A very personal view about performing presentations
Preparing presentations is hard work. Performing them is, too. You need to get to grips with the topic. You need to develop your story. You need to illustrate the story. You need to know the story. And later, you need to tell your story. A good performance is expected to be lively, vivid, entertaining, thrilling, inspiring, up to the point and well structured. And much more.
That’s a lot to consider.
Consequently, you need to practice your performance. If possible, try your presentation in front of a handful of people. If no one is available, you should record your practice and study the video. Be prepared to feel stupid. That’s ok. If someone happens to watch you and ask why you keep talking to yourself doing strange gestures, just explain. Most people will be impressed. Another strange feeling may arise when you actually look at or listen to your recording. Your voice will sound awkwardly unfamiliar. BBC Future explains why. As there is nothing you can do about it, it may be best to just get used to it… ;-)
But before practicing your presentation, you need to have a solid understanding of its structure. In broad terms this means what to say when. I strongly suggest preparing some sort of script. Do not confuse this with the slides. They are just an outcome of this map or plan. Think of it this way: not everything you will be talking about will be visible on a slide. So, if you do not write that down somewhere, you will likely forget about it.
If you are familiar with mind maps you can utilize them. Or just write down simple sentences that summarize each section of the presentation. Once you have identified these larger building blocks, proceed summarizing their ingredients. You could do this on a computer. But don’t underestimate the power of a paper notebook and a pen. Sketching and scribbling can be so much fun. And you won’t get lost in moving boxes, or applying colors or fonts. These do not matter for your presentation plan.
Now… what should you do with it once it is finished? Familiarize yourself with your presentation plan, because you always need to know what’s next. You may wish to learn it by heart. But in any case it is very important that you have absorbed the intended structure of your presentation. It is tempting to see the slide deck as a route through your presentation. Believe me… It is not. It should not. Slides are for the audience, not the speaker. Yes, if you have been visiting some of my presentations you have seen me making this mistake over and over again. That’s because it is convenient to have a slide saying Demo. Ahh, I have to open the IDE and show some source files. …right…
No, we need to know the choreography.
What I have said so far might sound like you should learn every sentence, every utterance, every gesture by heart. Far from it. You need to discover your own way. You need to sort out which tools and procedures work best for you. For example, it is perfectly valid to use speaker notes. Print them on paper, so you can always take a look at them. Most presentation software allows you to add notes to a slide, too. You will see them once you reach the slide during presentation. But promise to be aware of the overall structure of your presentation nonetheless. :-)
There is no silver bullet for the perfect presentation. I am not sure if there is a perfect presentation at all. :-) Remember my claim that performing a presentation is hard work? It’s heartfelt. I have been doing them for more than ten years. And I surely got better over time. Still, no matter how often you give a presentation, you will keep making mistakes. Running out of time, getting lost in detail, forgetting to look at the audience, or producing strange sounds are just a few of the Try to avoids during a presentation. Over time these glitches will appear less often. But keep prepared to be caught. That’s ok. We are allowed to make mistakes, as long as we learn from them and strive to become better.
And don't forget… All the hassle is worth it. Communicating with the audience, getting their feedback, learning from them, is so rewarding that I feel I have to continue presenting as long as I can. And you should, too. If you have just started presenting, don’t be afraid of not being perfect. No one is. We all keep learning during our whole life. Do as good as you can. Try to improve over time. Seek advice. Look. Listen. But don’t be afraid of not meeting expectations.