How To Not Suck at Technical Presentations

Call it awesome or call it dreary, but I spend a substantial amount of my non-work time trying to absorb as much knowledge on technical topics as is humanly possible. This often ends up distilling into briefings and presentations from a wide range of folks – from marketing, engineers, and the sales dudes, all the way up to executives and members of various boards. Each event promises the delivery of information, properly packaged and formatted into delicious morsels for my noodle to digest. Most, however, end up being filled with data Styrofoam (which is not edible).

The common thread on the bad technical presentations? They try to shoot a fire hose of facts based on some agenda. The speaker has prepared a wealth of information and has made it his or her mission to make sure 100% of it is flung out into the ether. There are 50 slides and, like it or not, you are going to see those slides! Some key phrases to listen for are “let me just get through these 20 more slides and then we can talk about that” or “let’s table questions until later, I have to get through 20 more slides.” News flash – no one really cares about your slides.


It’s hard to make an idea sticky (which is a fantastic term used heavily in the book “Made to Stick” – buy it). Certainly, however, the idea of abusing a captive audience and simply pouring buckets of knowledge on their head should be avoided – I’m a bit surprised this isn’t just covered in the common sense category. This is one of the reasons I really enjoy the format of Gestalt IT’s Tech Field Day events, run by Stephen Foskett. Instead of simply being a captive audience, the chains are removed and participation is encouraged at a level unseen in other events. I’ve been to 5 Tech Field Days so far, and there is no gag order given off camera or secret paperwork to sign – the only rule is that we can’t physically throw anything at the presenters. 🙂

Coho Data Discusses Architecting For “Problematically Fast” Flash

I really enjoyed a presentation delivered by Andy Warfield, the CTO of Coho Data, while at Storage Field Day 4 – you can view the videos here. The slide deck was demoted to where it naturally should be – a talking point that provides visual aids. Content was fluid and delivered to meet the rapt attention of the audience. The presentation was loosely wrapped around a framework of ideas, but flexible enough to warp and twist into a living thing driven by human interaction. Complex ideas where distilled into white board drawings, which is an amazing (and often unused tool) for those who, like me, need visuals to learn content. After all, not everyone is an auditory learner (meaning they learn just by hearing something).


To add some further icing to the cake, Andy has provided a really well written blog post that showcases his side of the story as a Tech Field Day presenter – and apparently enjoyed the experience. I think this one segment is worth highlighting:

And this was the surprising part: presenting to the team of delegates was spectacularly fun.  They were engaged.  They asked great questions.  They let me talk even more enthusiastically about what we’re trying to achieve at Coho than I normally do, and they had fantastic reactions to things. (source)

The Key Performance Index (KPI) of any technical presentation is buried in this statement: audience engagement. Great presentations (and by proxy, great presenters) make the discussion interesting. The product itself can’t stand alone – a boring presenter can turn a really sexy product into a blob of nothing. I admit that even though I was on site for the presentation, I’ve already watched it two more times to find any other tech morsels I may have missed, and to also help improve my game as a public speaker. Perhaps my rambling here will help transform a few future drab tech presentations into fun and engaging events – one can hope!