Presentation Preparation Philosophy

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GTM
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Presentation Preparation Philosophy

Postby GTM » Thu Oct 31, 2013 8:01 pm UTC

How do you properly prepare for a presentation? From my experience, at first, you practice because it is not polished and you can get criticism from people and such before the real thing. But there reaches a point when you practiced so much that you are no longer naturally flowing out thoughts and everything is rigid and memorized, and questions start throwing you off because you go off script.

Before this point of full memorization, I forget points that I should state when I'm put on the spot. It's as if, since I don't have it memorized, I'm trying to remember which piece of the presentation goes into which slot while I'm presenting, and I'm trying to multitask on stage. ie. on the slide I have a key point, and based on that key point, I'm supposed to explain it with 3 key subpoints not on the slide. If it's not memorized, I forget the subpoints while put on the spot, and then I notice it 2 minutes later that I forgot a subpoint that I should've introduced that would help with the current slide and it throws me off.

In conclusion, tests are easier than presentations because you have more time (3 hours vs 20 minutes) and you can go back and fix things/work on them later.

I'm not sure what I wanted out of this. Maybe I wanted suggestions? Maybe I just wanted to vent.

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Re: Presentation Preparation Philosophy

Postby Izawwlgood » Thu Oct 31, 2013 9:12 pm UTC

I think I'm a terrible presenter, but for what it's worth, it can help writing out exactly what you want to say, and then treating it as a guideline. Powerpoint, the worst presenter tool ever made, lets you do presenter notes. It can be really handy to include a bullet list of things you want to touch on.
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Re: Presentation Preparation Philosophy

Postby EvanED » Tue Nov 05, 2013 4:36 pm UTC

Izawwlgood wrote:Powerpoint, the worst presenter tool ever made, lets you do presenter notes.
No way. PPT has a bad reputation because it's easy to use badly, but IMO it's also way easier to use well than anything else, at least that I've seen. (Notable exception: I have not used Keynote, because I don't want to spend a thousand dollars on presentation software, even if it does come with a free computer. :-))

For me, the trick is what Izawwlgood said: use presenter notes and then presenter view when presenting. Possibly you don't have the luxury of choosing whether to use presenter view -- well, then consider old-fashioned notecards.

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Re: Presentation Preparation Philosophy

Postby Izawwlgood » Tue Nov 05, 2013 4:48 pm UTC

Yeah I was being unfairly harsh. I think people have a tendency to treat PowerPoint as info dumps, and it really clutters their talk.

If you're going to be posting info, build up to it piecemeal. Don't just slap a complicated figure up and say 'so as you.can see...'
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Re: Presentation Preparation Philosophy

Postby EvanED » Tue Nov 05, 2013 5:26 pm UTC

Izawwlgood wrote:I think people have a tendency to treat PowerPoint as info dumps, and it really clutters their talk.
I think the related mistake is that people often seem to want their slides to make sense without the talk, and while it makes people looking at the slides after the talk happier, it makes the talk worse.

And that's why presenter view is so valuable: your slides can accompany the talk rather than be a complete information source (meaning you don't have to put everything you want to say on the slides), and yet you don't have to remember stuff (except to look at the presenter notes, which can be surprisingly hard to do :-)).

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Re: Presentation Preparation Philosophy

Postby Izawwlgood » Tue Nov 05, 2013 6:23 pm UTC

Yupyup. A potential pitfall of presenter view is it can encourage 'reading from the presenter view box', which can make the talk feel stilted.
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Re: Presentation Preparation Philosophy

Postby GTM » Tue Nov 05, 2013 11:39 pm UTC

Notecards are frustrating for me too! If I'm presenting, I don't have the time to read the 2 lines of text per card that I've written donw!

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Re: Presentation Preparation Philosophy

Postby Izawwlgood » Wed Nov 06, 2013 2:45 am UTC

I would suggest that standard slides should be up for more than two sentences. Obviously if you're building a figure or adding to something you can change more rapidly, but if what your showing is only going to be up for two quick sentences, reconsider putting it up.
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Re: Presentation Preparation Philosophy

Postby GTM » Wed Nov 06, 2013 3:34 am UTC

Well it was an exhaggeration in the sense that if I had more than 2 sentences on a card, it would take me even longer to read through the card to see what I missed.

