Crafting Presentations

First off, why did I title this “Crafting Presentations” instead of something along the lines of “How to Write a Kick Ass Presentation”? Two reasons. One, I didn’t want to. Two, I think that there’s more involved in a presentation than writing.

Yes, there is a lot of writing involved in a presentation, but it’s a different kind of writing than a targeted blog post. A presentation has to quickly convey information to an audience that might only be marginally interested in the topic or who might just be there for the free pizza, although I hope people come to my user group for more than free pizza and soda. Presentations also engage the audience on multiple levels. There are the words and images on the slides, the speaker, and any demonstrations. All of this needs to flow together well. It’s not just writing for the screen, it’s a mixed multimedia extravaganza! (Maybe I should work on a presentation involving a fog machine and a laser light show…)

Just the slide deck and notes alone occupy a considerable amount of time and effort, but the code samples require significant attention. While putting together the code samples for tomorrow’s presentation on dynamic SQL, I think I wrote about 4 times as much SQL as I ended up using. Taking into account that my sample code tops out around 800 lines, that’s a lot of sample code to write.

Why did I write so much sample code only to throw it away? Was it all crap? No. The sample code that I threw away was actually pretty decent code. It just didn’t work clearly enough. There were more than a few examples that I wrote that did more to show just how clever I could be than they did to illustrate the points in my presentation. And, at the end of the day, I really do want people to know how clever I am. And, at the end of the day, I really want the audience to come away with a clear understanding of the topic.

A few people have asked me how much time I spend on presentations. I never really had a good answer until I paid attention while I was putting this presentation together. It turns out that I spend between 20 and 40 hours putting each presentation together. A lot of this time is spent coming up with good code examples and making sure that each topic clearly flows to the next topic and that the code samples follow a logical progression starting from the simple and building toward a complete finale – like a really good movie about a cat and dog that lose their family only to journey across several states and finally be reunited in with the missing family in the last five minutes in a heart rending scene that leaves the audience in tears.

There’s a lot of craft involved in a great presentation. Everything needs to flow from beginning to end, educate the listeners and, ultimately, leave them in tears.

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