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How to Give Good presentation
How to Give Good presentation 23
Welcome to this little introduction on how to give technical presentations. I hope you will find it useful.
The presentation is meant for relative beginners even though even seasoned presenters may find
something new in it. Naturally, we don't touch all topics and some only superficially. But once you are
aware of some basic ideas you can start a spiral of self improvement.
Note that none of the basic ideas in these slides are novel or invented by me. Rather they are extracted
from a set of excellent books listed at the very end.
http://www.ece.cmu.edu/pueschelHere on the title page we already see two principles in action.
Alignmentis particularly important; it gives structure and order to a slide (or any graphical design).
Interestingly, center aligment usually looks weak and unsophisticated. As a basic rule I suggest that you
align left if in doubt (also applies to tables BTW). Try it Beyond that try to align most elements on a slide to
Contrastmeans that if two elements are meant to look different, make them really different. For example,
look at the title and my name. The fonts differ in both weight and size which makes it look visually
appealing. Try the same with only size or only weight changed; it will look worse. As a general rule,
contrast in fonts is achieved by changing at least two attributes among weight, size, color, and font type.
http://www.ece.cmu.edu/pueschelI like this proverb and it fits well. Applied to the topic of this presentation I want to motivate you to strive
The photo is from istockphoto.com. The color for the text is extracted from the brighter parts of this photo
using Photoshop's color picker (useful trick).
The slide also goes along with one of my major rules: start your talk with an interesting slide and
certainly avoid a text slide.
Unfortunately, all slides in the remaining talk will look worse than this one.
http://www.ece.cmu.edu/pueschelHere is a couple of bullets expressing the motivation for this talk. The text seems reasonable enough but
there are some visual shortcomings. Can you tell?
http://www.ece.cmu.edu/pueschelHere, the shortcomings are listed. Note how we violated to some extent the principles from the beginning:
alignment and contrast. Let's fix these.
http://www.ece.cmu.edu/pueschelMuch better, no? The alignment and the contrast between bullets and sub‐bullets creates structure. As a
text slide it looks good, but do we really want or need a text slide? (The answer is no as you may imagine.)
http://www.ece.cmu.edu/pueschelThis is a more visual slide designed to convey the same content.
The disadvantage is that now you have to remember what to say. However, if you don't, you are badly
The big advantage is that people will have more time listening since they are not busy reading (there is
a biological reason for this, explained later). Equally important, the visuals make the slide much more
interesting. So people are less likely to return to their laptops. This is an important goal, in particular on
the first few slides.
On the content: Presentations are a unique chance to connect your work with your person. If you do a
good job, people may remember you, which is particularly important in any type of job (academia: at one
point you need reference letters; industry: at one point a job up the ladder will open up and they will only
consider the people they remember). Unfortunately, most presentations fall far short of this goal and are
rather a waste of time for most of the audience. This is your chance: learn how to do it well and you have an
The bottom part conveys that content and visual quality are equally important. And they are. Note that
slides that communicate well are also beautiful. This implies (ever had a logics class?) that ugly slides
will not communicate well.
http://www.ece.cmu.edu/pueschelNote that I had added an acknowledgment, since the plot was suggested to me by a colleague in my
department. Acknowledging is good style as much as not acknowledging is bad style. Imagine you
create a fabulous data graphic, give it to somebody who uses it and she does not mention you.
http://www.ece.cmu.edu/pueschelHere you see the natural enemy of the presenter: the addictive communication device of our times.
When you design your talk keep this in mind If you are boring for 2 or 3 minutes, people will start
checking email and all your work was in vain.
http://www.ece.cmu.edu/pueschelHere is the overview of this presentation.
http://www.ece.cmu.edu/pueschelNaturally, we start with the first point.
http://www.ece.cmu.edu/pueschelLike many other things, quality requires sufficient time for preparation. We are all busy, but preparation
is a matter of priority. And, until your are famous, presenting should be a priority for you. Once you are
famous you can hire graphics designer to do them for you.
It is hard to give a good rule for the number of slides. For technical presentations, I found that 2/3 times
minutes is a good rule of thumb. And this includes all slides. Yes, all. Don’t convince yourself that some
are just overview slides and some sort of empty. Does not matter. 2/3, not more. Leave room for you to talk
about your slides. In particular about your results (often towards the end).
