Monthly Archives: November 2016

What is your presentation’s throughline?

When you start designing your presentation, take a step back and ask yourself: What’s my main point? What do I want the audience to remember, to takeaway? Build your talk around this concept. From the TED Talks book:

There’s a helpful word used to analyze plays, movies, and novels; it applies to talks too. It is throughline, the connecting theme that ties together each narrative element. Every talk should have one.

Since your goal is to construct something wondrous inside your listeners’ minds, you can think of the throughline as a strong cord or rope, onto which you will attach all the elements that are part of the idea you’re building.

This doesn’t mean every talk can only cover one topic, tell a single story, or just proceed in one direction without diversions. Not at all. It just means that all the pieces need to connect.

Basically, make everything in your talk connect to the main point. Minimize the distractions and superfluous details.

Handling Questions Gracefully

1. Accept questions from the audience after finishing thoughts, not mid-thought. Professors do this better than students.

2. Listen. Listen to the question to ensure you understand it.

3. Answer quickly if possible. If a quick answer is not possible and the answer will be revealed in upcoming segments, ask the questioner to wait until then. If a quick answer is not possible and the answer will not be revealed in the rest of the presentation, tell the questioner that you will speak to him offline. Offline refers to after the presentation has ended and you are no longer speaking to the entire audience.

4. If the answer does not satisfy the questioner or he has a follow-up, determine what to do. You don’t want your presentation derailed by a single line of questioning, but you don’t want to look evasive either. If the question wasn’t clear to you (even after asking for the questioner to repeat), offer to answer the question offline. In small audiences, it’s better to delay and answer correctly (or explain why you don’t know) than to guess at the questioners meaning and misinterpret.

NFL Picks – Week 9 of 2016

Overall Against the Spread: 45-55
Week 2: 8-8
Week 3: 10-6
Week 4: 6-9
Week 5: 5-8 (1 push)
Week 6: 7-6 (2 pushes)
Week 7: 3-11 (1 game not bet)
Week 8: 6-7

Here are my week 9 predictions, with the current line in parentheses:
Atlanta Falcons at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (+3.5): Predicting 27.6-26.3. Bet on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Jacksonville Jaguars at Kansas City Chiefs (-9.0): Predicting 17.5-26.7. Bet on the Kansas City Chiefs.
Detroit Lions at Minnesota Vikings (-6.0): Predicting 17.8-23.8. Line is correct; do not bet.
Philadelphia Eagles at New York Giants (-3.0): Predicting 21.4-20.2. Bet on the Philadelphia Eagles.
New York Jets at Miami Dolphins (-3.5): Predicting 19.9-25.2. Bet on the Miami Dolphins.
Dallas Cowboys at Cleveland Browns (+7.0): Predicting 26.4-21.6. Bet on the Cleveland Browns.
Pittsburgh Steelers at Baltimore Ravens (-2.5): Predicting 20.9-21.6. Bet on the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Carolina Panthers at Los Angeles Rams (+3.0): Predicting 22.9-24.2. Bet on the Los Angeles Rams.
New Orleans Saints at San Francisco 49ers (+3.0): Predicting 28.1-26.6. Bet on the San Francisco 49ers.
Indianapolis Colts at Green Bay Packers (-7.0): Predicting 22.8-28.3. Bet on the Indianapolis Colts.
Tennessee Titans at San Diego Chargers (-5.0): Predicting 21.9-27.4. Bet on the San Diego Chargers.
Denver Broncos at Oakland Raiders (even): Predicting 21.8-22.7. Bet on the Oakland Raiders.
Buffalo Bills at Seattle Seahawks (-6.5): Predicting 19.9-21.6. Bet on the Buffalo Bills.

Slide Do’s and Don’ts (2016 edition)

Most people use slides when giving a presentation. Unfortunately, most slides are awful. Here are some tips to help.

This is a post I will re-visit each year. Here are the 2016 suggestions:

1. Use images and graphs. As much as can reasonably be allowed. Visuals trump words.

2. Make your slides readable. Use at most three font sizes. Large size is for titles/headlines, medium is for your main ideas, small is for supporting ideas. You may use bolding, but avoid italics and underlining as they are hard to read. Ensure contrast between the text and background.

3. Think about going to a blank slide when you want to talk and need the audience’s full attention. Most presentation clickers have a button that can do this. From the TED Talks book: “Just go to a blank, black slide and then the audience will get a vacation from images and pay more attention to your words. Then, when you go back to slides, they will be ready to go back to work.”

1. Don’t use slides made in LaTeX. LaTeX is great for making papers. But it makes boring presentations that look like paper subsets. Presentations aren’t for reading, they’re for listening and seeing. Every presentation I’ve seen where the slides were made in LaTeX Beamer has been boring. And, perhaps worse, each presentation is the same sort of boring, as there seems to be little customization. I’m sure it’s possible to give a good presentation with this tool, but I haven’t seen it.

2. Don’t create slides that work as a stand-alone document. You are there to give your presentation. If everything you want to say is already up on the slides, why are you there? Your job is not to make all-encompassing slides. It is to make slides that support your presentation.

3. Don’t put items on your slides that you don’t want to discuss. If the information is not important enough to mention, it shouldn’t be on your slides. Generally, slides shouldn’t speak for themselves. If you think someone might ask about it, move it to your backup slides.

Memorize Your Talk?

Should you memorize your presentation? There are two correct answers to this question:
1. No, you shouldn’t memorize your talk, but you should be familiar with the flow and have practiced enough that it sounds natural.
2. Yes, you should memorize your talk so well that it sounds natural, not robotic.

Personally, I don’t memorize wording. But I know memorizing makes certain people feel more relaxed and secure. The important thing is that you practice enough so that your talk sounds natural.

If you don’t memorize and don’t practice, your talk will be littered with “uhs” and “umms” while you try to work out what to say next. That sucks.

If you memorize, but not well enough, you’ll fall into the uncanny valley. From the TED Talks book: “[The Uncanny Valley] is a term borrowed from a phenomenon in computer animation where the technology of animating humanlike characters is super-close to seeming real but is not quite there. The effect is creepy: worse than if the animator had steered clear of realism altogether.” Speakers that try to memorize, but don’t do it well enough, fall here. Their talk will sound robotic and rehearsed. But by persisting with practice, you can fight through the uncanny valley. You need to know the talk so well that recalling it is a snap, no matter where you are interrupted. “Then you can use your conscious attention to focus on the meaning of the words once again.”

(image via Slate)

So what is the conclusion? Practice. Then practice again. By practicing and preparing, you can give a talk that values the audience’s time and wins you support.