7 Tips to Present an Idea

Written By Saeed Gatson

As software developers, we mostly present our ideas from behind a computer screen. Sometimes for our ideas to be known, however, we actually have to talk to other humans in the real world.

One of the most effective ways to connect with people and market yourself is through speaking and presenting. You could present to a small group of your coworkers or an audience of hundreds.

John Sonmez wrote a great post about why you need to speak at your next code camp. You’d be surprised by how many times you’ll have to give a presentation as a software developer. Code camps are just one example. Regardless of the setting, presenting can be a great opportunity to build your reputation.

If you’re a technical genius, public speaking may be out of your comfort zone. The seven tips below will help you deliver a presentation that demands your audience’s attention and leaves them impressed.

1. Bring Value

So, how are you going to give that legendary Steve Jobs-like presentation? If you can ensure that each and every member of your audience leaves feeling like you added value to their lives, mission accomplished! An audience will pay more attention when you share ideas that are relevant to them. Consider how your idea can help others, then build the appropriate presentation from there. Let's say your idea was to talk about test driven development. You could tailor your presentation to focus on the tangible step your audience can take to implement test driven development in their process. That would be more valuable than just defining test driven development.

Horrified Audience

2. Tailor the Presentation for the Audience

A common mistake that presenters make is not tailoring their presentation. Try to figure out as much as you can about your audience ahead of time. Who you're talking to changes what you should talk about. How you present to a room full of iOS developers should be different than how you present to a room full of technical managers. How you present to customer support should be different than how you present to quality assurance. So, if you’re talking to developers, talk technology. If you’re talking to the CTO, bring up the return on investment. Every audience is different. Your presentation should be also.

3. Have a Clear Message

Even if your topic is interesting, people will quickly tune you out if they can’t follow along with your message. Going off on long tangents doesn’t show that you’re knowledgeable. It’s just rambling. That’s why you should have a clear message. Ask yourself, “What is the one idea I want to convey during this presentation?” You should build a single message around your answer and hone in on it.

4. Don’t Rely Completely on Slides

PowerPoint and Keynote are tools that help enhance a presentation. In no way should they carry the presentation. People don’t watch presentations for the slides. Your message should be the focus. You’re the lead role. Flashy slides won’t make up for a dull presentation.

There is a lot of content out there about how to make slide decks. You can really geek out on this stuff. Here are five quick tips that can help you make slides that don’t suck.

  • Avoid paragraphs or long blocks of text. Steve Jobs was a master at this. Most of his slides had very few words (less than six).
  • Use appropriate fonts. You want to use font that is readable by everyone in the room. Use large, simple fonts like Arial. Also, remember to keep the fonts consistent throughout the presentation.
  • Avoid detailed reports. When using tables, graphs, or diagrams, make sure that everybody can understand them. That means ensuring the units of measurement make sense and the audience gets the idea at a glance.
  • Less is more. Slide transitions get old fast. You also don’t need a transcript of your talk on the slides.
  • Use pictures over text. If a picture can describe what you're trying to say, use the picture. They’re worth a thousand words.

5. Tell a Great Story

Public speakerPresentations are boring when they’re just a report. You can’t carpet bomb the audience with facts and figures. However, at the same time your audience will most likely want to see some hard data. On the other end of the spectrum is engagement. Engagement with the audience is gained by telling stories. You want to be somewhere in the middle. Between a report and a story is a great presentation.

Most developers don’t have trouble with the data, but we struggle with engagement. If you need help finding your story, start with an outline. This way, you can make sure that your presentation at least has a beginning, a middle, and an end.

Your body language can also help convey your story. A relaxed, enthused presenter helps the audience feel relaxed and enthused about the topic, as well. Using hand gestures and making eye contact also do wonders.

6. Practice

You want to know your information inside and out. Never read from the slides. Skipping around during your presentation isn’t good. Having to jump over a slide during your presentation makes you look very disorganized and unprofessional. Don’t try to force something into your talk, and if slides don’t fit, cut them out. It’s also great to practice in front of a mock-audience. That way you can be given feedback. The goal is to practice until the presentation has a natural flow.

Another benefit of practicing is checking your equipment in advance. Don’t assume that your internet connection will hold up. Also, if you're going to play a video or do a demo, make sure your setup really works. Disaster proof the things that you can, because what can go wrong will go wrong. If something does go wrong during your presentation, smile and keep your composure. There’s not much you can do to fix a presentation in the moment. You’ll be fine if you’ve practiced and know your material.

7. Make the Next Step (Call to Action) Effortless

What's your Next Step?

Most presentations don’t have a call to action or next step. This is a big mistake. Before giving your presentation, make a list of things that you would want people to do after hearing your presentation. Choose one thing off of that list, and then make it effortless for the audience to achieve. If you're trying to build thought leadership, give out a super simple url that points to further resources on your website. Or if you want more followers, ask them to follow you on one social network. The idea is to limit the request to only one thing, and try to remove any unnecessary steps. People are busy and no matter how much you impressed them, something else will eventually come up. Be clever and appropriate with your next step, so people will appreciate your thoughtfulness as well as your idea.

It’s okay to have some anxiety when it comes to presenting your ideas. Public speaking is out of the comfort zone of most software developers. I want to encourage you to give it a try, because eventually you might even come to enjoy it.