Saul Greenberg

How to Give Presentations



While there are some 'naturally born' presenters, most of us have to work at becoming good speakers. My presentation and accompanying speaker notes describes some basic tips for giving effective presentations to audiences.

The accompanying papers by Ian Parberry and Darren Barefoot are other good resources. While Parberry's is somewhat oriented toward theoretical computer science, and Barefoot's is somewhat general, the tips in both are applicable to any speaker.

To do on your own

Attend and critique presentations. There are many opportunities to view presentations, e.g., by professors, by fellow students, in the graduate and faculty seminars, at conferences. People will vary greatly in their presentation skills and their styles. You can learn from all of them, be they good or bad. While your listening, take notes about the person's presentation style. What worked well? What worked poorly? What was left out? How could they have fixed it? What methods did they use that you thought you could try? Knowing how to judge other people's presentations is the first step in knowing how to prepare your own, and how to discover and fix your own flaws.

As part of the above, see how well the presentation followed the guidelines mentioned in class. Was there a clear message? Was media used well? Did the talk have a good structure where it flowed from point to point?

Practice Practice, Practice. Many presenters may spend days working on their slide deck, but little or no time actually practicing what they are going to say and how they are going to say it. Find an empty room. Practice giving your talk to a pretend audience. You will quickly find out where you stumble, where your slides don't really support what you want to say, and the amount of time it takes to get through various sections of your talk. Like any good design, iterate to remove the flaws.

Have others critique your presentations. Always give a dry run of your talk to a 'safe' audience. By safe, we mean people (e.g., fellow students, your supervisor, your lab mates) who are willing to say where your talk fails and how to improve it. Invite them strongly to critique your talk - tell them you need to know what to improve. Ask them to take notes about weak points, and have them publicly give you any specific problems and recommendations (public, as discussions will often come out of it). It is far far better at having a safe audience critique your talk so you can improve it, instead of giving it (warts and all) to your intended audience.