I was sitting at a table in a restaurant in Houston, Texas, and the people at the table were mostly oil workers who normally worked in the deserts of Yemen, Qatar, and Sudan. They were drinking heavily, as the company was “wining and dining” them before the annual energy conference. Opposite me was a company nurse, possibly from Russia, who had a look of disapproval on her face, and scowled at the loud, obnoxious, and unrestrained alcohol consumption. Beside me was a doctor who had that look that some Nazi movies have when depicting evil doctors. A few seats away from me was a rough and tough oil worker who was hilarious. He had been drinking anything put in front of him- white wine, bud light, and red wine, and he was having a great time and entertaining everyone. At one stage, the doctor exclaimed to the oil worker, “I heard that if someone gets cancer, it can speed up the healing process if they hang around funny people like you“. With that statement the oil worker became animated, stood up, and replied, “I am going to phone my wife right now and tell her that a REAL DOCTOR told me I can cure cancer”. The room erupted in laughter.
It was March 2007, and I was invited to speak at this Energy Conference in Texas. About 900 people would attend. The Oil & Gas Company had flown people in from all around the world. My presentation was in the afternoon, so I decided to sit in the morning presentations. The first presentation was at 8am the day after the dinner party. The room was full of very hung-over oil workers including the oilman slated as a cancer curer. The first presenter was a corporate safety person, and he delivered a safety presentation with what seemed like 80 mind punishing Power Point slides containing statistics. The presenter tried to get some energy into the room by pounding his fist on the lectern every time he was making a point.
The only interesting part of his presentation was his highly gelled comb-over. His banging on the lectern caused it to break free and every time he thumped his fist the comb-over would drift a bit further down his forehead until it eventually looked like a huge eyebrow. The company safety manager started to look like an axe murderer. It was at this stage that people started nudging each other, whispering and giggling quietly. The presentation was a complete failure.
WHAT CAN WE LEARN FROM THIS?
a. An ineffective technical presentation is a waste of your time and the audience’s time
b. As a presenter, you can feel demoralized and frustrated as you fail to get your message across
c. As an audience member, you may feel worn, bored and may be hesitant to sign up for the conference again
TWENTY ONE THINGS TO HELP DELIVER EXCEPTIONAL TECHNICAL PRESENTATIONS:
1. Know how to present technical information, join a local public speaking organization such as Toastmasters
2. Build your confidence as a speaker – stage time, stage time, stage time
3. Know your subject inside-out, don’t “wing it”
4. Make the subject matter come alive with stories that relate to your points
5. If you are being formally introduced before your presentation, develop an introduction that will get the audiences attention (humorous, engaging, credibility, unusual…)
6. Start your presentation with something that will engage the audience such as a related story or a rhetorical question – make it impactful to get the audiences full attention
7. Use humor and entertaining stories (that relate to your subject-matter) to make a point and to make it memorable
8. Use PowerPoint effectively
9. One slide every few minutes
10. “Storyboard” your slides so it is clear what you are talking about and where your presentation is going
11. Choose colors that can be seen and read whether in a dark room or a bright room
12. Minimize the amount of words on a slide – a single picture with a few words can be very effective
13. Know your material so you are not looking at the screen or your notes – engage the audience
14. Lectern on the left (from the audiences view) not blocking the screen
15. Evaluate your audience prior to the event, what is their perspective and level of understanding? Possibility of conflict or confusion? What questions could they ask?
16. Dry-run your presentation with your peers and solicit honest feedback
17. Practice, practice, practice
18. Dress slightly better than the audience
19. When asked a question, repeat it back so all audience members can hear what the question was
20. Understand non-verbal audience feedback – look for signs of confusion, disagreement, boredom etc.
21. If someone looks confused, ask if they need clarification