Notes from My Brief Presentation on Making a Presentation


I mostly remember the presentations that didn’t go well. Like the time I had been invited to a university to speak about independent publishing, didn’t prepare any slides or even talking points, and rambled my way through an incoherent mess of a talk that offered no insights to anyone other than I should never have been offered a conference speaking slot.

The other presentation that I can recall with crystal, gut-wrenching clarity is the one where I prepared like crazy, did practice runs and got critiqued by colleagues, and showed up early to get familiar with the lectern and tech set-up, only to have the person who was responsible for moving my slides forward miss every single cue during the real deal. It threw me off completely, and I ended up doing an absolutely terrible job at everything except providing an example of what happens when a person melts down at a lectern in front of the senior management of a major publishing company. Afterwards, Nan Talese said to me, “You seemed nervous up there, Jeffrey.”

That’s how a very classy, distinguished person tells you that you absolutely sucked. Horrible. Just horrible. Telling this story, I just relived the whole thing, and I feel horrible all over again.

I bring all this up because as part of my curriculum in the classes I teach, students have to give a final project presentation. It’s one of my favorite parts of the class — I think the students get so much out of having to not only prepare a project, but then make a case for it in front of their classmates. Nothing like having to say it out loud and in front of people to make you do your best work.

Below is some of the snapshot advice I give to the students to help them with their final project presentations. I really try to impress upon my students how important presentation skills are overall, how they must make sure to prepare properly, and how they have to always be working on ways to get better. I have learned from my lessons, but I am in no way an expert presenter. I have to remind myself of all the below, and continue to find new ways to make my presentations as creatively informative and as engaging as possible.

On presenting:

  • Ideas and Initiatives are often won or lost in the presentation.
  • You can have a total failure (project or campaign) on your hands, but if you are a good presenter, you can turn it into a win.
  • Presentations happen in front of audiences of 1 and audiences of many.
  • Even job interviews are about presenting (“Tell me about yourself.”)
  • Being nervous is normal, and good.
  • More presenting doesn’t necessarily mean you will not be nervous.
  • You just have to learn strategies, through practice and live audience experience, that allow you to handle the nervousness.
  • Most importantly, practice and experience will help you get through and recover on-the-fly when presentations aren’t going according to plan, or are just plain falling apart in the worst possible ways imaginable.

In other words: Do as many presentations as you can, and work to constantly improve upon your presentation skills.

Make sure you do the following:

  • Practice (book a conference room and drill yourself).
  • Practice in front of people, ask for feedback. Ask people who you know will be hard on you, or that make you a little nervous.
  • Practice in front of a camera (use your smartphone).
  • Never pass up an opportunity to present.
  • You have to ask for it — tell your boss, during your annual review for example, that you’d like to do more presentations.
  • See how other people do it — live, and via youtube — and learn from them.
  • Read this book: The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs: How to Be Insanely Great in Front of Any Audience.
  • Like anything, the more you do it, the better you will get.

Some logistical tips:

  • Always make sure you have back-ups of your slides (don’t count on anyone else).
  • Print out your slides, just in case the computer/projector fail.
  • Ask what the set up is going to be in advance (where the projector screen will be in relation to you, whether you will have a podium, etc). Show up early so you can take it all in.
  • Familiarize yourself with the equipment (clicker, computer, how the slides move forward, etc).
  • Bring your own water, so you know you have it available for sure.
  • Eat something beforehand, even if the nervousness is making it seem like you aren’t hungry.
  • Spit out your gum before you get up on the stage!

Resource links:
The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs by Carmine Gallo (Slideshare)
Video by Carmine Gallo on The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs — New presentation platform
Five Ways to Not Suck at PowerPoint
Create Compelling Presentations with the Three Q Method