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Presenting style

There's a kind of meta game to going to conferences, and that's looking at presentation styles and slide design. Looking back over my notes from multi.player, I have left myself all sorts of comments about the speed of the presentation, the slide design, the slide contents etc. 

More recently I went to dConstruct, which is not an academic conference. It aims to be an inspirational one, with a theme to talk around rather than a specific technology to discuss and learn about. The speakers are professionals who also do a lot of presenting at conferences. I found it fascinating to see the differences in approach.

By and large, the slides were much better at dConstruct (granted at a design-oriented conference you'd hope for good slide design). There was less reliance on them, and less data displayed. In Don Norman's case, he didn't use slides at all and I don't think the presentation suffered for that. In Matthew Sheret's talk, the slides and more particularly how he moved between them (he'd hacked a toy sonic screwdriver) were a key part of the talk, but didn't distract from what he was saying. 

On the other hand, the academics had a much more rigid structure to their talks that in at least a few cases made them much clearer than those at dConstruct: 


  1. Background of topic
  2. Research questions coming from that background
  3. Methodology used to explore research questions
  4. Results and discussion.


Just like a paper, or a poster, or... well, most academic presentation I guess! 

So what have I learnt? From my time with American Express as well as what I've seen at conferences, I try to put as little as possible on my slides. They should not make sense without me there to talk around them. Putting tables of data on the slides doesn't work because a) it's almost impossible to make them legible and b) they distract people from what I'm saying. Use slides to show people things you can't say, so a picture (SINGLE picture, easy to see), not necessarily quotes. Have a structure so you know what your overall story is, although perhaps make it slightly less obvious in the talk than standing there and reading through it. 

Stylistically, dark backgrounds with light text is more robust if your room is too light. Talk at a reasonable pace, not everyone speaks English as a native and there's no need to pound people. Stay on topic - random 'surprise' slides are only really funny once. Test any tech on a machine other than the one you created the presentation on, just to make sure.

I think you have two goals as a conference presenter. You are trying to be interesting and informative (and I mean you, not your slides). If I can crack that, I'll be doing well!

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