I recently sat through a number of presentations giving by professional, experienced people at a for-pay conference. In almost all the cases, the speakers did not make sure their content was easily viewable in the back of the room. In fact, in many cases it wasn’t even easily readable in the middle of the room.
Why would you invest time and effort in creating slides, code demos, etc., and then make it difficult for your audience to see?
Test your slides AND code AND demo apps (or browser windows) on the projector to be used when you get to the venue. Not just your title slide – ALL your slides. And don’t just look at it from the podium. Open each thing up and walk to the back of the room and check it.
I tried the “PresentOn” command with the VS2012 Productivity Power Tools, but that wasn’t NEARLY enough when I actually tested it in the room. I ended up bumping my font size to 20pt, and I wasn’t in a particularly large room. I also increased the font size of my browser window so people could easily see what was happening.
Also, run through your slides quickly with the projector. Projectors can have different contrast levels. I discovered that one of my slides was hard to read because the projector didn’t provide enough contrast. I quickly edited the slide before I started so that people would be able to read it.
If you will be showing things where you can’t control the font size, get good at the keyboard command for zooming in and out of that area of the screen. Practice! I give credit to one presenter who tried to do this, but quickly became befuddled with it. It is a bit confusing at first, so get comfortable with it before you use it so you can easily switch in and out.
Seriously: this was my biggest pet peeve at this event. It degraded the quality of the presentations because I couldn’t see them. And while I wear glasses, my eyesight is not particularly bad, so it wasn’t me. I even tried moving up a few rows in the room in one case, but it didn’t help enough. And I shouldn’t have to.
It is such an easy thing to do. Why not just do it?
Other things I recommend to presenters, especially technical presenters:
Practice your orientation with the screen, especially if you are going to extend the display as a 2nd monitor. That can be really confusing at first, since in some cases you may end up at a very odd angle to the display. If you don’t have a projector for practice, use a monitor. Run through you presentation at least once in that orientation.
Practice your timing. I saw one presentation where the speaker rushed through her slides. I was pretty sure that she was going to end way early, and she did (25 minutes early). Her content suffered because of it. Another presenter mentioned at the beginning he wasn’t sure how long his presentation would take, and he went well over time.
Practice in front of someone. This is so helpful, even though I really hate doing it. I got really useful feedback that improved my presentation at least 20%.
Don’t undermine your own credibility. I realized during my practice sessions I use the phrase “I confess” or “I admit” a lot. These phrases are doing nothing for my credibility, and I’m working to eliminate them in all my presentations. The person who told us he didn’t know the length of his presentation also hurt his credibility. It made me think he hadn’t practice it. Look for things you are saying that are undermining your talk and remove them from your talk.
Get rid of your verbal tics. This is related to the previous item. One of the presenters used the phrase “I can’t stress this enough” over and over again. He said this in front of every major point. After the fourth or fifth time, it became meaningless. It was a crutch phrase, like uh or and or so (just less obvious). Get rid of it.
Leave time for questions. I blew it on this one, too. Next go around, I’ll make sure I leave at least 5 minutes for questions and discussion.
But most importantly: biggify all the things. There is no reason not to.