Wednesday, September 18, 2013

#SpeakerU - Building Your Deck, or "You Want Slides With That?"

Previously, on #SpeakerU...
So, you sucked up your courage, submitted a proposal to a meeting or conference, and then--O happy day!--you received that wonderful "your abstract has been accepted" message.

Now you must...MAKE SLIDES.  You may need to make MANY SLIDES.

Here's where you really have to start thinking about the mechanics of your presentation: how much time you'll have, what points you MUST cover, your own comfort level with the information, how much time to spend on each piece of information...all of this goes into the slides you're about to create.

At this stage of the game, one's slides often take on the 'personality' of the speaker.  This is, I think, as it should be.  The goal of #SpeakerU is not that everyone who reads these articles churns out presentations of identical style--that would result in really boring conferences, if you ask me--but rather that your slides balance your speaking style with the material you need to cover.  Remember, those folks are coming to hear YOU; if they only wanted the raw information, they could have stayed at home and read a book.  Find that comfort level that lets you feature the content.

I'll also recommend a visit to Slideshare, where folks from around the world have posted presentations on a wide variety of topics.  There's nothing wrong with looking at the different formats and styles on display to find your way, but resist the temptation to copy slides wholesale.  (You WILL be caught eventually; remember that the attendees can check out Slideshare, too...)

Instead of going through the mechanics of building slides or talking about point sizes and the like, I'll leave you with some general guidelines I use when laying out the slides for a presentation.  Feel free to use or adapt them as you see fit; your deck is about your style and your information, not mine.

So, then, in no particular order:
  • Assume that your audience can read.  Reading your slides is THE fastest way to lose your audience.
  • Make a noticeable transition, either vocally or by changing slides, every 90 seconds or so - or you'll start losing people.
  • Resist the urge to use copyrighted material of any sort.  Imitiation is the sincerest form of flattery, but it's also the fastest path to a conversation with lawyers.
  • If you can't cover a one-topic slide in less than 2 minutes' time, split the information across multiple slides.
  • Only use effects/animations when they deliver a necessary accent or transition to the content - in other words, forget the eye candy.
  • Don't be afraid to use a (well-designed) graphic instead of words, but remember to give enough written information to spark the listener's memory when they read your slides a month or two later.
  • Don't "get fancy" with language. You'll be seen as a show-off, especially where words/phrases from other languages are concerned.
  • Remember that you will be "talking AROUND your slides," adding perspective/depth to what your audience is reading.
  • Don't let your slides "skip around" - don't take your audience to Point C if you need to talk them through Points A and B first.
  • If you use graphics, remember that they need to be clear to the folks in the last row - avoid clutter.
  • Be VERY careful with humor, especially when delivering to an international audience.
  • Don't create eye charts; use a reasonable font/size for the projection system that will be in use, and stick with it.
Once I've made a "rough draft," I usually put it to two tests; I hand it to someone who knows the topic well ("Did I miss anything?"), and then hand it to someone who doesn't know the material at all and ask, "Can you follow the general flow?"  Remember that your audience will probably cover the spectrum from 'newbie' to 'expert;' you want to inform the former without losing the latter.

Next up - putting it all together...

As always, feel free to add your own experiences, tips, or pasta recipes in the comments...

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