A Skill that All Technical People Can Use (System administrators, Database Administrators, Developers, etc)

Top-notch communication skills are vital when communicating detailed technical topics. Poor communication skills are seen as a lack of interest, understanding, or motivation. I realize that perception isn’t always true, but making the correct impression on others is extremely important.

I’ve seen many of these “sins” from technical presentations in graduate school and within local technical group meetings. I’ve even run into some of these issues personally. A very good video about what I’m talking about his “Package Management and Creation in Gentoo Linux.” I realize that it’s easier to criticize than to present, however after you are aware of some of the issues below the presentation is becoming aggravating.  Donnie Berkholz, if you are reading this, I am not criticizing you personally.

  1. Rambling
  2. Use of “umm” and other fillers
  3. Poor posture
  4. Bad lighting
  5. Having a monotone voice (This isn’t a huge issue in the video)
  6. Mumbling
  7. Failure to list assumptions (What skills should your audience have)
  8. Failure to explain why the content you’re presenting is valuable to the audience
  9. Unorganized slides
  10. Lack of overall summary of the presentation at the beginning
  11. Lack of prior practice
  12. Lack of mentioning of where to find the slides online
  13. Going off topic within the presentation
  14. Lack of confidence in material
  15. Overloading the slide with lots of unneeded details
  16. Fanboyism (I’ve seen it in a few of my fellow students’ presentations in graduate school)
  17. Not tabling questions that go off topic (Not shown in the video)
  18. Low quality graphics (Not an issue in the video)
  19. Speaking too quickly (Not an issue in the video)

How would someone Improve Their Presentation Skills?

It’s not possible for a presenter to be able to find their own issues. Presenting is one of those things that requires feedback from others.

  1. Take a class on public speaking at their local university, technical school, or even library. Local toastmaster organizations can help with this, too.
  2. Test your audience before and after the material. The higher post-presentation score the more they learned. For this to be a good measure, it requires 2 tests with similar material. For example, if Mr. Berkholz was to apply this: he would ask about keywords, behavior etc in a multiple choice form. This will not address issues with social cues, but it will give an overall indication on how effective the presentation was.
  3. Give out a general survey that must be filled out at the end. This works well for a large conference with lots of speakers. Ask questions such as “The speaker appears to be an authority on the subject [Strongly disagree, disagree, neutral, agree, to strongly agree]” or “The subject material is interesting …”
  4. Ask for someone’s opinion that is outside the industry the content fits into. For example in Donnie’s case, ask a psychologist to be your practice audience member.
  5. Involve audience participation throughout the entire presentation. I love this piece of advice. It turns a simple, and short, presentation into a full-length lecture. Also, it helps to understand the audience’s interest.
  6. Practice your presentation beforehand – a lot.
  7. Review your slides before hand and prepare secondary screens. Fumbling around with unnecessary external programs during the presentation irritates your audience.