My thoughts on presenting and demonstrating

One of the many things I have to do as part of my job is conduct presentations and demonstrations of our product. Public speaking has always been easy for me, probably since I was “made” to go and read the lesson at church as a youngster, and now I almost relish to opportunity to speak in front of large groups or present our product to them. Of course, over the last 17 years with my job, I have learnt the hard way through feedback and watching my own presentations, but also through observing others. While I don’t profess to be an expert by any means, often the way to learn is through the experience of others.

Recently, I was asked to present to my team on some tips and techniques for presentations and demonstrations. I thought that I’d summarise some of them on this post, keeping in mind that not all of them may apply if not demonstrating a software product.

Mouse work: When presenting anything that involves a mouse, e.g. navigating a product or web page, I encourage my team to take note of the following:

  1. Mouse movements can be distracting. Make use of ‘home position’ for mouse when talking, for example, sit the cursor top left or centre screen.
  2. Fiddling can be really distracting even if you don’t realise you’re doing it. One thing I see the team doing is making columns wider/smaller while talking and it can be distracting because the group watch what the mouse is doing rather than listening
  3. Be careful not to rush from one concept to the next. Use pauses while the group take in what you’ve just said and process it. Sometimes, if it’s an interactive group, and you’re showing something quite new such as a software product, ‘digestion’ time is needed. Pauses are also good because they let the presenter think about the next bit!
  4. Compartmentalise concepts before moving onto a new one
  5. A trick I’ve learnt to emphasise something I’m doing rather than saying, is to not say anything while using the software/moving the mouse. It can be very effective to draw attention to what you’re doing by not saying anything at all!
  6. In reverse to the above, sometimes I’ve found that talking and no mouse at all can work as well if you want to get a point across.
  7. When talking or answering questions, keep your hand off the mouse.

Question time: There will always be questions! This is one area that I’ve really worked on over the years as I was in a position to observer some of our presenters in action:

  1. Do not talk over client. Stop and let them finish the question. Too often I see our staff guessing the question and then giving the wrong answer. Normally I hate people talking over me, but in a demonstration/presentation scenario, I stop dead and let the person speak.
  2. Clarify Question if not completely certain what was being asked.
  3. Check that you gave the correct/expected answer, e.g. ask “did that answer your question?”
  4. Keep people on topic. Sometimes I’m fortunate to have someone facilitating the session, but don’t be afraid to say that a question is off topic and it can be addressed later, particularly when doing software demonstrations.
  5. This can be a difficult one, but try to watch for potential question. For example, the person who has something to ask but cant get a word in, but be careful not to prompt them if they don’t have a question!

Presentations: Slide shows are very very popular and there are enough web sites devoted to the topic of creating good presentations, but some points I try to stick to:

  1. Keep it simple. Take a cue from Steve Jobs/Apple who give great simple presentations where it’s about the speaker, not the slides. However, if you’re not as confident at presenting then the slides can be a good ‘support’ for you. An example slide I have used is below.
  2. The slides should either reinforce what you’re saying with key points or “take-home-messages” or introduce/sign-off on topics. Don’t read the slides word for word – the group can do that for themselves!
  3. I find that if I do need to read the bullet points (it has happened) then either my presentation is wrong or the slides need re-work to take out some of the detail.
  4. Having said that, summary slides sometimes may need the words.
  5. If slides do get wordy (sometimes it happens), give the group a few sections to scan/read it.
  6. Don’t use sounds or fancy transitions. PowerPoint is great because it provides sounds, actions etc for building slides, and are great for schools, but in a professional setting they can be annoying or inappropriate if over used.
  7. Keep images to a minimum – this works well with the 2nd point above. Having said that, I did do a presentation to a NSW university once where I found funny pictures like those old black and white photos you can buy on the front of greeting cards, used only those in the slide show and talked to the slide headings instead.
  8. From experience, people remember the simple rather than the detailed when it comes to presentations.

Some other miscellaneous points:

  1. Know your audience. Talk to the right level, don’t talk over your audience’s head. Be aware if some/all of the group might have heard some points before, that may not be needed.
  2. In a professional demonstration, sometimes it’s worth avoiding giving of personal advice, just re-word it. For example, “personally, but you don’t have to do this” doesn’t work, but say instead “a suggestion is…”
  3. Having said that, in some presentations, the group appreciates getting to know a bit of who you are, rather than just someone up the front talking. This might be an introduction point about you, but could also be some personal experiences. When I’m presenting our product, I talk about “when I implemented this in xx area/department of the hospital”.
  4. PowerPoint and Keynote have presenter views when you have multiple monitors configured, and this can provide you with your notes, next slide and a timer. I use this where possible.