Thursday, May 9, 2013

How to Give Your First Technical Presentation

So I gave my first ever technical presentation at Carolina Code Camp 2013. I talked about a technology that makes my life easier and felt that other developers should know about.  I had a lot of fun doing it and received a positive reaction from the audience.

Before I start, I just want to break the misconception of being an expert to present. You don't. It is all about knowledge sharing and helping others. You can simply research a topic for a week and present the lessons to your audience.

It was a learning experience for me and a step that I knew that I should take one day. So I decided to focus on improving my presentation and public speaking skills.  These are some basic  tips I collected  that would help anyone trying to present for the first time:

1- Don't focus on being a great presenter. Focus on not sucking
Silly..but an average presentation where the message is delivered is your goal. You can not become a Steve Job by practicing for a weekend. It takes experience to give a great presentation.  Instead, look back at the bad presentations that you been to (speaker was not prepared, reading from the slides ...etc) and focus on NOT doing these mistakes.

2- Practice In voice
Practicing the presentation in voice helps with recognizing strong points for the slides. Each slide should have a reason for being up and you will need to tell the audience why you have it up there.
It also helps with creating an "auto pilot" feel where some  key points would be explained  at the right time giving you time to prepare for answers. And walk around the room to practice your body movement.

3- Find Your slides Balance
A slide with one word can be as powerful as one with multiple bullet  points. Your goal with the text is to get your crowed to stay at the same subject as you.  Do not read from the slides as human eyes can read faster than the speaker reading.

4- Live Code can go wrong. Just show us the code
If you are a new speaker, Try to lower the risk of failure of presentation tools. We know that you can code. So not coding in front of everyone and showing us the final result is enough. Just practice, add a lot of comments  and know the code does.

5- Everyone in the room wants you to succeed
Unlike the old school  and college days, No one is forced to come in. Everyone knows what it feels like to present and they know that it is tough. They will all help you because they want to hear what you got.

6- Draw your energy from the crowd
Your crowd will follow along and there will be some interested people sitting. Try to find one from each section of the room and it would look as if you are making eye contact with everyone. It would be more helpful if they are sitting in the back.

7- Tell them when they can ask questions
It is a great feeling when others ask questions. It wakes up the room to hear another voice talking.  After any big slide, make sure that you are asking for questions. Waiting to the end would cause the audience to forget to ask. Plus, It is easy to assume that the crowed knows some concept when they are not familiar with it. A simple question can clear a lot of confusion and put everyone at the same point with the speaker.

8- Show your personality
Be human. The audience would learn more from a presentation that they enjoyed. be yourself. Just talk to them the same way you talk to your friends.

9- Tell a story
You can always come up with a story. Do you have any reference stories about your client? How did you start using this technology? We want to relate the technology to our lives. An If statement is a cool concept, but an ability to make a decision is more interesting.

10- Replace the "um" with hand gestures.
Trust me .. Not a single um was given.

That is all I can think about now. I am still a bad presenter and will be for a while. And it is OK. Everyone got to start somewhere. I did not expect that good of a reaction out if my first  presentation.  I can't wait until I am up in front of everyone again.
You are all ready now (you were before reading this but probably didn't know it). Go ahead and present!

Some helpful resources I used:
- Scott Hanselman has a lot of good articles and videos. At the very least, I recommend listening to the podcast.
Good tips and very cool slide design. I recommend reading his take on how we use Powerpoint wrong.
Impress.js library helped me create a non-powerpoint presentation.