You’re a star programmer. You’ve got a job. But, now you need to give a presentation? As in, talk to people about something at work? They didn’t teach this in school! Don’t worry, I’ve listed a few basic presentation skills that you need to know if you’re new to the IT industry.
Know Your Topic
One of the most important basic presentation skills for giving presentations is to know your topic. I can’t tell you how much of a difference it makes when you actually know what you’re talking about. I experienced this first hand during my uni days.
For a semester at uni, I was a teacher for a design class. I did well as a student in the class, so they asked me to teach a class of about 20 students. Most weeks I reviewed the material to make sure I knew it, and I did fine (as well as a 20 year old IT student can go, anyway!). One week, however, I didn’t review the notes. I didn’t know what the topic was, and I got up in front of the class and tried to wing my way through.
The audience could tell. I could tell. I wasn’t comfortable. It all came out in my delivery of the presentation, which was horrible. From then on, I always made sure I knew about what I was presenting.
If you need to make a presentation on something, make sure you know what you’re talking about. Do some research, familiarise yourself with the topic, ask some others for advice, anything you need to do. It will also make you feel more comfortable.
Find Out Your Time Frame
Someone has asked you to give a presentation on something. Perhaps it’s your first week and you need to present on what your background is, or what you’ve learnt in the first week. Or, maybe you need to talk about a project you’re working on, or how you can solve a particular problem. In any case, someone has asked you to present.
It’s a good idea to know what your time frame is to present in. By this, I mean, how long does your presentation need to be? If you need to present for two minutes, it’s going to take a different kind of preparation than if you were to present for ten minutes, or longer.
Ask how long the presentation needs to be. This will give you an indication of a few things:
- How long you need to talk for
- How much detail you can go in to
- How much material you need to prepare
- How important the presentation is (longer presentations tend to be more important, but not always)
When you actually deliver the presentation, make sure you speak clearly. If this is your first presentation (other than speaking to students during university or college), then it can be quite daunting. Don’t let it get to you. You might feel like you need to rush through the presentation, and find yourself speaking softer or even mumbling some of your words.
Take your time. You know the material, and the audience wants you to do well and succeed with your presentation. Speak in a clear tone – not too soft, but not too loud. This will depend on the size of the room, but try to make sure the people at the back of the room can hear you, not just those at the front. Speaking clearly is one of those basic presentation skills that is easy to forget when you’re in the moment.
Don’t Speak Too Much
This is something I always did when I first started in the IT industry. I tried to get my presentation done as quickly as I could, and thought I could do it better if I added in more information and spoke about the topic more. I thought that by explaining everything that I was doing and everything that was going on, it would make more sense to the audience.
This wasn’t the case.
I later learnt that speaking too much is just as bad as not speaking enough. It’s hard to find a balance between the two. Try not to speak too much during your presentation. It’s almost not on the list of basic presentation skills, only because it’s something that takes a while to learn and realise, but I think it’s a good tip anyway.
It seems kind of unnatural – not speaking much during a presentation. By this, I mean that we shouldn’t be trying to explain every single detail and every little thought that occurs. Try to explain your topic as well as you need to, without going into too much unnecessary detail. The level of detail will depend on your topic and audience, but this is something to keep in mind.
Prepare Your Material
If you are required to prepare some material to go along with your presentation, such as a PowerPoint file, then make sure you do this ahead of time. It makes it so much easier to present your topic if you have a slideshow running.
PowerPoint presentation files are referred to as different things in different companies. I’ve heard them referred to as slides, decks, or even packs before.
There’s a lot to know about preparing a good slideshow presentation, which I’ll go into in a future post, but some of the basic presentation skills to remember about a slideshow are:
- Don’t put too much text on the screen. It’s a visual aid, not something that needs to be read
- Don’t be too fancy with your presentation. Animations and timings are probably not needed.
- Don’t put too much information on each slide. It can be hard to see from a distance.
Know Your Audience
One of the basic presentation skills I was taught was that we should know our audience. The kind of people we are presenting to will have a say in the kind of presentation we deliver.
If it’s a technical team of developers or testers, then they may want to know details about how things work or system integration. If you’re presenting to a manager, they might want to know about timeframes or things that were learnt. If you’re presenting to your own team, it may be a mix of topics that your team can relate to.
Knowing your audience is a good way to improve your presentation. It will determine the words you use, the length of your presentation, what information you include and how much detail you go into. If you can, try to find out who will be there and what their background is.
Review Your Presentation Beforehand
This might be a common thing to do, but reviewing your presentation before you do it is one of the basic presentation skills that we should know.
If you’re presenting a slideshow, then review that. Make sure there are no spelling and grammar mistakes. Run it in Preview mode to see that it works correctly and in full screen.
If you don’t have a slideshow, go over your subject material to make sure you know what you’re talking about. Be prepared for any questions that come up. Even if you don’t know the question, you can defer it and mention you can answer it later.
Reviewing your presentation will make sure it’s fresh in your mind, and that you’re more familiar with it, which will have a positive impact on the actual presentation that you do.
Look At The Audience
Another one of the basic presentation skills that new IT professionals should know is to look at the audience. I mean, actually look at them. Look at their faces as you’re presenting. Rotate around the room, looking at each person for a small amount of time (not just the same person the whole time). This will do a few things.
It will make the person you’re looking at feel more engaged and focused on the presentation, which is what you want. It will also make you look more natural, as you’re not looking down or looking in the same spot for the whole time.
This can be hard to get used to, and it comes with practice, but making eye contact (or at least looking at someone’s face) will help improve your presentations.
Practice These Basic Presentation Skills
So, there’s a list of tips that you can use when preparing for presentation. I covered some basic presentation skills in this article, nothing too advanced. I don’t do a lot of presentations as part of my role, but I’ve learnt a few of these things (and many I can still improve).
For you to really improve, it’s good to practice these skills. Work on them for each presentation that you need to do. You won’t need to do just one. You’ll have more presentations to do as your career progresses.
What other tips do you have for new IT professionals who need to do presentations? Share them in the comments below.
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Image courtesy of Ambro / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
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