Information Technology Dark Side

Struggles of a Self-Taught Coder

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Tips on presentations to large groups and why not to have them.

December 22nd, 2007 · No Comments

Garrett Hart

1. For your slides use high contrast text. For example, black text over a blue background IS NOT high contrast and is not readable from a distance. The colors that you see on your monitor when preparing your slides will likely appear much less saturated during your presentation particularly if you are using a projector.

2. If you have more than 50 words on a slide then that slide is useless to anyone sitting at a distance. It is not readable period. Even 50 is probably way too many words. Try 10 or less. Try 1.

3. The same thing goes for block diagrams. If you have more than 10 blocks on your slide it is largely useless from a distance. The thing is I have had many presenters acknowledge that their slide probably can’t be read by “the back of the room” so being the kind souls they are they read it for everybody. Which leads to…

4. If your presentation consists largely of you reading your slides to the audience WHY HAVE THE PRESENTATION? Is your audience illiterate? If a pharmaceutical company could bottle the way I feel 5 minutes into a presentation where someone is reading their slides they’d have a sleeping aid that would make them millions. Just send out the slides and let everyone read them at their convenience.


5. Is there going to be food at your presentation? First of all, that is unfortunate because, whether you have admitted it to yourself or not, you probably realize on some level that you need to bribe people with food to get them to come to your presentation in the first place. Second, food is very good at distracting people away from actually listening to your presentation because it has to be fiddled with and sends many people into nap mode as they begin to digest. Finally, if you have to have food have quite food. The guy next to you messing with and eating a single serving size bag of chips can be extremely annoying when you are trying to catch a nap during the reading of the latest org chart.

6. Related to food, I’ve attended multiple presentations in areas that usually serve as the building’s cafeteria. For many of these the cafeteria was not closed for the occasion. Ice machines, other lunch conversations, phones, microwave smells (invariably burnt microwave popcorn), people who are not attending the presentation opening single serving size bags of chips, you get the idea. Pick some place else.

7. Related to eating areas, what type of seating arrangements are there? If you are in the classic eating area then you are most likely dealing with square or round tables that seat 4 people. If no one moves their chairs at best only one of the 4 people sitting at those tables are directly facing your presentation. Obviously that is not realistic, but even if everyone rotates their chairs you are dealing with a very inefficient use of space that forces people farther way from your presentation. I would guess that the amount of information that someone takes away from your presentation is inversely related to the distance they sit from you. Engagement/participation probably follows the same rule.

8. Set up early. At least 10 percent of the presentations I have been to have been plagued by technical problems that would likely have been resolved if someone showed up early enough to really set things up and run through the presentation. Nothing says, “my presentation is a joke and I don’t really care about you getting anything out of it” quite like not bothering to make sure your equipment works or that you have all your slides.

9. Don’t have a presentation. So the above items are just a few that I came up with during the course of an unfortunately very typical presentation. (Which leads to another thought: If you want people to pay attention don’t have wireless access or let them bring their laptops. They’ll be blogging about how crappy your presentation is.) Does it seem like it might take some planning to pull and engaging presentation off? Does it seem like it might actually be hard? That’s because it is. So consider not doing it.

Here’s another reason not to do it: When a topic reaches the level of requiring a “presentation” what does that imply? To me it implies a lot of people need to see this, that this is something that can’t be handled in a quick, much smaller meeting (don’t get me started). What topics are applicable to “a lot of people”? General ones. What are presentations on general topics? Boring and unengaging. Don’t have the presentation and send out an email instead.

Here’s my final reason not to have a presentation: Think of the cost. Look at the number of people sitting around you at an “all hands meeting”. Think about the number of people who may have dialed in. Now think about the average cost per minute of the people attending the meeting. Not just their salaries, but also think about the cost of them not doing work that they would be doing if they weren’t at the meeting. Get some crazy numbers? I do. Does the general information you are getting in any way justify spending that much money? I’d guess not.

– Garrett

Originally posted on www.garretthart.com. Used with permission.

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