The Art of Presenting

When I found out in August that I would be presenting my paper on “The Project Management Mid-life Crisis” at the 2008 APM Conference I was delighted. However this initial delight quickly turned into a stark Presenting at the APM Conferencequestion: how could I deliver my complex message simply and with maximum impact?

I am no stranger to giving presentations. In fact, at work I have a reputation for being pretty good at them. However on this occasion I wanted to do something a little bit special. In trying to decide how I could do that I came across some fantastic resources on the Internet and a video that would forever change my idea of what constitutes a “great presentation”. I also discovered that the divide between good and truly great presentations can be a hard one to cross.

Everything I have learned since August came from three places:

1. The Excellent Blog of Benjamin Ellis

I had already prepared a set of slides and decided roughly what I was going to say before I found a post by Benjamin entitled Larry Lessig – Copyright and Great Presenting. As soon as I watched the video of Larry Lessig presenting on How Creativity is Being Strangled by the Law I realised that I still had massive room for improvement: I needed to work on exactly what I was going to say and then make the PowerPoint slides back this up visually.

I read many of Benjamin’s other postings on presentations, all of which were well worth the time invested in doing so. I recommend that anyone reads the following:

2. Alex S. Brown’s Presentations

I listened to a number of Alex S. Brown’s presentations about project management that he makes available on his website. The key lessons that I took away were the importance of humour and of getting the audience involved. That is why my presentation began with two questions which the audience could respond to with a show of hands. It is also why my slides included stills from The Office and Absolutely Fabulous.

3. The Patience of my Girlfriend

Once I had re-drafted my slides and practiced alone many times I unleashed the results on my girlfriend. She works in education and knows a thing or two about how to get a message across clearly (to a sometimes unreceptive audience!). The first time I presented to her we identified numerous areas for improvement and I set about re-drafting the entire presentation again. This process was repeated several times until my long-suffering other half could almost recite the entire presentation better than I could!

Was it worth it?

Without doubt there are pitfalls to the approach I ended up taking. When the organisers of the conference first saw that I had prepared 120 slides for a 20 minute talk they were horrified and promptly suggested I cut down to no more than 20. It took quite some persuasion before they changed their minds.

Another issue is that to be effective you have to know exactly what you are going to say and advance the slides at exactly the correct moment. This takes some practice and also makes you reliant on technology. In fact, I had a small panic when, a week before the conference, I was led to believe that someone else would be advancing the slides on my behalf. Fortunately on the day itself I was given a small remote control so that I could advance them myself. Phew!

Pitfalls aside, I received a lot of very positive feedback from conference delegates. One described my talk as “the most useful so far”. Others said that it had been “entertaining” or that they had “liked the use of visuals”.

More importantly, by trying to do something out of the ordinary, I have learned more about effective presentations over the last few months than ever before. Expect some follow up posts with hints and tips of my own very soon!

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2 comments so far

  1. Benjamin on

    I bet the organisers fell off their seats when they saw 120 slides 🙂

    It sounds like it went well, and was appreciated by the audience. At the very least you saved them from another death-by-powerpoint experience.

    Well done for pushing the envelope and I look forward to your tips and experiences!

  2. Dr. Paul D. Giammalvo on

    You need to be somewhat cautious about “audience involvement”. While asking questions in a Western culture and expecting a show of hands is common and will work, if you try the same approach in China or other parts of Asia, you will most likely be met with a blank set of stares…… In cultures where “saving face” is a big issue, people are unwilling to commit to answering questions…….

    In these cultures, parables about OTHERS are more than likely to get audience response and participation…… Been conducting training in Asia Pacific for 15 years, and still “bomb” from time to time……

    BR,
    Dr. PDG, Jakarta


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