Leaning

5 Rules that Help me Make a Good Technical Presentation

As an engineer who has gone through graduate school I have sat in on many technical presentations. Some were excellent; in those the speaker kept me engaged, interested, and helped me easily understand the point they were trying to get across. Others on the other hand were not so great, for different reasons. For many of the latter ones this was despite the fact that the work was really interesting. I know this because I looked up additional resources, like a paper, report, video, or website that I checked during or after the presentation and found the work to be amazing. So here are some ideas I have picked up, and/or experimented with over the years that I think make a great technical presentation. Some of these “rules” may apply to different kinds of presentations, but that is not in my wheelhouse so I will stick to what I know.  

  1. Know your audience: This is true for any presentation but more so for a technical one. Whether you are a physicist talking about your latest discovery in string theory, or a statistician discussing the patterns in New York city cab routes you really need to convey information based on your audience’s level of understanding. If you’re giving a talk at the local high-school to inspire young adults then you might want to steer clear of integro-differential equations. The same thing applies if you are presenting your team’s work to the company board of directors. 

  2. The first 2 slides are what count the most: This is how you get the audience hooked. Have a really descriptive opening slide, put in a catchy or controversial statement, or add an image that tells it all. I always prefer a graphical outline rather than the boring bullet point one. Or even take the outline out, make your opening slide a short story about your presentation that focuses on what problem you are trying to solve, what the outcome is, and how hard you worked on it. Then directly get down to business. I cannot tell you how many times I have seen people ramble for 3 or 4 slides about what they want to talk about rather than saying it. I may have been guilty of this at some point as well. 

  3. Visualize yourself: While adding each slide to your presentation  visualize what you will look like standing next to it, from the audience’s view, and also think about what you will be saying and how you would say it. This has worked wonders for me because I always go off script in presentations, I don’t want to look like I memorized some words or that I am just reading from a deck of cards. That’s because people lose interest if you look like you don’t really know what you’re talking about. Remember, they are not there to hear from someone who had nothing to do with the work being presented, they want to hear from you!

  4. Practice: I don’t mean stand in front of a mirror and talk to yourself. But if that works for you then more power to you! I mean even when you are not working or looking at the presentation, keep it in the back of your mind. We all do this with many things in daily life; “oh did I forget to turn off the stove?”… “should I make lasagna or burgers for dinner tonight? maybe I should just eat out, no one has time to cook!” This way the presentation, and how you present it (remember to visualize), keeps brewing in your head and when you are actually presenting you feel very familiar and comfortable with what you are saying. 

  5. Proof read, proof read, proof read: You cannot believe how off putting a typo is for someone interested in your presentation, especially the ones that people call “silly.” I guess I have my adviser from graduate school to thank for this one, he would always catch all of my typos and equation slips and this gave me the ability to have deep attention to those details. You also do not want to have an incorrect equation up there if someone else in the room is a subject matter expert, then the Q&A session becomes very uncomfortable. 

The feature image is courtesy of wikimedia commons.

3 Comments

  1. Good job Gus. Another point worth mentioning given the great deal of virtual work/meetings that happen in our daily lives is your pace and speech clarity. I understand that this might be out of the hand of some but i feel it can be practiced and learned to a certain extent especially when it come to using “UM” too much or other words/phrases……watch out people 🙂 great tips!!!!

  2. Useful indeed, thanks for sharing your knowledge and experience in this topic… liked the forth and fifth rules they always make me have a better presentation…

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