Step 2: Tips and tricks for technical presentations

Technical Presentations

In the first blog post from the series I shared with you some of the fundamental things that you need to consider when you are preparing and delivering a presentation. If you still haven’t read that blog post – now is the perfect time! Don’t start directly here, because as I already mentioned, 99% of the presentations today fail because of one or more things from our “step 1” post were not considered, so it’s indeed really, really important and you just have to go through it! In this one though I want to focus more on the specifics of a technical presentation and what you need to think about before and during its delivery! 

As in the previous post(which was highly rated by many people – here and here), we will start from the preparation phase and slowly move to the moment in which you are already in front of your audience! So where this actually starts?

1. Prepare an abstract for your session! – Most of the time you are about to deliver a technical presentation, you will be asked to write an abstract for it. This piece of text is actually the one and only thing that will “tell” people whether or not they will go for your session! So yeah, it’s an important one and because I don’t think I will be able to write a better post with better recommendations on this, I will just point you to my 2 favourite ones – here and here. Consider them as a must read!

2. Prepare your system/s! – The goal of this point is for you to make your demos as clear and simple as possible for your audience! This also means that you have to prepare your machines(be that virtual or not) so that there are no distractions what so ever during your demonstrations(of course there are exceptions to that rule)! I am sick of seeing presentations that for one reason or another end up with screensaver which just started or Skype messages that were just received! So, next time you present think about these:

  • Disable your Screensaver
  • Disable your Power Saving options and always run in High Performance mode
  • Disable Windows Update
  • Disable your Antivirus software
  • Do not even think of enabling the option “Pointer Trails” for your Mouse! (who said to the presenters on TechEd 2010 that this is cool?)
  • Close all unneeded software
  • Clear your internet browsing history
  • Remove all unneeded icons from the notification area
  • Remove all unneeded icons from your desktop
  • Remove any highly personal desktop wallpapers and put the most simple possible – for example a one colour wallpaper (even better if you have more than 1 machine – set different colours of your desktop on all machines. This way it is even more easy for your audience to see where exactly are you at the moment)
  • Install all needed software – the one that will help you deploy VMs, the one that will help you with the zoom(all good presenters use software to zoom what they present! You should too!)
  • If you are showing command line/PowerShell scripts – change the colour of the text to green, set the font to at least 14pt. and do make the console bigger!
  • If you are showing code in any IDE, make sure it’s at least 14pt and also configure the colour for the marked code to something that can be easily seen. Most of the times in the SQL Server world we use yellow or orange and not blue for the marked piece of code inside SQL Server Management Studio.

3. Prepare your demos! – this step is crucial! If you skip this one, the chances you are going to fail in an epic manner are dramatically higher! What I mean is that whenever you are supposed to do a demo in your session you have to think of what is going to happen if it fails(and it will sooner or later!). Many of the presenters nowadays seem like they don’t care enough and they forget(or don’t even know) that there is something that can be done for their “failing demos”. Here are just 2 options:

  • do screenshots of your actual demo
  • record a video of your demo

Of course the second point is better and of course they both take time to be done, but, hey, that’s the prize you’ll have to pay if you don’t want to lose any credibility in your audience! It’s as simple as that and what makes me sad is that I continue to see presenters that think that it’s OK for their demo to fail – no it’s not! Not in 2014…

4. Try to go to the place where you are about to delivery your presentation! – If you have this chance – take it! Check the following things:

  • The projector – cables used to connect(VGA, DVI, HDMI), brightness, contrast, position of the projector itself compared to where the screen is and where you are going to be standing out delivering the session, resolution(both when you switch in and out of the slides and your demos), etc.
  • When testing the resolution, go at the back of the room and check whether or not the audience is able to see everything on your slide and during your demo without them actually needing to make additional effort
  • Ask for someone to tell you whether or not you can be easily heard in every point of the room
  • Check the speed of the internet connection(if you will need it)

5. Before the session starts, don’t forget to:

  • Start all software that you will need including your demo machines
  • Connect your mouse
  • Connect the wireless remote control device

6. Respect the community! – In the technical communities it is very often that a presenter uses some piece of code or demo of his colleague and if you also do so, do not forget to thank him publicly and during your presentation about this!

7. Demo time! – Before you start the demo, tell your audience briefly what they are about to see and then show it to them! If something happens and your demo fail, start by excusing and then try to fix it, but do not use more than 1 – 2 minutes for this!(I have seen presenters using their whole session for that – this was the most epic fail I have ever seen and again – it was on a huge conference!). That is why you have the videos recorded and the screenshots also taken!

8. Q&A! – in my first blog from the series, I already discussed many important things related to the Q&A section of a presentation. However, tech presentations are a bit different and that’s true because you can deliver one in various formats – standard live presentation, webcast, podcast (yeah, you do not have slides there, but who said you need them in order to deliver an amazing talk?), etc. What’s more – many of the tech speakers nowadays are very active bloggers and if you are still not, it’s probably the perfect time to start your blogging adventure! Your blog can be the perfect place for you to follow up with the questions you were not able to answer and also upload your slide deck.

These were the 8 points I thought would be helpful to you if you are about to deliver a technical presentation. Of course these will not help you at all if you haven’t managed to “implement” the ones that we spoke about in part 1, so again – go there first! The last post of the series is entirely dedicated to presentation design or how should we actually make our slide deck in order for our audience to not die during our session. I think that will be interesting for you (you don’t want them to be bored to death, right), so stay tuned, because “step 3” is coming soon!

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