Wednesday, October 01, 2003

Presentation Tips from one of Microsoft's finest. See "My Way".
Don Box's Spoutlet

Here's the extract:

Everything you know about network protocols applies. How do you know people got it? You need an ACK. What happens if you transmit too much data too fast? Buffer overflow. How do you ensure successful reception in the absence of ACKs? Forward error correction via redundant transmission.

Preparation is a lifestyle. I never rehearse talks - I want to have a genuine experience when I talk and rehearsals always feel contrived. That said, I try to only speak on topics I'm focused on in my daily life, so hopefully I have tons of relevant data in L0 cache. I also try to avoid staying up late the night before - being rested is far more important than any benefits you may get from cramming the night before.

Less is more. This applies on many fronts. Smaller/minimal code examples (preferably coded up on the fly) are preferable to opening up a huge sample app and highlighting 7 lines of code. Less content in PowerPoint is preferable to 200+ word slides (damn that auto-font-downsizing feature). At most, PowerPoint should give you visual cues as to the flow of the talk and give attendees visual reinforcement. A little PowerPoint goes an awfully long way - don't let it ruin your talk.

It's all about attention span management. It's your responsibility to keep attendees focused no matter what. There are countless tricks you can use to snap people back on track. My favorite example was a United Airlines flight back in 2000. The flight attendant decided she wanted people to pay attention to the safety lecture - so out of the loudspeaker came the following:

Your seatbelts are useless [pause] unless they are buckled low and tight across your lap with your belongings stowed…

The entire cabin snapped to attention. It was quite stunning and I now think of that experience every time I fly.

Contrast is your friend. If you normally speak fast, occasionally slow it down. If you've had PPT in the foreground for 15 minutes, Alt-Tab to something else fast. If you've been sitting for 30 minutes - stand up and walk around.

Just the facts ma'am…not! Facts are great. Concepts are much better. Your job is to convey concepts and/or demonstrate techniques - facts are at most a means to an end. Also, don't underestimate the importance of motivation - this is both the "why is this this way" as well as "why should you care."

Selecting text looks like crap using the default settings for Windows. OK, this one may not sound very profound but you have no idea how important it is. By default, Windows displays selected text using white text on a black background. On most projection equipment, this means that when you highlight some text, what you just selected is virtually unreadable (which is the opposite of the effect you were hoping for). To deal with this, I set the selected text colors to black text on a Cyan (light blue) background. That makes selection look much more like running a highlighter over the text.

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