Presentation Zen

As I mentioned earlier today, I went to a presentation on giving presentations last night at SlideShare. SlideShare is a website where people can post their slides for the world to see. This is great for showing to investors, as well as for use in PowerPoint Karaoke.

First up was Nancy Duarte. She and her husband run Duarte Design, the firm which handles all of the slides for Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth and Steve Jobs’s keynotes; conferences such as WWDC and Java One; and slideshows for a host of other companies. I, personally, am indebted to their services.

She originally thought she was just going to introduce Garr, but at the last minute, she was asked to give a little presentation of her own. She talked about how giving a presentation with slides should be like telling a story. It should have a beginning, middle, and an end that all relate. She had a wonderful slide on what the story of Little Red Riding Hood would look like done as bulleted powerpoint slides.

Then Garr Reynolds of Presentation Zen presented. I love his style. Rapid fire slides that relate to what he is saying, without bullet points. You shouldn’t have to read your slides. You should know the material so well that the presentation should feel natural. During his presentation, he mentioned Lawrence Lessig, and Guy Kawasaki. He said that Guy suggested 15 slides max and you should have to pay for more. This was the subject of my question, because we know now that my new favorite thing to do is ask questions in public forums (see 1 and 2).

Garr had said that the first six people to ask a question would get a free copy of his book. This is a great way to start off a presentation because I spent the whole time trying to pay attention so that I could ask a decent question. When the Q&A began, I raised my hand high.

I’d been chatting with Garr and Nancy before the presentation. For reasons I have yet to figure out, Garr was convinced when I walked in that I must have ridden my bike to the SlideShare office. Yes, I was a little flustered from speeding to the city, but I’d been lucky enough to get there on time and to get a parking space immediately in front of the building. It was a challenge, since the talk was to start at 5:30. Luckily, it didn’t start until after 6, so I had plenty of time to socialize.

So when my hand went up, Garr said that I could have the first question, since I’d ridden my bike all the way from the office of his former employer. I asked my question.

“Guy Kawasaki says that you should only have 15 slides and pay for more. Your presentation must have cost you a bundle. Can you speak to the difference between having 15 slides or 150 slides for the same length presentation?”

Pretty much it comes down to your audience and the situation. This made me think back to when I was teaching. In general, if a professor was using slides in class, then 15 would have been an improvement. They often had way too many slides filled with content. Now if they were treating class as though it were one of Steve’s keynotes, then they could have had ten times as many slides and it would have kept me awake. But it all has to do with the audience.

But this makes me wonder why I have this idea that teaching is different somehow than giving a presentation. Why shouldn’t it be as visually and audibly stimulating as a Stevenote? Again, situation. For a lecture hall of 300 people, it should be like a Stevenote. But when I was teaching in a classroom with a dozen students, I never used slides. I tried occasionally, but it was unnatural. My favorite classes were when we talked about stacks and queues. We went to lunch early. The plates are in a stack. The last plate taken off the stack is the first plate to be put on the stack. LIFO—last in, first out. You stand in a queue. The first person in line is the first person out of line. FIFO—first in, first out. The kids never forget that. And when we did searching and sorting algorithms, I had the kids stand in the front of the classroom. We would then use algorithms to sort them alphabetically and search for kids in the line. My favorite part of teaching computer science was not using computers. Once they understood the concepts, then they could use computers to implement them.

And as far as slides go, I know I’m still in the mindset that I need to have some bullets and keep the number of slides to a minimum . I have this unnatural feeling that each slide somehow does cost me extra and it changes how I make my presentations.

But I digress. I had a fabulous evening chatting with Garr, Nancy, and Mark Duarte. When Garr wasn’t looking, I took his camera and shot some photos of him. I figured he might appreciate getting photos of himself on his own camera. (That was the problem with all my Ireland photos. I didn’t have any of me). I’ll add a link once he posts them. For now, all I have are the ones I took with my iPhone. And a signed copy of his book.

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