every slide. Your goal is for people to look at you and pay attention to what you are saying (not the slides). The slide is only the gist of what you are going to say.

As you refine the slides, keep refining the presenter notes too.

Some tips to help write good presenter notes and remember them —

  1. Short sentences. Long sentences are okay when they are read. But it gets kind of awkward while speaking when your sentences are long and the point becomes harder to convey. This is the same reason why we generally use small sentences in conversations. Plus, they are easier to remember too!
  2. When you read the presenter notes, imagine that somebody else is speaking them to you. Is it all making sense together or is there a gap in the context? Ideally the notes should tie the slides together. For eg. “Now lets look at some applications of this concept…[then switching to next slide]”
  3. Read them out loud while you refine them. This way you will know if you need to reframe the sentence to make it easier to understand. It will also make you comfortable speaking those sentences and you will start remembering them.
Example of a slide along with presenter notes

Most softwares (Keynote, Powerpoint, etc.) support presenter notes so you can write them down directly below all slides.

Practice

Imagine that the furniture around you is the audience and start speaking. Keep speaking and keep refining your presenter notes. If you have problems speaking on a particular slide- restart your presentation from that slide. You could refine the notes or the slide if you see a problem or a gap in the content of the slide.

Create a schedule

Let’s say you are presenting on Date X. The schedule should look something like this:

9 days to go : Finish the presentation

8 days to go: First dry run and refinements in presentation and notes

5 days to go: Start timing all the dry runs and refine accordingly

2 days to go: No more changes in the presentation or notes; You should be able to finish the dry run in the allotted time frame.

1/2 dry runs per day until the day of presenting.

This of course will vary based on your workload + how much time you can allocate per day for the prep. Creating this schedule and sticking to it is the key for a stress free day of presenting.

The presentation

There are millions of posts online to help you make great presentations so I will be precise here. I’ve got 2 tips:

  1. It should be less wordy and more catchy.
  2. Don’t spend too long on refining the presentation itself. There will always be something that you want to improve but it is important to draw a line in terms of completion.

Quick tip at the time of presenting

Most presentation softwares can be setup so that when you are presenting on a projector/TV, it will automatically display notes on your machine. Of course your display settings need to be in split screen mode while doing this

Here is a tutorial that explains how it can be done when using keynote or powerpoint.

The Day

At least one dry run on the day should be enough. Read the presenter notes when you find some time. By now, your brain will start remembering what the next slide is going to be.

Get some coffee/tea/(or chocolate!) before the presentation so that you will have good energy for the presentation and the questions to come. Go in early so you get comfortable in the room and you can test your setup before people arrive.

Remember that the audience is composed of people just like you and are not there to judge you. If you stumble, take a deep breath and restart from where you left off. Go ahead and refer to your notes if you need to. Getting nervous is extremely common and happens to everybody.

Conclusion

They say you have to be a very good public speaker to deliver a good presentation. In my opinion, if you prepare well and are passionate about the subject, you can do it! And if you are not prepared, it won’t help you even if you are a good speaker!

For anybody interested, here is the link to the talk I did in Sep’19. Here I am talking about incorporating machine learning into iOS apps. (fyi — The audio kicks in after ~2.15 min into the video 😅)

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