As a technical expert your success and your organization’s success depend in some way on your ability to present your ideas clearly and persuasively. Follow these five steps to create a presentation that other people will understand and remember.
1. Know your Subject
If you’re like most technical experts, you probably spend too much time doing research. Then, because you haven’t allowed yourself enough time to pull it all together, you panic. You try cramming everything into your presentation, creating more slides than you can possibly do justice to.
Since you usually don’t have the time you need to say everything you want to say, you have to prioritize. It’s your job to know what to say and, just as importantly, what not to say.
2. Know your Audience
Knowing your audience is as important as knowing what you’re talking about. Their knowledge level, experience, learning style, and attitudes will – or should – affect how you shape your presentation.
Answer these questions:
What does you audience already know about your subject? How much knowledge can you take for granted? How much background will you have to explain? Will they understand basic jargon?
What is their learning style? Are they accustomed to sitting through lectures and holding their questions to the end? Or will they expect to interact with you, asking questions throughout your presentation? Do they like lots of PowerPoint(TM) slides? Or are they expecting you to be more interactive?
What are their opinions, prejudices, preconceived notions, agendas? How will your presentation affect them?
3. Know your Objective
What do you want to accomplish? What do you want your audience to do as a result of your presentation?
Do you want them to confirm your assumptions or data? To implement your procedure or technique? To renew your grant? To approve your proposal? To give you the go ahead for the next step of your research? When you know what you want them to do, ask yourself what they need to know and to feel in order to do it.
4. Know your Outline
Rough out the general shape of your talk. Break it into smaller pieces that flow logically one into another.
If possible, break your presentation into three basic sections. (You can divide each section into more, smaller units.) Here are some 3-section outlines you might find helpful:
- The problem, its causes, and the solution.
- The illness, the symptoms, and the treatment
- The current situation or standard operating procedure, the problems associated with it, and an alternative
- The state of your research, questions raised by your research, and the next steps
- A product, how and why it was developed, and its application
Once you’ve clumped the various elements of your talk into their major sections – I strongly recommend three sections, but you could have as many as five – add an introduction and conclusion.
5. Create your Slides
Now you can turn on PowerPoint(TM) and begin creating your slides. Use graphs, charts, illustrations, and pictures as much as possible. Avoid using lots of words.