Boot up your laptop in the morning of your presentation, You do want the latest OS to install itself one
minute before your talk.
http://www.ece.cmu.edu/pueschelKnow your laptop How often have you seen people trying to figure out how to get the image onto the
screen. You lose valuable minutes
Absolutely get a remote mouse. This allows you to roam around freely, stand where you want, and
naturally blend the advancing of your slides and animations with your speech.
Sneakers and shabby shorts at a major conference? Are you famous yet?
Superimportant: acknowledge your co‐authors. Not doing this is a crime. Not kidding. Usually they
worked as hard as you (or tried their best to advise you). So their names have to be verbally mentioned.
Imagine what you would do if half of the talk is created from your blood and sweat and you watch your
colleague talking about it and never mentioning you.
http://www.ece.cmu.edu/pueschelNow let's talk about the content.
http://www.ece.cmu.edu/pueschelYou have to start your talk with the motivation. What are you doing, why are you doing it and why is it
important? (The last two questions are often connected.) Make sure you really answer these questions.
Don't start with a text‐only slide (remember the natural enemy?) but with an interesting visual. The first
slide is your best chance to draw the audience in.
If at all possible give a precise problem statement. Ideally visualize it. If people don't know what are you
doing, why would they care about how you are doing it?
Show other cool things if appropriate. Hint of the solution? Cool example result? Cool conclusion of your
work? Everything that catches attention and makes people want to listen to you.
In long presentations (let's say 25 minutes), the overview slide helps to reinitialize people. You should
help with that by saying something like "I just explained ….., next I will show.” Maybe some people will
come back from playing with your natural enemy. Short talks don't need repeated overview slides.
http://www.ece.cmu.edu/pueschelHere is a very standard organization for a technical presentation. Use it if you cannot think of anything
Put slide numbers if one of your audience is not in the room (but connected over phone etc.). This way, you
can name a particular slide if things get messed up.
http://www.ece.cmu.edu/pueschelHere comes a big one. I just learned this recently. Text and speech is processed in the brain by the same
"channels." This means you cannot read and (really) listen at the same time. In contrast, images and speech
can be processed in parallel. The consequence is easy, right?
http://www.ece.cmu.edu/pueschelThe previous slide tells us to minimize text. Ideally the visuals are on the slide and the text is produced by
you. Again, this requires preparation but it's worth it.
Honestly, when did you remember the last time a text only slide?
Further, for text use bullets and be short (no need for complete sentences). Remember, every word on the
slide competes with you for the audience's attention.
If you need to have many bullets consider letting them appear as you speak (here, the remote mouse is a
must unless you stand right in front of your laptop).
Define every acronym and use them sparingly.
Use the following rule to force yourself to get rid of text. Go to "View Slide Sorter" and make sure no two
consecutive slides are text only. Once you mastered that on a regular basis, take it to the next step and
avoid text‐only slides (except maybe overview slides) altogether.
Since it is so important, I put the slide in red. As an aside, the nice shading effect is standard in the ppt 2007
menu (Shape fill → Gradient).
http://www.ece.cmu.edu/pueschelOf course, on of the main goals of your talk is to get the technical content across. This includes the
motivation, the exact problem statement, the main idea behind your solution, and your main result.
Do not try to get every detail of your work across. It is simply too much for most of the audience. This
does not mean you should trivialize but rather focus. This may include going deep for a few slides but not
too long, otherwise everybody will be lost.
Did you ever give a talk, presenting all the details of your nice work, and at the end you get a question that
shows that not even the problem you are solving came across? Certainly happened to me many times. Find
the right balance for your audience (and this may differ by audience).
If many people remember anything from your talk it was a success. Seriously.
http://www.ece.cmu.edu/pueschelIn particular if it gets complicated.
Or equation heavy.
This may include properlyused animations (don’t fancify).
Note that this goes along with minimizing text but is somewhat different. Here I want to emphasize that
complicated technical content has to be visualized to at least some extent to give the audience the right
mental picture and at least a basic idea of what you are talking about. This requires practice. Let's look at a