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How to prepare for giving a presentation?

Jesper de Jong
Java Cowboy
Saloon Keeper

Joined: Aug 16, 2005
Posts: 15094

Tomorrow evening I'm giving a presentation about Java 8 for a group of fellow software developers.

I don't give presentations very often. There are things I like and things I don't like about giving presentations.

I like to explain things, and I think I'm good at explaining things in a clear way.

But preparing a presentation always takes so much time. I've worked on it the whole day last Sunday, from about 10:00 AM to 10:00 PM. First I think about what subjects I want to talk about, then I need to find a logical structure, then I write down all the points in detail, then I have to think about what to put on the slides, make code samples, make the slides, look over them again and again, etc. It takes me more than a day to prepare a 45-minute presentation.

I don't like the regular programs to create slides (PowerPoint, OpenOffice, the online thing in Google Drive). The templates aren't nice, and it's hard to make everything consistent. For the presentation that I'm giving tomorrow, I decided to program the whole thing using JavaFX. I didn't know JavaFX very well but it was actually suprisingly easy and you can do many things with JavaFX that aren't (easily) possible with PowerPoint etc. (such sophisticated animations).

If you give presentations more often, I would like get tips from you. How do you prepare? Does it take you a lot of time? How do you remember everything you want to say, do you use speaker notes or not? I want to get better at it.

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Martin Vajsar

Joined: Aug 22, 2010
Posts: 3733

Jesper de Jong wrote:I want to get better at it.

Somebody suggested Toastmasters in this thread. I've already looked them up in my city.
Jesper de Jong
Java Cowboy
Saloon Keeper

Joined: Aug 16, 2005
Posts: 15094

Thanks, I see they also have a Dutch website (

I don't have any problems with confidence, I mainly want to be more efficient at preparing presentations.
Tim Cooke

Joined: Mar 28, 2008
Posts: 2534

I'm similar to you Jesper in that it does seem to take me a disproportionate amount of time to prepare for a presentation. I don't consider myself a very good speaker and it certainly doesn't seem to come naturally to me so my coping mechanism for that is extensive preparation. My tool to not 'freak out' on the day is to not leave anything to chance. Necessary ad-libbing is a definite no-no.

My last presentation, just before xmas, was a pair effort. Our approach was to start off by writing down everything that came out of our heads onto index cards and have them laid out on the table. Each time we came back to do some more prep, an hour or so at a time, we'd roll out the cards and talk about them. Some got binned, some new ones got added. Eventually the cards would be put into some sort of order, we'd practice talking through the cards out loud as if we were presenting them to gauge time and to flesh out any disconnects in the flow of conversation. More cards got canned to trim down the time.

Then we put together a visual presentation using KeyNote on the Mac, nothing too heavy, no bullet riddled corpse. Just enough to act as a visual aid to the verbal content. In our case a good dose of nerd humour Meme's were included just to keep the mood light.

One of the most valuable things that I learned about this process was that I'm pretty sure that I would not have been able to come up with as good a presentation on my own. Having two people working on it made a huge difference. We have pair programming, why not pair presentation prep? We have some more technical presentations to do this year and it is my intention to prepare the content for them with a colleague even though the talks will be delivered by a single person.

As far as becoming more efficient... I think that'll just come down to practice.

Edit: I'm not sure this qualifies as Meaningless Drivel but I don't know where else it could live? We don't have a Soft Skills forum.

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Ulf Dittmer

Joined: Mar 22, 2005
Posts: 42965
Can't say much about optimizing preparing the presentation except that -yes- it takes time, but my advice for giving the presentation is: use simple software. I like S5.
Paul Clapham

Joined: Oct 14, 2005
Posts: 19973

You don't give presentations very often, and so that's why it takes you a long time to prepare one. If you had to give weekly presentations, for sure you would quickly reduce the time you took to produce each one. It's like anything else, the more you do something the easier it gets.

But let me give you a different piece of advice, although probably it's already obvious to you: Get to the place where you will be giving the presentation early, so you can make sure you can interface with their hardware. I'll always remember the presentation I went to once (this was about how to photograph flowers, so not a computer technology topic); when the presenter turned on her computer it started up with a screen saying "Windows is installing updates. Please do not turn off your computer. Update 1 of 45..." and the look on her face was priceless.
Campbell Ritchie

Joined: Oct 13, 2005
Posts: 46412
I had it worse once. I was giving a talk at Saltburn and everybody was running late. I tried three different laptops before the presentation and non would work. I had to do the whole thing from memory without my photos.

They really liked it because my talk was quick and they caught up with the schedule
Pat Farrell

Joined: Aug 11, 2007
Posts: 4659

I don't think there is an easy answer to your question. Doing a good presentation is hard work and a skill that has to be honed. You can get better, if you really want to and work on it.

The number one rule, no matter what your topic is, no matter what your audience is, and no matter when tool you use to create it:

Twelve words per slide, maximum. Period. Including the title.

One word per slide is better.

Watch a great presentor, such as Steve Jobs when he announced the iPhone. He does not show paragraphs of copy on the slide. He shows one photo or maybe a bullet list with three words on it.

When you do this, your audience will not be tempted to read your slides. Well, they will, but anyone can read 10 words in a second. So they are forced to listen to what you are saying. Then make sure you have something to say. If you don't have something interesting to say about the slide, cut it from the deck.

Jeanne Boyarsky
author & internet detective

Joined: May 26, 2003
Posts: 33132

I'm a member of Toastmasters. It has greatly cut down on my prep time. It also provides me with a test lab to try out new techniques.

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