Better Presentations – I

A few days back I attended a doctoral symposium along with my fellow PhDs at NIIT Universiy, Neemrana, Rajasthan. It was a two-day event in which 17 Ph.D. students from elite educational institutions of India and few experts from Industry and Academia (IIT Profs.) gave presentations. Each presentation was around 15 – 20 minutes followed by 1-2 questions. After the symposium, I along with my colleagues discussed the presentations, i.e., which presentations were catchy and what were the reasons for boring presentations. I won’t repeat the discussion here, but I would like to say that the debate intrigued me to dig deep and understand the characteristics of better presentations.

In this post and another subsequent post, I will nail down the ingredients of a better presentation. In all these posts I will present views of world-class presenters. This post is based on a TED (Technology, Entertainment, and Design) talk by  Chris Anderson,  “TED’s secret to great public speaking“. Chris is the owner of the TED, a non-profit organization, organizing talks on ideas worth sharing. Chris mentions that there is no unique formula for giving a better presentation. It is not like that you tell catchy stories on red-velvet, rather presentation is means of transferring an idea from a presenter to an audience. He defines this idea transformation process as a synchronization problem, i.e., if the speaker’s and listeners’ minds get synched with one another then idea gets transferred quickly without losing the audience. To make sure that the synchronization will happen between the two parties while presenting, Chris mentions that a speaker should prepare his(r) talk while ensuring following ingredients in a talk:

  1. Develop presentation around one idea: Make sure that the presentation surrounds around one idea. All slides should support the idea.
  2. Develop curiosity in the audience: Provide motivation of the presentation, i.e., why is the presentation important and why should audience pay attention. Also, ask questions in between –  this will ensure uninterrupted bonding between the two participating parties.
  3. Develop each piece of presentation while keeping audience’s awareness in mind:  This means that the presentation should be at listener’s cognition level. Wait! how is it possible while delivering technical stuff to a non-domain audience? The only way to handle this issue is to use “metaphors” as often as possible. Using metaphors at audience level will require a little bit of creativity and time but it is worth to spend the time to get this skill.
  4. Ensure that the presentation adds value to the audience: If you find that the presentation will help audience then you should present, else it is better not to present.
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