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Re: Presentation Preparation Philosophy

Postby Izawwlgood » Wed Nov 06, 2013 4:51 am UTC

Izawwlgood wrote:bullet list of things you want to touch on.
and
Izawwlgood wrote:A potential pitfall of presenter view is it can encourage 'reading from the presenter view box', which can make the talk feel stilted.


If you're reading directly from the slide or your presenter view or your notecards, you're doing it wrong.
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Re: Presentation Preparation Philosophy

Postby Dopefish » Wed Nov 06, 2013 3:51 pm UTC

In theory, I would imagine the best way to prepare is to give a bunch of improvised mini-presentations to a smaller audience, so you get a sense for the overall flow of your presentation, but since it's improv you're still not falling into the trap of having rigid memorized lines that could mess you up if/when you stumble. It also gives you the opportunity to get some feedback and potentially some idea of what sort of questions might be asked.

In practice, I was notorious for simultaneously appearing to be the most knowledgeable about whatever topic I was presenting compared to other presenters, yet being by far the worst presenter. I gather this is because people really like pictures (and I do mean pictures, not like graphs/figures) and I rarely utilized those just because they seem pointless due to their frequent lack of quantitative data (I guess for certain fields if theres a scale on the screen it can be useful). I'm sure theres more to it then that, as I agree with my critics that I'm a poor presentation giver, but nailing things down precisely is tricky.

I think one of the things about presentations and in particular presentation slides that irks me is that presentation slides shouldn't have enough information on them to stand alone, and should 'force' the audience to listen to you instead of choosing between you and the slides. This is basically what EvanED mentioned about wanting the slides to make sense without the talk for people after, but it's something I hate to do even for people during the talk because people can occasionally not hear or be distracted and could end up being completely lost for the remainder of the slide/next few slides/entire talk depending on how connected things are, while if they can just look at the slide(s) for a moment and figure out what's what then they can be back on board.

It's a delicate balance I suppose. I'm pretty sure the best presentation I ever gave was one where technology failed and I ended up using a blackboard for the whole thing, although sketching out some key graphs by hand was perhaps less than optimal. Still, people didn't have much choice as to where to focus their attention, so it worked.

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Re: Presentation Preparation Philosophy

Postby Izawwlgood » Wed Nov 06, 2013 4:34 pm UTC

Both you the presenter, and the slides themselves should be supplements to one another. Someone should be able to figure out what I'm saying by looking at a slide, and the slide should enforce what I'm saying.

It depends on the context of the talk, but I wouldn't say that the stack of slides itself should ever make sense on it's own, just like me standing there saying 'As you can see, this treatment significantly impairs synaptic transmission' shouldn't be very compelling or interesting. Pictures worth a thousand words and all that.

It's hard though. I'm not very good at it, and I'd like to be better. One way to practice is by giving more presentations and taking the advice and criticisms given. If someone tells you 'This doesn't make sense', don't get indignant and think they're being stupid; you probably haven't explained something sufficiently. I remember in high school treating class presentations as an opportunity to bludgeon people with how much more I knew than them, and it made for incredibly boring and shitty presentations. Treat it more like show and tell, or like you're taking someone to your favorite restaurant and want to tell them all about it. You don't sit them down, rapid fire point to the waitstaff reciting their names and a quick fact about them, and then order everything on the menu and devour it all before they get a chance to take a bite.
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Re: Presentation Preparation Philosophy

Postby LaserGuy » Wed Nov 06, 2013 5:05 pm UTC

The general rules I follow for PowerPoint are these:
-Try to start with general concepts that the majority of your audience can grasp quickly. Even if you're the 10th speaker in a row on the same subject, there's nothing wrong with one or two relevant basic slides.
-A bullet point should never be more than one line long. Ideally, it should never be more than four words. Pictures or figures with concise captions should be the bulk of your slides.
-Never have more than one equation in a talk, except perhaps simple proportionalities.
-Never have more than one slide per minute of your talk.
-Especially for graphs, make the axis labels and data points comically large. Your audience should be able to clearly see what you're plotting from the back of the room. When you introduce a graph, it's worth taking a second to explicitly state what's on the axis anyway.

