Test conference season is upon us, and so begins the onslaught of “slides” from powerpoint / keynote / (google docs presentation app whatever-it’s-called). I have seen hundreds of presentations on a wide variety of subjects over the years and thought I’d share what I know about what a presentation tells you about the presenter.
The “freshmen” presentation
“New” presenters typically have a lot of slides with a lot of bullet points. If someone says this is their first time ever presenting, you will want to sit in the front row where you can view the 8-point type clearly. If you need to, you can scootch your chair a bit farther forward for clarity. If you can’t get a seat in the front, don’t worry – fortunately these people will read every bullet point. If you are confused about the topic, the freshmen also have that covered – their first few slides typically contain definitions from wikipedia or dictionary.com, complete with pronunciation guides (“metric” is a very difficult word to pronounce).
Design is typically black text on a white background (aka the default powerpoint design)
The “sophomore” presentation
The sophomore presentation experience is all about design. Two main things differentiate the sophomore from the freshmen. The presenter has some experience (i.e. they’ve explored powerpoint more). In order to show their presentation maturity, their presentations now use one of the “fancier” design templates available. Most often, these use dark text on a slightly darker background – something that looks “advanced” on a laptop screen, but looks like an oil spill on a portable conference projector. There is slightly less text per slide than the freshmen, but they make up for the space by splattering bits of clip art on each slide. Sometimes the clip art has something to do with the topic, but the main rule is that it has to fill up dead space.
Speaking-wise, sophomores don’t generally read every slide. Because they are experienced in presentation, they no longer practice presenting with their slides, and because they no longer practice with their slides, they tend to forget what they’re talking about.
The “junior” presentation
Now, you’re beginning to see the cream of the crop. These people have read about presenting, and are often (self-proclaimed) “experts”. For example, they’ve read that bullet points are bad, and pictures are good. Their presentations are filled with full page photos
stolen from web sites taken on their trip around the world. The photos are very nice and give the audience something to focus on. Unfortunately, the photos rarely have anything to do with the presentation. And – since the juniors don’t practice their presentations either, they often end up talking about what’s in the photo rather than what they meant to talk about. You know when you’ve attended a presentation by one of these folks, because you’ll walk out talking about how good the slides were rather than saying anything about the content.
The “senior” presentation
These are the people you pay to see. They may use any of the techniques above – pictures are a must, as is enough text to show off their credibility. Also – and this is very important – senior presenters absolutely must dedicate at least 25% of their allotted presentation time to talking about themselves. If you are a senior presenter, it is imperative that you sound like you know you’re stuff, and to do that, you need to establish credibility. These people may include the dictionary.com definition, but the difference is that they invented the word!
These folks tell stories and structure their talk so that you remember the important points and why those points are important to remember. Slides don’t matter – they can be as effective with bullet points as they can with a picture of a cow farting. At a typical software conference, there are 2 of these (give or take 2). But they’re worth the search.