A few days ago, I shared my tips to give great presentations. But how do I prepare to give one? That’s a different story so let’s take a look in this thread 🧵!
😴 Procrastinate. No, really. It’s not something I do intentionally, but it happens. And all the time I spend not working on the presentation is time I spend thinking about its structure. And it works.
👥 Think about the audience: What did they come to learn? What prior knowledge may they have? If this is a conference, what is its topic? E.g. FOSDEM (open source enthusiasts of any project) is very different than BazelCon (mostly corporate Bazel users).
🏢 Think about the context: Am I going to a public conference and want to deliver something streamlined and impressive? Or am I giving a talk to my immediate team and want to be informal? How many people will there be?
🥅 Think about my goal: What is the one key thing I want the audience to remember? What is the one key thing I want them to do once the talk is done?
🗺 Based on the answers above, the preparation steps vary! For something like knowledge-sharing sessions with the team, I’ll just jot down a mind map in a piece of paper, call it a day, and bring that with me.
🔢 But for anything else, I create an outline. Sometimes in a document, but often I’ll just violate all the guidelines I previously gave and use the slides themselves as a brain dump. Bullet points everywhere! 😈
📐 I arrange the slides following a common template: title, maybe 2 minutes of background, key point (remember: must fit in the first 5 minutes!), actual content, and conclusion. No agenda. No intermediate section slides.
⏱ From previous experience, I know I will use about one slide per minute. That’s why the brain dump in slides works better for me than in a document. Their number may “explode” once I add in-slide transitions though.
🔈 Then, I rehearse once. This is about finding whether the content “flows” and, as you can imagine, it often doesn’t yet. I’m not strict here with timing and allow myself to pause and edit whatever I have to.
✋ At this point, if the talk is not high stakes, I may stop here and not do much more. The slides will be ugly and I’ll use them as guidance during the talk, but I’ll have stricken the right prep/reward balance. It’s all about trade-offs! 😉
📈 But for anything else, I start replacing walls of text with pictures or diagrams. Having practiced at least once before this step is critical to know what kind of visual aids will help my narrative.
❌ The goal is to get rid of any slide with bullet points. All of them. I’m pretty proud of the last talk I gave at BazelCon in this regard.
📝 What about speaker notes? I might move content to them, but I only rely on those for practicing. Getting the presentation system to show those during the talk is difficult so I don’t want to risk it! (I’ve previously used index cards too.)
🔉 And now I rehearse once more, but nonstop this time. This is about measuring the timing for real. I will definitely encounter rough spots, but I avoid touching anything. Might shortly pause the timer to write a note though.
🔊 After this, I fix all issues I encountered and practice once more. This time I expect to find few things to fix. The talk should easily flow by now and I memorize when to transition slides.
🔁 Often, there practice attempts are enough, but I’ll keep repeating these steps until there are no major corrections to be made and I know what to say when. A mental break helps, so I delay these attempts if possible.
❓ With the talk almost ready, I now think about likely questions that will come up and how I’ll answer them. Most are predictable, really, especially if you put some thought on who your audience and context are.
👔 On the talk day (or days before, if you are traveling!), I plan what to wear. Yup. Remember what the context/audience are and what their expectations might be.
And I think that’s about it. Sounds like a lot of work? Yeah, it definitely is. I think preparing a 30-minute talk easily takes 8 hours, and every time I’m in this situation, I always think “why did I get myself into this?” 😂
In reality, my process is messier than what I described, and I’ll often be editing slides and practicing until the last minute… but in an ideal situation, this is how things would look like.