Presentations are an important (and often free) way of sharing your ideas and thoughts with others. But whether or not they are effective rests with the presenter. With the rise of small online start-ups, developers are taking an increasingly active role in presenting. However, sometimes the personality traits that can make someone a good developer can make them a bad presenter.
So in an effort to help programmers everywhere share their ideas and expertise more effectively, I offer 7 Must Know Presentation Tips for Developers.
1. Know Your Audience.
If you are in front of a group talking about a particular subject, then you probably know your stuff. Whether the topic is a new website or company your launching, an application you are demoing, or the finer points of your particular programming language, you most likely know more than your audience (otherwise, why would you be up there in the first place?) Not to overgeneralize, but I have known many programmers who become frustrated or annoyed by what they view as dumbing things down to an audience. This type of outlook only ensures both you and your audience will be unhappy with your presentation. Take some time to think about who is in your audience, and adjust your material accordingly.
If you are speaking to a group of like-minded developers, then you can probably get away with using a certain amount of jargon and not having to explain certain concepts in detail. But if you are in front of, say, an investor, or a marketing group, make sure they will understand what you are trying to get across.Â Often times programmers end up breezing over subjects their audience might not understand, or use terms everyone may not be familiar with. When someone doesn’t grasp something you said, you have a risk of them shutting down and not paying attention to the rest of what you have to say.
2. Focus on Flow.
In any good presentation, flow cannot be underrated. Flow is the natural rhythm of your presentation, and is made of up several elements. The overall structure of your presentation plays a big part, as does your actual speech pattern and delivery. Proper flow helps people stay engaged, and helps them consume the information you are sharing. It also reduces the possibility of awkward moments. When there are big pauses or disruptions during a presentation, it makes the audience feel uncomfortable.
Be wary of interrupting your flow. Keep things rolling smoothly and your audience will stay with you for the ride.
3. Have at least three WOW! moments.
There is always an element of showmanship in any good presentation. Adding WOW! moments is a great way to get, and keep, your audience engaged. When structuring your presentation, don’t feel the need to tell the story in chronological order. Feel free to open with something strong, then take a “now let’s show you how we did that” approach. For example, as Microsoft is out there presenting Project Natal, it doesn’t make sense to start by talking about the problem they want to solve, or to dive into the details of infrared tracking. They should start with the WOW! moment of seeing Natal in action, then loop back around to the specifics.
In a relatively short presentation, focus on adding three of these moments. Place the first right at the beginning, to draw people in. Then add another in the middle, as people’s attention starts to drift away. Then, like a good Vegas lounge singer, one big WOW! right at the end to close on a high note (“You’ve been a great crowd. Be sure to tip your waitress.”)
Product demos lend themselves well to this format. Find the three most remarkable features in your product and sprinkle them throughout your presentation. Your audience will be left clamoring for more.
4. Assume everything will go wrong.
This is where a lot of presentations fall apart. Always assume everything will go wrong. For starters, NEVER DO A LIVE DEMO. It’s just asking for trouble. Present from a local version of your product if you need to, but trying to present the live version is a recipe for disaster. You are making assumptions based on things outside of your control, such as the quality of the network connection from your presentation site. Always assume the network won’t work, or the wi-fi will be down.
If you have seen a few product demos, you probably know you should also bring a series of screenshots of your product on a USB drive, just in case everything blows up.
5. Never write code live.
Actually writing code in front of your audience will just bore them to tears. If the code itself is the actual topic of the presentation, than have a bunch of examples already written in advance, and organized in a way that makes it easy to jump to each one. You would be surprised how hard it is to type in front of an audience. Subjecting them to the chore of watching you type out code is just plain mean. And you run the risk of making stupid mistakes, like getting an error from some minor typo. Making a simple mistake in front of a large group has the potential to damage your credibility as an expert.
There is a saying that a good lawyer never asks a question he doesn’t already know the answer to. Well, a good programmer should never present a piece of code that he hasn’t already tested.
6. If something goes wrong, move on.
Keeping a proper flow can be difficult during a product demo. When something (inevitably) goes wrong, a programmer’s instinct can be to fix it right away, especially when they feel it “shouldn’t be doing that.” But leaving your audience hanging while you troubleshoot an issue is presentation suicide. It’s best to just move past it and keep going. Everyone who has presented to a group of people knows that there are always hiccups. They won’t judge you based on the hiccup, they’ll judge you based on how you handle it.
7. Save questions for the end.
A presenter who is aware of the first tip, Know Your Audience, will want to make sure their audience understands the subject matter. But often times, they try and do this by asking the audience throughout the presentation if there are any questions, which at best interrupts you, and at worst, leads to drifting, unrelated tangents. It’s best to announce in the beginning of your presentation that you will be taking questions at the end, then sticking to that. It reminds the audience to hold on to questions until the end and will make sure your presentation stays on track. Don’t forget about the importance of flow.
Programmers tend to be extremely intelligent people, and have a lot to share with the rest of us. A killer presentation is one of the best ways to share those smarts with others. So make sure you do your best to follow these tips, and wow the crowd.
Now go out there and knock’em dead!
One of the Co-Founders of SideTour, former TechStar (NYC Summer 2011), ex-NBA'er, and past TechCrunch Disrupt Hackathon Winner.