The following are eleven tips I’ve learned over the years of giving technical presentations at work, meetups, or at conferences that I wanted to share with the community so that it might help someone else that is new to presenting or wants to refine their presentation process. So let’s get started.
1. Get out of the dark
If you’re using Dark Mode for your tools, please switch to the light theme as it provides a better viewing experience when used with a projector.
2. Enable Presenter Mode
This extension works great for Visual Studio 2017 but doesn’t currently work in Visual Studio 2019 unless you also have Visual Studio 2017 installed. Surprisingly this hasn’t been fixed yet, so for Visual Studio 2019, I found Presenter a good replacement. Both of these tools will increase the font size for Visual Studio panes and the text editor. This saves you from changing it on every code file. When you’re done just exit presenter mode.
3. Bigger is better
Increase your font size. You might be able to see your content but think about the people at the back of the room. Do them a favour and use a tool called ZoomIt which is part of SysInternals.
4. Remove the distractions
Hide your desktop icons, close down any apps unrelated to your presentation/demo, and finally turn on Focus Assist. If you’re on Windows 10 then please turn on Focus Assist. People don’t want to get distracted by your notifications.
5. Have a backup plan
In case there is no internet, have a plan for how you can do your demo. People have gone so far as recording their desktop during a rehearsal and then playing that video back and talking through it like no one is the wiser. You should also keep a copy of your presentation file locally.
6. Use standard tools
You should always go with the standard applications for your talk. If there is a glitch, or you need to borrow a machine then you don’t need to worry about special downloads and installation. If you’re going to try and use a different tool, then do your audience a favour and quickly mention what tool you’re using, why and where to get it. For one of my talks, I was using the REST Client extension for Visual Studio Code and the audience found that interesting that I was using this instead of Postman. So I quickly told them why and it probably encouraged a few dozen downloads that day.
7. No updates and no notifications!
It’s funny how often this bites people in the behind but the golden rule is to never apply Windows or application updates the day of your talk. The “demo gods” will tempt you and offer an update…please resist. I lost count how many times Visual Studio got an update on the day of my talk, same with Azure Functions SDK, even Windows 10 wanted to install an update. The last thing you need is to go into an update cycle and not know how long it will take or how it will affect your presentation and demo. Be safe and wait until after your talk. You should also turn on Focus Assist, which is a setting in the Windows 10 Action Center to hide any unwanted notifications.
8. The pen is mightier than the sword
Invest in a presentation remote. This keeps you away from your laptop and allows you to stay focused on your talk and the audience. If you have a Microsoft Surface Pen then your in luck as you can use it as a presentation remote. Just click the eraser to go forward or click and hold to go back. Although not as fancy, it does the job and is what I use for every presentation I do.
9. Practice and know your content
There is no rule here for how much prep work you should do for your talk, but a guideline that was given to me by a fellow MVP is to factor in 20 hours of work for a 40-60min talk. This includes the research, working on the presentation (PowerPoint and demos) and then rehearsing. If it’s a new topic I’m not familiar with then 20 hours is about correct, otherwise for something I’m well versed in I can usually put something together in a relatively short amount of time. When it comes to practicing make sure to actually practice. Speak out loud to an imaginary audience and go through your demos. You will find that speaking out loud will give you a more accurate feel for how the talk will go and you will find what works and what doesn’t.
10. Rogue One
Rogue One is a Star Wars movie (one of my favourite) and worked in the movie. However going rogue and off-script from what you rehearsed for can have consequences you might not have been prepared for. Some presenters are good at doing this and others fall flat on their face. If you do decide to go rogue, know when to bring it back in and get back on track, otherwise your audience might lose interest and it makes you look un-professional.
11. Have fun
Seems obvious but seriously make sure you’re having fun doing your talk. Your attitude projects out to the audience and they will feel your excitement and be more engaged. Also if you’re having fun, then that easily provides cover for any blunders that might happen along the way and your audience is more forgiving and understanding.
I hope you enjoyed my presentation tips and they help make you a better presenter.
11 Top Tips for a Successful Technical Presentation