Justin has started a series of posts on tips for giving technical presentations, so I want to throw my hat in the ring and give a tip that will help all of us do better in our presentations.
I’m terrible at not fully preparing for talks and it has definitely shown. I’m not proud of my WPF talks at the recent Central Ohio Day of .NET, Stir Trek and the Indy Code Camp. I struggled with content at Central Ohio and with other problems coming up during the talks at the other events. I never gave any thought to what would happen if hardware failed or if I forgot some important piece of code. The ratings for those talks were justifiably low because I *did* run into hardware problems and I did forget important code. I was NOT prepared. Ugh.
At Central Ohio, I made a change to my WPF talk the night before the session, but never ran through it before actually giving it in front of an audience. HUGE mistake. At Stir Trek, I spent more time worrying about how to get the damn HP TouchSmart to display on the projector than I did on what I was actually going to say. HUGE MISTAKE. At the Indy Code Camp, I discovered DURING the presentation that I copied the WRONG virtual machines to my laptop so I didn’t have the correct code. HUGE MISTAKE. I ended up having to remote into my home development VM and demo from that. Ugh.
I gave two talks at the Indy Code Camp. One was very successful, one was a failure. During the day, I spent some time talking to Mike Wood. Mike is not only a friend, but a fantastic speaker, so I opened up to him on how poorly my WPF talk went versus how my Software Estimation talk went.
Because my Software Estimation talk was new, I spent a lot of time over the past couple of weeks on it. In fact, I did something I have NEVER done with one of my talks before: I rehearsed it. Let’s be clear on what I’m talking about – I stood in my office, alone, and gave the Software Estimation talk to an empty room. I didn’t stop. If I ran into a slide with no notes (I was using Presentation View), I forced myself to say something. This was a HUGE WIN because I realized BEFORE the live presentation that I only had 45 minutes of material for a 75 minute session! It was also a HUGE WIN because once I was in front of the audience I *knew* what I was going to say!
During my conversation with Mike, he said he does that for every one of his talks! You know what? It shows. It shows when he’s in front of an audience and it shows in his speaker evaluations. I will admit though that standing up in my office felt strange. It felt strange talking to no one. It also felt very satisfying!
I will NEVER do another presentation without first running through it out loud in the comfort of my home/office. I will do this multiple times if possible.