10 Things I Learned About Presenting in Extreme Blue

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Credit: flickr / Brian Warren
  1. You can distill a 15 week project to a 4 minute pitch. In fact, you can probably distill anything to 4 minutes if you truly understand it – the trick is learning what to leave out.
  2. Images are trickier than you think. For instance, our project involved a university and we wanted to have a picture of a university in our slide deck. The thing is, people’s images of universities are highly localized. Some – big, famous – schools are recognized by everyone, but particularly second or third tier universities are influenced by where a person grew up, and what university they attended themselves. You would not believe how much time we spent thinking about this.
  3. Start with the conclusion. Cate who’s been trapped in grad school for two years wants to start with the justification and work up to the conclusion. She is wrong. You have credibility as a speaker and you can speak pyramid style – people will ask questions later.
  4. Leave stuff out. There was a question we kept getting to the point that we contemplated including the answer to it in our presentation. We didn’t, theorizing that it would get people to come to our booth to speak to us. It worked! Also, can you imagine anything more depressing than having nothing left to say after you present? Save it for the conversations that follow, and blog posts.
  5. No amount of practice makes perfect. Towards the end, our team got to the point where we’d been through so many iterations that we were struggling to remember what we had to say. We had some minor tweaks that we’d have liked to make, but it was time to stop and get what we had right.
  6. Presenting as a team is different. Really, really different. For a number of reasons, but here are the big 3 – you have to have a consistent style across everyone, you have to trust your teammates, and you have to consider body language when not speaking – i.e. you want to redirect people’s focus to your co-presenter who is speaking. This is harder than you think, especially when you’ve heard their section approximately 34,576,295 times.
  7. The right level of trust is important. Some teams spent a lot of time arguing about phrasing, semantics, details. Others took feedback constructively and debated, but not for longer than necessary. The first approach didn’t predict a better presentation, only late nights and weekends working.
  8. You need to be passionate about your topic. Some time around the midpoint, where my section of the pitch had changed at least every week, and sometimes more… I lost my passion for it. I was bored of what I was saying, and tired of it changing. People noticed. A session with an amazing presentation guru changed my perspective and inspired me to be passionate about what I was saying. It changed everything.
  9. Be clear about what you want when asking for feedback. We would pitch to people often, but came to find they didn’t always comprehend how short a time 4 minutes is. Towards the end, I realized that saying – we are right on 4 minutes, so adding something means we need to take something out would help focus suggestions. There is always more stuff to add. You only want add the things that are part of your key message.
  10. Most people do not present well. After all the training, and all the pitching, and the constant feedback I’ve started to notice things. Like, presenters who fidget, or don’t make eye-contact, who ramble and/or repeat themselves. Hand gestures are incredibly hard to master. It’s hard to stand up in front of people and talk – kudos to those who do it – but it had taught me that a little more consideration to what you’re doing will make you stand out.

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