eduWeb Countdown: 6 Presentation Tips for New Speakers

July 13, 2009

Posted in Personal.

I’ve been working on my upcoming talk at the eduWeb conference in Chicago next week. I’ve held workshops and given plenty of speeches… and as my colleagues at Notre Dame know, I have no trouble filling an hour or three. But I’ve never spoken at a normal conference – heck, I’ve only gone to a handful of them. So as I’ve been finishing up my slides, I’ve kept notes on what I believe will at least keep my audience awake for the hour.

1. Shorter is better.

I’m presenting at 4:30pm, so everyone will be eager to get out of there. So I’m shooting for 40 minutes. That way, if there are questions we’ve got time and people don’t feel like missing out. As has been oft repeated, “nobody ever wished for a longer speech.”

2. Funny is good.

I almost always prefer a funny presentation to a serious one. I’ve sat through boring presentations that were chock full of good information from a knowledgeable speaker. It’s hard to stay awake. But if you can get people to laugh, they’ll pay more attention as they wait for the next joke.

Image by Phil Rowe

3. Funny pictures work, too.

4. Cliches, aphorisms, slogans, and quotes are OK.

If you walk away spewing nothing but slogans, at least you’ll remember something I said. They’ll come out in your client meetings, they’ll come to you when you’re eating your corn flakes. It’s great to have some meat behind them, but the quotes will be what you remember. And that’s ok. Especially if people attribute them to you. :)

5. Don’t do live demos.

If you were a flask-carrying man, you might consider making a conference drinking game: every time a live demo goes badly, take a nice long swig. I can’t count how many times a presenter was frantically trying to get the wireless connection to work, mis-typed something, or discovered a bug right in the middle of the talk. Practice helps, but it’s worth remembering Murphy’s Law.

6. Do something truly memorable.

We sent four colleagues to SXSW 2009 and when they came back, they told us about the memorable stuff. A guy making a point with a few hundred feet of string. People demonstrating sweet new tech toys. Free stuff. The parties.

Since I’m not giving anything away and don’t have any cool toys to show off, I’m hoping to make memorable points. I’ll try to tell interesting stories. In any case, I’ll try not to bore the pants off the audience… though that would be pretty memorable, too.


  1. Eric Stoller — July 14, 2009

    Point #1.2: Whatever you do, please do not put the entire contents of War and Peace on a PowerPoint / Keynote slide. No one wants to read a novel on the screen.

  2. Don Schindler — July 17, 2009

    Funny stuff. I think number five is the best. Live demos never ever end up the way the presenter thought they would.

    Just watch Google’s Wave presentation. If they can’t make a live demo work, what chance does anyone else have.

  3. Beth Daily — July 17, 2009

    Your conference sounds great! I wish I had heard about it earlier than today. Good luck with your presentation, although I’m sure you’ll be great.