I just flew home from San Jose, and boy are my arms tired. Ah, that corny old joke… Having wrapped up my stay at the Wireless Field Day 8 event, I found that I had made a list of things through the week that were decidedly NOT funny during the presentations. By offering where I’m about to go with this blog, I promise there is no meanness intended. I spend a fair amount of time doing presentations, and things can and do go wrong. At the same time, when a high-stakes presentation is on the line (like those at WFD), I constructively offer the following feedback and advice to anyone that finds themselves in front of a group– especially one that you want to impress with your content, as opposed to being remembered for the little things that went wrong.
Be On Time. I learned way back when in my military days that it’s good protocol to be at any and every appointment 15 minutes early. Even if you are simply the speaker and setup duties are left to others, it’s important to be where you’re supposed to be with at least a few minutes to spare. Chances are, the people you are presenting to also have a busy schedule and your lateness will be noticed, and talked about after.
If You Can’t Read the Screen, Neither Can We. Live demos are always risky, and seasoned IT folks get that. It’s easy to sympathize when Murphy’s Law hits and some part of the demo doesn’t quite respond right. What’s harder to forgive is teenie-tiny font on a faraway screen that’s integral to your message and that you assume the audience can read. Do a run-through first, get a variety of people to comment on whether they can actually read what’s being shown from where the audience will sit, and find some way to correct it if it’s not crystal clear even for weak eyes. Remote monitors are good investment in these situations. And if it’s a super-important presentation, have a backup room ready in case the display mechanism in your first room craps out- better to take a few minutes to relocate than to take the same amount of time to pop up a substandard replacement display in the same room.
Show Some Enthusiasm Already. Not all subject matter experts are great presenters. The truly gifted ones manage to convey not only “the message”, but also their own enthusiasm for what’s being discussed. When you know that the presenter believes in what he or she is presenting and is excited about it, that vibe is infectious. But even the best narrative becomes snoozy when delivered in a monotone voice that lacks any obvious sense of belief in what’s being talked about. If your SME is boring, get a co-speaker to help balance the blah with some buzz.
Accent Overload. One of the great things about being in IT is the diversity of people involved. The accents alone are often one of the highlights of a presentation to me, and I love to hear from individuals who are obviously from other countries. This can be overdone though- too many speakers in a row with thick foreign accents can be tiring to keep up with from the audience, especially when the content is a bit dry or when a lack of real enthusiasm is also in play. Again, I suggest getting a co-speaker to provide balance and variety.
Stay Out of the Weeds, While Being Prepared to Go There. Unless you’re doing actual training, it’s risky to spend too long in any one user interface or deep technical topic. Keep it high-enough level to allow for covering the several topics you want the audience to hear in the time allotted, while expecting the occasional “how does your system do ______?” that will give you a chance to dig deeper. But if you start deep, and stay there over a couple of hours, expect to see some nodding off. It’s all about striking a balance.
Wireless Field Day 8 was a pretty awesome event, and each vendor generally did well to get their messages out. This blog is not a critique of any single vendor, but just food for thought for anyone who might present at similar events.