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You have been asked to give a PowerPoint presentation. The only thing worse than having to give a presentation as an electrical engineer, is to have to endure listening to one by an electrical engineer. Don’t get me wrong, EE’s have lots to say, they are very knowledgeable and they relay lots and lots and lots of pertinent information, it’s just that as speakers we leave something to be desired. I have been to a great many presentations where the speaker either tries to put the entire body of their work into their slides, or they drone on in a monotone voice that begs for a nap.
Know your audience
I think most engineers think about problems differently than non-engineers. We look at all the pieces, down to the minutia and try to make sense of it. So, detail oriented. The problem is when we try and convey everything we know about a subject to someone who has a different value set than we do. A manager for example, does not think the same way as an engineer. He or she does not want, or need, to know about every detail. They want to understand the problem and know the variables that directly affect that problem so they can make a decision. They don’t want to hear about interesting trivia.
It is important to know who your audience is and what is important to them. An investor or customer will have different wants/needs than a manager. If you are talking to the public you will want to tailor your presentation to a broader range of interests then if you are speaking to other engineers at a conference.
Say what you will say
There are 4 parts of a PowerPoint presentation. The first part is an introduction slide. This is where you tell everyone who you are and the topic of your presentation. The next slide in a good presentation is your roadmap, kind of like a table of contents. Then you have the body of the presentation where you convey the information. Finally, you have a summary. So, you will introduce yourself, tell them what you will tell them, then tell them, and finally tell them what you told them. Smile and sit down.
In ancient times (the 1970’s) the acronym KISS was thrown around a lot. It stands for “Keep it simple, stupid,” or some similar variant. The idea is to not over complicate things. When designing a PP slide this principle is key. You are giving a presentation, not writing a report. You do not need to put every word you will say on the screen. The slide conveys high level topic points. It is a guide.
You should have seven to ten slides for a ten-minute presentation. Let’s just say one slide a minute. Most people will speak 125 to 150 words per minute. Imagine trying to but 150 words on a slide! I have seen people try to do this exact thing.
I have found that if you put too much on the slide, your audience is busy readying the slide instead of listening you. The slide should reinforce the key point you want to make. Think of each bullet point as the paragraph summary. You speak the paragraph and the audience reads the summary.
Animations – Lets use them all
No, no, no. Do not overuse animations. Either don’t use them at all or choose one and use it sparingly. It is very easy to distract your audience. You want them focused on you and what you are saying. This goes back to the KISS principle.
Tone of voice
I once listened to a keynote speaker who spoke 400 words a minute with gusts up to 600. He was hard to follow. Most people benefit from slowing down. This does not mean speaking in a monotone. You want to vary the tone of your voice. Not only does this keep you from sounding like a robot, but it has the added benefit of keeping your audience awake. You want to have a conversational tone. When you talk to someone your voice naturally rises and falls. It does not drone.
1. Know your audience
2. Tell them what you will say, tell them, then tell them what you told them.
3. Speak slowly and clearly
4. Don’t clutter your slide, Keep it simple.
5. Don’t over use animations
6. Vary the tone of your voice
Public speaking can be great deal of fun, or it can be a painful experience. Proper planning and practice will make it easier on everyone. I hope your next presentation goes well. Let me know if these suggestions helped.
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