Pictures vs. words

A word is also a picture of a word

Remember how on March 5th I was supposed to give a presentation in 1′, 2′, 10′, but it got bumped? And then the following week’s class was canceled, and then we had spring break. So it wasn’t until three weeks later, March 26, that I finally got to take my turn squirming at the front of the room. Three extra weeks! So, naturally, I used all that time working on my project, right?

Oh, no, that wouldn’t have been fair. I did revise my slides, but I left it until the last fucking minute, as usual, so as not to have an undue advantage over my classmates. Right. That’s totally why.

What I did do in the interim, however, was stumble across this fab webcast by Nancy Duarte about how to give better presentations:

After hearing her talk, I bought and started reading her book, Slide:ology, which is a more detailed presentation of the same suggestions.

(Here’s another Nancy Duarte webcast, which I haven’t watched yet: Creating Powerful Presentations.)

So between that and taking copious notes on my classmates’ midterm presentations, especially in Wearables, I got a lot of ideas about how I should redo my slides, as well as my overall presentation style. The result is a deck that does not make any sense unless I’m standing there with a remote, explaining it to you (PDF, 1.1 MB)—and using a remote is, I decided after watching a lot of in-class presentations, a good thing to do. I got my Mac remote to turn pages in Acrobat using a program called iRed Lite. I can’t really recommend it, since it stumped me for quite a while the first time I used it, and the next time I tried, a few weeks later, I positively could not figure out how I had ever made it work in the first place. There’s something about the UI that confuses the hell out of me. But it can, theoretically, do the job, and it’s free.

Some other things I learned from watching classmates’ presentations:

  • Proofread, proofread, proofread.
  • Stand while you present, even if you don’t have a remote. Think of someone you know who’s poised and relaxed speaking in front of a group, and then try to channel that person for five minutes. Breathe between sentences. Make eye contact.
  • I really don’t care about the technical side of your project. Don’t tell me what hardware and libraries and so forth are used in it; describe it to me as though I were a normal human being who doesn’t have four Arduini in her apartment right now. Just because I have them doesn’t mean I know how to use them.
  • Those very corporate-looking system diagrams showing how information will flow through your application? They’re completely unintelligible. Skip them.
  • You don’t have to make all your graphics all slick, in Illustrator or Photoshop. Hand-drawn diagrams or sketches can be much more engaging.
  • As early as possible in the presentation, show me some kind of image of what your project will be—or, better yet, the prototype you’re working on—so that I can hold that in my mind as you go into all the background and process and detail. If I don’t know what your project is yet, I probably won’t find the rest of that information interesting. This was true even though I knew perfectly well what my classmates’ projects were. When I watched their presentations, if they didn’t show and describe what they were making early on, I was unable to hold my attention on whatever else they were saying instead. Context.
  • Don’t put a lot of text on the screen. If you’re talking and there’s a whole paragraph on the screen behind you, my attention’s going to be split. And if it turns out that you’re just repeating what that paragraph says, almost word for word, I’ll feel exasperated. People should be listening to you for the words in your presentation, not reading them off the slides.
  • If you don’t have anything sexy to put on a slide for a given portion of your talk, it’s fine to
    1. repeat a previous slide, or
    2. show a slide that contains just one word representing that moment’s topic—“research,” for instance, or “inspiration.” Treat that text as a graphic element—make it big, pay attention to how it looks.
  • Typography!
  • If you have a relevant quotation to share, don’t bury it in a whole long paragraph; give it a slide by itself.
  • Don’t try to cover too much. It’s better to give people a thoughtful, measured thumbnail-presentation of the project and stop talking early enough that there’s time for people to ask questions about the parts that actually interest them than it is to brain-dump every piece of information you have, leaving time for only a few dazed comments from your audience at the end.
  • Videos of a thing working are helpful, but you have to explain what’s going on while it’s playing. This may be a good time to unload some of those boring technical details, while there’s a moving image to spice them up.
  • Proofread, proofread, proofread. If I had a dime for every typo I saw during midterm presentations . . . I offered my services as a proofreader in the Webgrrls-style need/give session we had in 1′ 2′ 10′, but nobody seemed to think they needed such a thing. They are wrong.
  • If you’re going to read some text that appears on a slide, do it slowly, with feeling; don’t just rush through it breathlessly, making it impossible for people to either read the text for themselves or follow what you’re saying. Make it clear that you’re reading what’s on the screen so people don’t have to struggle to figure it out. If you’re not able to introduce the text with something like “I’d just like to read you this quote, which really inspired me . . .” you probably shouldn’t be giving it a slide.

So, here again are the slides I ended up using (PDF, 1.1 MB) for my midterm presentation. I suppose some day maybe I’ll write captions more or less like what I said in front of the class, but in the meantime you can read the old slides if you want to know the gist.

Photo: A WORD IS ALSO A PICTURE OF A WORD by gwalton1; some rights reserved.

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