How To Give A Good Presentation

This is a subject that's been on my mind as a possible topic for a post since probably before I started this blog and came back to the forefront of my thoughts after getting some very nice compliments about the eulogy I did for my grandfather last week. 

I'm not a presentation expert by any stretch but, without a lot of formal training, I do think that I've developed the ability to give a decent talk when required (although I've also had a few clunkers in my life too!) 

So, what are my personal tips for giving a good presentation?

1. Be original. 
I always like to attack my topics from a unique angle if possible.  This was especially useful in a library school classroom where often many individuals or groups are presenting on the same or similar topics but also applies in other settings as well.  It can be as small as asking to present on public library collection policies in my “Collection Development for Academic Libraries” course to taking on the persona of a young adult who is in a coma for my book talk in Children's Lit to trying to write eulogies that break out of the “The deceased was born here, lived here, got married when, had this many kids, this many grandkids, enjoyed pastimes such as and passed away then” template that so many people use mixed with glittering generalities (“He was a wonderful person.”  “She had a great sense of humour.”) It can be risky – someday I'll post the obituary I wrote for my grandma where I talked about how she pretended to be an alien from another planet – but it can work.  Not only did a lady come up to me after my grandfather's funeral to tell me they still had clipped and saved my grandma's obituary from nearly a decade ago but at the time, that unique obituary got my Grandma written up in the National Post.

2. Use humour. 
It's tough to do this effectively and again, I've told some clunker-jokes that aren't much better than the crap you find in “1001 Jokes for Toastmasters”.  But in my opinion, effective use of humour is vital to keep your audience interested (or even just awake!)


3. Be prepared.
Try to know your material inside and out.  I'm not always the best at doing this (and it was hard to do in library school just because of how busy we were) but when I do know my stuff well, it really helps the confidence and reduces the public speaking stress we all feel.  For example, I did ten drafts of the eulogy I was going to do for my grandfather all building on the previous one and so that was like an ongoing rehearsal.  Then, when it was finalized, I read it over, both silently and aloud, probably another dozen times.  At the funeral, I read the eulogy from a script but was comfortable ad-libbing a few comments and probably could've done it in a completely ad-libbed fashion if I had a cue card with a few main keyword reminders on it. 


4. Don't Just Talk
It can be gimmicky but I'm a big fan of props, games or other elements beyond that which are spoken to make the presentation more engaging.  One example – I started a presentation on digitization by taking a digital photo of the audience in front of me.  Another eulogy example – my grandma was famous for enjoying mints and candies so before I got up to speak, I handed out a bag of wrapped candies to be passed around each section of the church.  This also gave me an opportunity to add some humour as my first comment once I got to the podium was a joke about the punishment awaiting anyone who chose to litter in church!


5. Be Concise
I stole this idea from Elisabeth Davies who taught us Cataloguing and Research Methods but if you use Powerpoint, I'm a big fan of very plain, simple slides without a lot of text on them.  In the MetaTalk thread below, someone suggests you shouldn't have more than six words on a slide and that's a guideline I try to follow myself. 


Here's a couple other good resources:
How To Save Your Butt When Giving A Presentation (via Citadel of the Blogs)

MetaFilter “MetaTalk” Discussion About A Presentation Given By The Site's Founder

Googling variations of “Presentation Tips” will lead to lots of other resources. 

Comments 2

  1. Anonymous wrote:

    A note on humour. Don't tell jokes. Find the humour in the material. People have come to your presentation to learn about a topic or subject. Being entertained is secondary. (School presentations are different, the audience is captive and really would rather be entertained as much as possible. It won't help your mark much, though.)
    So find the funny in the material and don't over-play the delivery. If you can't find anything funny in the material then obviously there's nothing there that suits your sense of humour and it's just going to come off forced and unfunny anyway.
    If there isn't something funny in the material you want to cover, find something that makes you excited, or frustrated, or hopeful, or angry and expand on that a bit to vary the emotional pitch of your presentation. Try to not end on a down-note, though, if the only thing about the material that really moves you is negative. Might be better to put that part early and talk about solutions from there on in.
    The TED Talks video you posted a while ago was a great example. Sure he had a bit of humour (based on statistics, no less) at the beginning, but he carried the presentation on his own enthusiasm for the material.
    Cheers
    Mike (who is lousy at telling jokes)

    Posted 06 Jun 2007 at 9:29 pm
  2. Anonymous wrote:

    Good point. I wasn't really clear but I didn't mean go get a joke book and start your presentation with the equivalent of “I just flew in and boy are my arms tired.” Definitely find humour in the material that you can exaggerate, tease, point out contradictions with – all in a humourous fashion.

    Posted 08 Jul 2007 at 5:44 pm

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