For talks more generally
-Give at least one (preferably two or three) practice talks in front of people, with time for you to revise. If you practice alone, it must be out loud. I've heard that practicing in front of a mirror works well. If you're really hardcore, get someone to record your talk and play it back for you.
-Write a script if it helps you, but don't use it.
-Try to imagine what sorts of questions you will get asked at your talk. The people from your practice talk might give you some ideas. If you can, try to prepare relevant slides to answer those questions. Have your most important figures in duplicate at the end of the talk, so if someone asks about them, you don't have to go back to slide 7 and try to find it.
-If you forget to say something or go off script a bit, don't worry about it. Just keep going where you are. If you don't tell your audience that you missed something, they probably won't realise it. If it's really important, it will come up in questions and you can answer it there. If not, well, maybe it wasn't important enough to be in the talk if you couldn't remember it anyway.
-Always pitch your talk at a lower level than you think is appropriate. Remember that you know this material a lot better than your audience, and people will generally feel better about talks that they understand.
-If you use a laser pointer at all, it should only be to quickly draw your audience's attention to a particular place on the slide. Don't keep it on the whole talk. Highlight for a second, then turn it off. It's distracting otherwise and will make you face the wrong way.

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Re: Presentation Preparation Philosophy

Postby EvanED » Thu Nov 07, 2013 3:15 am UTC

LaserGuy wrote:The general rules I follow for PowerPoint are these:

I'll add a counterpoint, because there are multiple ways to make a good talk, and so you shouldn't treat everything we say as hard and fast rules. You have to find your own comfort and preferences. (I know that's sort of cliche to say...) Understand that my experience with doing PPT talks is largely (though not wholly by any means) based around what works for academic conferences and such.

Never have more than one equation in a talk, except perhaps simple proportionalities.
This is somewhat audience, topic, and talk-length dependent, and I didn't notice anything in GTM's post about what sorts of talks he's giving. It's a good rule of thumb, but if you have a good reason for breaking it, then don't feel like the PowerPoint gods are necessarily going to come take your first-born child. For instance, a lot of academic talks (i.e. for conferences and similar) are 25 minutes or so, and have a relatively short section in the middle for experts in the field, and there you can break this rule a bit. Or one thing that I think works really well if you can pull it off is to include equations up, but largely sectioned off as a "for experts" area while you spend most of the slide addressing the general audience.

Never have more than one slide per minute of your talk.
This is one of the main areas I'd say presentation styles differ. For instance, with my style, most of my slides are up for less than a minute. This is doubly true if you actually count "physical" PPT slides because I tend to have a lot of animations that are staged across multiple slides, but I suspect it'd be true even if you accounted for that. As an example (and bearing in mind the animation point), the slide deck for my PhD defense has 153 slides in it, of which I skipped I think around 30, and that was for a 50-60 minute talk excluding copious time for questions. If I go through that slide deck and count "logical" slides (i.e. count animations that are staged across multiple slides as just one logical slide, though counting repetitions of "signposting" slides), I still get 88. My extreme example is that a 5-minute tool talk I gave at a conference has 33 physical PowerPoint slides -- but that is an anomaly in many ways. :-)

I wind up with that many slides by (1) keeping the amount of stuff on any given slide to a minimum, and (2) coming back to certain "signposting" slides frequently, even if I only spend 10 seconds on them, in order to re-orient the audience. For example, I have one slide that is repeated 7 times throughout my defense slides (counting logical occurrences), and all it has on it is three words and extremely simple pictures.

