and Don'ts for Technology Based Presentations
Because of my continual quest for information, during the past five years I have attended a plethora of technology based presentations. Now that I am what is called in our area a "geekette" I have also started giving technology presentations myself.
Both as a listener and a presenter, I have discovered that technology presentations have a different set of approaches, requirements and challenges from the speaking venues I have been involved with in the past. Yes, there are certain skills and basics that apply to all presentations, but there are many glaring differences. So, in this article I will share some of the dos and don'ts I have learned - some from observation and many from experience (often the hard way).
Be sure to know up front what the expectations are. This is always a good idea when it comes to giving a presentation, but even more important in the area of technology. I attended a program recently that was to cover the future of wireless telecommunications where the presenter started by covering the basic of basics about cell phone reception. He never even touched on the topic that had been advertised as being cutting-edge wireless information. Most of the attendees were more advanced in the field than even the presenter, so were visibly disappointed and it didn't bolster the feeling for the group that sponsored it. If asked to present in a technology area, make sure that the meeting planner understands exactly what you are planning and that it is at the level the group expects - it may be more or less advanced than the understanding of the knowledge level of the audience.
Preparation is as important as always, but with a different twist. Just because we are computer savvy doesn't mean that we shouldn't be organized and prepared. I have attended an hour seminar at a high-tech trade show where the presenter had been asked to speak because he was a knowledgeable computer "geek." He had done nothing to prepare, had probably never spoken to a group before, wandered around his topic and put most attendees to sleep. And yet, in another session at the same trade show, another well-known computer guru started off by telling us he hadn't prepared any presentation, but just wanted to answer our questions. The difference was that he knew his stuff inside out, was an excellent speaker and answered more than the specific questions that were asked. He had written the book on his topic, was comfortable - and I feel that he had topics prepared in case there were no questions. Speaking of questions, let's move on to the next topic.
Beware the questions. Because of the wide scope of every area of technology combined with the knowledge base of the audience (we'll talk more about this), I have attended a huge number of presentations where the hands go up immediately and the speaker is expected to answer all levels of questions. It used to be that I welcomed questions from the audience, but also kept control and moved on. I have discovered with technology related subjects that the most effective plan of action is to set a specific time in the presentation for questions (in the middle, three quarters of the way through or at the end). Otherwise, the whole program can get completely out-of-hand, people start sharing what they know with others, and your audience will leave unfulfilled and disgruntled. The way that works best for me is to show the agenda (what I'm going to tell them) and point out where there will be time for questions. I say something like, "If you have a question as I proceed, just write it down and we will have time during this slot to answer it." Then, make sure that you know exactly how much time there will be for questions, let them know when "we have time for one more" and then continue. I also tell them that I will be available after the presentation to answer any questions they may still have.
The technology audience is different from most audiences. In other articles I have mentioned that statistics have shown that 25% of your audience will like and accept you, no matter what; 25% will not like you (for a variety of reasons - some as simple as your looks); and 50% are up for grabs. I am used to audiences that respond with nods, smiles and obvious enjoyment. I have found that those who attend technology presentations tend to be less demonstrative than others. They may be learning and enjoying as much as other audience participants, but they seldom show it. In this exciting but also challenging field, there are so many different areas of expertise and levels of skills and understanding that I have found that feedback ranges from, "You talked over my head from the start," to "I thought you would be more technical. I already knew most of what you presented." This is why it is important to designate a chunk of time for questions, and maybe why the Macromedia guru I mentioned earlier just asked for questions (although as we left the session, I heard many negative comments along with the positive).
Know your purpose, but make sure that it adheres to the description of your presentation. There are different reasons why we present. One of them is to gain visibility, especially in this shaky time period for Information Technology. If we are in business, we hope that those who have attended our presentation will think of us when they need someone who performs our services. This often happens, but it is not the main reason we are presenting. Last year I attended a panel discussion that was described as an investigation of how to use the various media tools available today. The moderator was obviously selling his company's solution and the panelists were picked by him to say how his company had been "great." We never learned one fact about how the system worked - just that it had - and we sat through example after example of the finished products. I actually became so disgusted, I walked out along with many others (something I never do!).
Pay attention to the equipment details. As technology speakers, we are expected even more than others to be on top of the use of a projector, our laptop or the supplied computer, and whatever program we have chosen for our presentation (often PowerPoint). My suggestion is to know exactly what will be available. If your talk will take place in a large room ask for a microphone (a lavaliere if you move around and/or will use your hands for switching slides). I also suggest, as always, that you arrive early, so you can check out the equipment ahead of time. Also, because we all know that Murphy's Law is always lurking, I suggest having your presentation slides on a floppy disk and a CD (we can never be over-prepared).
Remember, that even though technology presentations are as challenging as the world of computing, they are rewarding. I hope that I haven't discouraged you from trying. And, I also hope that you will share tips that you have learned along the way. This is a relatively new area of speaking for me. I love it - but also find it frustrating at times.
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