Tips for making better presentations

I have spoken all across the UK and given a few talks in Europe and US, including at Googles HQ in California. I also have put together quite a few presentations for MiniClick at short notice, so I am a dab hand at Keynote as well. Because of this I feel I have gained experience with public speaking to the point where I can offer advice to others who are about to get up in front of a crowd. Some of the advice in this tutorial is geared towards Apple’s Keynote. Keynote is Apple’s version of PowerPoint, if you have Mac and don’t have Keynote, get it now as it’s only £13.99. This is not a Keynote tutorial so if you are PC-using-PowerPoint fan, the information in this post will still be relevant to you.

Kevin Meredith Speaking at BrightClick

Kevin Meredith speaking at BrightClick 2010 (BrightClick was technically the 1st MiniClick) – Photo by Lee Albrow

Practice and make your notes short

Giving your first talk can be a nerve-racking experience, even if it’s in front of a small crowd. Make sets of short bullet pointed notes for each slide. This will stop you having to look down at your notes too much. Practice your talk with friends to the point where you really know it well. Don’t write a script, there is nothing worse than watching a talk where the speaker is reading the whole thing and not making eye contact with the audience. Below you can see some example notes from one of my talks, it won’t mean much to anyone else but it’s enough to jog my memory.

  • Maciej Dakowicz
  • Best known for Cardiff after dark
  • 3rd floor gallery
  • Glamorgan County Council Staff Club
  • Book Launch???
  • Sam Hiscox
  • Amazing record of club culture inBrighton
  • Party party blog
  • Gonna be really important in the future

Be yourself and imagine it’s a one sided conversation

Speaking in front of even a small crowd for the first time can be nerve racking but as long as you know your subject you will be fine. Think of it as a one sided conversation, just be your self and you will come across as a natural speaker. With time your nerves will go and whether it’s 20 or 200 people you’re in front of it’ll feel the same.

Make slides simple

I am a photographer so most of my slides are images but when I do have text on slides I tend to make it minimal. I use title slides in the beginning of sections to let people know that I am talking about a different subject. Don’t use slides with too much text, I’ve seen presentations where a speaker has shown a paragraph of text and then asked the audience to read it, this is a bad idea as everyone has a different reading speed. If you have a long quote or a particular bit of text that is relevant to your talk just read it to the audience.

Preview of what my slides look like

Preview of what my presentation slides look like with minimal text

Black background

If you’re showing images it’s quite possible that they’re not the same dimensions as the screen they’re going to been shown on. Rather than cropping images, you’re better off keeping the entire image. I always display my images and text on black because most of the time presentations are made in dark rooms. If you have a wide image there is going to be screen space showing at the top and bottom and if the image is on white it can be really distracting if it’s a dark image. Also if you go from a dark image to slide with text on a white background it can take the eyes a little time to adjust so black is far better, trust me.

black bars on keynote slides

It’s rare that your images will be the same proportions as the screen they are being shown on. Show them on black to avoid the glare of two white bars on top and bottom or left and right sides of images.

Don’t go crazy with transitions

Transitions, even if they are simple can be a pain in the arse if you want to flick though a few images for some reason. Also, if you want to go backwards in a presentation there will be no transitions when going backwards, so it always looks a bit odd going from fades to no transitions.

Controlling your presentation you iPhone

I am a big fan of Keynote remote for iPhone/iPod touch. It lets you control your presentation by swiping your finger across the screen. It also shows your current and next slide (always handy to see what is coming next). Keynote remote also shows you what number of total slides you are on so know how far you are into a talk and weather you need to slow down to speed up.

Screen shot of Keynote remote on the iPhone

Screen shot of Keynote remote on the iPhone

In the past I’ve had problems setting up the connection between the Mac and iPhone, with a bit of experimenting I have found a sure fire way of getting the two devices to play nicely together. Forget bluetooth, create a new network with your Mac that your iPhone or iPod touch can connect to. On your Mac click on the WiFi icon in the menu bar and then click “Create network…” on the next screen give your network a name and click “Create”. On the iPhone turn on airplane mode in the settings (this will stop phone calls and texts disrupting your presentation). Turn on Wifi and join the network that you’ve created. In remote section of the Keynote preferences on the Mac tick “Enable iPhone and iPod touch Remotes” then it’s plane sailing to pair your iPhone with your Mac from the Keynote remote app. As a backup, always make sure you have an infrared remote as they are genuinely foolproof as long as you have line of sight to your laptop. Make sure that you can control your presentation long before you get in front of an audience.

connecting mac and iPhone with wifi

Instructions for connecting a Mac and iPhone using a computer to computer network. In theory Keynote remote for iOS should work if a Mac and iPhone are connected to the same Wifi network, although I have found that in practice this is not the case.

Presentation resolution

For the most part projectors will project at 1024 pixels by 786 pixels. By today’s high definition standards that’s not much cop but if you are unsure what your presentation resolution should be this is the safest resolution to go for. On rare occasions I have been greeted with a native hi definition projector my presentation looked fine once set the resolution of projector to 1024 x 786. If you know you are giving a one off talk on a HD projector then make your presentation at a resolution of full HD: 1920 x 1080 or 1280 x 720.

Prepare for the worst case scenario

I like to give my talks from my own laptop so I know everything will look as it should. But things can go wrong with laptops, so always have a copy of your presentation on a USB key and if you use Apple Keynote like me make sure you save a copy as a Powerpoint as well. And DON’T keep the USB key in the same bag as your laptop!

Improving your talk

If you think there is a chance that you might give your talk again try and think how it could be improved straight away – you can always do this after practicing it as well. If you are at a podium and people can’t see your hands make short notes of things that you don’t think are quite working. If you leave it too long, you will forget what needs to be improved and you’ll kick yourself next time you give your talk.

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2 Responses to Tips for making better presentations

  1. sfella87 says:

    That’s a really great set of ideas, I have bookmarked it so I can read it again if I am called upon to give a presentation. This kind of wisdom would take years to learn on your own, thanks very much for letting us all in on the secrets.

  2. All of this aligns well with my experience. Each tip is valid and i recommend it. Keep it simple stupid has always worked well for me.

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