-Try to imagine what sorts of questions you will get asked at your talk. The people from your practice talk might give you some ideas. If you can, try to prepare relevant slides to answer those questions. Have your most important figures in duplicate at the end of the talk, so if someone asks about them, you don't have to go back to slide 7 and try to find it.
I'm a bit skeptical of the utility of the second piece of advice, though I haven't tried it. I will say this about looking around your slide deck for something: First, using and getting used to presenter view helps here too, because you can look through your slides without having to flip through them from your audience's perspective. (OTOH, they will see you bending over to mess with your computer.) Second, note that when a PPT presentation is running, you can type a slide number and press enter to go to that slide. So if someone from your audience at the end of your talk goes "can you go back to slide 32?" you just press 3-2-enter.

-If you forget to say something or go off script a bit, don't worry about it. Just keep going where you are. If you don't tell your audience that you missed something, they probably won't realise it.
Ding ding! A lost of the time you know you messed up, because you wrote the damn thing. To the audience, ignorance is bliss! :-) Even if something you should have said three slides ago is important now to set the stage for something you want to talk about during the current slide, if there was nothing on the previous slide to remind you to say it then, the audience also won't know that you were supposed to tell them about it then instead of now ("When will then be now?") as long as you don't call attention to it with "oh, I should have told you before...".

-If you use a laser pointer at all, it should only be to quickly draw your audience's attention to a particular place on the slide. Don't keep it on the whole talk. Highlight for a second, then turn it off. It's distracting otherwise and will make you face the wrong way.
Obviously this is very venue-dependent, but what I like to do is physically walk in front of the screen and point at stuff. Not point as in "look over there", but as in "look right here, where my finger is." I actually specifically design basically all of my slides with a back background so that I can do this and it's not disruptive, and the slide contents physically blend into the surroundings. :-)

---

Edit
GTM wrote:Notecards are frustrating for me too! If I'm presenting, I don't have the time to read the 2 lines of text per card that I've written donw!

I just re-noticed this. And it brings me to one of the more important presentation rules IMO, which is don't be afraid to pause for a few seconds every now and again! It may feel a little awkward (though if you think that's awkward, try asking a class if anyone has any questions and then waiting for 20 or 30 seconds -- even 20 seconds feels like an eternity! :-)), but the audience can benefit from time to absorb what you're saying too. So if you have to even just stop entirely, look down at your notes, and then say something on the note cards, that's okay. (At least as long as it's not too frequent. Not sure what the cutoff would be.)

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Re: Presentation Preparation Philosophy

Postby LaserGuy » Thu Nov 07, 2013 4:49 pm UTC

EvanED wrote:
Never have more than one equation in a talk, except perhaps simple proportionalities.
This is somewhat audience, topic, and talk-length dependent, and I didn't notice anything in GTM's post about what sorts of talks he's giving. It's a good rule of thumb, but if you have a good reason for breaking it, then don't feel like the PowerPoint gods are necessarily going to come take your first-born child. For instance, a lot of academic talks (i.e. for conferences and similar) are 25 minutes or so, and have a relatively short section in the middle for experts in the field, and there you can break this rule a bit. Or one thing that I think works really well if you can pull it off is to include equations up, but largely sectioned off as a "for experts" area while you spend most of the slide addressing the general audience.


Even in academic talks, I've never found that having a high equation density is a good thing. I agree that this field specific--if you're at a math conference or theoretical physics, obviously you're going to see a lot more equations. But unless the equations are a key result that you are demonstrating, IMHO, they should be avoided where possible.

EvanED wrote:
-Try to imagine what sorts of questions you will get asked at your talk. The people from your practice talk might give you some ideas. If you can, try to prepare relevant slides to answer those questions. Have your most important figures in duplicate at the end of the talk, so if someone asks about them, you don't have to go back to slide 7 and try to find it.


I'm a bit skeptical of the utility of the second piece of advice, though I haven't tried it. I will say this about looking around your slide deck for something: First, using and getting used to presenter view helps here too, because you can look through your slides without having to flip through them from your audience's perspective. (OTOH, they will see you bending over to mess with your computer.) Second, note that when a PPT presentation is running, you can type a slide number and press enter to go to that slide. So if someone from your audience at the end of your talk goes "can you go back to slide 32?" you just press 3-2-enter.


