How do we give great presentations? In this post I wanted to take readers and speakers to the very first step, when we start planning a talk.
This post isn’t about technology. It’s not about revision (see the last lines). It also assumes that readers have some concept or assignment in mind for their presentation; brainstorming is another subject. This is about starting and building materials for a talk.
When I start to create a presentation, I like to begin by thinking of two items at the same time: what I’m going to talk about at the macro level, and how much time there will be. This combination helps narrow down a topic what it threatens to balloon into enormity (“I’m talking about the fate of higher education! but I only have 35 minutes”). This seems like an obvious starting point, but not enough speakers take it seriously, as we can tell from presenters who ramble around a sprawling concept space. Or, worse, from speakers who don’t understand time limits.
Start thinking of how your talk will unfold in time. What are the main points you want to address? After you’ve developed that for a while, bring it to life by envisioning the crucial element: the audience.
What do they need to know from your thinking? What’s best suited to who and where they are? How much can they handle? Should they be provoked, soothed, terrified, or amused? What do you need to add to their thoughts and lives? Consider this group of humans and where you want to take them. That is the essential arc of your presentation.
At this point it’s a good idea to settle into some medium for composition. PowerPoint, Word, Prezi, scratch paper, an audio file, whatever works: the important thing is to start getting content out of your head and into an external medium. It doesn’t have to be the medium you’ll eventually present from, so long as you can refer to it and work within it. I often do this in a mix of PowerPoint and a bunch of web browser tabs. Continue reading