Technical presentations from A to Zzz

Some presentation topics are naturally more interesting than others. For example, it’s much easier to entertain when introducing a splashy new product than giving a technical talk about how it actually works.

Still, technical presentations are incredibly important and Garr Reynolds, author of “Presentation Zen,” says the tough subject matter does not give you a license to bore. You don’t have to tell jokes. But to help your audience understand the material you’re presenting, you do need to hold their interest and speak their language.

One of the recurring themes in Reynolds’s book is how important it is to simplify, which isn’t the same as dumbing things down. We have a lot of information coming at us these days – both wanted and unwanted. Designing your information to make your audience feel smart instead of confused is a good first step to connecting with your audience.

A good approach is to tell a story. At Microsoft, we are encouraged to learn how to tell the story behind our products.

I often use stories to explain the Productivity Hub to people. I tell them how other companies (people) have used the Hub, how it has solved problems for them and how they’ve customized the Hub.

You can use the story approach with virtually any subject and it really helps people understand what you’re talking about. People can easily get facts and figures anywhere. The story helps them understand and remember what the facts mean. There a few good books about how to tell a story in business. One is Made to Stick by Chip and Dan Heath and the other is Story Theater by Doug Stevenson.

In terms of your PowerPoint presentation, you may find it helpful to present an outline early on – and refer to it throughout your presentation to help people understand how what they’re hearing relates to the big picture.

Reynolds says you should also be careful how you title your slides. He reviewed presentations used by college professors, and says the most effective ones used concise sentences to summarize the key point. He found titles consisting of a few words or a phrase rarely provided enough information to help.

If you include charts, don’t go overboard with the colors. Use a different color only as an accent. And make sure that accent is a dramatically different tone or hue from the rest of your chart. Reynolds says if you later converted that chart to black and white, it should still be immediately obvious what you accented.

Finally, if you are covering in-depth, technical information, consider using PowerPoint to create handouts that you give to people before you even start talking. That allows them to take their own notes directly on your slides.

Remember, people are listening to your presentation because they want to learn about your topic. They don’t find your topic boring, so try not to make it that way.


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