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How to Survive Your Technical Presentation

September 12, 2010

A few weeks ago I did a presentation on F# at a local user group meeting.  It was an opportunity to learn something new, network with other developers, and improve my communication skills.  Here are some of the things I learned from the experience.

My F# presentation

Know your subject well in advance

Building slides, writing code snippets and demos, and coming up with talking points are all difficult enough, not to mention the time it takes to practice your presentation thoroughly.  Don’t complicate matters by trying to learn a new language or technology from scratch.

Make friends with the experts in the room

Get knowledgeable attendees on your side right away.  During my F# talk, I turned to them when confronted with questions I couldn’t answer, and they bailed me out a couple of times.

Know your equipment inside and out

Try to keep things as simple as possible.  The fewer tools you have to manage, the less chance something will go wrong.  Arrive early so you can test your laptop, projector, and all your software.  Make sure to have fresh batteries for your presentation remote and microphone.  If at all possible, do a dry run with the actual equipment you’ll be using during your talk.

Don’t go over the allotted time

At one point while I was talking, a meeting attendee rose from his seat and left.  It wasn’t until then that I realized I had gone several minutes too long.  The room was packed, but everyone was too polite to mention that it was time to leave.

Ironically, I had worked very hard to fill that time with content.  But the important thing to remember is that talking at a user group meeting isn’t about filling dead air with noise; it’s about teaching and sharing information.  Only say what is necessary and relevant, and then let your audience go home.

Don’t be boring

This is probably easier said than done, but if you want to hold your audience’s attention, you can’t be dull and predictable.  Own your presentation and make it unique.  Record a video of yourself speaking and make sure you don’t look like a robot, with monotonous speech and stiff movements.

Read Confessions of a Public Speaker by Scott Berkun

I didn’t have to learn all these lessons on my own, and neither do you.  In his book, Scott captures years worth of public speaking wisdom in two hundred brief and entertaining pages.  I only wish I had read it earlier.

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