How to Improve a Technical Presentation
If you are a technical expert — in engineering, programming, research, hi-tech, biotech, or medicine — you are probably being called upon more and more frequently to give presentations.
And more and more frequently you are expected to communicate highly technical information to diverse audiences with differing knowledge levels and technical expertise.
Here are three ways you can improve just about any technical presentation:
If you’re like most technical experts I coach, you try to say everything you know about your subject in all its complexity and at great length. You cram as much information into your presentations as you possibly can. And you use twice as many PowerPoint slides as you have any hope of explaining in the allotted time.
You’re afraid other people will think you’re incompetent or uninformed if you speak simply and to the point.
As a result, you end up talking really fast, leaving little time for questions, and boring much of your audience.
Think, instead, that it’s your responsibility to understand your subject so thoroughly that you can make it simple and clear enough for your audience to understand:
- Know what you want to accomplish in the time you have. Ask yourself, what do you want the audience to do with the information you’re presenting?
- Prepare a clean, logical outline that presents your information in bite-sized pieces.
- Decide how much information you can explain in the time you have available. (Ruthlessly eliminate interesting, but non-essential elements.)
- Limit the number of your slides. Allow one and a half to two minutes, on average, per slide. (If you have more than one slide per minute, rethink the purpose of your presentation.)
2. State Your Conclusion Up Front.
You can make your presentation more interesting and easier to follow, if you reverse your customary way of reasoning.
You’re accustomed to building your case by presenting your data and line of reasoning first, and ending with your conclusion. Most people — especially most non-technical people — will stop listening after the second or third piece of data so they never get to your most important point.
Try this instead: State your conclusion up front. Then present your supporting data and explain your reasoning. Limit yourself to the most compelling information and arguments. You don’t have to explain everything. (See above.) You can let people know there is more to explore or explain, and you’d be happy to do so if they have questions.
3. Use the Q&A Session Effectively.
Give people time to ask questions. For every twelve to fifteen minutes that you talk, set aside five minutes for Q&A. Your audience will become much more active in your presentation. And, because you’ve treated them like participants — not just passive listeners — they are much more likely to cooperate with you. This, in turn, will make you much more confident and at ease. Check out How to Handle Questions.
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