5 Tips For A Good Presentation

Recently the 3rd year SE students have been asked to give presentations of their work in front of their peers. Last week we had five teams present and this week we will have the remaining four. Overall I was quite impressed with some of the presentations and I'd like to see the rest of the teams do as well. To that end, here are the top 5 things I think you can do to make sure your presentation is well received.

What I'm talking about here are technical presentations where we expect someone to speak, rather than just show us a bunch of slides. The presentations last roughly 10 minutes with 5 minutes for questions.

  1. Practice

    Seems obvious but I'm always surprised at how many people don't even bother to have a single "dry run" of their presentation. Do it in front of your team. Do it front of another team. Do it in front of your supervisor. Hell, do it in front of a mirror! Just make sure you have a go at your presentation before you're actually presenting. You'll pick up all sorts of little errors, notice if you're running too long or not long enough and, most importantly, it'll help reduce your nervousness – especially important if you're not used to speaking in front of a group of people.

    • Prepare

      Yes, prepare. This is for similar reasons to the above point but it also allows you coordinate your talk with another presenter, gives you something to refer to if you lose track of where you are and helps you stick to the relevant information. This doesn't mean that you need a script that will be read out verbatim but you at least need to work out what you're going to talk about, what order you're going to save things in, get your slides ready (if any), coordinate who will say what, etc.

      • Engage the audience

        I'm sure you find it irritating when people talk to you with their back turned – so why would you do this to others? You should be standing straight, facing the audience and speaking clearly to them. Don't be afraid to make eye contact. (If this makes you too nervous, try looking at a spot just behind the last row or just not directly into people's eyes.) If there's something on the slide or whiteboard that you want to refer to then try to only turn half away from the audience at most – but don't just casually point over your shoulder! (This works best if you're standing next to the thing you want to point at.)

        • Limit the speakers

          There's nothing to this one – don't have your entire five person team standing up and attempt to give each person something to say. It's really annoying and breaks the overall flow of your talk. I think two people are best and three acceptable. Having just one person is ideal from a presentation point of view but doesn't give other students a chance to show off their skills.

          • Talk about something interesting

            No-one needs a five minute discussion of how your team is structured. We don't need to know that "Bob is the implementation leader, risk manager, lead reviewer and, on Sundays, he coordinates parties for the team". We don't need to hear about how you all bonded by playing cheesy ice-breaker games. Stick to things that are interesting: what's the problem you're trying to solve? Have you found any difficulties in coming up with a software solution and how did you get around them? Why did you choose to use that design instead of a more obvious choice? What cutting edge tools and technologies are you using?

            Basically, what's different about your team's project?

            You can also help keep things interesting by injecting some humour into the presentation. Don't go overboard though (adding too much humour or making jokes just for the sake of it) and only do it if you're good at it. If you're not sure whether something will work then why not try it out in your practice presentations?

These are just simple things but if you keep them in mind then I know your presentation will be better for it.