Nerd Journey 041: Presentations

Welcome to episode 41 of the Nerd Journey Podcast [@NerdJourney]! We’re John White (@vJourneyman) and Nick Korte (@NetworkNerd_), two VMware Solution Engineers who are hoping to bring you the IT career advice that we wish we’d been given earlier in our careers. In today’s episode we discuss tips for constructing and giving presentations.

Original Recording Date: 05-25-2019

Topic – Presentations

2:56 Reasons People Present

  • Some people do it for the glory (i.e. to be nerd famous, get attention, etc.).
  • Educating or informing an audience is John’s favorite reason. This requires people to be very good at digesting information and then present it to others in a way that they understand.
  • Maybe you’re making a pitch to sell a product, a project, or an idea.

5:36 Stages on which presentations can happen

  • In person
    • Internal training (1-many)
    • 1-1 meeting
    • User group
    • Conference (small or large)
    • The ability to interact will depend on the size of your audience.
  • Remote
    • Live – could be 1-1 or 1-many
    • Some interaction is possible but challenging with large groups
  • Recorded
    • Recorded live or solely recorded so others can watch later
    • No interaction between presenter and audience
  • The way to get started with public speaking is to get started regardless of the stage. Start small and informal, and move to large and formal. There is a progression to everything.

8:43 Career benefits of presentations

  • Experience public speaking can be great preparation for a field facing role.
  • Giving a good presentation on a subject makes you stand out in a crowd and showcases your experience to others. This type pf experience should definitely go on your resume!
    • If you have a skill that is difficult for most people (i.e. public speaking), it could give you an edge over other candidates.
  • Exposure to the greater technical or industry community can be helpful to anyone at any level
  • This is an exercise in organizing your thoughts. Can you organize the content so others can follow and learn from you?
  • A presentation can also be a learning exercise. Trying to teach something to someone else can expose holes in your thinking and give you the chance to learn the subject matter at a deeper level.
    • Communicating the subject matter well to the audience is part of your mission. John cites a video on explaining Quantum Theory in 5 levels of difficulty (mistakenly remembering it as Chaos Theory to a 5-year-old) as a great example of removing jargon from your thinking. Here’s the entire 5 Levels playlist

15:46 Presentation topic ideas

  • It should be something that interests you, even if you don’t know too much about it.
  • Something you have a strong opinion on can be a good topic.
  • You don’t have to be an expert. Listen to Nick’s recruiting pitch to people at SpiceCorps meetings.
  • Realize that you have something valuable to share with others.
  • What would my audience want to hear?
    • Fit your talk into the proper categories if submitting for a conference.
    • Many topics have been covered time and again. Your take is unique to you.
  • The standard at a conference is usually 45 – 50 minutes. User group talks could be 15 – 20 minutes. Take a look at vBrownBag’s Tech Talks as a good example of shorter talks (12 and 27 minute slots).
  • Fit your talk into the appropriate time slot.

19:05 Preparing to give the presentation

  • Know your audience. Will the audience have some background in the subject matter area or none?
    • Ask user group leaders to get an idea of audience knowledge level
    • For internal trainings you may be conducting, talk to managers to get a feel for your audience.
    • Think through how you would do the presentation for different groups (technical, non-technical, managers, individual contributors).
      • Confirm the technical level of the audience when you give the presentation if possible, and be prepared to pivot.
      • Just thinking about the potential for a pivot will better prepare you. How would you adjust what you planned to say about the different slides?
  • Lessons from Brain Rules by John Medina
    • Get the audience’s attention using a hook (something emotionally stimulating) to make things easier to remember.
    • Giving an overview before getting into details helps our brains remember better.
    • Peter Cohan’s Great Demo! book and training
    • John mentioned the In Media Res technique from Peter Cohen as a good way to engage the audience.
    • Chunking the presentation into sections / stories is helpful to promote continued engagement. John Medina uses a 10-minute chunk rule for lectures.
    • John mentioned Presentation Zen by Garr Reynolds as a great resource. See also
      • Something surprising or unexpected can get people’s attention.
    • Using less words and more pictures makes it easier to remember. Nick cites John’s presentation from a previous Spiceworld that had 3 slides, each with a picture.
      • Don’t fill presentation materials with the written version of what you are saying. “If the slide has all the words you are about to say, why are you there?”
      • Too many words can indicate you are not prepared or that you need a better note system to prompt you.
    • Leaving out some information and making the audience interpolate what’s there can also help people remember.
    • Helping yourself remember
      • The context of your learning can help you recall information (the place, the mood you were in, the people you were around, etc.). Use that to your advantage (i.e. giving the presentation in a similar place in practice to that of where it will be given for real).
        • Make an outline before adding details.
        • Exercise to stimulate your mind if you are stuck.
        • Check out Toastmasters as a helpful in-person resource for practicing public speaking.
  • Structuring a Presentation
    • Build in some time for questions in your presentation (i.e. at the end, in a specific section). You probably won’t be able to answer every question asked.
      • Be prepared to take a conversation offline if it is only applicable to a few people in the audience.
    • Choose images that will help you remember your thoughts, but see if you can speak without a bunch of bullet points.
    • Learn about the PechaKucha format as an option. Placing time restrictions on yourself is helpful to keep the presentation on track to meet its time slot requirements.
    • Ideally, the slides should not be able to stand alone (another Presentation Zen tip).
      • This is not always the case based on slide decks we see in the technology community.
      • The transfer of information should be via document, not the slide deck
    • Bullets are ok, but they should be brief.
      • What are you adding to what displays on the screen? If the answer is nothing, why are you there?

43:26 More on Practice

  • Practice as much as you can to get the structure and talking points right.
    • Use friends / family / colleagues to get critical feedback during your practice.
    • Have people intentionally ask you questions to practice dealing with questions.
  • Don’t be a recovering “that guy” like John, but be sure to leverage him if you need practice dealing with this specific behavior.
  • Some people say just building a slide deck is enough preparation for them, but it may not be enough for you.

Contact us if you need help on the journey.

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