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Preparing to Present

Zach Grosser
Feb 16, 2019
 in 
Tools & Tips
Figma Design Systems Meetup — Berlin, 2018

Simple Slides

As you’ll see all over presentation.design, our advice is always the same: keep your slides simple. Consolidate your message down to the least it needs to be.

You’re telling a story to an audience, and you don’t want to lose their attention. So aim for one idea per slide, and while you’re at it, convey that one idea as simply as possible. Step away from the shapes section of the Keynote toolbar, and save most of your text for your presenter’s notes. Usually, a lot of text ends up on slides because that’s a great place to brain dump them when you are drafting content. Now that you are turning to design those slides it’s time to edit them down, just like you would with writing.

Focus on images instead — they’re more comfortable on the eyes and heighten emotional appeal. The slide shouldn’t say all the things you intend to say, but complement your words with visual context or reinforcement. If you’re looking for photography and illustrations, it’s always great to support artists and creators by purchasing from them, but if you yourself are an independent creator with a limited budget, check out some of my favorites: nappy.co, undraw.co, unsplash.com, and tonl.co.

Keep it simple. Ensure you can still convey your point even if your slides don't work, there's no audio out, or you can't see audience facial reactions. And your slides? They are there to support YOU - not the other way around. So don't cede the spotlight to them. Margot Bloomstein

Reducing your text doesn’t mean the visual information can’t convey complex ideas — just that walls of text aren’t the norm for your slides. Avoid clutter, paragraphs of text, and hard to read color combinations. While we’re talking about color: make sure your colors are accessible.* The simplest two things to do are use fewer colors (one highlight color, like your brand color, and black, white, and maybe one tone of grey), and increase contrast.

Ruthlessly edit the content of your slides down. If you are not going to circulate this presentation as a PDF after your talk, cut the page numbers. They aren’t necessary for anyone to reference, but you.

Get to the point — quickly

Recently, I read another amazing tip from Mike Monteiro in the Mule Design Studio newsletter. (They are hosting a Presenting Work With Confidence workshop, by the way, you should check it out.)** If someone gets up in the first sixty seconds of your presentation and leaves the room, would they be able to share anything about what you said? Would they even know the subject of your talk?

Most people begin their talks with the information that is readily available in the event invite or schedule, plus what can already be found in a Twitter or LinkedIn bio. Start with a story that also describes you. What is the intersection of your talk and your experience that you can share? You’ll entertain, get credibility, and start to build a mental picture in the minds of your audience that will help reinforce your content and leave an impression on them later.

Also, cut the agenda slide — no one wants to be told what they are about to be told. Jump right into your content and storytelling. As mentioned before, only include if you’re going to circulate a PDF later with page numbers and 70+ slides.

Sometimes it can be challenging to figure out what your point is — and that’s okay. One strategy is to start with considering what questions your audience may have for you. That might be based on your background or on what you’re focusing on in your work recently. Or what your audience would want to learn at the type of event you are part of.

Everyone has something worth sharing and rarely is there something that genuinely has been already said. Your unique perspectives, experiences, and stories will make any topic unique to you. It is also okay to not feel like the number one expert on your subject matter — I don’t think you ever need to be. In a lot of cases, being a non-expert can make your presentation more relatable and accessible to your audience of, potentially, other non-experts.

Pre-talk jitters?

This advice isn’t going to work for everyone — because we’re all unique — however, it’s what works for me. If I’m presenting at a company all-hands, at a conference, or even in front of some friends, I need three things:

1. Practice. Rehearse what you’re going to say. Is it possible to rehearse in the space that you are presenting, maybe even with a microphone? Can your best friend be your only audience member? You can always default to the classic advice of rehearsing to a mirror, I just find it a little hard to do and awkward. There are also organizations like Toastmasters to help you practice public speaking through group exercises in a safe environment.

2. A familiar face. Plant a few people around the room that you like and trust. Do you have coworkers on your team that are familiar with your project or content matter that you are presenting on? Put them in the third or fourth row from the front and toward the back of the room. When you look over the audiences’ heads, to make eye contact with your trusted person in the back, they will perceive this as direct eye contact.

3. Powerful pose. One of the best presenters I’ve ever seen, Sarah Friar, recommends this one. Stand with your legs a little wider than shoulder-width apart, put your hands on your hips, chin high, take a deep breath, then smile. This is doable anywhere, even the restroom stall. By the way, you’ll maintain your improved posture for your talk too, and that non-verbally communicates confidence, which can go a long way.

Still nervous? Drink a half glass of wine. This is obviously not perfect advice for everyone, but when I’m presenting at a company all-hands or hosting a meetup, I need something to help relax my nerves. If you don’t drink, no problem! What else do you do to relax your tense muscles? Maybe 30-seconds of yoga backstage pre-presentation, or a quick dip into your favorite meditation app.

Presenter’s Notes

Having some notes handy to help keep your talk on track is great for boosting confidence and mitigating presentation mistakes. You can use presenter’s notes, hand-written notes, or even the Apple Notes app.

You can drop presenter’s notes into your favorite presentation software and have them on a laptop or, even better, your venue may have confidence monitors. A confidence monitor is a display facing the speaker, rather than the audience, and most presentation software has a special layout for these screens that allows you to see your notes, current and next slides, and even a timer.

With hand-written notes, I recommend using something like an index card, as ordinary paper might crinkle which may be picked up by a microphone. If you’re using the Apple Notes app, make sure to bump the font size up for your talk and stick your phone in airplane mode. If you get shaky hands, like me, go with digital notes or even no notes at all.

Whichever tool you choose for your presenter’s notes, it’s always helpful to reflect on each slide: What are the three things you must remember to say? I recommend three bullet points per slide, with no more than three words for each bullet. You don’t want to be reading sentences word-for-word, all the emotion in your voice will disappear.

Timing

As I mentioned, most presentation software has a presenter’s view that displays a clock or timer. Watch your time and don’t run over, it’s rude to the next presenter, and can be hard on the audience (maybe they have to run and pick up their kid, or get to the next meeting that is far away).

Time is probably going to move faster in your head during a talk too. Make sure to take your time, especially if you are a fast talker like me, which only gets faster when I’m nervous.

Technology

Hold a microphone like you’re drinking a glass of beer. It’s sitting right below your mouth and in front of your chin slightly. If you turn to look across the room, at another presenter, or at your slides behind you, bring the mic with you. Did someone ask a question? Repeat their question into the microphone before answering — especially if the talk is being live-streamed or recorded.

Bring every adapter for your computer’s display output, as well as its power adapter. Have a version of your presentation in the cloud somewhere. I recently saw an interview candidate pull up two (!) draft emails they had ready to go with their presentation attached, in the event they couldn’t get their computer to present (guess what, it wasn’t working, but it wasn’t a problem because they were prepared).

Be Yourself

The audience is there to see you. You don’t need to invent a stage persona that you struggle to perform. You can just be yourself. Especially if you currently think you aren’t “speaker material.” Because guess what? You already are.

It is totally, completely fine to give large elaborate presentations in your regular-ass conversational tone and cadence. You don't have to Sound Like A Real Speaker; you are, in fact, by dint of being there, already a real speaker. - Eileen Webb

Good Luck! Or, if you are superstitious, Break a Leg!



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