5 Basic Errors in Technical Presentations

Preparing a good technical presentation is a task that requires work. There are some common errors of that type of presentation that you can avoid easily.

No 1: No goal

A technical presentation with no goal? That sounds strange, but this problem appears more often than you may think.

Ask yourself the following questions: Is the presentation there to inform about a new product or project? Is it a tutorial on how to use it? Is it an advanced description of some specific topic for people who already use it? Is it to promote the project so more people use it? Or contribute?

Each of those goals requires a different presentation. The common problem is to mix several of those goals and finally fail to deliver content useful to any of the audience groups. Concentrate on the basic message you want to deliver.

No 2: Blurry structure

A technical presentation may have different types of structure: introduction-main part-conclusions, timeline, problem-solution. It is important to make the structure clear, otherwise the audience may get lost.

An illustration is this problem: the presentation includes an example that is very long and/or covers unrelated subject. It may be talking about related projects when explaining a functionality. It is usually better to move that part to a separate point of your presentation.

To find out if the structure is clear try to write it down. If you can’t do it easily, your presentation may require re-ordering.

Don’t forget to make sure that the structure supports your goal.

No 3: Too many details, too early

When talking about technology, we concentrate on details because that’s what we find interesting. I often hear comments that someone wants to dig deeper into a concrete technical subject and it doesn’t leave time to make an introduction to the project.

Much depends on the audience, but normally there will be people who have not heard about your project or they are not very familiar with it. Or there may be many who are familiar with the project but not the specific detail.

For them, I recommend to spend at least a minute to explain what the project is about and/or what the specific functionality is used for. If it’s important for your talk, include also the internal structure. However, try not to remove the introduction part completely. That allows everyone to follow.

Another common problem is to include too much details. This may be a list of all of the functions of the API when you will be talking just about one or two. This easily makes your audience lost and move to other activities like emails, twitting or even coding.

Filter the information and include only the relevant data. If something is not directly related to your goal, use it for another presentation. You don’t need to tell everything you know on the subject in a 15 minutes talk!

No 4: Technical problems

Your laptop doesn’t work with the projector. The internet connection on the conference is poor and your demo doesn’t work… Those are common problems. How to avoid them?

  • Arrive early. Even if it has worked before. That leaves you time to test if all equipment works and use alternative solutions (another laptop, skipping a demo) if the desired configuration fails.
  • Avoid the need of live internet connection. Internet on the technical conferences rarely works well. Make sure you’re prepared.
  • Have a backup plan. A video of your demo or some slides explaining the content are both solutions if it doesn’t work.

No 5: Unappropriate content

On technical conferences you have audience speaking different languages, with different background and from different cultures. They will have different sensibilities than you. Even best presentation may have inverse effect if it offends its audience because of an unappropriate joke or a photo. There are some tips how to make sure it is OK:

  • Check the conference code of conduct and stick to it. Enough said.
  • Avoid any sex, gender, religion or political references. Simply avoid them all. They can work if done well, but this is not an easy thing to do.
  • Ask a diverse group of people to review your presentation: ideally someone from the country of your presentation, non-native speaker, males and females etc. If thay have comments, review your talk.

As you can see, you can avoid the typical errors easily when your know about them. Do you have comments, good examples? Please leave a comment!

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