Well, if the person knows that they want slide 32, yeah, that's fine. The problem is if they want you to go back to that plot partway through your talk where you were looking at such and such versus such and such. Unless you know the slide numbers on your talk pretty well, it might take a bit to find it.

EvanED wrote:
GTM wrote:Notecards are frustrating for me too! If I'm presenting, I don't have the time to read the 2 lines of text per card that I've written donw!

I just re-noticed this. And it brings me to one of the more important presentation rules IMO, which is don't be afraid to pause for a few seconds every now and again! It may feel a little awkward (though if you think that's awkward, try asking a class if anyone has any questions and then waiting for 20 or 30 seconds -- even 20 seconds feels like an eternity! :-)), but the audience can benefit from time to absorb what you're saying too. So if you have to even just stop entirely, look down at your notes, and then say something on the note cards, that's okay. (At least as long as it's not too frequent. Not sure what the cutoff would be.)


I like to bring a water bottle to my talks. If you feel the need to pause for a sec or lose your place and find it awkward to do so, take a sip of water instead of just stopping. Though, as you say, a two or three second pause to the presenter feels like forever, but the audience probably won't even notice.

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Re: Presentation Preparation Philosophy

Postby Izawwlgood » Thu Nov 07, 2013 6:38 pm UTC

Slide number is kind of a poor metric; I have a handful of slides that are step by step construction of a model, or adding pieces of information to a figure. Just putting up a 10 bar graph is a bit overwhelming, saying 'Here's the control and one experimental condition, and we can see x. Here's another experimental condition that tells us y, and when we do this third experimental condition, we can infer z.'

Something I like in presentations is getting background for something right before it's shown, instead of a background dump in the beginning, and a bunch of stuff that follows.
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Re: Presentation Preparation Philosophy

Postby Username4242 » Fri Nov 08, 2013 10:21 am UTC

This is partly personal preference, but I've found that the less text a speaker puts on the slides, the better the talk tends to be. Time people spend reading your slides is time that they *don't* spend listening to you.

I'm not sure if this is an option for you, but having training in drama / acting helps an astonishing amount. I also recommend watching a number of talks online and finding general patterns in those that you perceive as being 'good'. While some of their talks should be taken with a mountain of salt, many presenters at TED are superb. If you can combine the style given at many TED talks with the substance required for scientific presentations, you'll be very well off.

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Re: Presentation Preparation Philosophy

Postby Adacore » Tue Feb 11, 2014 6:16 am UTC

I would definitely suggest minimal text points on slides, using illustrations and pictures over text wherever possible. If I don't have any useful illustrations to use, I prefer to forego powerpoint entirely, and just speak, with a board or flip-chart available to sketch or write anything important I want to display. If I am using powerpoint I like note cards over presenter notes, because it allows me to position myself more freely and move around a bit while presenting (don't move too much, though). Even note cards would never have 'lines of text' written on them. Just more short bullet points to remind me of the talking points for each major point on the slide. If you're using powerpoint, another random tip I heard to have your presentations look professional is to have 3 identical copies of your final slide at the end, so you don't accidentally click 'next' and end up with the black 'presentation over' screen, or dumped back into the program window.

However, this is a completely different situation when presenting to non-native English speakers. In that case, your audience will normally find it much easier to read than to listen, and having more text-dense slides with longer lines can be very valuable. This does result in an increase in 'reading off the slide' type behaviour, but is better than a lack of understanding.

One of the more valuable life-skills courses I received at university was a half-day workshop on how to build a presentation on anything in 5 minutes. In essence, you take a sheet of paper, write 4-6 major points about your topic evenly spaced on the page, then write 4-6 sub-points under each major point. You can improvise a simple introduction (your name, and what you're talking about) and conclusion (rehash the major points you covered and ask for questions).


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