Distilling your thoughts on a project into a presentation is difficult, but it’s even more difficult to talk about it. I’ve been sitting on a number of thoughts from my first internship and I wanted to compile them somewhere for the betterment of myself (and maybe even others).
Creating the Presentation
A presentation is rarely the most interesting event an employee or student could attend. If those attending are not interested in the topic already, you need to find common ground with them somewhere. As unfortunate as it is, not everyone is going to be interested in the minute details of your topic.
Generally, you should look to make a presentation with a bit of style and flare to it. Typical presentation software will offer a number of colorful themes, fun animations and many tools for adding pleasing graphics to it. Even a little bit of effort in making it look visually pleasing can have great effects on your audience’s perception. Don’t go overboard though.
- Keep a consistent slide design. Pick one, and do not stray too far from it.
- Pick aesthetically pleasing color schemes.
- Use your company/club/school’s color palette.
- You can use a palette generator like coloors.
- Maintain simplicity when possible. Intricate designs will not be worth it.
- Use your toolset effectively
- Break up your paragraphs into lists (remove details, simplify)
- Use structured borders and lines.
- Change the font family/size/color.
- Add graphics on the side
- Photos, even if unnecessary for experienced engineers, can add useful context
- Build your own (simple) graphics to help explain processes
- Don’t try to cram too much onto one slide
The content of your presentation is to it’s effectiveness - which is a metric you must understand before making it.
- Who are you presenting to?
- What are you looking to accomplish with your presentation?
- When you are done presenting, what should your audience be thinking?
When I made my final internship presentation, I messed up big time – I thought I needed to compile my entire internship; everything I learned, thought, my mistakes and what I did into one quick slideshow.
I didn’t think about who was listening, I assumed they would understand a lot more about what I did. I used complex acronyms, referenced technologies outside of their field, and failed to explain numerous pre-requisite details (not that I should have).
When your presentation’s details go over your audience’s head they get confused; talking about complex things people don’t understand when you assume they do does not impress them - it makes them feel stupid.
“People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
– Maya Angelou
What, Not How or Why!
A presentation is not intended to be a blueprint to re-do what you did. While describing specifics is allowed, you should describe what you did, not how you did it. Metrics are a good example of the ‘what’ you are looking for.
- Bad Example — “I built a microcontroller program in C with TI Code Composer Studio running on a MSP430FR2355 to communicate RFID signals using the ISO 15693 standard, which is compatible with the NFC interface on my personal Android device running a custom Android app written in C# with Xamarin Forms and dependency injection.”
- No metrics what-so-ever.
- Did you do it fast? Is it accurate? Is it better than the processes that came before?
- Mentions what things were built with numerous times – names no-one but people on the project are going to understand.
- Long, verbose and difficult to understand what the purpose might be.
- No metrics what-so-ever.
- Good Example — “I developed a program on a microcontroller that communicates with my mobile device to read and write a unique identifier to these special RFID tags. It processes in under a second, uses little power and is compatible with any device.”
- Describes important metrics for the users of the product
- No need to be an engineer — these words are quite common and can be explained easily!
- The purpose can be easily connected to the rest of the presentation.
As an software developer, I enjoy talking about the minute details of my projects and problems – but it’s simply not what the presentation is for. If your audience is truly interested in those details, they can always ask questions (but remember to not get too detailed with your answers either).
Points & Details, Not Paragraphs!
It is important to understand that your presentation media is not a word-for-word description of what you should say. Presentations are a dynamic flowing commentary where the words you speak are chosen just moments before you say them. Your presentation should contain the central points (and some details) about what you will say.
- Your audience can read too! Do not build a presentation that you will simply recite. It’s best to at the very least, add additional commentary, but the ideal presentation will have simpler slides whose points can be used to build a greater speech.
- Ideally, you should only clarify an acronym’s definition once.
- You can use presenter notes to include details that you don’t want in the presentation, but do want yourself to remember.
- Do not use this for word-for-word reading either - unless you have a teleprompter, it is very difficult to recite presenter-only notes off of a laptop in front of you while maintaining good posture and awareness for your audience.
Saying the Words
Presentations are a lot more than just slides in a powerpoint file – after all, the content is just talking points. If we were simply reciting words to our audience, we could have just sent them in an email. Presentations bring something else to the table - you.
It is incredibly common for presenters to get nervous during their presentation. With dozens of eyes looking at you, it’s easy to get anxious, no matter how confident you are going into it.
When this happens, it helps to know how to minimize the effects of stage fright and how to take steps to calm down.
- Breathe in and out fully. Maintaining a good breathing pattern will help you stay focused and comfortable
- Talk slow – talking slow keeps your breathing in check, prevents mistakes and enables you to pronounce words fully and correctly.
- Give yourself time to think about what your next words will be. Give yourself time to breath.
While the presentation is generally the primary visual your audience will be looking at, you’re there too! Presenting in an organized, friendly and optimistic manner will help keep your audience interested.
Movement distracts the audience from your presentation. In your slides it can help break up content or help maintain interest, but movement of your body is almost always a negative take-away.
- Swaying side-to-side
- Twitching, moving your feet, itching scratches constantly
- Any needless, unnecessary movement of the hands/legs/feet.
Perhaps it need not be mentioned, but smile! Use an upbeat, dynamic voice. Stay in-line with your character, but do your best to display an infectious smile.
- Integrate high and low pitch tones in your voice to draw attention as necessary.
- Talk like you’re excited – a monotone voice is no good.
- Be proactive!!
Generally, you want your stance to be inviting but relaxed.
- Do not slouch! Stand up straight, but don’t be stiff as a board.
- Keep your hands in front –
Choosing the right word is very important as it can directly impact the audience’s mood and perception.
- Avoid negativity at all costs. If you must mention a negative detail, rephrase it in as neutral a way as you can.
- “We an intern.” v.s. “Someone quit.”