Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Giving presentations

A big part of a CTO's job is making presentations, usually in PowerPoint. Not anything we learned in engineering school, yet an important skill to acquire. Your projects and even your budget may depend on a good presentation.

I have the pleasure of mentoring a Columbia Master's student in how to prepare a business case and present it. This gives me cause to reflect on my own presentation style, what works and what doesn't. I am also lucky to have received professional coaching on presenting and handling Q&A, in my last job when I worked at a healthcare advertising agency.

I have many tips on how to present, but let me discuss two that I believe are missing from most presentations I see, (1) Presenter introduction (2) Humor.

I've seen countless company introductions, but few people intros. When I am sitting through a presentation, I need to buy into the presenter and trust that they are a subject-matter expert, or at least are who they say they are. They need to win me over, period. Since most of us are not Steve Jobs, we need to introduce ourselves. Just one slide, and if you can mention something personal about yourself, all the better. Be revealing (but appropriate), take a risk, your audience will appreciate it.

Add a joke. After all, we are humans, not robots. If the joke is relevant to the material, excellent (but not a requirement). Even better, make it about yourself, or about a common frustration the audience might have. If you are not good at jokes, steal/borrow one. Practice the timing until you get it right. A good friend of mine has a rule that he had to have a slide of a monkey is every presentation, worked like a charm.

Humor can really work for you. Use it for a transition. Find a spot in your presentation where you make a bold claim, and include an intermediary visual of something negative or unfavorable. For example, you are about to claim your system is easy to use, put in a screen shot of a C:\> prompt in DOS, or a picture of user pulling their hair out. It will get your audience to pay attention, and they'll be wondering if another surprise is coming later in the presentation.

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