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What I Do to Prep a Technical Presentation

This was a question asked on Twitter the other day, "How do folks prepare for a presentation?" Here are some of my thoughts and what I do to prepare.

Make Sure the Demos Work

I try to make my demos bulletproof. Basically, if I can hit the F5 key and have it execute without me doing anything else, we're good. The reason I want my demos bulletproof is frequently I run through the demos fairly quickly, as do most presenters. Folks may want to take their time to go through the presentation and the demos later. They may not, but for the handful that do, I want to make sure they have code that works. I also try to comment the code, so folks know what should happen. I don't assume someone is going to open Books Online to trace through syntax.

On this same topic, I make sure that my demo filenames clearly show what they're for and are numbered if there's a progression (like setup, the code itself, and then clean-up). I'd rather folks not have to guess.

Keep Busyness Out of the Slides

When slides are busy, folks take longer to read through them. And if there's a ton of information, it may get a little (or a lot) confusing. Either case, that's time they are focusing on the slides and not on what I'm saying. I can't encapsulate everything I want to say on a topic on a slide. No one, other than Calvin Coolidge, can. So the object is to have a slide that helps guide the talk in the reader/listener's mind, but one that he or she can get through at a quick glance. Unfortunately, when I put slides together, my first instinct is to put a lot of information on them. I don't fight that. It has proven pointless. So I do the first pass, then I take a second (and sometimes third) pass through the slides and ask whether everything I've put on there really needs to be there. The points that do, stay. The points that don't, go. I'm also not afraid to reword a point, if that helps with clarity and reduces busyness.

Present to Someone I Know Will Give Me Honest Feedback

I try not to wing presentations. I've done it in the past, and usually not by choice. Being in ministry as long as I have been, especially in children's and youth ministry, there are a lot of "improv moments." But ministry isn't technical presenting. The core material should be something I should have a firm grasp on. And I want to make sure that I can convey that knowledge cleanly and in a logical manner. That takes practice, even if I know the material really well. I've given the Fortress SQL Server and Baked-In SQL Security presentations about a dozen times now. Trigger Happy Database Security is more than five. But I'll still take the time to go through the slides, to walk through the presentation in my head before I present. That's a minimum. If I have the chance to rehearse, I will. Now, if it's a new presentation or one I've only give once or twice, then I definitely will try to rehearse it - demos and all. And I try and find folks that will give me honest feedback. I want to know what worked and what didn't. That allows me to polish the presentation. I know time is valuable and I want to make sure I'm not wasting anyone's time with a poor persentation.

Mull It Over and Repeat

After going through these steps, I'll take time to mull over the presentation, if I have it. A day or two at least, a week is better. And then I'll go back through and edit the demos, test them, edit the slides, review them, and if still possible, I'll do the presentation again to get updated feedback. I really don't like doing a 1.0 presentation to a crowd like a user group or bigger. I'd rather it be 2.0 or 3.0 before I say it's ready for prime time. Now I've bent the rules here several times recently, but that's because we've had specific requests. For instance, I did a quick and dirty presentation on built-in encryption for SQL Server 2005/2008 because I had several folks ask for it at a security presentation. That was a 1.0 session and there were several times when I had to say, "I don't know, but I'll look into it," for questions that had I mulled over the presentation, I would have come to the conclusion they would have been asked and I would have prepared accordingly. And that's why I think taking a step back and taking time to let the presentation "set up" in my head works better.


K. Brian Kelley - Databases, Infrastructure, and Security

IT Security, MySQL, Perl, SQL Server, and Windows technologies.


Posted by Glenn Berry on 6 April 2010

Good tips. I am all for preparing, rehearsing, and running live demonstrations during a presentation, as opposed to just taking screenshots of a demo and pasting that into a PowerPoint slide.

Posted by Dukagjin Maloku on 6 April 2010

Not bad, nice tips!

Posted by dave on 6 April 2010

Brian, interesting topic.  It seems to be one that's important but not openly discussed much.  I'm a new presenter and tend to struggle with the need for PowerPoint.  My tendency is to focus on the live demo, especially on making sure the demo starts out basic and incrementally builds to something interesting.

My tendency with the PPT part of the demo is to put too much info in it... but once I get to the demo I don't want to go back to the PPT talking points anyway.

If facilities had the ability to have dual screens, one for PPT and one for the demo, PPT might have a place for enhancing / graphically displaying the key points of the demo.  I don't see the dual displays at user group meetings being available anytime soon.

To me, PPT is good for the opening (who am I and why this topic) and closing screens (references and credits); what's in between is the meat of the demo.

I'd be real interested to hear other folks 2 cents on the use / need for slides in their technical presentations.  From the attendee's perspective, to you prefer the emphasis on demos or slides?

Posted by Jason Brimhall on 6 April 2010

I like the tips you have provided here.

Posted by Anonymous on 7 April 2010

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