Presenting a good talk: avoid 'follow the bullets'

Presentations can be a hit and miss affair. Slides can either add to a great presentation or detract from an awful one. Nothing worse than watching someone stand up and read bullet points, particularly if they have their back to the audience.

It's the single most flaunted rule any talker can do. Yet everyone I have witnessed in the last few months have been victim to it. Don't follow the bullets.

The problem I believe for most, is that many don't even know they are doing it. If you talk to them in general afterwards, they will all swear blind they never do it and remark on how awful it is to watch someone do that. I don't have the heart to point out the obvious to them.

I have sat through even the most seasoned names as they do their dog'n'pony show, only to be bored senseless. Put on a show. Give me something to remember.

Of late, I have been going the complete opposite. Stand up with no slides. I was inspired by a chap I watched a while ago, and thought to myself, how brave, yet I thoroughly enjoyed his talk. I was held captive for 40 odd minutes with much interest. I learnt a lot.

While not a religious man, you rarely see your local vicar, rabbi, priest, preacher stand up to deck of Powerpoint slides on a Sunday morning? So why do we think we need them?

Pieterskerk: The pulpit

However there is a downside to that style. People can forget your name! I can't for the life of me remember who the inspirational chap was, all I know was that he was presenting for MySQL. After giving a talk last week, I too have suffered this unnamed fate. That said, it did go over very well.

Speakers use their slides like comfort blankets; when things are getting tough, they wrap themselves snuggly in their slides and let the talk go on 'auto pilot' for a few minutes while they get back on track. This is the absolute wrong thing to do.

The best presenter in the world, in my view, is Lawrence Lessig. While he does use the odd slide here and there, they are merely filled with single words, and do not detract from the flow in the slightest. Now, Lessig is a professional lecturer so if he can't hold an audiences attention for an hour, then we are in trouble.

Stand up, educate, entertain and inform. Next time you have to give a talk, think about your slide deck, and see if you can remove at least 50% of them. Keep reducing it, until such times you are so comfortable with your message, that slides just get in the way.

Although, do keep that last slide with your name and contact details at the end.


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