A Thousand Presentations Later

Many years ago I prepared my first PowerPoint slide deck and used it as visuals in front of a small audience. Over the last twenty years I made tons of presentations on IT related subjects. In this blog I’d like to share with you a dozen rules I use while preparing my slide decks or speak. Please add your comments with more tips to rookie presenters.

1. The font has to be as large as possible – not less than 18pt for the text and 12 points for code listing. If you can’t fit the entire code fragment on one slide, split it in two or create two code panels on the same slide.

2. Do not abuse effects and transitions like spinning, rolling, fading slides or texts. Using them once in while is fine, but keep the attention of your audience by the quality content and not by showing them how your slides dance on the screen.

3. Don’t use multi-color master slide themes. Here’s an example of the master slide I received from one conference organizers (they were really nice people). Add some content to it and the audience will get headache after spending an hour trying to weed our the content from the unneeded background.

4. Do not create presentations with 16×9 ratio unless you’re always using your own projector. Be prepared to present on the outdated projector provided by your host. Your presentation should look good on a 1024×768 projector with a 4×3 ratio.

5. If possible, keep the bottom 10% of the slide blank. People on the back may not see that portion if a basketball player is sitting on the first row, and the screen is hanging low.

6. Do not use constant screen zoom in/zoom out using these gestures on the trackpads – it makes people dizzy. Better increase the font size of whatever text you want to present.

7. The amount of text you put on each slide has to be minimal. Not as minimalistic as in Steve Jobs’ presentations, but having 3-4 short sentences on the slide is more than enough. Don’t just read the text from your slides – comment the slide content.

8. If you are planning to share your slides with the audience, upload the slide deck in a PDF form to your server or slideshare.net and include the URL on your first slide. 50% of the conference organizers’ promises to publish the slides never materialize.

9. How many slides you need, say for a 50-minute presentation? I need 25 – my empirical formula is 2 minutes per slide. This doesn’t include time spent on software demonstration, visiting external Web sites (Internet won’t work), or going through the program code.

10. Assume that the Internet won’t work at the venue . Pre-record video fragments of whatever you wanted to present live and use it as a Plan B (or is it Plan A?)

11. What if the projector doesn’t work? Five years ago I had this experience in a pretty large conference in New York City. I’ve been presenting for 40 minutes without any visuals other than my body language.

12. Can you still deliver the presentation if your slides got corrupted or your laptop got stolen? Sure you can if before starting your trip to the venue you’ve saved your powerpoint as a PDF file and uploaded it to a publicly available server. This way you can use any computer that has Acrobat Reader installed. Some people believe that it’s cool to make a no-slide presentation to a room full of software developers. They program live on stage. The audience seems to be happy too. How cool is that! Then the show is over. The magician is gone. What are all these people left with? Sweet memories.

All alone in the moonlight
I can smile at the old days I was beautiful then
I remember the time I knew what happiness was
Let the memory live again

Of course, experience matters. But the most impressive Powerpoint presentation I’ve seen till now was the one made by my younger son when he was a 9 year old kid. One night he just invited my wife and myself to his room, turned on the projector and started showing simple slides of him doing a good job in school and a picture of himself being bored at home spending evenings alone in his room. The final slide of this short preso was showing a newly released Game Boy console with a large font text “Please purchase it for mе. Don’t I deserve it?”

This was а perfectly made and delivered presentation that was concise, up to the point, and most importantly, it achieved the goal of the presenter.


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