Creating a great presentation

September 26, 2003 at 11:31 am

With PDC coming up, there have been lots
of Microsoft entries
about what makes a good presentation, and I’d like to throw
my 35 cents into the discussion. Here are three things I like to keep in mind.

Why is always more important than what

Technical people are smart and used to figuring out things on their own. They can
figure out the C# property syntax in their sleep. What they can’t figure out is what
was going on in your mind when you wrote a feature, and knowing that is the most
important part.

This is also critical for connecting with your audience. Showing some code and saying,
“have you ever had to write ugly code like this?”, and then showing the improvement
will always garner a good response (assuming that the feature is actually useful).
It’s your job to provide the connection between the feature and the problem it solves.

What you don’t talk about is more important than what you do talk about

Technical topics always have lots of subtle and interesting points that you could
talk about. Understand the difference between what you could talk
about and what the audience needs to know, and stick with the simplest scenario to
start with. I’ve seen lots of presentations where the speaker throws in “interesting”
asides that merely confuse the attendee.

To put it another way, your job as a speaker is to filter the important information
out of all the possible information. If you don’t filter out the irrelevant details,
your attendees won’t know whether they should understand that information. That will
1) leave them thinking about your previous aside when you want them thinking about
the topic you’re now discussion and 2) make them feel stupid.

Your job is not to display your technical mastery of the subject. I don’t, for example,
talk about the advanced events syntax when I talk about C# events. It’s not relevant

Get concrete fast

Real world examples always beat abstract ones. Don’t spend time on introductions when
you could explain it as part of a real-world example, or show as part of a demo

Iterate and embellish

Most topics have several layers to them, either layers of complexity or ordered layers
of discussion. In properties, for example, I would first show the world without properties,
discuss the problems, and then show the world with properties. A building-block approach
is easier for people to understand, and it builds the progression into the presentation
so you can’t forget it.

I once came across a presentation guide that suggested not using revelation in presentations
(revelation is when points are gradually revealed). If you’re going to present effectively,
you need to be able to focus the discussion on a specific point, and you do this through
revelation. If you have three main points on a slide, and you show them all at once,
your audience will be reading the second and third points while you’re talking about
the first. You want them listening to you instead.

Revelation combined with diagrams can be a tremendous learning aid. A good diagram
is worth at least 2^10 words. Consider whether you can express points graphically.

Finally, I have a personal reason for liking revelation. One of the reason I
emjoy presentating is the comedic potential, and an essential element of humor
is timing. The funny part of the slide usually isn’t the first part, and
if you don’t use revelation, everybody gets to it at different points – if they
notice it at all. You want the impact to hit them all at once, and that’s why you
use revelation.

Final Thoughts

You should also read Conference
Presentation Judo
 by Mark-Jason Dominus. If you presented before,
this is a phenomenally useful presentation. Make sure you read the notes along
with the slides.

And if you’re a Microsoft person who wants somebody to comment on your slides, I might
be amenable.


Very interesting.

September 14, 2003 at 1:19 pm

Roy Osherove writes of some very
interesting research
in his blog.

I’ve always found research about how we read to be fascinating

A long ride

September 7, 2003 at 11:51 pm


Today, I participated in the Tacoma Wheelmen’s Heritage Century,
a ride through the picturesque Enumclaw valley. Normally, I would have added “in the
shadow of Mt. Rainier”, but since it was overcast, the mountain was hidden.

I had hoped to do the whole century (100 miles), but because I got sick a couple of
times this summer and injured recently, it wasn’t going to happen. I settled for a
shorter version. Overall, a pretty good ride. It was much hillier than I had expected.
Luckily, I’ve been suffering on hills for weeks. At one point, I was following
a guy up a steep hill – so steep that I had to stand up even though I was in my lowest
gear, and during the highest part of the power stroke, my back wheel was spinning
up. I put that in the “not fun” category, because if it slips hard, I’m probably going

When I got to the top, I realized I was following a guy with an artificial leg from
the knee down on the right side. I’m used to being passed, but usually the people
I’m passed by have all their parts. Pretty amazing.

After I finished that section, I caught up with my wife and daughter, who were doing
the 45 mile route with my daughter on her Burley Trailercycle.
I hooked her onto my bike for the next 9 miles, and then when we switched back, I
found a nice slight downhill and cranked it up to 20-23 MPH for a few miles, and then
cruised across the flats to the finish.

Overall, I’m pretty happy. My legs hurt but never got to the cramp stage, I had enough
energy for the whole ride, and my butt didn’t start hurting until I’d been riding
3.5 hours. Next year my target is RSVP.

Vital Stats:

Distance: 63.5 miles
Time: 4:36
Average speed: 13.9 MPH
Pedal Revolutions: 22,100
Horses: 155
Cows: N (where N >> 1000)
Food: 3 Power bar balance (600 calories), 3 fig newtons (165 calories), 2 energy gell
packets (200 calories), 1 1/2 bananas (150 calories), 32 oz gatorade (240 calories).
Total = 1355 calories
Calories used: Approximately 600 cal/hour ~~ 3000 calories used.




A story…

September 6, 2003 at 12:25 am

My daughter just started a new science unit in her 4th grade class. After she explained
it at dinner tonight, I told her a story that I thought I’d share with you.

One day, a farmer got up, got dressed and went outside to the barn. He got out his
tractor and took it out to his alfalfa field, which he needed to plow under after

He spent the whole day plowing, and finished the field. He turned his tractor around
at headed for home, but as he reached the edge of the field, it mysteriously stopped.
He backed up, and tried again. And again. No matter what he tried, he could not get
out of the field. He left the tractor and walked home.

The next morning, he got up, called the John Deere repair service, and sat down to
wait. At 10AM, the mechanic arrived, and they walked out to the field. The mechanic
patiently listened to the farmer’s story, shook his head, and started walking away
from the field.

“What are you leaving for?”, said the farmer. “You haven’t fixed it”.

“There’s nothing wrong with the tractor”, the mechanic replied. “You’ve got a magnetic
field there”.


After I told that, my daughter rolled her eyes and went back to eating. She does that
a lot.