3 things I learned presenting with slides

I am not a professional speaker at conferences: I do it on my spare time and usually no more than twice a year. But there are some things I learned and that I want to share with you. No, I’m not talking about using a Presentation Zen or Slide:ology approach because, as it was clear to the audience of Better Software 2010, the last conference where I spoke (on Recruitment 2.0, in Italian), 90% of the presentations already got rid of bullet points in favour of photos and terse contents. I am referring to a “parachute plan” in case something goes wrong and to avoid misunderstandings with the audience. Here are my suggestions:

  • Build two different themes – You prepared your slides and tried them some days before on your office projectors (maybe waking up half an hour in advance so nobody could see you). But, when you present, you notice that the quality of the projector lamps is very poor and some contrasts are difficult to read. This is a problem especially for presentations that don’t make use of white bullet points on black backgrounds (or viceversa) but slides with sentences spread in different positions or text put over a photo. The risk is that the “special effects” you spent your nights on are invisible to your audience and that they can’t connect all the dots of your speech. Prepare two set of them (you can use both Keynote or Powerpoint) so that a version is highly contrasted. If, once on stage preparing, you find out that it’s difficult to read your slides, you can easily switch to the highly contrasted theme. Sure, you can use high contrast from the start, but chances are that if you spent hours refining your work, high contrast could not have the impact you wanted. In this way, you have an easy backup strategy. Moreover, you don’t have to prepare two themes every time, because once you define the theme that satisfy your needs, you can use it for whatever presentation you like.
  • Put you Twitter username on every slide – When I was on stage at Better Software, the audience begun twitting excerpts from my talk. Unfortunately, one tweet contained a wrong username (avolpon instead of AntonioVolpon) and the following retweets and new tweets all preserved the non-existant username. So, if you can, if it doesn’t “ruin” your design, reserve a space where you repeat you Twitter username on every slide, and don’t limit this only to the first or last slide.
  • If you build a story, wait for your audience – I am a big fan of Made to Stick, and since I read it I try to build a story in every speech I give, when it’s possible (at Better Software I presented my various job opportunities, starting from the military service). Be very careful if the story is mandatory to understand the meaning of your talk. If so, and your presentation starts after a break, or if the audience can choose among different concurrent sessions (and so needs to move from a room to another), I suggest you not to insert the story in the very first slides, but to (reasonably) wait for most of the people to enter and have a seat.

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