Giving Effective Presentations

October 29, 2008 at 8:20 pm 4 comments

Aaron Schmidt has a really great post over at Walking Paper on “How to Give a Good Presentation.” It’s definitely worth reading through, including many super comments.

A few months back I posted a collection of links, “Talk Good: How to Give Effective Presentations“. In addition to those links though I’d like to add a few of my own thoughts to this conversation. First, let me say that I prefer to frame this as giving “effective” presentations rather than “good” ones because effective implies that you’re actually trying to, well, have an effect. And I think that one of the most important elements of any presentation — the element that makes it much more likely that your presentation will be effective — happens before you’ve written one word or found one cool image for your powerpoint. The most important element is asking the question, “What do I want people to do as a result of seeing/hearing my presentation?”

Should your slides be graphic heavy? Text Free? Should you provide handouts? Should the presentation be posted, and if so in what form? Should additional information be included in the posting? My answer is, it all depends. I think it makes absolutely no sense to dictate the answers to these questions without first asking, “what am I trying to achieve?” The next question of course is, “and how can I best achieve it?” How you answer this question dictates your content and sequencing.

There are also many variables that will affect how you craft your presentation: Just a few variables of the top of my head:

  • Who will be in the audience? Is it heterogeneous or homogeneous? Are there certain people in the audience with more influence that I would like to reach?
  • How large is the audience? Will I get to mingle? Am I miked, or is it more intimate?
  • What is there outlook?
  • What is their predisposition to change their behavior? Are they a friendly or resistant audience?
  • What is their knowledge level?
  • How much time will I have to present?
  • How much other information is being thrown at them (am I the main act, or one presentation of many?
  • What technology tools do I have at my disposal? Live internet? Projector? Just a microphone?
  • What is the room setup?
  • Will the presentation, or parts of it, be archived or made available online after the fact? Do I intend this to ever be seen again?
  • Is the presentation intended to be instructional? provocative? informative? heretical? inspiring? challenging?

I’m sure you can think of more variables that you’ve considered when crafting your own presentations. The important thing while preparing is to continually refocus yourself on what you are trying to achieve and critically evaluate the content and sequencing of your presentation to make sure everything supports and nothing detracts from your goal.

A few other ideas that may enhance the effectiveness of your presentation:

  • Share your presentation with others before you do it and get feedback to see what’s working and what isn’t. Inevitably, you will have written things that are clear as crystal to you, but clear as mud to others.
  • If it’s appropriate to the presentation, try to make it as interactive as possible. Ask questions. Encourage audience members to talk to each other. Doing this early in the presentation with a provocative question can create an immediate buzz and get a lot of energy flowing.
  • Conclude the presentation with a challenge or a request. Ask something of the audience. Ask them to commit to doing one thing differently.

What are your tips? What’s worked for you?


Entry filed under: Presentations, Speaking and Presenting, Teaching and Instruction. Tags: , .

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  • 1. Steve  |  October 30, 2008 at 9:40 am

    Just a couple quick thoughts:

    1. Focus on your transitions, how do you plan to move from topic to topic or slide to slide? Transitions make you smooth.

    2. If you want questions, ask questions. Once people begin to talk, they tend to keep talking.

    3. Especially if you don’t know the audience (do your best to know all you can beforehand), be there early and greet people as they come in with 1-2 questions that will give you a feel for the room and their knowledge of the topic.

    4. Expect all your technology to fail…always…even a “bad” backup plan is better than no backup plan.


  • 2. Lisa Coats  |  October 31, 2008 at 8:40 am

    Thanks for this post, Pete! And the link to the one in February that I must have missed. While I am very comfortable in front of a group of people, I KNOW I need to work on my presentation skills. I plan to go through these suggestions with a fine toothed comb! Thanks Steve for the added tips, too.

  • 3. Lisa Coats  |  October 31, 2008 at 8:43 am

    Forgot to wish a Happy Halloween to all you Library Garden bloggers! 🙂

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