Learning to present professionally and effectively


Giving presentations is part of my job, striving for memorable presentations is part of my profession’s as well as my personal ethos.

I started out preparing slides in the typical way, looking at other presentations and trying to figure out how it is professionally done. I assume my presentations then were as boring as those of most others, contributing to death by PowerPoint, by Apple Keynote, or any other slideware. All the tools can be used for putting the audience to sleep without any effort, but the tools are not the source of trouble.

Over the years I found some interesting news feeds, for example Les Posen’s CyberPsych Blog, with—among other topics—insightful analyses of Steve Jobs‘ keynote speeches. I started to mimic the style of his slides with a less-is-more-attitude. My presentations got noticably better (according to positive remarks from attendees) but I still did not really know what I was doing.

Last year I began to work on my skills in earnest. A seminar at the University of Mainz set the starting point. A media training for scientists provided me with valuable feedback on my own performance in various situations and on a television screen besides lots of other media related information (see earlier post, in German).

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But the most influential source about presentation-related knowledge was and is Garr Reynolds‘ blog Presentation Zen. On this blog I found material what I was looking for. Garr Reynolds writes about my personal situation. That is the how I perceive it—and that is, by the way, why I love the Web so much. You can find kindred spirits there and people having similar problems / life situations … well … I get side-tracked—Presentation Zen is a valuable collection every presenter should check out. Fortunately, Garr Reynolds made also a book of it: Presentation Zen: Simple Ideas on Presentation Design and Delivery. It contains lots of helpful hints on improving your presentations. What I like most about this book is that it is case-based. Lots of examples simply show you the better way of presenting ideas.

From the many books he recommends (scroll down a bit on his blog) I found two very interesting and would like to recommend them to you, too:

  • Daniel H. Pink’s A Whole New Mind: While Right-Brainers will Rule the Future
  • Stephen M. Kosslyn’s Clear and to the Point: Eight Psychological Principles for Compelling PowerPoint Presentations

„Show, don’t tell!“ is an important rule in story telling. In a way I got the feeling that Garr Reynolds shows whereas Stephen Kosslyn tells. Garr also got lucky that he could provide all examples in colour whereas Stephen Kosslyn’s book suffers from grayscale examples. The books are not really comparable. I like all the psychological explanations Stephen Kosslyn presents. They are important to deal with complex stuff and helps portioning what you want to convey. You will also find some of this in Presentation Zen, but I think both books could be seen as two sides of a coin.

Much has been written in the last years about the differences of our brain’s left and right hemispheres. Daniel Pink reminds us of our given creativity in A Whole New Mind. Have a look at the „six high-concept, high-touch senses“ (see an overview here). The book is, as he says himself somewhere in it, quite US-centered and I do not agree with all of his political views, but it is definitely worth a read.

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Eine Antwort zu “Learning to present professionally and effectively

  1. ‚Show, don’t tell‘ is the golden rule to a great presentation. How many of us have attended trade shows and heard big named brands in tech drone on and on about how great the new product will be or the plans for the future? It’s boring and borders on offensive. Time to get down…come into the audience, let’s talk, question, joke and come away with the learning. (Why else are we there?)

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