The Five Myths of Technical Presentations
“You are not being judged, the value of what you are bringing to the audience is being judged.” – Seth Godin
There are myths in any realm of life. Creating and delivering presentations is no exception.
For this newsletter, I am bending one of my cardinal rules of speaking and writing – use no three main points.
Below are five myths of technical presentations covering (1) being personal with your audience,(2) the amount of detail you put in your presentations, (3) your slides as your message, (4) using technology in your presentations, and (5) knowing your audience.
Myth 1 – Never Be Personal with Your Audience
Fact: Being personal will draw the audience toward you
Technical presentations usually are held in a business atmosphere. Being personal in a business atmosphere does not mean you tell your audience about what you did on your summer vacation.
What it does mean is giving a summary of your background concerning your topic. For instance, if your topic is high speed computing and you have a background as a high speed computing researcher at Carnegie-Mellon University, state this.
Many times there is someone introducing you. Write your introduction and ask the introducer to read the introduction you wrote to the audience. A good introduction is like the catapult that propels Navy planes off aircraft carriers. It propels your presentation in the direction you want before you utter a word.
Being personal with your audience concerning your technical background on the subject you are presenting is more fully engage your audience.
Being personal with your audience is important. However, too much detail in your presentation will “drown out” your message
Myth 2 – More Detail is Needed for Better Understanding
Fact: Less is more in presentations.
This is a huge trap many of us technical speakers fall into.
Technical speakers sometimes get sloppy with detail. They believe more detail is better than too little detail. To be sure, there will be some technical people in your audience that want detail. However they are in a small minority. Technical audiences would rather understand and be clear on what you are presenting than have every last detail on your topic.
Your technical audiences want is clarity. Clarity in your presentation’s purpose, clarity in your delivery, and clarity in what you want them to do with the information you present.
Too many details will swamp your message. You have heard when you emphasize everything, nothing is emphasized. This is the problem with great detail.
Remember, less is more in presentations. Your audience will thank you!
Being personal with your audience and avoiding unnecessary detail in your presentation are vitally important.
Have you ever wondered though who or what is the message of your presentation.
Myth 3 – Your Slides are Your Message
Fact: You are your message
There have been plenty of presenters in my decades of technical experience and witnessing and delivering countless technical presentations that rely on their slides for their message when in fact they are the message.
If your slides were the message, then your audience could save time by just reading your slides and not listening to you. Too many technical speakers put “everything but the kitchen sink” into their slides and rely on them too heavily even reading their slides which the audience can readily do.
The most effective and efficient way to create slides is to first delay creating them. Write down the main points of your speech and then decide what should be on your slides. My mantra concerning slide detail is, “When in doubt, take it out.”
Busy slides are a hazard in presentations. First, they distract your audience from your message. Second, busy slides ensure the audience will be reading them and trying to understand them and, therefore, not listening to you. Third, busy slides take much more time to create then simple slides free of clutter and distractions.
Being personal with your audience, avoiding unnecessary detail in your presentation are vitally important, and ensuring your message gets transmitted to and understood by your audience are vital.
Also, using technology for technology’s sake is like an elderly gentleman buying a new BMW car that he uses only to go to church on Sunday. It is a colossal waste of money, includes features he won’t use, and will be the same drive as if he bought a Honda. Technology is much the same in your presentations.
Myth 4 – More Technology in Your Technical Presentation is a Good Thing
Fact: Technology should support your presentation and not distract from your message.
Technology like slide animation, videos embedded in your slides, and audio clips should support and enhance your presentation, not add more complication and risk.
Whenever considering using technology in your presentation, ask yourself some questions. What main point(s) is the technology supporting? Will I have the correct technological interfaces to my laptop computer at the presentation site (e.g., connection to projector, wireless lapel microphone, etc.). Will I need an additional person to help me work through the technology?
On this last question, I firmly believe in this virtual world of ours an additional person is needed to handle chat questions, breakout rooms, and other technology options.
Being personal with your audience, avoiding unnecessary detail in your presentation, ensuring your message gets transmitted to and is understood by your audience, and using technology only when it will enhances your message are vitally important.
The last myth concerns knowing your audience. Not knowing your audience is like traveling from Washington DC to Los Angeles California without a map. You will never get to Los Angeles. If you don’t know your audience, you don’t have a “map” to take them to your final destination in your presentation.
5 – You Do Not Need to Know Your Audience
Fact: If you do not know your audience, you will not know how to plan the content and structure of your presentation
Think of the first time you went camping. Did you remember everything you needed? Of course not. However, as time went on you probably developed a checklist of items to bring. Also, as time went on your camping trips were more enjoyable because you had the vast majority of all the items you needed to cook, fish, and sleep to name just a few.
Your camping experiences were more enjoyable as time went on because you had experiential knowledge to make them so.
There is an analogy to presentations here. Except the increasing knowledge of actual camping is now replaced by the knowledge you get from researching your audience well before your actual presentation. You then will know what to bring to your presentation and it will be much more enjoyable for you and your audience.
Additionally, you certainly do not want to insult your audience by making your presentation too basic or lose your audience by making your presentation too advanced. You need to ascertain the audience’s sweet spot. It is sort of like Goldilocks choosing the momma bear’s porridge and bed in “Goldilocks and the Three Bears.”
Being personal with your audience, avoiding unnecessary detail in your presentation, ensuring your message gets transmitted to and is understood by your audience, using technology only when it will enhance your message, and knowing your audience are vitally important to “hitting a home run” in your technical presentations.
Dispel the five myths of technical presentations from your thinking when you are preparing and delivering your next presentation.
You and your audience will be glad you did!
Call to Action
Be personal with your technical audience by establishing your technical credibility on your topic
Concerning the detail in your technical presentation, “When in doubt, take it out.”
Never let your slides or other supporting items take the place of your real message which is you
Never let technology distract your audience from your message
Never create presentation content without first knowing your audience
“The first 30 seconds and the last 30 seconds have the most impact in a presentation.” – Patricia Fripp
DiBartolomeo Consulting International’s (DCI) mission is to help technical professionals to inspire, motivate, and influence colleagues and other technical professionals through improving their presentation skills, communication, and personal presence.
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